A new Assassin’s Creed game? Really? So soon after AC II? Yes, we were as surprised as you and probably just as skeptical about its quality. Turning out such a huge, rich game as AC II was a monumental effort on Ubisoft’s behalf, requiring the input of three internal studios (Montreal, Annecy and Singapore), so when we first heard a new adventure was due – and releasing this year – we were instantly worried about the quality. Spin-off, Assassin’s Creed 2.5, cash-in: these were all phrases clouding our minds. And then, to compound our fears, Ubisoft invited us to play the multiplayer…
Our initial reaction doesn’t do justice to the reality – this isn’t a money-spinning side-mission to nibble on while we wait for the inevitable Assassin’s Creed III. It’s a huge new game in its own right, its plot follows on directly from the end of AC II, and oh yeah, it has a separate multiplayer component with its own story and cast of characters. Again, the mention of multi-layer had our warning sirens blaring.
After all, we – like you – played through the weird ‘Capture the Flag’ style mission in Assassin’s Creed II (Venice) and hated it. Don’t worry – it wasn’t a prototype for Brotherhood. Development for that has been going on for more than five years at Ubisoft Annecy, the chaps who made Splinter Cell’s incredible Mercs vs Spies mode for Pandora Tomorrow on PS2. They know what they’re doing and the multiplayer’s inclusion won’t affect the quality of the single-player, in development at AC II lead-studio, Ubisoft Montreal. You can relax now.
The only announced multiplayer mode right now is Wanted, which we played during our trip. This is how it works: There are six visually distinct multiplayer characters, and you’re randomly assigned one before each session. Within the levels (small sections of Italian cities – Florence, San Donato and Rome are confirmed, with more due) there are up to 140 non-player characters who look identical to the players. See where this is going?
At the start of each game you’re assigned a target – one of the seven other human players inside the level. You’re shown a picture of what they look like, and have a mini-radar to tell you roughly where they are. Now, here’s the clever part. Another player within the level will be hunting you, but it won’t be the one you’re tracking. A hunts B who hunts C who hunts A etc.
It adds a real layer of tension. Sure you know who you’re supposed to be killing, but you never know when the knife might be slotted into your own throat. There are other rules: if you’re too aggressive near your target (by running full-pelt, or leaping over walls) then that player will be warned and given the chance to flee, using a line-of-sight system similar to the one in the single-player. Another nasty twist is that better players will be tracked by multiple enemies. If you’re in the lead, you’ll likely have the attention of three Assassins; not just one.
Conceptually it works well and, although we felt the map we played was too small to accommodate eight players (six would have been ideal), the mode has plenty of potential. Our favourite moment came when we stalked our victim from a low roof, before pouncing on them for an aggressive kill, and instantly blending into a group of nearby NPCs that happened to look just like us. Our tracker may have seen the kill (doubtless other players did witness it) but because we disappeared so soon afterwards we felt as if we’d gotten away with it scot-free.
According to the devs there are plenty of ways to both hide and kill within the multiplayer, and the ability to exploit these moves is what will separate the average assassins from the great. You can sit on a bench next to two NPCs and wait for your target to walk past before plunging in the blade. You can kill them silently if they sit on the bench. You can hide in bundles of hay, shoot from a distance with a hidden pistol, blend in crowds – unpredictability is definitely key.