You’ve got to love Ezio Auditore da Firenze. An Italian ladies’ man born into a wealthy family of deadly assassins involved in an unseen Texas death match with the Knights Templar. A smooth killer, feared fighter and dangerous leader, Ezio is the Renaissance 007. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is the newest installment into Ezio’s life and times, and Ubisoft is really picking up steam. Brotherhood picks up the story right where AC2 ended, right after Minerva (yes, THAT Roman goddess of wisdom) finishes her long, winding diatribe against our buddy, the Sun. Which, of course, followed the vicious beating of the Holy Father himself on the floor of the Sistine Chapel. Confused? Yeah, so was everyone else. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for anything to be cleared up this time around. In fact, it only gets murkier. Ezio and his uncle fight their way out of the Vatican and back to the Auditore estate at Monteriggioni for a little well-deserved R&R. Unfortunately, the Templars, not taking too kindly to Ezio treating the Pope like a Bozo Bop Bag, decide to let Ezio know their displeasure with a few cannonballs and some arson. After a narrow escape, we find Ezio in full-on revenge mode in 16th-century Rome. That’s when the fun starts. The gameplay in Brotherhood is largely the same as in its predecessor, in both game mechanics and mission variety. Lots of stealth, outstanding platforming and a healthy dose of counterattack-heavy open combat. The scaling of buildings and scurrying across rooftops is as fun and fluid as ever. The hand-to-hand combat improvements such as execution chaining really helps the game flow, and make Rome your own personal playground. Speaking of Rome, it is far and away the biggest environment Ubisoft has thrown at us, but the fast travel spots located all over the city keep it from being too overwhelming. All the landmarks are there; whether fighting in Il Colosseo, scaling the Pantheon or taking a leap of faith off the top of Castel Sant’ Angelo, you won’t get tired of this fresh, expansive setting. Ezio is no longer on his own in this cruel world, either: Ubisoft introduces recruitable apprentices in Brotherhood. By helping oppressed citizens of Rome fight back against the ruling Borgia family, he can convince them to pledge their loyalty to his cause. These recruits can be sent all over Europe on assassinations, earning money and experience. With experience comes new levels, and with new levels come new and greater abilities, until eventually they become full-fledged master assassins. One of the most memorable sequences in my playthrough was chasing a mark through the streets only to have a recruit jump out from behind a corner, slit my mark’s throat and vanish like Andy Defresne (minus the septic sewer pipe). Also new to the AC franchise is the very innovative multiplayer game. Truth be told, I’ve never been a huge multiplayer guy. But I found myself playing equal amounts of single and multiplayer in Brotherhood. This very simple yet addicting addition was well worth the wait. Basically, it boils down to pursuing a target while being targeted by another player. With all the hiding spots, large groups of civilians and stealth upgrades, it’s harder than it sounds. I found myself watching over large sections of the map waiting for someone to run, climb a wall, jump into a haystack or anything else that would betray the fact that they were a fellow assassin, meanwhile trying my best to blend in with the crowd. It’s a great change of pace over most multiplayer shoot-’em-ups. Extremely well done. All in all, I’d say Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is the best game of 2010. The smooth gameplay, the open-ended story, the improvements in fighting and recruiting and, of course, the addition of the outstanding multiplayer section make this game a must-play. Like “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, it’s a fun action-packed ride all the way through. Can’t wait for the next one.