The Assassin’s Creed series has been a hit with gamers since the first title. The original game in the series was a smash hit and the best-selling new franchise of 2007. But despite the millions of copies sold, many gamers simply couldn’t get into the first game and were turned off by repetitive mission goals and pointless busy work.
I was one of those gamers who played the first game and opted not to bother with the sequel. But after checking out a pair of demos for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I’ve been inspired to give the series another chance. So inspired, in fact, that I now want to play Assassin’s Creed 2 just to prepare for the arrival of Brotherhood. Out of all the games at E3, Brotherhood was easily one of the stand-out titles.
During my visit to Ubisoft’s booth, I experienced two separate demos for the game: a hands-off look at single-player and a hands-on version of multiplayer. The single-player demo impressed me right away by jumping right into the action with a siege of Assassin’s Creed II protagonist Ezio’s home by his family’s sworn enemies the Borges. In the opening minutes, Ezio’s villa is bombarded with cannonballs, he jumps down to the ground, rides a horse through a cramped, crumbling city, scales a wall to fire a cannon at attacking hordes, and fights invaders hand-to-hand, including taking one enemy out by hurling an enormous axe at his head. That’s a lot of variety for a series in which the first game was criticized for being too repetitive.
The single-player demo went on to show how Ezio can use his league of assassins to take out his enemies, starting with sending a single ally to kill a single foe to calling a half-dozen fighters to participate in a massive ground battle. Throughout the game, Ezio will recruit these assassins, who can be used at will, but with a cooldown on how often they can be used. In the demo, Ezio called a single female assassin to take out a lone guard, and later ordered a handful of his killers to snipe a group of enemies with crossbows. The demo was capped off with Ezio facing off against a group of about a dozen armed and angry soldiers and calling in his entire squad to assist in the battle. While the assassins jumped in to take on the soldiers in frantic melee combat, Ezio calmly walked through the crowd and stabbed enemies in the back while they were distracted. It was pretty impressive stuff, and the team of assassins serves as the basis for the multiplayer mode, which is what really won me over.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s multiplayer is conceptually simple and brilliant in execution. Each player chooses from one specific character type and enters an area of the city where several versions of the characters mill around. Your goal is simple: to kill your target player. Each player is assigned another to identify and kill in the crowds of repeated character models. Of course, someone has been assigned to kill you too, so you need to both watch for suspicious behavior and try to blend in at the same time. An on-screen indicator points you in the right direction to you target, and obstacles and hiding places around the level can hinder your predator. Kill the wrong target and your contract is canceled. Get killed and you can choose a new set of special abilities before you respawn, such as disguises or throwing knives. Each time you kill or get killed, a new target is assigned.
It’s a simple formula, but man, does it ever work. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s multiplayer feels like nothing else around: slow but not boring, tense but not twitch-based. It’s a smart, unique multiplayer mode that I can’t wait to play again. I had just as much fun dying as I did killing, and it’s truly satisfying to take down an unsuspecting target with a knife in the back or a surprise leap from above. Playing successfully relies on using your brains as much as your reflexes – your indicator points you in the right direction of your target, but it’s up to you to watch for suspicious activities and take down the right person. Of course, you’ve got to watch your back as well – I found myself switching from a slow, methodical hunt to a frantic dash for my life in a split second. If there’s any flaw I could point to in the multiplayer mode, it’s that the stealthy bent discourages you to use Assassin’s Creeds’ trademark freerunning, as being spotted running across the roofs easily identifies you as a human player. Unless you can do it without being spotted, of course.
After dismissing Assassin’s Creed II based on my distaste for the original, I’m excited to give the series another shot. The single-player demo convinced me to give the Assassin’s Creed franchise another chance. The multiplayer convinced me that Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood might be one of the best games of the year.