While adding multiplayer to the pre-existing Assassin's Creed formula may have seemed like a no-brainer, it didn't happen over night. In fact, the team at Ubisoft Montreal has been prototyping the game's multiplayer elements since not long after the release of the original Assassin's Creed; yes, since 2007.
It wasn't until early last year that it finally felt "right." Working with early prototypes of the some of the game modes, likely not even prepared for the breakout success of the sequel, the team got to to work.
The result is only a part of the upcoming Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, a game so ambitious and wide-sweeping that Ubisoft has teams from all over the globe on its development. The publisher has teams four teams on the project -- spread across Montreal, France, Singapore, and Quebec city -- working hard to pull the game together for its fall 2010 release.
Multiplayer is only one aspect of the title; it features a significant single-player portion, as well, one that continues the events of Assassin's Creed 2. But after going hands-on with the game's online mode, it's obvious that it's worth focusing on. Why? Because it looks like it works surprisingly well, and even more importantly, sounds like a blast to play.
Assassins killing assassins? Madness! As it was explained to us (in a somewhat confusing and roundabout way), it's all a teaching simulation. Using the massive room of Animus devices seen in the opening sequence of Assassin's Creed 2, Abstergo is training Templar soldiers to become assassin's by "uploading" memories into its subjects.
That's where you come in. As a subject, you'll engage in a number of "training exercises" (or multiplayer game modes) to hone your skills as a master assassin. The title will ship with a number of game types, but we saw a "cat and mouse" style game called "Wanted" in action. In this mode, players are assigned contracts to target (other human players). The catch: targets aren't marked on maps; instead, the game only will give you an idea of the general area in which to find your contract kill. You know what they look like, but spotting them in a crowd is easier said than done: the game will populate the world with NPCs to match the skins of the participating players.
This sets up some interesting gameplay opportunities for both targets and assassins. As an assassin, your goal will be to spot behavior in a crowd that might tip you off to human controlled activity -- sudden start and stop running, or even climbing on buildings or jumping from rooftops. On the flip-side, players looking to avoid detecting may want to steer clear of such activity, or go out of their way to act more like a computer-controlled NPC.
Once you spot your target, the chase is on. The player being pursued will be tipped off to being spotted and will have a chance to make his or her fast escape. Players can use the environment to their advantage, trying to outsmart and outrun the hunter. That is, of course, if they see the assassin at all -- it'll be possible to spot and sneak up on targets for stealth kills. But assassin's beware: targets can hideout and then turn the tables, killing their would-be executioner, the hunter becoming the hunted.
The winner of each round will be determined on a points basis. As expected, finding and eliminating your targets will earn you points. But so will evading killers, so staying low and hiding out can also be beneficial your success, as well. Point values are also assigned differently per type of kill; a stealth kill, for instance, will earn you more points than an open-air chase that ends in an elimination.
While players can choose from multiple assassin skins, there aren't any gameplay difference between them. Each will have its own animations you may see during a kill -- we saw a courtesan do a fancy bankroll over a target before plunging a dagger into his heart -- but that's it. Players can however customize their character by applying certain skills and perks before rounds. Depending on your player style, you might want to apply a speed or a skill to throw a potential pursuer off your tracks. After each round, players will be rewarded with XP to level up their characters, opening up more skills, as well as game maps and other content.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is due out this fall; a beta for the game's multiplayer is expected prior to release, although Ubisoft has yet to reveal on which platforms.