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An Evening With: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

When a series which has been resolutely single player suddenly announces that the next release will add a multiplayer component, it tends to raise concern. Fears that this feature will just be tacked on or that it’ll drain resources away from the solo game are liable to run rampant across message boards, spread by nervous fans.

I have to admit, I wondered at the time it was announced how Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was going to handle things. Now, having finally got my hands on the PC version (a recipient of the traditional Assassin’s Creed PC release delay,) I can say with relief that the multiplayer portion is rather terrific.

Ubisoft Annecy reportedly had an awful lot to do with it, and if that’s the case they should also get the bulk of the plaudits. Aside from all the levelling up and perk unlocking of the modern multiplayer experience, the game provides a series of subtle, cat-and-mouse game modes that are quite unlike the usual deathmatch fare. We gave the 360 version a fine score back in November, but this PC release gives us an excuse to give that multiplayer a much closer look.

So join me in virtual Italy, as I indulge in An Evening With … Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

Actually … thinking about it, could you not walk so close? It makes me rather nervous these days. Thanks.

Is … is that a knife?

Oh god.

Game 1

Map
Castel Gandolfo

Game Mode
Wanted

Team
Myself (the Priest)

Ranking
3rd (out of 6)

Wanted is Brotherhood’s standard multiplayer mode. It’s the one you’re taught how to play in the short but handy tutorial, and has a basic skillset that seems generally transferable to other modes of play. It’s a ten minute match, with every player given a ‘contract’ to kill one of the others. Do so, and you’ll receive points – but somebody is almost always going to be hunting you too.
Brotherhood has quite a collection of dapper characters to play as, but I wanted to be laying low. Going under the (not yet invented) radar. Silent as the grave. With that in mind, surely no-one would suspect a harmless bald priest? Ok, yes, he does look quite a lot like Hitman’s Agent 47, but if I happen to be playing against anyone of a religious persuasion they may pause for vital seconds before sticking the blade in.
That’s my weak, fallible plan and I’m sticking to it.

Initially, it seems to actually work. I stroll around admiring the lush interior of Castel Gandolfo, mixed in group of similar-looking civilians, and pausing only to pop out and make some sneaky, high-scoring kills. Rather smartly, Brotherhood offers ample rewards for taking your time over kills; not only do you get extra points for style (acrobatic, from below, blindfolded with one arm behind your back and so on,) this approach also prevents your stalkee being alerted. If you make too much noise, it triggers a chase sequence, giving them time to evade you and hoisting up a gigantic flag that says “Yes, indeed, I am an assassin. Hello there. Please come and slash my face off at your earliest convenience.”

After my latest kill (an unfortunate Nobleman,) I’m informed I’ve received some kind of Underdog bonus points for dispatching the leading player a certain number of times. Which, I’ve got to say, makes me feel pretty cool. It also gives me enough points to reach level 5. Double cool.
Not much time to celebrate that though, because I’m on the tail of an elusive doctor who seems unsure whether he wants to be upstairs or down. I’m not busting my gut chasing after him because that’ll give me away. Instead, I decide to hang around some identical looking priests in a foyer area and wait. This is hardly a tactical masterstroke, but it brings almost instant rewards as he dives off a balcony and tumbles into my lap. Easy pickings, more points. But my smugness is short lived, as a knife slashes my own throat. My pursuer just watched me make a scene in the open and it’s a simple job for them to pick me off. Curses.

Despite briefly taking the lead, I’m slipping down the rankings now and in my haste to recover I start to get sloppy. Spying a contract down below I take a risky shortcut over a railing to get to her. It triggers a double chase, as the person hunting ME shows up at the same time. Left with little choice, I leg it away around a corner, utilise my ‘disguise’ ability (which in this case doesn’t just morph me into someone else, it changes my sex too) and hop into a haystack. Crisis averted. I pick up a few points for that, but not as many as if I’d been instigating some murder.
It’s downhill from there, as the creepy whispers which trigger whenever a stalking assassin is near begin to close in. I die a couple more times to enemy blades and my score stagnates. Still, 3rd place is somewhat respectable for a lowly level 5 player like me; especially in mixed company with a couple of people in the teen levels.

Game 2

Map
Forli

Game Mode
Assassinate

Team
Myself (the Priest)

Ranking
4th (out of 6)

Using the lucky-dip method of the ‘Play Now’ option (which throws you into any suitable game) I end up in an Assassinate game – a mode included with The Da Vinci Disappearance DLC that’s bundled with the PC version of the game. This is one I haven’t played before, but it’s simple enough to figure out. Basically, it’s a free for all. Watch for suspicious non-AI like behaviour, lock on to that target and take ’em out.

It lacks some of the structure of Wanted, but places more emphasis on the skill of figuring out who’s who. Again, you get a compass to help out, so you’re not entirely flying blind. Once again I opt for the faithful priest and prepare my crucifix-knife (crucinife?) for action.

Unfortunately, the matchmaking has kind of failed the majority of players here. There are five low-level players (including myself) and one really high-level joker who’s already several thousand points ahead by the time I join the session. It’s the usual story; this guy is using his levelled-up toybox to harvest newbies in order to fly up the rankings. Classy, sir. Very classy.
I manage to get one moment of great satisfaction by using the Stun function to dump him on his sorry arse and run away, but the rest of the time he’s picking us all off for sport. By the end of the match there’s a points gap of about 8,000 between us, and I suspect everyone below that fellow has seen various death animations multiple times.

Assassinate seems like it should be fun, but on this occasion it’s been rather tarnished.

