It has been a long journey for Ezio. I had to admit to feeling somewhat melancholy at the idea of Assassin’s Creed Revelations being his concluding escapade. In the last forty-or-so years of his life, Ezio has valiantly fought the tyrannical forces of the Templar order, but has suffered great losses along the way; family members, friends and his home. In what Ubisoft have touted as the last Ezio game, we’re also saying goodbye to the renaissance period in which the Ezio games are set – with rumours abound to where the franchise is heading next. Here’s hoping the franchise takes a dynamic turn for the next instalment, as the fourth game in the series is showing some serious wear, with little more than a bit of shiny paper taped over the cracks.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is set directly after the events of Brotherhood – Desmond is trapped in the Animus after suffering a traumatic brain attack and is struggling to hold onto his life and his mind. The scattered fragments of his identity must be collected for Desmond to survive and in doing so he finds some staggering facts about himself and his own shady past. In order to survive he delves deep into his ancestor’s memories. Drawn into the final chapter of Ezio’s story, we are re-introduced to Masyaf, the year is 1511. Ezio is following in the footsteps of the Great Mentor, Altaïr. Discovering the entrance to Altaïr’s hidden library, Ezio learns that he must recover five mystical keys, hidden in the city of Constantinople, to open the library and uncover Altaïr’s final secret.
Narrative has always been the stronger point of the Assassin’s Creed series, and Revelations is no different. This is a good thing really as it’s not just Ezio who’s beginning to show his age. Just as our protagonist has a gnarled grey beard and a leathery complexion, the Anvil-powered core gameplay of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations has the same irritating quirks, pitfalls and flaws as the first game and lacks the new game smell. Much like Ezio himself, giving him new gadgets and access to new technology doesn’t stop him being an old man.
One of the most refreshing features showcased in Revelations isn’t something extra lavished on – it’s in fact something taken away. Gone are the endlessly repetitive side-missions and with them the pedestrian monotony of chasing pickpockets, or rescuing old ladies from bullying guards. In their stead are similar mission-types, but each one is carefully woven into the narrative, so each action has an immediate and obvious effect on the storyline.
Several of these narrative points see Ezio gathering the keys to unlock Altaïr’s hidden library; to locate each one means exploring some spectacular tomb-like locations, much like the Assassin Tombs from previous games. For me this is where the gameplay truly shines. I loved the armour-gathering side missions in Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood – the depth of exploration really shows off Ezio’s moveset and with some newer moves to utilise in Brotherhood these exploratory missions are an absolute joy, made even more enjoyable by being part of the main narrative, rather than a wearisome series of side-missions. The downside here though is that these puzzle locations are considerably shorter than their counterparts in previous games and seem considerably less thought-out. Finding your way around these levels requires little more than holding the analogue stick forward and pressing a button when prompted. Upon finding each key though, Ezio is drawn into one of Altaïr’s memories in an Inception-esque memories-within-memories sequence. Whilst this does seem a little eccentric, it’s wonderful to play as Altaïr again and the game offers some pleasing glimpses of Altaïr’s life after the events of the first game.
As previously mentioned, the control mechanism remains as tight as ever – Ezio runs, jumps and climbs with ease. Some of the irritating bugs in the HumanIK endware still show up (“Why are you jumping in the water you idiot?!”) but there’s life in the old dog yet; early in the game Ezio is introduced to a piece of wargear exclusive to the Constantinople assassins – the hookblade. An upgraded hidden blade, the hookblade is considerably longer and (you guessed it) has a hook at the end. This re-grants the jump-climb ability from Brotherhood, allows faster climbing and adds some excellent moves for takedowns and grapples. Better yet, the hookblade still functions as a weapon. Unmistakeably, a murder carried out with a metal hook is a lot less elegant than with a knife, but all the same – a kill is a kill, even if it involves tearing the throat from a man’s neck. The hookblade grants an extra ability and one which is rather welcome – the hookblade allows you to utilise zip lines. Scattered all around the Middle East are unassuming pylons – usually atop somebody’s house – connected together with long cables. These aerial stretches of rope seem to provide no purpose whatsoever to the townspeople, but luckily for you they function perfectly as zip lines. Running and jumping at one of these lines usually (!) results in Ezio unleashing the hookblade and sliding swiftly and effortlessly along a hundred-odd feet of hemp. This does add an extra feather in your cap if you’re running away from city guards, as only assassins can utilise these otherwise-useless stretches of cable, leaving half a dozen or so guards left scratching their heads wondering why they haven’t demolished these wooden masts. Personally I’d rather have seen all the creases ironed out of the HumanIK, opposed to adding a new gimmick, but if you enjoy running about over rooftops and climbing towers then there’s at least as much here as you’d expect from an Assassin’s Creed game.
