Before the juicy details of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s multiplayer component were revealed at this year’s E3, fans of the franchise must surely have all been wondering exactly the same thing. Namely, how are Ubisoft ever going to make it work? Multiplayer options have become a fundamental part Rockstar’s recent sandbox packages, but those were always shooters at heart anyway, and their structure already made perfect sense in a multiplayer environment, and modifications to the core gameplay mechanics were minor.
But Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – which, in case you weren’t already aware, is a direct sequel to last year’s magnificent AC2 – doesn’t appear to properly lend itself to the concept of competitive multiplayer, which makes Ubisoft Montreal’s achievements here, which are glaringly evident after our hefty amount of hands-on time with its ‘Wanted’ multiplayer mode, all the more impressive. All of the disparate elements that served to make Assassin’s Creed 2 so uniquely thrilling are all here.
The Wanted mode can accommodate up to eight players simultaneously, but you’ll only really ever care about two. One of them is your quarry, who you’re tasked with assassinating. The other is your pursuer, who you’ll have to avoid and possibly distract at the same time. A small blue indicator lets you know where they both are in relation to you at all times, but balancing your desire to take your designated subject down with your need to stay alive, means that using stealth is paramount, and sprinting in for a kill will alert both parties to both your presence and your location.
In the preview build each character had a set of two different special abilities, which in the final build we’re told will be completely interchangeable, and can be switched around between matches and even immediately after a death. These included disguises so you can instantly blend into crowds, a concealed pistol so you can get the drop on your attacker if they corner you, as well as self-explanatory things such as throwing knifes, smoke bombs and a sprint boost, the latter of which is most useful if you’re an adrenaline junkie, ill-equipped to deal with the game’s primary rules.
It’s a game of palm-sweating, knife-edge cat and mouse that is (oddly) at its weakest when it turns into a full-blown action game. Not that those moments don’t work – far from it – but the mildly familiar sparks that fly when you’re engaged in a triple-pronged chase atop the rooftops of Rome, doesn’t hold a candle to the nervy moments of stealth that build up to them. ‘Chase breakers’ like doors and gates can slow your pursuers down when activated which does add to the excitement, but the best part of Wanted is trying to avoid those set-pieces altogether.
During one game that descended into a frenzied chase (with our executioner sprinting after a courtesan, and a doctor in hot pursuit of us) our quarry met his match as he attempted to climb a building whilst we were only a couple of feet away from him. We followed him up the side of the structure, and were able to perform an execution as soon as we reached the top; but the problem with performing an execution on the edge of a tall building is that your victim is able to pull off a kamikaze counter-kill, shoving you off the side so that you tumble to the ground below with him.
We were awarded points for the kill, but our opponent was awarded a healthy share too. You win points for simple killing your opponent, but the real high scores come into play when you inject them with a little finesse. You win points for discretion, focus, silence, acrobatics, escape, humiliation, drawing first blood and executing multiple escapes in a row; with the simplest of kills being the least effective way to hit the high points on the post-match leaderboards. And if you kill an innocent civilian your assassination contract is instantly cancelled, though it isn’t fully evident yet whether points will be docked too.
There are several new character abilities and skills still to be announced, and we couldn’t help but notice an ominous empty text square present in the game’s menu screens, which tantalisingly suggests that character-specific statistics are planned. Ubisoft Montreal would be a little careless to over-complicate something that works so perfectly already, but fluctuating stats could be another key to making this one of the most compulsive multiplayer games currently available on any format. It’s already well on its way, regardless.
Watch the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood Multiplayer trailer here….