By Gamer_152 3 Comments
Note: The following post is liable to make very little sense without some prior knowledge or experience of the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer.
So, admittedly I’m a little late to the party on a lot of the big games from 2010 and so it’s only over the past few weeks that I’ve jumped into the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer. Looking at the multiplayer experience as a whole it’s not surprising that it faded into semi-irrelevance among consumers fairly rapidly, but I don’t think developers should let it fade into the foggy mists of gaming history for themselves just yet. Despite all its unfortunate blemishes, it’s a highly unique and potentially amazing multiplayer experience. Sadly, I suspect that this multiplayer mode came into existence in the way it did not because Ubisoft as a publisher wanted to release something new and risky, but rather because they knew multiplayer was the big thing in all the triple-A games and so they essentially forced the development team into innovating for financial reasons. However it got there though, the fact remains that this is a triple-A game delivering an original gameplay experience far from anything mainstream games have presented before.
Secrets and Lies
For a long time I’ve been engaged by the idea of deception as a key component in games. The Spy from Team Fortress 2 is a character which I continue to find conceptually captivating, even if I’m terrible at playing as him. Although I’ve never experienced it for myself I was interested by the idea of “playing traitor” in the Kane & Lynch 2 multiplayer, and Chris Hecker’s upcoming indie game Spy Party may be one of the most inventive uses of deception in a video game I’ve seen yet. Brotherhood presents something different though; a game where every player is the traitor and is caught in a strange sort of reverse Turing test. While the multiplayer modes of most other popular games rely on fast reflexes and quick judgement, when functioning correctly the Brotherhood multiplayer asks for something video games rarely do: subtlety and discreetness. I feel this is not only the greatest aspect that the multiplayer has to offer, but that the emphasis on these skills is why it’s so unfortunately infuriating when the mistakes in the multiplayer design shine though.
The Rooftop Problem
When the game was released the thing that everyone seemed to be saying was that the abilities ruined the multiplayer and while I agree entirely that they aren’t beneficial to the game, I’m reluctant to say that they are the only compromising factor in the multiplayer. The game walks a very fine line, as with its focus on the goal of misleading opponents, it relies heavily on depriving the player of information. When it pays off it leads to a unique feeling of superiority for the player, or at least a pleasant sense of surprise, but when the game makes a misstep it makes them feel as though the game is working unfairly against them and that’s a frustrating experience. For example I can recall plenty of annoying instances where players I haven’t even been able to see have dropped down on me from rooftops killing me.
In fact I’ve been endlessly agitated by people hanging around on roofs. As you might expect spending a large amount of time on the rooftops carries some degree of risk, as players who do so light up like a Christmas tree to anyone who's after them. The problem is that while they may be doing themselves no favours, it seems like players using the rooftops for anything but escaping or quickly getting from one street to another worsens the experience for both their pursuers and their targets. In general I think it also takes away from the best part of the multiplayer; when the game is meant to be about subtlety and trickery it’s annoying to see someone being able to abandon all that for the regular in-your-face, high action approach that most multiplayer games flaunt. I’m not saying the game shouldn’t be fast-paced in places, the chases are some of the most tense and exciting moments it has to offer, but allowing this unstructured, haphazard style of play just seems annoying and out of place.
When you get killed by someone from a rooftop you feel a bitter sense of helplessness, and if you’re trying to pursue the person who has taken to the roofs you have no choice but to make yourself as obvious to your pursuer as your target is to you. The developers can’t just take away the building traversal though because that would not only make it harder for players to escape high profile pursuers, but without the trademark Assassin’s Creed climbing abilities they’d also risk making the player feel weak and restricted. The rooftop problem is also exacerbated by the fact that the game seems to be bad at assigning targets to players, I’ve found myself in 7th place with 2 other players following me or in 2nd place with no one after me, and things only get worse when multiple players take to the roofs. While I haven’t run into this problem in most matches, it’s entirely possible to find games where the majority seem to abandon all elegance and just chase each other across buildings, and in those situations you have no choice but to copy them and essentially help them break the feel of the game further, although there may actually be a simple solution to the rooftop problem. One of my friends did come up with the rather clever idea of having guards stationed on the rooftops which would point out and attack anyone lingering up there for too long and I must say I can’t spot a flaw in the idea. Maybe that could be answer to one of the game’s biggest problems.
