Our thoughts on Brotherhood’s multiplayer were stalled by launch server hiccups. Read about the campaign here, and scroll down for the score.
After three interviews, two previews, an opinion piece, a two-part review and a half-dozen news items, I’m just about ready to see the back of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It’s been a wild ride, but I fear the intensity of our coverage is starting to take its toll on my subconscious mind. I knife people in my dreams, readers. Merely walking through crowds doesn’t cut it any more – these days, I feel the urge to blend. Hell, I’ve even started buying up raggedy newsagents and converting them into blacksmiths and apothecaries, like Finsbury Park really needs any more of those.
The worst part is that we’re not getting any kickbacks for our unrelenting attention, providing you discount the free food at preview events and that one time the PR guy helped me bury a hooker. No hard feelings though, because Ubisoft Montreal done good with Brotherhood’s campaign, and Ubisoft Annecy’s multiplayer component is rather fascinating. Uneven at times, but fascinating.
Where the single player gave you the sprawling totality of Rome, the online modes confine you to bustling inner city districts a couple of minutes’ walk in diameter, sealed by a fog of silvery binary code. You won’t be playing Desmond or one of the other present-day Assassins, but their enemies the agents of Abstergo, rather, practising lethal techniques on each other in VR environments.
It’s kill or be killed, that most basic of formulae, but it’s no mere bout of deathmatch or capture the flag. Assassinating another player is as easy as pushing a button – no bullet physics, combo trees or regional damage to worry about here – but finding a target is not. Each map is populated by computer-controlled characters who exactly resemble those of the participants. From the moment a match begins, any one of the passers-by could be the individual you’re contracted to kill, or the individual contracted to kill you.
The tension this inspires is, to be frank, matchless among boxed console releases (indie gamers, feel free to let us know how much you love Bloody Good Time and The Ship roundabout now). You’ve got a proximity indicator, its blue-white directional wedge fattening as you near the victim, but it’s useless within a dozen metres or so. Accordingly, the close of each hunt hinges on skilled observation alone.
Evading an assassin is as gripping as being one. The interface helps out a little, again, red-ringing pursuers who behave in an eye-catching fashion and all but screaming “run, Forrest, run!”, but anything less energetic than a chain of daredevil leaps will elude its notice. As a consequence, you’ll find yourself constantly spinning the camera as you saunter down alleys, watching for silhouettes on rooftops or sudden, un-computer-like bursts of haste. It’s a pure form of suspense – and the thrill of being missed by inches, your would-be killer plunging his blade into an identically dressed man at your elbow, is something no Call of Duty I’ve tackled can best.
It’s possible, nonetheless, to thumb one’s nose at all this insistence on stealth, and play the game like an athletic but very basic action thrasher, barrelling over roofs into the vicinity of a target and hoping dumb luck will carry you the rest of the way. Indeed, in the final seconds of each round the idea can be difficult to resist. But if you plan on dispensing with subtlety, you should brace yourself for a long wait till the next gadget or mode unlock, as showy, unscientific kills bag far fewer experience points.
The weighted scoring system brings about some brilliant turnings of the tide. I recall one round of Wanted, the basic free-for-all 6-8 player mode, in which I was trailing at sixth place. With 50 seconds to go, my man emerged from a mob below and headed for the archway that fed into a neighbouring street.
Throwing caution to the winds, I hurled myself from the nearest precipice and, more through blind chance than anything else, landed in a haystack on the other side of the arch. When the perp jogged into view, possibly intent on a courtesan in the plaza beyond, I reached out of the straw to slash his jugular. Boom. Top of the podium. In the business of murder, Brotherhood sets its store by quality workmanship every time.
The two team-based modes, Manhunt and Alliance, aren’t quite as successful as Wanted, though that owes more to the people you play with than anything else. Manhunt sees teams of four taking turns to be cat and mouse, while Alliance is Wanted with a single partner. In each case it pays to have a well-stocked Friend list, as Xbox Live’s randoms aren’t generally disposed to cooperate or, for that matter, communicate.
Besides that, there’s the slight worry that some of the unlockable tools, perks and killstreak rewards may be a trifle overpowered. The combination of a speed boost and smoke bomb, allowing you to quite literally leave other players in your dust, is a tough one to beat, even with a hidden gun to hand. Nothing leaps out at me as game-breaking thus far, however, and again, these are problems that can be rectified by picking and choosing your opponents.
With only four modes to its name (including Advanced Wanted, where compasses lack a height indicator) and 30 experience levels, Brotherhood won’t rival the likes of Halo: Reach or Black Ops as an online time sink. But given the immensity and richness of the campaign, it doesn’t really need to. What it needs to do is reintroduce a little verve to a gameplay package that, for all the luxuriant shoulder-guards and snazzy death moves, is starting to taste stale, and in that regard, it unquestionably delivers.