If any one characteristic embodies this generation itís the prevalence of the trilogy. From Gears of War to Modern Warfare, each and every one of them has taken this as their watermark and adhered to them. And as this series of consoles moves towards their dťnouement, there is one exception; The Assassinís Creed series. These games have broken the mould by going one further with a quadrilogy of titles. The latest in the series, Revelations promises to live up to its subtitle, but does it have the courage of its convictions?
When we last saw main protagonist Desmond Miles, the outlook was bleak to say the least. His mind was dissolving from too many sessions in the Animus, a device that allowed him to relive the memories of distant ancestors who battled against the menace of the Templars. Through these memories, Desmond re-lived the lives of prominent members of the Creed across the different games in the series. Firstly in the form of the originalís sullen protagonist Altair, and more recently the charming and ebullient Ezio Aditorie in an attempt to find a solution to the struggle that has raged for nigh on a millennia.
Now because of these adventures, Desmond finds himself seconded on Animus Island, best described as a safe partition of the Animus that is stopping him from full-on mental collapse. From here he must find his way back to the real world by attempting to piece together the final acts of Altair and Ezioís story.
Assassinís Creed: Revelations (AC: R) starts pretty much where the last game, Brotherhood finished. Ezio is on a journey to wrest control of the Apple of Eden, an artefact left behind by those who came before from the Templars, their sworn enemies. As their influence spreads, they look to finish off the Assassins once and for all by laying siege to the epicentre of the Assassins' power, Maysaf Castle. Thankfully Altair, the original and most famous of Assassins had the good sense to scatter the five keys that unlock those secrets as far away as possible, and clues to their whereabouts also sequestered in hard to find places.
What follows is a romp through the streets of a new location, 15th century Constantinople around the time of the Ottoman Empire. Greeted at the harbour by the ebullient local leader of the Assassins, Yusuf Tazim, this marks the jump-off point for this particular adventure.
Anyone who played any of the previous games in the series will feel instantly at home. The template hasnít strayed far from the original and Revelations is no different. Ezio runs jumps, stalks and murders his way across different areas either by himself or by recruiting ordinary people into his guild, which then becomes a formidable army to unleash on his enemies.
New additions to Ezioís arsenal come in the form of a hook blade that can be used to traverse across large regions of Constantinople as well as an attack roll. It works well and makes jumping from afar a much easier proposition. The bomb crafting is a nice diversion, making use of the many ingredients that will be acquired by looting the treasure chests and meeting requirements in missions. Broken into explosive, diversionary and tactical categories, they give Ezio a new take on how to approach scenarios but at best theyíll hardly be used by veterans of the series, merely encumbering the player further.
The most controversial addition comes in the form of a spot of Tower Defence when a Den is contested between Assassins and Templars. One of the highlights of Brotherhood was the ability to directly affect the influence of the Borgia in Rome by assassinating the captain in charge of various towers littered around the city. Some would be ensconced in some truly devilish locations, requiring planning and execution in how to remove them from power. This time around theyíre easy to dispose of, but thereís a catch for such ease of access. When the Creed gain influence in an area, Templars will actively attempt to snatch it back if an area is left alone for too long or a master Assassin isnít put in place to fend them off. In the event of a full on attack, the game switches to Tower Defence.
Of all the new mechanics introduced in Revelations, this is by far the most misguided. The major problem is one of execution. The player is constantly forced to view events from Ezioís viewpoint, meaning that placement of units and defences is immediately compromised, and even the way that upgrades and placements are handled is fudged to say the least. Sometimes Dens are lost because of not being able to see whatís occurring, making such loses hard to bear.
The wider story beats demand a huge leap of faith at times. Itís always been wise not to pick at this aspect of the game too much, as the ramifications of what feels like Inception-lite kicks in, but ever since the end of the first Assassinís Creed game, the developers have painted themselves into a bit of a corner when it comes to the story, with some aspects that would make L. Ron Hubbard balk at their pomposity. A large pinch of salt is most definitely required. If the player takes a step back and concentrates on the action, theyíll avoid hurting their heads too much and be better for it.
It certainly helps that Ezio is such a likeable character, never conforming to tired game clichť. Sofia Sartor, who aids Ezio in his quest to find the keys hidden within Constantinople, is an engaging aside to the murder and mayhem and a welcome addition. She brings out a softer, more sophisticated side to Ezio, one at odds from the Lothario image portrayed in previous titles and is handled in an appropriately adult fashion. The change of pace continues in the form of the fourth main mission which involves our hero in a disguise and scenario that will raise many a chuckle. It would be remiss of this reviewer to spoil the surprise, but there are some genuine laughs to be had, helping to engage the player a touch more with the characters and story.
And itís required because the overwhelming feeling of dťjŗ-vu pervades just about everything in AC: R. If itís not synchronising viewpoints or buying businesses which in turn generates revenue which strengthens the Assassinís Den, or the formations that enemies patrol in, it just feels like this has been done far too many times before. Fans will feel instantly at home, but those who arenít as invested in the series might feel like they should just insert a previous title into their console instead such is the similarity.
After each key is recovered, there follows a playable scenario involving Altair which attempts to fill in the back story to the latter years of his ascendancy to Assassin in chief and they provide a welcome addition. Stripped of the numerous gadgets and additions Ezio sports, they rely more on cunning and straight out subterfuge to achieve resolution.
In the switch to Constantinople, a little something has been lost in the characters that inhabited previous titles. Sure, not much in history will rival Renaissance Italy for the breadth and scope, and Leonardo Da Vinci to this day still provides much for great minds to debate, which make for a tall order in looking to replace such heavyweights in terms of both location and characters, but regardless of personal preference, the sights in AC: R are just as magnificent as expected. Nobody will pass the Hagia Sophia without being impressed, or the way that the first morning light filters across the harbour, bringing Constantinople to life, or the sights of the Grand Bazaar, all bustle and highly decorative people selling their wares or taking in a fire-eater or juggler.
A good analogy to draw with AC: R is that it feels as if the series is as tired as Ezio looks. Releasing so soon after the exceptional Brotherhood almost lessens the achievement of that title and the series to that point and this can feel almost like a cut and paste at times. There is no doubt that itís a quality title, but the engine is starting to look a tad careworn in places and the uncanny valley that most of the character models exhibit outside of the stellar opening cut-scene is jarring.
The core game is solid, of that no-one can deny, and even the biggest dissenter will respect and appreciate the scale and quality on offer. It might be showing its age but for long term fans of the series who have stuck with it during the low points will feel a deal of satisfaction at the conclusion, and hope that a break will be afforded the series, to come back leaner, stronger and more focused for future titles in the series.
The bottom line when it comes to Assassinís Creed: Revelations is dependent on whether you want more of the same with a few extra layers placed on top of the already stellar action evident in Brotherhood. Newcomers to the series would be better served by seeking out previous titles to start their journey.
System: PlayStation 3
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Reviewed: December 2011
Writer: Keith Murray
- Conclusion of the current Assassinís Creed storyline
- Quality voice acting and scripted events
- Too familiar to previous titles in the series
- Awful Tower Defence