Game: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC, OnLive (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
As you step back into the shoes of Ezio Auditore for the third time, you would be forgiven for thinking that this title was Assassin’s Creed Four. After the second game in the series, Ubisoft got a little side-tracked and have spent the last two years on an extended holiday in Renaissance Italy. Such was the popularity of both the characters and the setting in Assassin’s Creed Two, that the story has been stretched out a little to allow gamers a little more one-on-one time with Ezio. But now our protagonist is beginning to look a little stretched out too. No longer the young stud wooing the ladies that we met originally, Ezio is now at the head of the Order of Assassins, a mentor for all of the other killers around Europe. Time has taken its toll and a grey-haired, bearded Ezio is a lot less enthusiastic about his athletic day job, coming across more like a grizzled old action star, so much so that you keep expecting him to spout the traditional movie line, “I’m getting too old for this s***.”
STORY: After making contact with the fabled Apple of Eden at the end of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Desmond’s mind has now started to shatter and fall apart, and he awakens on a strange island, with many questions, but little in the way of answers. His memories are beginning to become entangled with those of his ancestors and his true personality is getting lost in the muddle. The only option for Desmond is to dip back into the lives of his ancestors, in the hopes that he will discover something to help his situation. These real-world sequences are more prominent than previous titles, but unfortunately aren’t any more interesting. Whereas the present-day sequences in previous games saw you interacting with Lucy and your other Animus helpers, re-discovering locations that were important to the assassins in the past, the Limbo setting in this title seems a little shallow and boring in comparison.
The bulk of the game does, however, see us playing as Ezio again. Compared to Desmond, Ezio oozes charisma and is a far more likeable hero. Whilst Desmond likes to complain and lament the events of his past, making him quite a irritating character, Ezio gets on with the job at hand with a lot more dignity, all the time maintaining a sense of humour. The whining of Desmond certainly helps to make the Ezio sequences seem a lot more enjoyable.
After a brief pilgrimage of sorts to the spiritual home of the assassins, Masayaf Castle, where Altair and his creed were based in the first Assassin’s Creed game, Ezio discovers the entrance to their secret Library, which could finally reveal the secrets that have baffled Ezio since his encounter with “The ones who came before”. Now you must pick up the trail left by the Templars, who have already begun their attempts to gain entry to the library, doing so will take you to a new country and a new City to explore. But to makes things even more interesting, as you discover the secrets Altair and his followers left behind, you will get the chance to control Altair once again, back in his own time.
GRAPHICS: Constantinople in Turkey is the playground this time around, and once again the city looks fantastic. In every game so far, the locations each have a character of their own, that changes as you move from area to area across the vast cityscape. The location is bustling with life and the NPC’s go about their daily lives in a convincing and impressive manner. The graphics have remained largely unchanged from game to game, and the only things that really mark this out as a different title are the little architectural touches that mirror the culture of the region.
SOUND: The sound too differs little from that found in Brotherhood, for example. Of course we get a bit more of a Eurasian feel to the music and the voices in the city, but common themes and sound effects that will be instantly recognisable to fans of the series still remain to help keep some continuity between the games. The voice-acting remains top-notch, and now that the game switches between three distinct regions and time periods, it is all the more impressive that they are all so convincing.
GAMEPLAY: Where the game really begins to stumble is the fact that rather than focus on the strong points that have made the series so popular, Ubisoft have continued to tinker and add more and more features to the game, so much so that you feel it is all spread a bit too thin at times. As mentioned before, we spend more time with lovable old Desmond in Revelations, and this takes the form of “Desmond’s Journey”. By collecting Animus fragments scattered across Constantinople (this years equivalent of feathers or flags to collect), you can unlock chapters one to five of Desmond’s back-story. These all play out from a first-person perspective and take the form of platforming, puzzle stages. In what seems an obvious concession to fans of the Portal games, players have to make use of environmental features and Tetris-style blocks to reach the goal of each stage.
These are all a bit simple really, and can be mostly cleared with some simple trial and error, especially due to the fact that you can’t fail. Fall down a hole or get frazzled by a laser? You simply re-spawn back to where you were before the “accident”. What makes these sequences both bad and good is the voice-over from disembodied Desmond. As he recounts his childhood and adolescence, through to more recent memories, we learn more information about his past and why he is in the situation he is today. But his delivery is so un-inspired and aggravating that you start to feel like pressing the mute button after a while. You start to see how two-dimensional and boring the Desmond character has been up to this point as you simply don’t care about much of what he has to complain about.
Unfortunately, another ever-popular genre of gameplay has been shoe-horned into the game. Not content with taking on the first-person puzzle game, we are treated to “Den Defence”, a castle defence mode that is as shallow as it is hectic. As in the last game, you must re-claim towers that have been captured by Templar forces, but unlike the last outing, the Templars can now try to take them back. As you perform your other duties around the city, your wanted level, or “Templar Awareness”, will rise, and when full they will try to attack one of your towers. You are then taken to a view of a city street, where you can place defensive and offensive forces in order to defeat the attackers before they destroy your Den. The whole thing is unoriginal, confusing and doesn’t come close to popular games from the genre. You will soon become irritated with this mode, and running across the city to protect your next Den. Luckily if you try to keep your head down, through paying off Heralds and killing Templar Officials, you can delay these sequences a little longer.
Brotherhood added an enjoyable apprentice assassin recruitment system, which returns here with some minor tweaks and changes, but this part of the game manages to remain enjoyable and hasn’t become weighed down by all of the other additions. This can’t be said for the new “innovation” of including bomb creation. By collecting different ingredients around the city, you can then construct a variety of different bombs, such as Smoke, Cherry and Poison. The sad thing is, these actually detract from the idea of being a silent assassin. If you want to be stealthy and secretive, more often that not, using bombs isn’t a great idea, it tends to defeat the point somewhat. You can successfully distract guards and cause diversions with the explosives, but sneaking across rooftops and blending into crowds remains the more immediate and more enjoyable option.
