This is one of the most innovative and fresh gaming experiences of the past few years. Introduced last year in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, the multiplayer mode of Ubisoft’s flagship franchise was a sleeper hit, offering stealth, strategy and mindgames like we’ve never seen before. This new instalment (which is all we got to preview at the EB Expo) sees a substantial refinement with mostly notable improvements, but some persistent issues with matchmaking that can hopefully be cleaned up.
In the wider mythology of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the multiplayer mode has minimalist narrative device. In the heart of Abstergo Industries (the nefarious mega-corporation that is home to the equally nefarious Templar order) lies a massive warehouse for the training of its agents. Said agents are hooked into the Animus (ok, kinda like the Matrix) to hone their skills in self-preservation and assassination of enemies within the system. End narrative device.
Let’s be honest, great multiplayer games don’t need much of a framework, but they do live or die by their gameplay. The idea here is to wander the Animus, which presents a scaled-down representation of one of the maps from the campaign, and kill your targets whilst avoiding being killed yourself. The X button allows you to assassinate, while the B button allows you to stun an enemy who is trying to kill you. Put that way, the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer sounds like any old multiplayer shooter, with an emphasis on melee attacks and in-your-face attitude.
The difference is stealth: Your target is usually difficult to pick out from the crowd of NPCs in the environment. If they take special care not to run, climb on rooftops, kill or stun in sight, or do anything else stupid, it takes a lot of keen observation to get the right target and avoid losing your contract (and precious time) by attacking an NPC. To add to the fun, there are a variety of hiding spots, blend techniques, and perks to make it even more difficult to be identified by your pursuer. This makes the game a highly addictive (and occasionally frustrating) game of cat-and-mouse where stealth and anonymity mix with dynamic, class-specific executions.
The game is built to encourage various strategies, but discourage over-reliance on any particular one. If you feel a bit gung-ho you can pursue your target aggressively, and use ranged weapons like throwing knives or a hidden gun to rack up the kills. However, points are awarded for tailing and stealth, so you may end up with quantity over quality, and high-profile pursuits can make you a bigger target for those who want to take you out.
On the other hand, you might prefer to play defensively, find a good hiding spot and use abilities like the trigger mine or smoke bomb to trap targets and pursuers alike. However, canny players will identify your preferred strategy and hidey-holes and know just where and how to nail you. So a broad palette and a balance of offensive and defensive tactics are best. In particular, learning what works and what doesn’t in any given situation is a key to success.
Improvements over Brotherhood’s multiplayer mode include an expanded repertoire of abilities to enhance the opportunities for unique strategies, a more effective stun mechanic (spam B) and a “contested kill” mechanic whereby you can steal some points off your killer if you see them before they take you out. Character design and animations are new and right up to AC standard, with more varied and visceral executions that compete with Gears of War. The greatest improvement is the inclusion of new modes, with a new variant on deathmatch as well as variations on Bagman, CTF and others. There are a few new maps, but honestly not enough to parry the criticism that maps from Brotherhood have been recycled too much. I guess we can hope for new ones in DLC (with new characters already slated for December 13).
The main criticism of the multiplayer mode of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is its matchmaking lobby, despite the ease of quick play and the longevity of random parties. Frustratingly, matchmaking will not join up groups of two or three, so it is near impossible to build a custom game and attract enough players to make it viable. Also, while the party is asked to vote, game modes and maps are packaged together, so you pretty much have to go with the flock regarding what mode you are going to play. Hopefully Ubisoft’s network guys will be able to mend these issues.
All, up, the multiplayer mode of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is bound to wow newcomers and minimise the complaints of veterans. It has enough newness to put it ahead of its forebear, and still plays as one of the most engaging, creative and downright fun multiplayer modes anywhere.
Chad Habel likes long walks on an irradiated beach, and surviving deadly test chambers. His favourite dish is hadouken stirfry, and his Achilles Heel is gibbing headshots. In an alternate reality he works at a University.