Assassin’s Creed multiplayer could never work, surely? No doubt that’s what many were thinking in the lead up to Brotherhood’s 2010 launch. It was a time in which multiplayer had ripened to its fullest, emigrating from its homeland realm of first person shooters and into the unconventional territory of RPGs, brawlers, and even action games.
In some cases online play has felt pushed or unnecessary and it wasn’t long before “tacked-on multiplayer” became a common phrase among pundits and gamers. However, for every botched job there seemed to be a game that genuinely benefited from the inclusion of online play. Take Uncharted 2, for instance: despite a brief spell of scepticism, it turned out to be one of the sharpest, most innovative multiplayer games of 2009.
With that said, Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed are two completely different beasts. Given the former’s shooter-heavy gameplay, multilayer seemed like a natural step forward for developer Naughty Dog when working on an Uncharted sequel. Assassin’s Creed, on the other hand, has always harboured a network of intricate, stealth-based systems, catering specifically towards solo play. It was hard to imagine how Ubisoft could transfer these core gameplay elements into a multiplayer environment but somehow they achieved it.
Combining elements of paranoia, illusion, and pre-meditation, Brotherhood’s online component was a refreshing experience that has continued to refine itself year after year.
For some, last year’s Assassin’s Creed III felt like a step back for the franchise, despite sprucing up a wealth of its systems and mechanics. A bland protagonist, flat story, and hollow conclusion to the present day plot left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, yet didn’t impact on the multiplayer experience. In fact, this part of the game saw a slight improvement over its predecessors.
The same can be said, again, this year with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. There are no ground-breaking shake ups or dramatic changes; just like its singleplayer campaign, the multiplayer is a consolidation of everything that has come before.
If you’re familiar with previous online-enabled titles in the series, you’ll see that very little has changed. In fact, the core mechanics are exactly the same, whether you’re playing solo or as part of a team.
In a nutshell, you (or a team leader) select one of the several characters available. After your opponents have done the same, these avatars are multiplied and thrown into a map populated with lookalikes and other bypassers, all milling around in one open area.
Objectives change from mode to mode but for the most part you’ll either want to hunt targets or avoid them. Neither one is easier than the other as both require a keen eye and a good poker face. Hunters are aided by an on-screen radar that fills as you draw closer to your target, lighting up when they are in eyesight. Defenders on the other hand have no such luxury but get an audio prompt when assassins are nearby.
Manhunt encapsulates this cat-and-mouse type of gameplay perfectly and is the most popular team mode in Black Flag. Two teams of four take it turns to play as the hunters or the hunted, using teamwork and abilities to either kill targets or escape from them. The winner, of course, is the team with the largest score, points coming mainly from kills, stuns, or hiding.
The trick to Manhunt, or any game mode for that matter, is to take your time. Kills which have been pre-meditated yield hefty bonuses, rewarding players for their dexterity and flare. Run down your target whilst ploughing through crowds of peasants and expect 100 points at the most. Keep a low profile and pick-off a target whilst in a crowd and expect at least 900. It works similarly for those being hunted, who only receive points by stunning unaware chasers or blending into a crowd.
Though not as important as they are in shooters, loadouts in Assassin’s Creed help to define playstyles. They are fully customisable and can include two abilities and a ranged weapon as well as perks and kill/loss streaks. Abilities are particularly helpful and are used to spawn trip bombs, create doppelgängers, and block escape routes among a variety of other things. Though each has its place, some are used much more often than others; the same can also be said of Black’s Flags multiplayer perks.
Other team modes exist through game types such as Domination and Artefact Assault, which is basically capture the flag. Both of these modes split the map into portions; whilst in your area(s) you can track and kill targets but as soon as you cross the boundary you’re limited to hiding and stunning your opponents.
Both modes work well and force players to experiment with loadout combos. Where Domination is about strength in numbers, Artefact Assault relies on brief moments of deception and the player’s ability to outrun their enemy.
Woflpack also makes a return in Black Flag. Introduced in Assassin’s Creed III, this mode allows four players to hook up as they tackle 25 increasingly difficult challenges. It’s sort of like a “Horde” or survival mode which substitutes health and lives with a ongoing timer, topping up every time you clear a stage. Each one revolves around killing targets, whether they be looting your chests or simply walking around unaware. Sync-kills will also crop up here and there, offering a big pay-out if all four assassins land their kills at the same time.
If you’re not into the whole team-play thing, then a clutch of solo modes still exist. Wanted, Free-For-All, and Deathmatch all make an appearance, allowing players to kill who they wish or presenting them with prescribed targets.
These are by far the messiest game modes on show. With so many players hunting each other, it usually simmers down to a brief bit of sneaking before erupting into one mad conga line and re-setting again.
Overall, it’s still great fun even if there are but a few improvement over Assassin’s Creed III. The control system has been tweaked slightly, the menus are easier to navigate and, performance-wise, everything seems to run a tad smoother. The only worry now is that Ubisoft has reached a peak after and next year’s instalment will be even less of a jump than Black Flag.