Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
OverviewPlatform: Xbox 360
One of the most exciting series’ in recent memory takes place in Constantinople this time around.
As with many franchises in this current console generation, Assassin’s Creed has become an annual series and it is probably time for Desmond and co. to take a break. Revelations is a good game, but many of its new mechanics feel forced or contrived and should never have been included. However, if you’re a fan of the series’ thrilling science fiction story, then you will love the conclusions to the memories of Altair and Ezio.
The story begins immediately following the cliff-hanger ending of Brotherhood. Desmond is in a coma, but is still plugged into the Animus. Within the Animus’ core he meets Subject 16 who informs him that the only way he will ever wake up is if he sees Ezio’s and Altair’s memories through to their end, until “they have nothing left to show to him.”
Ezio is searching for five keys to unlock Altair’s hidden library in Masyaf castle, the original home of the Assassins. His search takes him to a new historic city, Constantinople. The city itself is less interesting than Renaissance Rome was in the last game. Its landmarks are less iconic and the landscape is far less varied. Narrow streets dominate Constantinople, with none of the countryside or villages seen around Rome. There are no horses this time either, so navigating around can be quite time consuming as the fast-travel Assassin tunnels are often quite far apart.
The core gameplay is almost exactly the same as in Brotherhood. Ezio possesses all of the same platform and combat skills, which continue to thrill and excite even if you are used to them from the three previous games in the series. You can restore shops and landmarks in order to earn more money to buy weapons and items. You can continue to recruit and train new Assassins and send them on missions to other cities. There are also hidden treasures to collect and Animus Data Fragments, which replace the flags of previous games.
Unfortunately, while the core of the game gives the same solid action that fans are used to, the new mechanics in Revelations are misguided and detract from what ought to have been another great game. Collecting the Animus Data Fragments unlocks Desmond Memories. In these five short levels Desmond explores the depths of the Animus’ programmes, reciting memories from his life as you progress. While this provides an interesting insight into Desmond’s past, the actual gameplay takes place as a first-person puzzle platformer where you must place objects in order to create a path to the next area. This awkward and bizarre design choice goes completely against the pace and excitement that makes the series great.
Another unwelcome addition comes from tower defence gameplay. During Ezio’s memories you remove Templar influence from the city by taking control of Templar Dens. Doing so turns them into Assassin Dens and gives you access to more of the map. As you go about other missions your Templar Awareness increases, eventually getting high enough for guards to attack you on-sight, which then results in the Templars attacking one of your Assassin Dens in an attempt to take it back. When this happens you enter a time-consuming tower defence mini-game in order to keep hold of the Den for your faction. This mechanic has no place in what is normally a fast-paced and exhilarating series and its design is basic at best. It is actually much faster and more enjoyable to allow the Templars to retake control of an area and then remove them again by assassinating the local Captain and burning their tower.
Retaking control of a Den can result in your Templar Awareness rising again, creating a cycle where you repeatedly lose and recapture the various Dens around the city. Your Templar Awareness even increases as you restore shops or landmarks. Previous games had multiple ways for you to reduce your Templar Awareness very quickly but the most convenient of these methods, removing wanted posters, is no-longer an option in Revelations. Instead you are limited to murdering witnesses (which if not done quietly can actually increase your notoriety) or bribing heralds. The entire Awareness system has become more frustrating than ever before and is seemingly designed to make sure that you play the terrible tower defence mini-game on a regular basis. My number one top tip for Revelations is to make sure you keep your Templar Awareness as low as possible in order to avoid breaking off from the main story to defend your Dens.
The other new mechanic is the “hook blade,” designed to increase climbing speed and make traversal around the city much easier. In practice you still use exactly the same controls to climb buildings. The hook blade simply increases Ezio’s reach by a minor amount. However it can also be used to attach to ropes which can then be used as zip lines. This really does increase the speed of travel and exploration and can also be used tactically for a new and highly satisfying assassination technique where you drop from the zip line directly onto an enemy.
Multiplayer also makes a return in Revelations and expands the basics from the last game with new maps, characters and modes. You can customise your appearance and weapons and even create a Guild and design a unique coat of arms to recognise it by. Levelling up has been given new narrative importance by unlocking pieces of information about Abstergo, the Templars’ modern-day front company. New modes have been added such as Capture the Flag and Deathmatch – which removes the compass pointing toward your assigned target for a new level of challenge and tension.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a highly iterative sequel, which is letdown somewhat by the misguided additions of several new mechanics which just don’t work well alongside the established gameplay and narrative style of the series. However, the core action is every bit as satisfying as in the previous games and the fascinating story is a real treat for fans, with terrific send-offs for Altair and Ezio and an ending which will leave you excited for where the series might go next. Hopefully Ubi Soft will give the development team a bigger gap before the next Assassin’s game, but with one already confirmed for 2012 that seems unlikely. Perhaps they will at least learn from the missteps of Revelations and reenergise the franchise next time around.