I finally got to spend some time with the Assassin's Creed Multi-player Beta courtesy of Sony and Playstation Plus. I had put off installing the beta for a bit simply because Assassin's Creed isn't a franchise that I have particularly enjoyed (though, to be fair, I still haven't given part 2 a fair shake). It also isn't really a franchise that seemed desperately in need of a multi-player component. After a few hours with the beta, it is fair to say my expectations and hopes have changed a bit. The slice of the game made available in the beta is pretty enjoyable, but certainly not perfect.
The beta gives players access to two multi-player modes, Wanted and Alliance. Wanted is basically deathmatch while Alliance is team deathmatch with 2-man teams. Both modes allow players to earn experience points that go toward leveling-up and opening new items, maps, and perks. I was glad to see the rewards system as both the Halo and Call of Duty franchises have shown that such features really add to the longevity of A a game.
The game includes single-player tutorial that allows the player to become familiar with the basic game concepts and controls. After one game of that, I jumped right into a match. Gameplay is very much pick up and play, and I was comfortable with what I was trying to do from game one. Players choose an Assassin and enter a virtual world. Soon after spawning each player is assigned a target. The goal is simply to kill your target while avoiding being killed by your pursuer. Kill a civilian (an easy mistake since all the Assassin models are used repeatedly to form the crowds) or get killed and you have to wait for a new target to be assigned. The game is played for a specific amount of time and the highest score wins.
Scoring is intuitive: the less aware your victim is of your presence before the kill, the higher your score. This puts a premium on being as sneaky as possible and using the crowds and the level design to your advantage. If you are too obvious and get outed by your target, a chase mode launches and you have a limited amount of time to catch and kill your prey before they a no longer your target. The pursued can shut doors or place obstacles in the pursuers path in order to escape. These chases are stressful from both sides though I suppose it is better to be the chaser than the chased. Regardless, the chases are fun and being on the winning end of one is rewarding.
Graphically, the game is pretty. The character models are a success both technically and aesthetically. The levels look great and are well-designed in relation to the game mechanics. I really can't wait to see the maps that come with the full game as I can see different maps impacting the gameplay greatly.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood does a great job of keeping the player aware of the elements of the game state that are important. The HUD includes a picture of your target, an arrow that indicates the direction the target is in with an additional indicator of his elevation in relation to the pursuer. I never found myself at a loss for what to do, and it didn't take move from my initial fifth-place finish to a win in my third game.
Most of my complaints about the Beta are simply limitations of the Beta itself, not the full game. I'd like to see more levels, but obviously those are coming with the full release. I'd like to see the different assassins be more than just different models with different animations and actually force the player to use the characters in different ways. A game this small cries out for the variety that is introduced with the inclusion of asymmetric character abilities.
In the end, there isn't much to complain about. The game is tight, focused and, often, very tense. Do I think Assassin's Creed Multi-player is going to be a smash hit? Not really. It is fun, and the gameplay is tight and focused in the way Splinter Cell or Gears of War had previously managed. I'm just not sure the game offers enough variety in the end to draw players away from more dynamic multi-player franchises. I expect a couple of months of heavy play before the players return to Halo or Call of Duty.