Ubisoft's decision to include a multiplayer mode in Ezio's latest adventure was both unsurprising and fairly exasperating. Publishers seem to be pushing an online multiplayer component on every decent singleplayer experience, and when I was invited to try out a few rounds of AC Brotherhood's new competitive gametype, I was genuinely expecting a tacked on little distraction.
Well shut my mouth. As it turns out, it's really rather good.
Rather than a straight deathmatch, Brotherhood's 'Wanted' mode is a microcosm of the series' most satisfying singleplayer kills. You'll choose your character from a selection or archetypes that resemble the gormless peasants that mill around the expansive city maps... and will be tasked with hunting. You'll be given an picture and a rough compass locator- but since there are plenty of identical NPCs to blend in with, you'll need to closely watch the characters for any signs of suspicious behavior. Sprinting, climbing or pushing through crowds is a sure indicator of your human opponent- and you'll need to approach them without alerting them to your presence (preferably dispatching them with a diving assassination stealthy crowd infiltration).
Different character builds offer perks and skills for different play styles. A sprint boost and smoke bomb were the most useful of the extra skills, though a little balancing will be necessary for the final version.
So far, so good, but the twist in the tail is that you are also being hunted. Even as you're trailing your target, another assassin is hot on your heels... and you literally can't kill them. You'll have to rely on blending into the crowd and keeping a cool head to avoid being detected, though certain gates and doorways automatically close after you. Known as "chase breakers", these portals are a key way of shaking your opponent's line of sight and resetting the action.
There's also another option. The rep was fairly cagey about divulging this new feature, but he soon spilled the beans after demonstrating my dominance over the lads from Gamer.nl (who admittedly hadn't played AC2 before). If you're able to approach your attacker without being detected, you can intimidate them into leaving you alone. This will result in a hilarious animation (probably involving a headlock, noogie or swift kick to the knackers) followed by your opponent's target being changed to another player. This will leave you free and clear for a while, allowing you to stalk your target without constant paranoia.
The Assassination gametype is fast, slick and extremely enjoyable. Admittedly the smoke bomb feels a little overpowered (as it disables an opponent for far too long), but otherwise it's a nifty addition to the franchise that delivers serious suspense. I may have mentioned the intense paranoia that this gametype conjures up- and I genuinely spent the rest of the Sony presser looking over my shoulder with the constant fear that someone was going to sneak up and stick a wristblade between my ribs. That was just from a couple of rounds with the preview build. Impressive stuff.
As well as the multiplayer, I was also delighted to be shown the new singleplayer 'Brotherhood' mechanics in action. Taking to the rooftops in singleplayer mode, Ezio was capable of designating targets for instant kills (which causes an Assassin to appear out of nowhere and dispatch an inconvenient archer). Another gesture allowed smoke bombs or arrows to be instantly deployed onto unsuspecting groups of enemies... and when engaged with a horde of enemies, the final command summoned a group of Assassins to Ezio's side to engage in open combat.
These one-touch moves seemed to make the game extremely easy, but the rep assured us that these assassins represented an endgame tend when am of fully-trained and specialised killers. Each assassin will need to be recruited, trained and equipped before they resemble anything other than bumbling amateurs. We assume that this will take the place of the villa upgrades, and will require an RPG-like expenditure of money and experience.
Brotherhood is shaping up nicely. Assassin's Creed 2 revolutionised the franchise with its sweeping improvements- and Brotherhood seems set to hone the experience even further. One to watch... and to preorder for fans of the series.