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Assassin's Creed Brotherhood: Is it a worthy sequel?

Surprising depth and series-changing secrets....

Assassin's Creed 2 was a big step up from the first game. It takes a tech demo with a rudimentary mission structure and transforms it into a wonderful living world with compelling characters, varied action and a mad but engaging story.

In it, we follow the development of Ezio Auditore da Firenze from bratty noble to Pope-toppling killing machine.

It is, in many ways, a textbook example of how to make a sequel, turning a good game into a franchise that's quite happy to sit in shops during the same month as Call Of Duty and sell like, well, Call Of Duty.

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So how does Brotherhood up the ante? Our recent, all-new, hands-on with the first couple of hours (plus an hour messing around with the later story) reveals quite a few things, which we'll share over these pages.

The most important discovery is that this isn't a sequel in the same way AC2 was. It's not a big leap forward for the series - it's a refining of the AC2 formula. It's AC2, er, the second.

In many ways, it's better than the last game. There's more variety to the missions, tighter dialogue, an entirely new multi-player and a fresh city to terrorise: Rome, no less.

The game kicks off exactly where AC2 finishes Ezio stands in the Vatican, bewildered by what's just happened to him.

He clambers out to meet his uncle Mario, and the pair ride back to the family home in Monteriggioni. On arrival, Ezio attempts to explain the things he's seen.

It's a clever way to recap events, and it's done in a way that never breaks Ezio's character - he describes the goddess' prophecy as a "living painting" and says she speaks to "a phantom called Desmond".

Following this recap, you're free to explore the Villa Auditore, which is just as you left it, although the devs said there'd be no save transfer between AC2 and Brotherhood.

You also have to reacquaint yourself with the controls via a few gentle quests. One sees you capturing a rogue horse while another has Ezio carrying a box of flowers for a girl who flirts shamelessly with him all the way.

It's at this point that we notice the sharper, more playful dialogue - the first sign that Brotherhood is a game made more specifically for AC fans than newcomers, but more on that later.

Then it all goes wrong. No sooner is the questionable sex scene between Ezio and AC2 bit-parter Caterina Sforza over than Monteriggioni falls under attack from the Borgia family.

Remember them? Rodrigo Borgia, the Pope, was head of the family and the main villain in AC2. They're now under the command of our hero's new nemesis Cesare Borgia.

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Cannonballs smash into the house and the Animus display lets you know how much value the building loses with every blast. It's a smart touch that will break the heart of anyone who spent hours tarting the place up in AC2.

Ezio attempts to defend the town but is forced to flee after seeing Cesare execute his uncle

BACK TO THE FUTURE
Then the scene shifts to Desmond and Lucy, who arrive in a present day Monteriggioni to set up their rogue Animus inside the ruined Villa Auditore.

Of course, they can't just walk in through the front door, so you play a platforming section inside the sewers that run beneath the villa.

It's a lot like one of the Assassin's Tomb segments from AC2, only with a whiff of co-operative play and a large dose of banter that brings to mind Uncharted's Nathan Drake/Chloe sections.

The change of pace is welcome, and offers a good chance to recap the present day portion of the plot. Once you're set up, the game begins in earnest.

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