No rum for me, it's stabbing time.
While I like to think that I've become a master at online assassinations on friends and foes alike, Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Annecy don't want newcomers to feel the sting of experienced hidden blades like mine, at least not without the opportunity to feel successful themselves. During my guided tour of Ubisoft's E3 booth, I got an opportunity get hands-on with Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag's multiplayer component well ahead of release.
You probably already know that AC multiplayer revolves around careful, measured play. Pursuing targets too aggressively might give you away to anyone assigned to end your own life, and higher point values are assigned to stealthy and stylish kills. Since Brotherhood, I've been hooked on the idea that killing more than your competition doesn't guarantee a 1st-place finish, and that aerial assassinations or poisoning your target without them knowing can rocket you to the top of the leader board. Thankfully, the team that won the Bischoff Award for Multiplayer Excellence (which I totally just made up) hopes to push the formula forward and meet the needs of a growing player base with Game Lab.
Game Lab allows users to completely customize the way an AC multiplayer match plays out. You can change the rules or combine game types to create your own personal flavor. If you want the teams of Manhunt, but not the strict hide-vs-seek discrete rounds, you can do that. One match type created by the development team only awarded points for gun kills, making for a deliberate third-person shooting experience. If you want to completely eliminate the kill-specific scoring, you can do that too. A 1200-point hidden-poison kill can now equal 1 single point, forcing players to completely rethink their strategies to meet each match type.
That's what I was met with when I finally went hands-on. Generally, I prefer stalking my prey, playing patiently and going for high-scoring assassinations above anything else. The standard Wanted mode eventually pushes players like me to move and react faster, especially when three or four players have all been assigned to kill the guy in the lead. Still, my reluctance with this new custom mode put me at a huge deficit.
An Ubi developer leading the match knew how to react to the new rule set and immediately began sprinting around, alerting other players to his position. At first I thought this was an odd choice, but when you strip AC multiplayer of different point values, it doesn't matter if another player can spot you as human out of all the AI doubles—it only matters if you strike fast and frequently. In this particular match, players were awarded one point for every stun, every ground finish, and every kill, while contesting a kill meant that neither player received a point.
I started to get to the hang of this mode's rhythm and betrayed my silent-stalker sensibilities to climb to higher vantage points. From the few rooftops in the Caribbean map, I could spot my target and see aggressive attackers headed my way. As they scaled the walls, I was able to jump off and pursue my own victim, losing my own tail in the process. Game Lab was already making a meaningful impact on the way I played AC multiplayer.
By forcing experienced assassins like me to step out of their comfort zones, Ubisoft Annecy will keep the frantic circle-stabbing at a level that welcomes new players and challenges old-hands. Properly implemented with the rest of AC's community and competitive features, Game Lab will reinvigorate the experience and drive players to continue hunting with creative new game types and challenges. I ducked out of Assassin's Creed III's multiplayer earlier than I had expected, but Game Lab takes the basic blocks that made me fall in love way back in Brotherhood and twists them to create meaningful new competitive rulesets.
Assassin's Creed IV is set to release on October 29, 2013 in North America for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC, and will be available for PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in Q4 2013.