Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood isn't Assassin's Creed III, and it'll arrive on store shelves only a year after Assassin's Creed II, but it's set to be one of the biggest games of 2010. Why? Because for the first time Assassin's fans will be able to stab up their friends as well as computer-controlled enemies.
This, associate producer Jean-Francois Boivin tells Eurogamer, is just one of the many reasons why Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is more than a mere spin-off. But that's not all the outspoken Ubisoft Montreal staffer has on his mind...
Click through to page two to read what Boivin has to say, or read on below for our impressions of the game's multiplayer. Hands-on report by Oli Welsh, interview by Wesley Yin-Poole.
Hide in plain sight. Get as close as you can to your target. Don't run when you can walk. Discretion is the better part of valour - and running away is the better part of discretion. Make no mistake, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's Wanted multiplayer mode - revealed at E3 - is not your everyday deathmatch.
The basic mechanics are the same - hunt rival players across a contained map - as is the kills-versus-deaths scoreline at the end. But the experience is completely different. Ubisoft's designers have focused exclusively on making you feel as much like an assassin as possible, and the result has a much slower pace - literally, since running makes you conspicuous - than your everyday fragfest. Through a number of clever design choices, it also has the potential to be one of the best realisations of stealth gameplay in a multiplayer scenario to date.
Before jumping in, you pick a stylish skin that will be unique to you - the masked Doctor, penitent Monk, saucy Courtesan and so on - and then a set of two special skills. Available on the left and right triggers, these form the tactical basis of your game, but can be swapped at each respawn. You then appear on the streets of Rome, the game assigns you one of the other players as a target - it might be that other players have the same target - and the hunt begins.
Crucially, the streets are thronged with ambling NPCs who all look like one of the player skins. Equally crucially - since it's almost impossible for a real person to behave like a computer - leave the pad untouched and your character will mill around automatically, exactly like one of the NPCs. A simple, brilliant evasive tactic.
Under normal control you move at a slow walk, too, but you won't close in on your target like that. Hold down the right bumper for a "high profile" mode and you can run, climb and jump, following a radar that fills out as you get closer to your target. Get close enough and you're warned to stop running.
Don't, and the target will also get a warning and a radar tracker alerting them to your presence, and a high-speed foot chase, usually over rooftops, begins. If you elect to play it quiet, you can close in slowly on your target, using the left bumper to lock the camera on him or her, and executing your rival with one button push when you're breathing down their neck.
It's a simple, compelling and well-balanced mechanic and the three sets of special skills available for us to try all slotted neatly into it in interesting and different ways. One combines a speed boost while running with throwing knives for ranged kills, ideal for those high-profile chases. A more balanced set has a small pistol for medium-range assassinations and the ability to disguise yourself as one of the other skins for a short time.
A super-stealthy defensive set-up - my favourite - has a smoke bomb that immobilises anyone near you, and the ability to morph all nearby NPCs into your own appearance. Think someone's on your tail? Just sit on a bench, create copies of yourself, and leave the pad alone to get up and stroll away. Which is the real you?
Wanted is slow, it's tense, it's devious. By its very nature, death can come without warning, but the rich satisfaction in setting up your own furtive murders - and the change in pace when rooftop foot chases break out - balance that out well. It's heart-in-mouth fun that may have limited long-term appeal, but it shows the same kind of knack for novel, asymmetrical multiplayer that Ubisoft demonstrated with the legendary Spies-versus-Mercs mode of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow back in 2004. We can't wait to see what other modes the developers have up their - scooped, knife-concealing - sleeves.