I could eye two treasure chests, and knew that cloaked thieves might swoop in to steal the riches within at any moment. Yet I could only guard one at a time, and thus had to keep my senses keen and my mind wary. As soon as I eyed a suspicious figure nearing a chest, I sprinted in the for the kill--or if I was lucky, snuck in for it, garnering more points in the process. Then my partner got knocked out while guarding a third chest, and I had to rush to his aid, leaving my own treasure unguarded. My comrade recovered, and just in time: burglars were unlocking both my chests, and I assassinated both, worried that they'd pilfer my riches before I could stop them.
It was a nerve-wracking stretch of gameplay, but my teammate and I persevered. This treasure protection sequence is one of the new mechanisms in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's cooperative Wolfpack mode, a mode that saw its introduction in Assassin's Creed III. The main thrust of Wolfpack is this: you and up to three others rush across the map to eliminate vaguely identified AI targets, earning points so that you can add precious seconds to the clock, which is constantly counting down to zero. Performing stealthy assassinations, synchronizing assassinations among all players, and leaping onto targets from above are a few of the ways you can pad your point total and keep that clock ticking. The round is over once the timer reaches zero--or once the team completes all 25 waves.
Like the series' other multiplayer modes, Wolfpack is tense. The timer is the source of that tension: as it threatens to strike zero, you must make every assassination count, but you must also resist the temptation to rush every kill, given that you maximize your point total when you exercise skill and patience. It's a struggle against your own human nature, which tells you that you must hurry to beat the clock. But Wolfpack doesn't demand you hurry so much as it demands you be efficient. And in this case, efficiency means knowing when to slow down and resist the urge to attack.
I played the newly retooled Wolfpack at Comic-Con 2013 with two different members of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed IV team for a lot longer than I care to admit. Wolfpack remains compelling, in part due to new wave types that demand you adjust your approach. The aforementioned treasure chest wave (officially called Defense) is one such mechanic. Another is Infected, which the game's designers equate to Pac-Man. Here, you must eliminate roaming targets--but before you can do so, you must first pick up a package that makes these enemies vulnerable to assassination. Should you call attention to yourself before these targets are vulnerable, they can attack and stun you, which of course steals valuable time. To return to the Pac-Man analogy, you can think of the infected foes as the ghosts that initially pursue you, and the packages as power pellets that you consume so that you can turn the tables on them.
It's in Infection that tensions are at their highest. My co-op partner and I would shout out strategies to each other, only for one of us to be knocked into submission by an infected target, leaving the other to change focus and sprint towards a package rather than to slowly stalk intended targets. My heart raced as the timer cruelly counted down, unsympathetic to my pleas of leniency. When we finally completed the wave, the breath rushed out of my lungs, all my anxiety temporarily relieved. And then the anxiety all came rushing back when I realized there were still a dozen waves to go, and that I couldn't rest on my laurels.
How I walked away without chewing my lower lip into a pulp is beyond me. Yet that rush of a wave properly completed had me playing match after match, well after my fellow press members had moved on, leaving me with an amused Ubisoft teammate and a continuing desire to keep playing until I survived the 25th wave.
Ubisoft is aware that players leaping into Wolfpack mode in Assassin's Creed III often felt in over their heads: the mode has a different rhythm than other multiplayer modes. And thus, Discovery mode was born. Discovery is an extensive tutorial mode that introduces Wolfpack mechanics in a story-based structure, so if you didn't play Wolfpack in Assassin's Creed III or found it frustrating, you'll want to start with Discovery in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. If you're like me, however, you'll already be prepared for the resolve Wolfpack requires. You might have the twitch skills and the strategic intellect many multiplayer games require of you. But do you have patience? That's the deciding factor separating the winners from the has-beens in Assassin's Creed IV's Wolfpack.'