Something that does help the pace of the game, whilst also adding in a few new features in a more subtle manner, is the new Hook-Blade. One of your two hidden blades also doubles up as a hook this time around, and this not only lets you hook onto buildings when climbing, to improve your speed and grip – but also lets players fly across the rooftops in no time with the help of handy zip-lines. This does make navigating the map simpler and adds some variety to chases, but also opens up the idea of zip-line assassinations and escaping your foes by gliding quietly away, along a nearby rope. Sure beats travelling by foot, anyway.
Strangely, some of the more interesting parts of past games have been left out of Revelations. No longer are there a variety of climbing-based dungeons, where you simply have to work out how to successfully climb to a certain goal – without the pressures of time limits or people chasing you. Also missing are the Codex-type puzzles and riddles that popped up from time to time in other Assassin’s Creed games. Although these were always slightly confusing and random, they certainly helped add to the air of conspiracy and helped fill in a few of the blanks as to who Abstergo actually are. Neither of these were major features of the game, but both were more valuable to the series than some of the extras that have been squeezed in for this instalment.
MULTIPLAYER: The online aspect of the game does remain strong, however. Last year, the development team were working from scratch, and the results they managed to achieved were very impressive. Although the core of the experience is more or less unchanged for Revelations, that is definitely not a bad thing. The idea of controlling warring assassins, who are each stalking one particular opponent, whilst also being tailed by another, was genius and brought out the Ninja wannabe in all of us. All of the team-based and solo modes from last year return in one form or another, but we also get a few new ones to play with.
The most intriguing one is Deathmatch. Now you might say, “Deathmatch is in every multiplayer game!” but in Assassin’s Creed it is altogether different. The regular mode last year was known as Wanted, and that is the one mentioned before where each character hunts after their contract. In that mode, you were given a radar/compass to help you find your prey. Deathmatch, however, gets rid of that completely, and players simply know what class of character they are looking for, and are given an indication of when they are in your field of view. tracking down and determining exactly who you are after is all the more difficult now, and kills should be more considered than ever before, especially in crowded areas where many of the same character can be found. You must hone your skills a lot more and always be alert to out-of-character actions that might give away the identity of your target. You will most likely find it hard to begin with, and I know I killed a lot of innocents before I got the hang of it, but soon enough your assassin senses will be tingling like the best of them.
Corruption also joins the party, and plays like an old-fashioned playground game. One player is infected and must spread the corruption, whilst the rest avoid it for as long as they can. Just like in the school-yard, tagging other gamers will make them join your team, and having a big group of you hunting down the last remaining survivors brings back a lot of old memories. The last addition to the online game is the Training Ground, where players are un-timed, without enemies, where they can can explore the map, practice your abilities and find and kill assigned targets at your own whim. Intended to help you master the intricacies of the mode, it is doubtful you will spend long here, but it is a nice addition for those reluctant online gamers out there who don’t always want to jump into competitive play with those who are more experienced than you right-away.
LONGEVITY: There is still loads to achieve and locate in the game, and if you want to renovate every shop, find every treasure and uncover every Animus Shard on offer, you will spend hours and hours with the game. Even in just playing the story mode, there are so many side quests and distractions on offer that I repeatedly found myself drawn away from the straight and narrow of the main story, descending into helping townspeople and training my apprentices. But unfortunately, certain things, such as Den Defence, feel like they were added in only to distract you and to stretch out the length of the game. Whilst the game may have been shorter had these been removed, it would have been a far more pleasant experience, and still one that measures up well against similar titles in the genre.
VERDICT: You can’t help but feel that Ubisoft have meddled with a winning formula just a little too much at times in Revelations. Some of the refinements and extras undoubtedly help the game, but the scales tip further toward pointless extras than good ones. The story still remains strong and you will want to follow the likable Ezio just as much as before, but the increased reliance on Desmond and the events occurring in the present day only help to muddy the waters and make the already twisted history of the games all the more convoluted. Even when the main story missions are strong, with original ideas and gameplay elements, you tend to forget what you are working towards as the objectives get lost in the shuffle. The characters you do meet along the way are interesting, but you might find yourself playing for hours before seeing them again, which makes it much harder to follow their individual plotlines.
Playing as Altair once again is a fun addition, but the missions seem inconsequential as rather than tying in with the other events in the game, they play out as snippets from the past that are isolated from one another. And that is the feeling that sadly dogs the title. There are so many factors competing with one another that the game becomes dis-jointed and loses the plot. This does, however, mean that the player can pick what they do enjoy doing and follow that. You could simply place story progression on hold, ignore Desmond’s back-story and just concentrate on recruiting, training and managing your flock of disciples. This could almost be a game in itself and, in strange way, it is hard to criticise the developers for this factor. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, in the sense that whilst the first Assassin’s Creed was too repetitive, Revelations has too much variety.
Revelations would probably stand up as a great example of the genre, had Brotherhood not found such a great balance between giving us too much, or too little, when released last year. The experience is still an enjoyable one and fans of the series will be more than satisfied as it delivers more of what you expect, with as much flair as ever, but this game won’t win over the doubters. The core game is still a joy to play, it is only the additional content that really hinders the package. You can invest a lot of time in this title and Ezio is still a strong hero, but it is probably a good thing that this is his swansong. When Assassin’s Creed Three finally makes it’s appearance, rather than treading water with Revelations, we need a revolution.