Combat is still as fulfilling as it always was with the added bonus of being able to combo a lot easier when compared to previous games, linking up kill after kill. The capacity to spam the parry button however, remains a worryingly easy way to win nearly any fight you wish to pick. Admittedly this facility is hindered by the addition of new enemy types such as the Janissary. The heavily-armoured Janissary carries a longsword and a pistol, is immune to grabs and kicks and cannot be counter-killed. This goes a long way to spicing up the battle and adds genuine anxiety when fighting groups in hand-to-hand combat. If a group contains just one of these new enemy types, the player will think twice before running in with his sword. If a group is made entirely of Janissaries, Ezio would do better to find an alternative route – Assassin style.
A nice new addition to the combat (and gameplay as a whole) is the inclusion of bombs. Constantinople’s assassins have mastered the art of bombcraft and are willing to teach you all they know. Before long you’ll be making timed explosives that emit poison gas, or impact grenades filled with shrapnel – perhaps a tripwire mine that sprays blood over your adversaries to distract them. There are hundreds of combinations to be made and crafting the explosives adds hours of longevity to the game. The bombs add a much-needed new dynamic to the now cripplingly clichéd gameplay. Running from guards is made easier by dropping a mine filled with caltrops – anyone who’s played Tenchu will be familiar with these four-pronged beauties – and heavily-guarded civilian districts can be disrupted with a well-placed grenade filled with money. The gamer could while away hours just planning and executing operations using the explosives, eschewing the traditional assassin’s methods. To be completely honest I hardly used the bombs at all during this game and had 100% capacity of every bomb ingredient from early on, right through until the end of the game. Fun though they are, they’re too much hassle to make and achieve nothing that a seasoned gamer couldn’t achieve through any other means. Ubisoft make a pretty big deal about them but however you look at it, they’re just loud, clumsy bombs.
This brings me to another point – the weapons. I had this gripe in Brotherhood; buying the various different weapons doesn’t actually have any gravity on the gameplay whatsoever. The majority of any gamer’s kills will be counters. When you’ve played enough Assassin’s Creed you do try to stop spamming the counter kill, instead trying for more sophisticated and more elegant kills, but oftentimes the counter kill is unavoidable. So buying a weapon capable of inflicting more damage is utterly futile when the majority of your strikes will be one-hit kills. Still, the weapons always look nice and occasionally they have unique perks, combos or finishing moves. Some of the most devastating video games violence occurs in this game, and all of it involves a weapon (be it a dagger or a hammer) being smashed into an unwilling guard’s head. Right in there, too, with lashings of claret and grey matter.
Another mentionable is the Assassin Dens. Whilst not an entirely necessary part of the game, there are Templar strongholds scattered about the map which can be freed from their Templar influence and turned to Assassin Dens. You can recruit assassins and as in the previous game, send them on dangerous missions abroad to generate currency, power and increase the level of your assassins. The advantages to this are unlocking new moves, items and a few achievements along the way. Some downsides to this are the Tower Defence minigame (it has its own name but we all know it’s Tower Defence) when Templars try to reclaim the Dens for themselves. Ubisoft are renowned for treading new ground and creatively improvising with new forms and techniques. I don’t want to send-up or stifle that creativity at all – in fact that approach should be encouraged. In this instance however, this reviewer found the minigame distracting and wholly unnecessary. Animus Island – a sort of buffer zone between the real world and the Animus Proper (think the White Room from the Matrix) is an example of this mentality working. On Animus Island, Desmond undertakes several psychedelic trips into his past which play out a little like a lesser Portal – the effect is wonderful and the gameplay offers a pleasant timeout from the main tale. The puzzles we’re used to from Ezio’s story are missing from Revelation’s main game, but they appear here – in a manner of speaking.
The multiplayer is a fun twist on a tired affair with a variety of modes, most of them variants on the old Wanted template. It goes by a different name in Revelations, however this time around you’re gifted with a compass which takes away some of the fun. The real fun is looking for your mark the old-fashioned way; looking for sharp changes in direction, a momentary slipup in control, anything to give your target’s position away. Striking is always a risky business – doing so in too public a place could give the game away to other assassins hunting for you – which is where Deathmatch comes into play. Proving the old idiom of simple is better, the gameplay is pared down to a truly gratifying game of cat and mouse… with other cats… and more mice.
Unfortunately even with the addition of new gadgets, new locations, new multiplayer and furthering the story, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations fails to deliver on the same emotional or technical level of its forbears. As a self-confessed fan of the series I am left feeling disappointed at the lack of gameplay on offer in Revelations, instead feeling fobbed-off with more of the same which Ubisoft Montreal must have assumed I wanted. All I can hope is that Assassin’s Creed III will deliver a shakeup to this tired franchise. New game, new engine, new character, new beginnings. Ezio is finished – Brotherhood showed him at his zenith, Revelations is his retirement. Let’s hope that the next assassin is reflected in a bright new game as Ezio isn’t the one showing his age here.