Review: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood Multiplayer Beta Impressions

Hunting the most dangerous game is not easy.

That is, chasing around Templar trainees embedded in the Animus around Renaissance Rome is not easy.

Multiplayer typically breaks down into the “BOOM HEADSHOT!” mentality: players wander around a map until they find the enemy, and then kill in the most ruthless and efficient way. This frustrates newer players that are learning the game, as it seems that they cannot even take a step from behind cover without

BOOM HEADSHOT

Sorry.

Now that we are past that, back to the point of this post. Those lovable beaver-trapping moose stalkers at Ubisoft Montreal have cooked up another Assassin’s Creed game, subtitled “Brotherhood” to refer to leading man Ezio Auditore di Firenze’s coming relaunch of the Assassin Order that was nearly decimated at the end of the original Assassin’s Creed.

It is no secret that I think these games are just about the best ones being produced today, and Brotherhood looks to be a worthwhile addition to the series. One of the innovations of this iteration, however, is the addition of multiplayer. Segue complete, we return to

BOOM HEADSHOT

PLEASE STOP THAT IT IS NOT HELPING

Actually, since this is an Assassin’s Creed game, it is more like sneak sneak sneak STAB!

The point remains, however, that Ubisoft was kind enough to send this reviewer a beta code to try out this “multiplayer,” and one moderate-sized download that my router refused to properly route later, I was in the Animus.

The only multiplayer minigame available in beta is “Wanted!,” an eight-person kill ’em all stalkiest.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Special Character
WHY SO SERIOUS?

Unlike the single-player game, where players take the role of Desmond Miles, a plucky young man who steps into the Animus to relive the lives of his Assassin ancestors, the multiplayer game conceives of the player as a Templar (boo, hiss) trainee stuck in the Animus learning how to kill like an Assassin. As such, all of the cool things that Assassins get to do, like use Eagle Vision or a hidden blade or whatnot are verboten. Rather, each Templar trainee gets to pick an assigned “role,” like skulking, claw-handed nobleman; goofy, Harry Knowles-ish engineer; or the axe-wielding executioner. Then, the game of cat-and-mouse begins.

Player are given a “contract,” one of the other players, that must be killed. Since each player can pick only one of the eight pre-set Templar characters, and players are stuck with this character for the duration of the ten-minute match, it falls to the player to try to discern the “real” target out of a sea of dummies.

Much like the single-player game, sights and scenes from the ancient world are rendered with a full cast of extras. People stroll the streets, browse stuff at stalls, run around, sit down, stand up, and in general make a nuisance of themselves. Ancient Rome is also filled with wheelbarrows of flowers, lumps of straw, and other places to hide out. It also has bright, glowy doors that, when run through, slam behind the player cutting off pursuit.

The in-game HUD is minimal: a target portrait sits in the top right corner of the screen, while special moves appear across the bottom. Just below the player’s avatar is a compass that points the general direction and distance of the target.

Once the target is spotted, the player must stalk and kill him or her. This is where the tricky part begins.

Controls are very limited. Whereas Ezio has an amazing and useful variety of weapons available (double blades, poison, swords, etc.), the Templar trainees get bunkum.

A “kill” is executed when a visual cue appears above the target’s head, which only happens if one is incognito and located some distance behind the target. Targeting itself is noticeably worse than the single player game. I have never had Altaïr or Ezio freak out and target the wrong person during pitched swordfights, touchy big-crowd assassinations, or stalking Templars from the rooftops.

Targeting an enemy, especially when that enemy is trying to blend, is very difficult. I missed several kills during my review playthroughs due to the targeting system. It is rather frustrating.

The player advances through the Wanted! game by gaining experience points, either through killing enemies (more points for stealthy kills), or by escaping from an enemy after becoming “aware” of their presence.

As the player levels, he or she will unlock special abilities like smoke bombs (“Get Away From Enemy Free” cards!) or the hidden blade pistol (cheating).

The Wanted! game is otherwise ingeniously programmed. NPCs will occasionally do “real person” things like reverse course, sit down on benches, wander a little aimlessly, or pause and stare off in to the distance. I have killed many a decoy thinking it was my opponent.

