This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.
It's 2 a.m. at the Abstergo Headquarters (also known as my bedroom). I have to be at work in seven hours, but I don't care. I'm in a virtual renaissance environment, hunted by an unknown assassin while trying to locate and kill my own target. I know that to survive I have to blend in, so without a second to spare I move in on a crowd with two other characters who look like me.
Moments later my target drops down from the rooftops. He had just murdered someone above and then made a somewhat reckless getaway. He glances about, content in his safety that no one saw him fall.
He casually walks around, trying to find his own lookalikes. Suddenly, my vision turns white. The crowd panics. Another assassin must have dropped a firecracker nearby. I quickly take advantage of the panic and move to the last location where I saw my target. I can barely make out his silhouette, but I know it's him. He makes no move to run, thinking I'm just one of the crowd.
I slam my wrist blade into his throat. He gags in surprise. I hear him cry out over voice chat in fury.
I smile in satisfaction.
When my vision returns I notice a doctor coming towards me. My target lies dead at my feet, the blood fresh on my hands. The way the doctor is walking feels unnaturally fast. It has to be my hunter. When he gets close I drop a smoke bomb and make a break for it. He gives chase, and an intense, 60-second race through alleyways and over rooftops ensues…until another assassin spots the action and intercepts my pursuer. It's the courtesan; the doctor was her mark. She tackles him and slices his throat.
By running after me, the doctor gave himself away. It was a risk that didn't pay off.
I sigh in relief and am assigned a new target. Unfortunately, due to my stellar survival skills, three players are en route to kill me instead of the usual one.
This is Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's multiplayer, and if you are all about tense and competitive gaming unlike anything out there in the mainstream right now, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.
The rules are simple. You're scored on a point system that rewards stealth and skill — not the number of kills you get but on how you get them. So, for instance, a player with four stealthy kills will take in roughly 1600 points. The Call of Duty kid (although somewhat annoying) will score 400 points for the same amount of kills, because he decided to run around like a dumbass and give himself away. Even though COD boy ends up with more actual kills in the end, he loses by a huge margin to the guy who played it smart and discrete like an assassin should.
You always have one target to kill, and next to the target's portrait on your HUD is a meter that will determine your score for a kill and whether or not your actions are about to give you away. Should you sprint toward your victim when he can see you, the meter will drain completely, and you'll be highlighted, letting him know who you are. If you manage to kill him in this state you'll score a paltry 100 points. If you don't kill him and he successfully stays hidden for the duration of the timer, you'll get a new target while your mark scores points for outwitting you. If you kill the wrong target in a panic, he also scores points.
It's nuanced and ingenious.
Adding to the tension is the very real threat of other assassins hunting you at the same time. Often you'll have one person on your trail; however, this changes based on performance. If you happen to take first or second place, expect at least two or three people targeting you. Having a rough match? That's OK. When you drop near the bottom in points, no one hunts you, giving you the chance to move freely and catch up.
This cat-mouse-cat structure forces players to be active and alert. Good assassins are always on the move while convincingly mimicking members of the artificial crowd. They thwart their hunters with subterfuge rather than a shotgun and a shield power-up.
Abilities, perks, kill streaks, and death streaks add even more depth to the already suspenseful gameplay. One of my personal favorite abilities is Morph, which turns all the NPCs around you into, well, you! It's portable cover when you need it. Therein lies the inventiveness.
For me, Morph is not just a cover tool — it's also a way to identify other players sandwiched in a crowd. Pop it and kill the guy who doesn't look like you. Cooldowns ensure players can't simply spam these abilities; they have to use them strategically.
It's worth mentioning that Brotherhood's multiplayer is a prototype. It's not perfect. The matchmaking in my area is excruciatingly slow, and party members can get shuffled and dropped between lobbies. Other annoyances, like not being able to tweak your load out while you wait for players, make it evident that this is Ubisoft's first foray into this arena.
In time, and with Assassin's Creed 3, we'll finally see a finished proof of concept. For now, I'm off to stab my friend in the neck.