Prior to its November release, many feared that last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood would be nothing more than a DLC cash-in and as such, that the multiplayer – making its series début within that title – would be little more than padding. Inessential content included to aid in justifying the game’s price tag, perhaps.
Happily, those who made such predictions were proven horribly wrong on both counts. Brotherhood’s campaign is both lengthy and satisfying, but its multiplayer provides equal intrigue with its taut cat-and-mouse gameplay.
At first blush, the multiplayer beta for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations seems a remarkably similar experience. However, under the hood significant retooling has taken place, resulting in a more refined affair overall. When you can find and connect to a game, that is. But more on that later.
As with Brotherhood, the gameplay hinges on a double-barrelled game mechanic: that each player is hunting one of their peers just as they themselves are being hunted, and that killing anyone but the specified target will not only cost the player a contract and thus potential experience points, it could also reveal their identity to those who seek their demise. Further, a target can only hope to at best stun those who hunt them, making fighting off contracted killers a last-ditch resort for the cornered, desperate or brave.
A careful player is able to avoid becoming a statistic by hiding within haystacks or behind timed locks, utilising diversions such as smoke bombs, or by remaining concealed amongst crowds of lookalikes whose existence is justified by the conceit that this whole shebang is taking place inside a computer simulation within the Assassin’s Creed universe itself. However, so tracking targets is not an impossibility, the border surrounding a player’s target portrait will glow should that person be in line of sight (in front of or behind the player), and a rudimentary compass gauge fills when they are very close. At this point, the pursuer will hear heartbeats while their target hears whispers – a telltale cue something is about to go down.
Players are rewarded for minimum-fuss dispatching of received contracts; if their target doesn’t see them coming they earn extra experience on top of a kill bonus, and in Revelations that kill is performed faster too. However – in a mechanic new to Revelations – should their target manage to stun them even as they are slain a lesser ‘contested kill’ bonus is awarded and the recently deceased receive an experience bonus for being almost-not-dead.
Fast or erratic movement when pursuing a mark reduces a pursuer’s approach meter and alerts their prey as to their intentions, but the meter may be refilled by walking slowly or hiding within line of sight of a target. A completely empty meter results in a chase minigame; should the target break line of sight with their pursuer for more than a few seconds, they are rewarded with an experience bonus while their would-be stalker loses the kill contract and must wait for a new one to be assigned.
Revelations doubles the number of gameplay modes available in Brotherhood from two to four. Wanted plays exactly as described above; Manhunt splits players into teams who then spend five minutes as just targets and five as hunters; Deathmatch is a new mode which dispenses with the AI clones, approach meter, chases and compass (Easy Deathmatch removes Templar abilities too); and finally Artifact Assault is another new mode which plays much like any team capture the flag game except that you are a pursuer in your own half of the map and a target in the enemy’s half.
All three maps available in the beta (Knight’s Hospital, Antioch and Constantinople) are brand new, look great, and provide a plethora of opportunities to break line of sight, upping the strategy element even further while providing great backgrounds for some memorable stabbing to take place.
All-new too are the character classes, and they include the Vanguard (whose preferred weapon is a small axe), the Sentinel (long Katar), the Guardian (lance), the Vizier (sword), Thespian (dagger), Deacon (long sword), Bombardier (mace), Trickster (dagger) and Champion (small axe). The characters aren’t as distinct as those in Brotherhood, nor are they as entertaining – there is no character model that rivals Brotherhood’s Doctor, Noble or Harlequin classes for wackiness. As such, even closer inspection of a target is required prior to reaching for the assassinate button, and in the heat of stealthy shenanigans many more innocents will be mistakenly and cruelly cut down. As with Brotherhood, all characters display similar behaviours but have differing animations and customisable ability sets.
These abilities sets function much as they did in that title, with abilities and perks unlocking as a player levels up. The only differences being that pre-defined sets exist now, the number of each has expanded, and on top of having enough experience players must now spend in-game currency to unlock some of them. Neither the new tripwire bomb nor the chase-breaker-triggering closure rival the effectiveness of established abilities such as the smoke bomb, however the new perks keep games competitive by gifting target locators to those who are struggling. In addition, lengthy killstreaks are rewarded with a potentially controversial new perk: an Animus hack which kills all other players on the map.
New non-killstreak-related perks couple an increase in running speed with a decrease in approach meter depletion or increase the out-of-sight detection duration of a sighted and locked player.
Character customisations are also a new addition, with the ability to modify body parts and favoured weapons unlocked at higher experience levels.
The beta shows that all the new additions to the Assassin's Creed multiplayer formula function well. The contested kills mechanic works nicely, the maps are great, the stun radius has been increased to balance things out somewhat and furthermore stuns now count towards streaks, which is most welcome.
That a player’s approach meter must be boosted before a pursuer is able reap maximum experience from a kill may bother some, and continuously stunning an attacker (‘stun locking’) will continue to vex those who don’t realise that tapping triangle puts an immediate end to it. Similarly, the game’s tendency to prioritise grounded targets over standing when the latter are clearly more of an immediate threat probably needs addressing, and the ability to finish downed targets needs fixing full-stop.
However the biggest problem isn’t within the game itself – it’s getting into the game. The latest update, effective last Saturday, appears to have ended anyone’s ability to join a game, however it does seem unlikely the full game would ship with such a gargantuan problem going unaddressed. Reports of game-breaking lag surfaced prior to this system collapse too, although this reviewer didn’t experience any at all.
Assassin’s Creed multiplayer is a rare beast; an online multiplayer experience that rewards consideration and care over naked aggression, yet it provides enough action to satiate the bloodthirsty whilst never sacrificing tension or being stingy with the thrills. From what we’ve seen of Revelations, Ubisoft has wisely stuck with what worked in Brotherhood (almost everything) yet made considered advancements which expand the game further and give existing multiplayer fans incentive enough to upgrade come mid-November.
Should Ubisoft also manage to successfully tie extra single player narrative into the multiplayer as they have said they intend to, Revelations will be a long way towards being a great game, and may even continue the tradition each Assassin’s Creed game thus far has followed: being significantly better the last.