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PAX 10: Assassin’s Creed Multiplayer

acbsps11brotherhoodvshostage_55706107626_8054I had my doubts at first. I thought it was impossible to make Assassin’s Creed into a multiplayer game, but after getting some hands-on time with it at PAX, I’m now a believer.

This multiplayer is unlike anything else. It combines moments of slow-building tension with moments of fast-paced action, silent hunts, and high-speed chases, and all are intense, satisfying, and exciting.

I start the demo by choosing my character skin. There’s nothing special about these skins, they’re just used to differentiate players. And there’s no need to fear picking one that looks “too unique” and makes you stand out since the world will be populated with dozens of NPCs that look exactly like you.

After selecting a skin I get to choose my loadout — a set of two special abilities that are mapped to the upper trigger buttons (L1 and R1, or LB and RB). You can use both abilities almost instantaneously thanks to this configuration, so it can really pay off choosing two abilities that compliment each other. My favorite combo is Smoke and Morph: Smoke lets you set of a smoke bomb, and morph changes the skin of every NPC around you, making them look like you. If you’re spotted, using both at the same time can confuse your hunter, giving you the chance to strike back.

I’m assigned a target as soon as I spawn. A little picture of the person I’m to kill is shown in the upper right corner of the screen. Of course, this is just a skin, and it’s applied to many NPCs across the level. The game uses a compass at the bottom of the screen to guide me towards my proper prey. It’s shaped like a slanted doughnut, and a blue bar points in the direction I’m supposed to go. As I get closer the bar grows larger until it fills up the entire compass. At that point I’m within killing distance and can run in for the kill before the target is notified. Rushing in too soon makes the game notify the other player that he’s been spotted. At that point the hunt becomes a chase, and chasing people in Assassin’s Creed is always difficult, so it’s best to stay stealthy.

At one point I was tasked with killing a noble, but as I followed my compass I noticed it pointing at two noblemen walking together. One was my target, the other was an NPC. We were walking straight towards each other, and at the last second I panicked and attacked one. First, the game punished me for killing a civilian by canceling my contract, which means even if the guy ran I’d have no reason to chase him. Second, the other player noticed my obvious attack and killed me right away. I imagine this will be a somewhat common tactic when the game comes out.

I say “tactic” and not “problem” because the game encourages this kind of trickery. Another ability for your loadout is Disguise, which changes your character skin for a period of time, and if you do get your hunter to kill a civilian his contract on you is cancelled. This is something that only Assassin’s Creed can get away with because we know we’re playing in a virtual world, the Animus. That fact allows the developers to give you all sorts of abilities that would otherwise seem nonsensical, and we don’t question why all the civilians are oblivious to the constant murder around them. It’s all a game.

Even though the game rewards silent kills with more points, that doesn’t mean you have to walk everywhere. The woman showing off the demo constantly ran across the rooftops as she explained things. This gave her away instantly, but it also meant anyone that wanted to kill her had to expose themselves as well. After all, it’s hard to kill someone who’s always moving. She was very good and killed most people that came after her, which made her an even bigger target. If one player starts to earn a high kill/death ratio, the game makes them the target of multiple assassins. At one point she had three of us chasing her.

Alliances like that can be made, but they’re by no means set in stone. You’re rewarded for killing other players even if they’re not your assigned target, though killing your target nets you a lot more. Killing others will also cancel someone else’s contract, since their target is obviously already dead, which slows down their potential to earn points.

I died a lot, and often times death came out of nowhere, but every time I died the game told me how I had given myself away. It let me know if my killer saw me using an ability or saw me running, it’s like the Assassin’s Creed equivalent of a killcam.

Each round lasts 10 minutes, and the person with the most point by the end wins. Ten minutes is the perfect amount of time for a game: It’s long enough that you don’t feel rushed and that stealth is a valid option, but short enough that you can play without too much commitment. Learning the map will be important because there are paths you can take that will close behind you, cutting you off from any pursuer and allowing you to escape.

It’s impressive that this multiplayer mode allows for a variety of play styles. Be silent or be loud, both come with advantages and disadvantages. When this multiplayer was first announced no one thought it was a good idea, but the folks at Ubisoft Montreal have proved they know what they’re doing.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft
Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Microsoft Windows
Available November 16

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