Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood – updated impressions

If you do choose to fight the scoundrel, he might call up some equally nefarious buddies, so you’ll be glad to hear there’s more than one way to skin a variety of soldier-cats. A number of new melee moves can be chained together to take out multiple enemies, culminating in a ‘rage mode’ that gives an instant kill for every successful link in the move chain. Ubisoft says proactive players will be rewarded for aggression. Designer Patrick Plourde even goes so far as to say, “strike first, strike fast,” which sounds like the motto of an assassin’s guild to us. It also applies to your enemies though, who’ll be doing a lot more harrying than their docile brethren from games first and second.

Now to the multiplayer. The first bit of good news is it’s being handled by Ubisoft Annecy. Not the most well-known of studios, but they did help make Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow’s excellent multiplayer game. The only mode we know about so far is Hunter, but it sounds like a doozy. You start off walking in a crowd, a clock counting down to when you have control over your character. The reason for this is that if you appeared in the game stationary, everyone could see you were a player-controlled character, and remaining hidden is what Hunted is all about.

A Hunted level starts with eight players walking amongst a crowd of similarly dressed NPCs. Each player is assigned another player to kill, with a compass pointing toward the target. So you’re not only hunting another player, but being hunted by one yourself. As there are only eight different character models, crowds won’t be that diverse, but that’s not the point: every player needs to blend in with the crowd to avoid standing out as a target. So you’ll have to keep an eye out for any kind of suspicious behavior, such as someone moving in an unexpected way (like right toward you).

The interesting thing about identifying your mark is that the NPCs will ape human behavior as much as possible. One might start running for a while, or stop and look around. You go over to them and kill them and it turns out not to be a human, but your action clearly shows that you are in fact human and, bam, you’re the one with a knife in the ribs because you exposed yourself to your own hunter.

As different character models are going to be used in the multiplayer game, so must new weapons be designed. Reflecting your own chosen style of play – brazen or sneaky – you could perhaps choose an axe if you feel the time for stealth is past. Just find your target, whip out your head-splitter and get chopping. Other, more subtle tools include the claw – a metal thing with pointy bits on the front that you clamp onto your arm, the traditional dagger, and a syringe (filled with some kind of instant-kill poison we suspect). Or perhaps you’d prefer to be a sultry Italian goddess who uses a razor-sharp fan as her killing device?

Hunted is a deliciously enticing prospect and one that you’d hope works as well in practice as it does in theory. All this adds up to a familiar yet excitingly different experience for veterans of Assassin’s Creed. There’s the continuation of the main plotline and all the old favorites in the single-player mode, with the twist of a potentially unique multiplayer mode that will keep things interesting once you’re tired of collecting feathers. Brotherhood is looking like a game to keep an eye on, as it could surprise a lot of people.

Aug 6, 2010