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Game 3

Map
Siena

Game Mode
Escort

Team
Smugglers

Ranking
1st (out of 2)

After that near-debacle, the fickle hand of fate deals me some Escort (another Da Vinci specific mode.) As you can probably gather from the title, this involves babysitting a couple of (AI powered) VIP characters, while the other team tries to off them. The protecting team racks up the score for guiding the VIPs through various checkpoints (as well as picking off would-be assassins) and, predictably enough, the other team gets points for kills.
The map we’re on, Siena, is one of my favourites. A lack of rooftops means no-one can fuck about too much, and the lack of space keeps the killing high. It also looks rather lovely, with a nighttime festival of horse racing surrounded by colourful tents. However, the cramped space seems to make it tough to look after the VIPs. I’m on a team of smugglers, tasked at first with smuggling some death to the dear old Dama Rosa and, curiously, the Thief (well, maybe she’s an important thief.) Attempting to stop us are a squad of pesky footpads.

I manage to get in a couple of VIP kills before being effectively shut down with Stuns and smokebombs. The rest of my team seem to be fairing a little better, but it seems like these footpads are semi-organised, fanning out around one of the VIPs in a loose but observant formation. Happily though, this means the other VIP is unattended, and seems to be suffering the ignominy of being murdered over and over again. It’s quite late in the match by this point so we can’t exploit this points-cow quite as fully as we might like, and we finish the round around one thousand points behind. This might sound bad, but you can easily grab 500 for a kill if you execute it with some style.

Now it’s our turn to be on guard duty.

Honestly, it doesn’t seem to be going all that well. The robo-Animus lady keeps informing me that the VIP has been killed and half the time I’ve been watching it happen. What may be our saving grace is that we’ve also bumped off plenty of attempted assassins and at least shepherded one of our important persons through a few checkpoints. I slash a couple more throats and take a glance at the clock. 20 seconds, and we’re still in second place.

Then something majestic happens. We only go and take the lead with about 15 seconds remaining.

It’s all bodies to the VIPs for the final few seconds, as our team does its best Presidential bodyguard impression and forms a sort of smuggler-shield around the remaining escortee (the other is yet to respawn and we all seem to be praying that there isn’t time.) There’s a scare as a footpad nears, but he’s just a harmless civilian.

As he passes, the game concludes. A confused, somewhat inept, but nonetheless satisfying victory is secured. Hurrah.

Game 4
Map
Mont St-Michel

Game Mode
Wanted

Team
Myself (the Priest)

Ranking
4th (out of 8)

Confident that my almost accidental team success can translate to the individual game modes, I return to Wanted. The Priest is fast becoming a favourite of mine, so I stick with his holy sociopathic self and find myself on the island fortress of Mont St-Michel. It’s an even playing field in the rankings, except for a lone level 50 player who I’m not exactly overjoyed to see after the Assassinate shenanigans.

As it turns out though, he’s either not really concentrating or he’s holding off the majority of the levelled up tricks he must possess. Although he kills me a couple of times, it’s all fair and square. I don’t witness any dickwad usage of fancy high-level gadgets to take people out, just hard work and smart assassin tactics. What a gent.

I could do with some fancy-pants perks myself though, because I’m quickly dumped back into 6th place without even a moderate wounding to my name. I’ve spent entirely too long traipsing up and down St-Michel’s numerous flights of stairs without glimpsing my target and I begin to suspect we’ve just been following one another in circles. Then, suddenly, it’s too late. Someone with superior stair-navigational skills had the same contract and actually managed to make the hit.
I’m offered someone new and opt to take a short-cut up the side of a cathedral. This turns out to be both stupid and an insult to the term ‘short cut’ as I get completely lost on a set of beams and rafters, before being unceremoniously gutted by a passing Prowler. Well thanks man, you at least saved me the trouble of finding a sensible way down.
After finally getting a little more to grips with the map, I get into something approaching a groove. My absolute favourite hits are on people who are just strolling past, unawares, until they get a knife in the ribs. It never fails to satisfy, and I’m able to pull off two in a row here.

Mr. Level 50 is out in front with a minute or so to go, but it’d only take one skillful assassination for second, third – or even myself, in fourth – to overhaul him. This doesn’t happen though, as the luck of the contract draw makes us scrap amongst ourselves and everyone from 1st on down to 5th finishes with between 2800 and 2400 points. I’m there in fourth; another middling finish, but another entertaining bout of stabbery.

Post-Mortem

Brotherhood’s six modes of play (eight if you include ‘advanced’ versions of a couple) are just about varied enough to provide a neat mixture of activities – though the kill-or-be-killed heart of them all will probably get repetitive over time. That’s where the levelling comes in, teasing you with new toys and trinkets if you just play a little longer and gather a few more experience points.

I’ve been reading that many people using the PC version have encountered connection problems. This didn’t affect me personally, but is clearly something Ubisoft need to look into. Waiting times for matches can also be an issue – perhaps in part because of those connection headaches – although I’ve found that the ‘Play Now’ option is pretty reliable for quick access. The downside there is that you don’t get any choice over what style of match you’re placed in.

When you do get into a match, Brotherhood’s central multiplayer concepts (be subtle, be stealthy, be alert) are pulled off extremely well. Yes, you’ll sometimes run into people who are clambering over buildings like nutters, and yes this can subvert the pace of some matches by forcing people to chase after them with equal abandon; but the vast majority of the time the bait and switch nature of matches works with fluidity and grace. I’ll definitely be returning to the fray.

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