One of the more frustrating things, however, is that it is extraordinarily difficult to kill a non-target Templar that reveals himself. Unless the player is completely stealthy, the “kill” button never activates. I would give the lives of ten thousand Templars for a sword and the ability to attack whenever one of these dunces comes sprinting or gallivanting by, completely disregarding the propriety of trying to hide! And when I expose myself to attempt an attack, I am usually ganked by my own tail. Frust-rating.

If I had a sword, I could at least defend myself.

Which brings me to my next point… once the player becomes “alerted” to the presence of his or her tail, it is usually too late to do anything about it. A split-second where a “counter” could be possible, much like countering with the Hidden Blade in single-player mode when in open combat, would greatly improve the survivability chances of players. Even the best players can be ganked quite easily by being a little too focused on their own targets, which prevents any real immersion in the game.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Multiplayer Characters
Laughy, Slutty, Pricky, Bloody and Sneak. Like the Seven Dwarves, but bloodier.

The maps could also be slightly better designed. In the Castel Gandolfo, for instance, the constant addition of stairs ensures pretty much that anyone going up or down certain flights of stairs are player characters… and those stairs are absolutely necessary to use. In the Roman Streets, on the other hand, the rooftops become easy access to the entire city, and since it is impossible to attack just any random passer-by on the rooftops (A SWORD! DO YOU HEAR ME, I NEED A SWORD!), there are virtually no consequences from using the rooftops for near constant aerial attacks.

Map exploits are common in these games, however, which reveals my least favorite part of an otherwise enjoyable multiplayer experience… the Wanted! game is just not very fun. A “last man standing” type of game, where eight players take the field and play continues until only one is left would be more fun, as would a multiplayer version of the real game, complete with SWORDS and short blades and poison vials, counter kills and the ability to throw sand in the face of some motherfuckers.

All in all, I think that the multiplayer component will be an interesting “add-on” to a great single-player campaign. I highly doubt Counterstrike or Team Fortress or Halo players are going to abandon their multiplayer arenas for the mean streets of Rome, but for when the Templars get tough, this may be just the prescription.

For those who are interested, I am playing the beta on the PS3 and my username is “gentlemanloserx.” I will kill you. In the game, of course.

7 comments

  1. I’m glad that stealthy kills give more points, to add some kind of incentive to keep everyone from just constantly climbing and running around in high profile mode.

    Having controls that are more limited AND harder to execute (such as targeting) have me quite worried. With the streets as crowded as they generally are, is the compass at least somewhat accurate? Just wondering if missing targets is generally more a function of smart play by the other player or more one of bad game design.

    I agree that “last man standing” would be perfect for this game. It just makes sense for this gameworld.

    Also agree about the story, can’t wait to see more.

  2. I’m definitely curious to give the multiplayer a shot when it comes out, but AC is one of those series (like Uncharted of Bioshock) where I never really thought “You know, I wish this had multiplayer.” Still, it sounds like it’s got some potential and everything. Really, I’d almost rather they add co-op to the standard campaign missions so you could team up with somebody else with the full arsenal of moves and equipment and take somebody down super-stealthy-like. That probably would only work with the chapter endings, though, since “go let these 5 people out of jail” might not lend itself so well to co-op.

    Boom, headshot!

  3. The compass is generally accurate in that it warns you whenever the player’s character is being drawn on the screen, and whenever they are in proximity. It’s up to you to then “scan” the available sprites for one of them with a “tell” that will let you know it’s your target. There is a “lock on” function that will sometimes help if you target them correctly, which really helps with aerial assassinations (though nowhere near as smooth as Ezio’s high-profile assassination’s were. They’re rather more like the difficult-to-pull-off air-to-assassination from the Jubal mission of AC1. Only in the “Rome” map did I find this really useful; the Castel Gandolfo map has only a few spots where this is practicable, and then, I was only the victim after exposing myself trying to gank my target.

    My main gripe is how hard it is to kill others that are not your target. Lots of times I would see someone blaze past me and be unable to kill them even though I was behind them and in range, simply because of the game mechanics. The ability to draw my sword and cut them down (and the addition of NPCs like guards that would do the same) would make the game much better.

    I am hoping for a few more multiplayer modes in the actual release, and I’ll be buying it anyway to play through the single-player campaign.

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