As far as game types in the multiplayer go there is only actually one that I really enjoy, ‘Wanted’ (the free-for-all mode), but that isn’t too big of an issue as it’s easy to ensure I’m only dropped into matches using that mode. Why my distain for the other game variants though? They are all team-based and clearly identify who your pursuers are. The team makes you feel safer and knowing what your potential pursuer looks like means you can drastically narrow down who is and isn’t a threat in the world. It is a far call from the ‘Wanted’ mode where you feel as though you’re completely out for yourself and that anyone lurking behind you is surely about to run up and snap your neck. It feels as though the game was made around the ‘Wanted’ mode and then in a bid to try and add more variety all the other modes were added in later. The ‘Manhunt’ mode seems to be by far the one least in the spirit of the game though. When on the defending team the game is mainly about aimlessly wandering for minutes without being able to make a kill and when on the attacking side the game removed all tension by there being no dangers in the world to avoid and giving you even greater incentive to just run about the map to your heart’s content.
The Random Nature
These problems (and the ones I’m about to mention) all feel like they’re problems that can be fixed though. One thing that does worry me is whether a multiplayer like Brotherhood’s can accurately score players based on their performance. I’m not saying for sure that it can or can’t but one thing that I have noticed is that my placing at the end of matches tends to be rather sporadic. I could place very low in one game, have a rematch against the same players, place very high, and ping-pong back and forth throughout my play session. I don’t feel like I get a definite sense of how heavily problems like the roofs and abilities impact the scoring, but I do wonder if the right-place-at-the-right-time nature of the multiplayer means that the players’ chances of success are just too random. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can cost you in many popular multiplayer games such as Call of Duty or Killzone but these games don’t push players into as many situations where it’s almost impossible for them to know whether they’re within the sights of their enemy or not, meaning players in those games have more control over their situation. Again, I don’t feel sure this is a game-breaking factor but I do wonder.
So, finally, the abilities, those little extra unlockable powers and weapons that help you out in the cutthroat streets of virtual Italy. On paper the idea of the abilities doesn’t look like such a bad idea. They’re there to help add flavour and variety to play, to make it deeper and to keep it from getting stale, in practise though they’re just aggravating, at least when you’re on the receiving end. While the abilities make you feel like a badass when you use them to screw over another player that feeling of power over them mainly comes from the fact that you really do have an unfair advantage. When the game tells you that you have to escape only to have you killed immediately because your pursuer was using sprint boost or when the game makes it impossible to tell which person in a crowd is the target because they’ve used the morph ability (turning the characters around them into clones of them) it makes you feel powerless and as though you’ve been unfairly punished.
Of course there are ways to counter abilities with other abilities (e.g. Firecrackers or templar vision beat morph, sprint boost or throwing knives beat sprint boost) but then the game just devolves into whether you happen to have the right ability for the situation you’re in, and if you don’t the opponent gets a huge leg up on you. I haven’t really had any experience with the perks, but reading about them it doesn’t look like they help to balance out the game either and only serve to give people who already likely have higher player skill than the people at lower levels a higher gameplay advantage too. There’s a part of me that thinks the abilities and perks may have gotten in there because Ubisoft saw progression-based unlocks were all the rage in the other games and just wanted them in their game too, but whatever their origin I think we can agree that the abilities often feel painfully detrimental to the experience.
Duder, It’s Over
For all the rough edges and short-fallings I’ve mentioned I still can’t help but praise this multiplayer mode. The people at Ubisoft were trying something drastically new with what they created and whenever you’re trying to pioneer something there are always going to be mistakes here and there that have to be ironed out in future iterations. Hopefully we’ll see an Assassin’s Creed III with a far more refined multiplayer mode, but overall I’d just like game designers in general to take some notes from what Brotherhood did right, because there’s some completely original but entirely enjoyable components in that multiplayer. There, an entire blog about Assassin's Creed without one reference to that New Yorker quote. Good luck, have Sinecraft.