At the recent PlayStation Holiday Preview event in Toronto, tucked away in the deep recesses of the upper floor, were six kiosks networked together to give a hands on for a unique multiplayer experience. The booth may have been hard to find, but the impact was heard loud and clear.
That message was that Ubisoft is not resting on their laurels with the Assassin's Creed franchise. Despite ACII's release only a year ago, Ubisoft is releasing a new iteration this holiday, which includes an entirely new adventure starring ACII's protagonist Ezio, and a new multiplayer mode that is shockingly unique and fun to play. This is not your standard hack and slash multiplayer mode that will have players running around a battlefield, this mode is just as stealth based and methodical as the single player.
The premise of multiplayer is that you must wander a small section of renaissance Italy and blend into the crowds. Every player is given another player as a target to kill. While you're looking for your target, another killer is coming after you. You can blend into your surroundings effectively by walking and not drawing attention to yourself. Once you start running around or doing things that are out of the ordinary, your pursuer will be alerted, and you'll have a huge target on your back.
Once you're spotted, your only option is run for it. The developers purposely didn't put in a combat engine in the multiplayer, meaning that you're completely defenceless once you're spotted. It's at this point that your parkour skills and quick reflexes are all that stands between you and the business end of a dagger.
While you're pursuing, a compass will point in the general vicinity of your target. The general area and a photograph of your target is all you have to go by. Since there are several people dressed the same way, it's sometimes a better strategy to keep an eye from far away before making your move. Killing innocents or the wrong targets will result in points lost.
Different characters also have access to different weapons and abilities such as the renaissance gun from ACII, smoke bombs, different knifes and swords, and other gadgets and implements of death.
It only took us one round before we felt comfortable with the mechanics, and we were happily chasing targets around renaissance Rome with killer precision by the start of our second match. Overall, our playtime with the game has us convinced that this is one of the few completely stealth based multiplayer games to feel both intuitive and fun to play.
Our hands-on was limited to the multiplayer side of things, but we were able to squeeze a few tidbits about the single player campaign as well.
The game this time around takes place mostly in Rome, which according the Ubisoft rep is four times bigger than any other city in the other games in the series. The game chronicles the continued adventures of Ezio, and this time he's brought some friends to help out. Throughout the game you'll be able to train and recruit assassins to either fight alongside you in battle and covert operations, but you'll also be able to send them on assassination missions throughout Europe, in locations as far away as London. This creates a neat metagame mechanic that hopefully will prove to be every bit as engrossing as the building of Monterrigioni from ACII, but again, we'll officially reserve judgement until the final product.
We were also promised that the combat has been revamped this time around, encouraging a more offensive approach. Previous games in the series essentially had you waiting around for your enemy to strike so you could do a well timed counter attack. Now, players will have to contend with a combo system, kill streaks, and improved timing as opposed to the waiting game from before.
We'll see if the game can keep it's lofty promises and live up to it's fantastic pedigree when it's released this holiday season, but on the strength of its multiplayer alone, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is looking to be every bit the must own holiday title that it's predecessors were.