What do Sony, Ubisoft and Assassin's Creed all have in common? For a start, around this time of year they get very intimate with one another, and their frolicking around results in a multiplayer beta for PlayStation 3 owners. It's something of a tradition nowadays, and Assassin's Creed: Revelations is no different. Well... actually, that's a lie. When the Brotherhood beta was rolled out, there was something special in the air, something that was potentially ground breaking. It genuinely was, but the same can't be said for Revelations which is disappointing, counter productive and really feels like a missed opportunity more than anything else.
Obvious positives aside (the game looks and feels as brilliant as ever), the multiplayer modes are nowhere near as exciting anymore. Maybe the gimmick has worn off, or maybe now, twelve months later, it's clear that the concept is no longer functional. Because it was so different to everything else on the market in 2010, there's a possibility that we overlooked its flaws and became dazzled by such a refreshing slice of competitive killing. Revelations never, not even once, felt competitive, nor did it feel enjoyable. As gamers who have been well established with the franchise ever since it launched in 2007, that's not what we wanted to see.
What we do know (hopefully), is that the solo campaign should still be excellent. That's the most important thing, but we'll have plenty of time in November to talk about it. For now, it's multiplayer and nothing else. The first thing you're going to discover is that the character design is remarkably bland, a first for the series. Unlike Brotherhood, where the assassins were made up of unique butchers, doctors, priests, etc.; Revelations has a legion of boring, blade wielding killers to choose from. An important part of completing a perfect assassination is to make sure that you look good. Granted, it's not a requirement pushed by Ubisoft, but how can you feel like an expert killing machine when your character resembles Robin Hood with a moustache?
Even more disappointing are the modes outside of 'Wanted'. In case you missed out last year, Wanted was the mode of choice. A free-for-all where players are assigned targets to eliminate, but instead of being a crazy rush for the highest number of kills, only the player who kills with style has a chance of winning. Technically, one kill could earn you anywhere between one hundred to six hundred points, possibly more. So you can see how it worked, and thankfully it still works. What doesn't work in any way, shape or form is 'Deathmatch' mode. And yes, there is a difference. Large maps are squashed down into a tiny, one block area so you lose the sprawling urban jungle and any room for dramatic chase sequences. Essentially, you're stripping away one of Assassin's Creed's best elements - level design.
Not only that, but you also lose the radar and have to rely on whispers to determine how close you are to a target. Chances are you'll end up walking around the same block time after time, following the same pattern. Or if you're terribly unlucky (as we have been throughout the beta), your targets will be killed by someone else, or you'll be killed straight away after doing so because you can't possibly be discreet in such crowded areas. Only one of each character is on the map, but somehow it's still a mess. And the cycle continues. If you're looking for an improvement over Brotherhood, which is exactly what we anticipated, then you're going to be sorely disappointed. Don't be fooled, the game still plays like the Assassin's Creed we know and love, and the multiplayer has been incorporated well (a training program for 'Abstergo' agents), but it really doesn't feel necessary this year. Even with the new abilities (none of which are explained so you'll have to work them out for yourself by looking at the pictures), slightly tweaked presentation, a fully fledged ranking system and challenges, the whole multiplayer side of Assassin's Creed has never felt so worthless.
Three maps are available in the beta: 'Knight's Hospital', 'Antioch', and finally, 'Constantinople'. They all share a similar brown-y, orange-y colour palette so they're really not distinguished enough from each other. The same could obviously be said for the characters but these problems are rectifiable as the finished products will include several more options. Slightly less rectifiable however, is the co-operative mode called 'Manhunt'. Lobbies are split into two teams of four; one side hunts, the other side runs away. And that's all there is to do. The main worry here is that you're going to be left behind, because if there's one veteran on your team then he (or she) is going to be able to track down and slaughter every target before you have a chance to blink. You can carefully plan a move but there's no guarantee that you'll be fast enough to claim the points for yourself. If people communicated across the PlayStation Network instead of playing music and insulting every woman in our family, then you could have an enjoyable game. If you don't have three friends that you trust then don't waste your time.
A final mode called 'Artifact Assault' was made available over the weekend. It's a standard 'Capture the Flag' affair which slightly compensates for the issues found elsewhere, but it's still nothing special and you're likely to end up running back to the only game type that genuinely works. The problem with Artifact Assault is that it's incredibly easy once you discover a route to your base, and it's not that hard to find. Usually, the people tracking you will never be able to catch up. Also, several modifications have been made to improve customisation, to add further depth to challenges and to make Revelations an all-round more engaging multiplayer experience. They could all work tremendously well in November, and for all we know, the full package could have us hooked. Although going by what we've played over the past week, it almost certainly won't unless you enjoy playing Wanted over and over again.
That's probably not what you were expecting to hear, was it? Honestly, it's not what we expected to write either. Fundamentally, Assassin's Creed: Revelations simply does not work outside of one mode that has been fine-tuned from last year. In the right setting, in the right frame of mind, with the right players; there's still fun to be found. Then again, how often does this happen? Rarely. Maybe if you have a dedicated clan who are always online and always ready to play, then maybe you'll find Revelations to be equally good, if not vastly superior to Brotherhood. For the majority of the fans, including ourselves, it's looking like the multiplayer side Revelations could well be ignored in favour of what could (and should, and will) be another brilliant part of the Assassin's Creed story. Prove us wrong Ubisoft, please prove us wrong.