We can't usually empathise with most videogame characters, mainly because our daily frame of reference doesn't include chainsawing mutants or commanding a spaceship. Desmond from Assassin's Creed is slightly different because we feel the 'bleeding effect', too.
Okay, we haven't started dribbling and painting glyphs on our bedroom walls in bodily fluids just yet, but each time we spend a few hours in the Animus, we find our perspective on the world changes. Where before we saw street furniture, shop fronts and the elderly, now all we see is free- running routes. If you find our broken corpse on the pavement outside Budgens, you'll know what happened.
It's telling that even after three games and a total of at least 75 hours playing with Assassin's Creed's unique brand of clambering, we're still not tired of it. The simple joy of sprinting up the side of a building, grabbing a ledge and scrabbling up until you're hopping across rooftops is inherently pleasurable. Even more so when there's a meatbag guard at the top ready to spring a wristblade-aided leak.
Brotherhood sees you taking control of Ezio directly after the events of Assassin's Creed II. He's spared the life of Rodrigo Borgia, which turns out to be a bad move when the Pope's murderous son Cesare turns up unannounced in Monteriggioni and nabs the Apple of Eden back. Realising he was wrong to show the Borgia any kind of mercy, Ezio heads to Rome to gut the family of corrupt nobles. While it's not immediately obvious, the story is much smaller in its dramatic scale than the epic, decades-spanning plot of the previous game.
For most of Ezio's portion of the plot it feels like the game is treading water, and you actually end up visiting the same location twice in two separate sequences during the main quest. It's also considerably shorter too, a mere nine sequences long.
Ordinarily this would be an enormous problem, but Brotherhood's structured entirely differently from the previous game. Setting it in a single city has allowed Ubisoft to beef up the ecosystem, and there are now hundreds of distractions vying for your attention. The meat of the experience isn't the story missions any more, it's the side quests that dot the map. If you want to finish the lot, it'll take you a similar amount of time to the second game.
You're definitely not being short-changed in terms of the total hours of play, but if you have a strong urge to push through the plot, it can be tough to divert your attention towards missions that don't move the narrative forward.
Sync or swim
The good news is that these smaller quests showcase some of the best missions in the series. The real highlights are those that see you locating and destroying the war machines that Leonardo Da Vinci has been strong-armed into building for the Borgia. Not only do they take you out of Rome, but they're all pleasing, multi-stage missions that end with you turning said weapon against its owners. Similarly interesting are the repressed memories that are unlocked when you achieve Full Synchronisation in enough missions. We don't want to spoil the surprise, but they're a neat reward for playing with precision.
Even without them, Full Sync genuinely changes the way you approach missions, mainly for the better. Essentially, it's an extra condition added to the task - you might have to use a specific method to murder your target, remain undetected or even avoid touching terra firma. If you're used to a path-of-least-resistance approach to muddling through missions this will force you to mix things up. Unfortunately, you'll occasionally stuff it up, and even if you restart the portion of the mission where you screwed up, it still counts as partial synchronisation unless you restart the whole thing.