She moves casually across the courtyard full of dancers, oblivious to the fact that she is being carefully watched. I make my way towards her slowly; its too tempting to break into a run in a bid to finish the job, but she’ll see me coming. I move deliberately towards her, navigating around the crowd, with the crowd. Just as I reach striking distance, a blade slashes out of nowhere, and I fall to the floor dead. The hunter just got hunted.
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As an experience, moments such as these embody what the multiplayer component of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has to offer. This is not a war-zone; there are no head shots and reloads or the frantic bid to sink in more bullets into your enemy before he can do the same to you. All it takes to kill your targets is a press of a button. The thrill lies in the chase. In Brotherhood, there are only hunters and prey.
The beta had two gameplay modes to try out – Wanted and Alliance. For reasons I’ll discuss later, I was only able to try out the Wanted mode. Thankfully, though, it was a blast. Each game supports up to eight players, with the objective being to score the maximum number of points. Each player is assigned a target randomly, and by extension, each player is assigned to someone as a target as well. To begin with, you have a radar at the bottom of the screen indicating the general direction of your target, and a picture of the character model of your target. To spice things up, all NPCs on the map are an iteration of the different character models, making spotting your actual target a challenge. As you close in on your target, the filled area at the bottom of your screen expands to the point where it’s completely full when you are very close to the target. At this point, you must manually identify your target and go for the kill.
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Ideally, you should do this by slowly closing in on your target without breaking into a run. This also yields the maximum number of points. If you do move into a high profile, your target is alerted to your presence and he can make a run for it. The chase is similar to what players have experienced in the single player games, except that a real player is much better at running away than an AI controlled character, making these chases all the more exciting. If the target successfully escapes or hides, he or she scores points. Conversely, the target also has an option to stun you to score before you kill him, though I did not see this put to use much. It’s too risky, and the reward for a successful stun is not substantial enough to warrant the risk.
The twist comes from the fact that while you’re hunting down your target, you’re being stalked as well. I often found myself taking a moment to scan around for suspicious behaviour around me even when I was close to my target. The situation I described earlier isn’t something that happens very rarely in the game. It is always a tense and evenly balanced cat and mouse chase, where the player’s role between the two is constantly shifting.
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The other element for a stellar multiplayer experience is the maps, and the three maps available in the beta complemented the gameplay very well. Rome was set in the open, with both the ground level and rooftops being put in good use by players. While rooftops are a better avenue for making a run for it, it’s easier to spot people on rooftops as well to nullify the advantage. I experienced some of the most thrilling chases and escapes in the Rome map. The other two maps – Castle Gandolfo and Siena are smaller maps which lack the additional elevated layer. The gameplay on these maps was more frantic and fast paced. The good thing about all the maps is that they are not so large that locating your target becomes tedious, and yet they have been designed to provide multiple routes for escape once the chase begins. It’s evident that Ubisoft has thought this through and do not intend to make the multiplayer just a tack-on as many might have feared when it was announced.
So Ubisoft has managed to create a fun and rewarding multiplayer experience like no other, but its still to be seen whether it would be successful. Personally, as a gamer jaded with shooters, I’m gunning for it, but it lacks the “twitchiness” multiplayer gaming has come to be associated with. A certain amount of patience is paramount to the experience, and the lack of it can seriously ruin the experience. Some games devolved into complete pandemonium (read: death match) with players killing each other irrespective of who their target was. It remains to be seen whether Brotherhood’s multiplayer will have the stickiness to stand the test of time.
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Ubisoft has done their part in it by adding a full-fledged progression system. The points go on to level up the player, which unlocks different active abilities such as disguise, sprint boost and smoke bombs, as well passive perks and streak bonuses (for both kill streaks and loss streaks). What they still need to do is iron out the game-breaking technical issues I encountered in the beta. Matchmaking takes too long, and the beta also froze my PS3 on more than one occasion to an extent where even a hard reset didn’t work; I had to manually switch off the PS3, which is very dangerous to the hardware. Had it not been for the preview, I would have abandoned the beta long before I did because of these problems.
Assassin’s Creed has made its name by bringing something new and fresh to the table, and the multiplayer has stayed true to that trend. While I’m still sceptical of its mass appeal, those who invest time and patience in it will be rewarded with an experience like no other; the rush of a hunt, the thrill of a chase, and the suspense of being constantly on the run.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is set to release on November 19, 2010 for Xbox 360 and PS3.