If given the opportunity, I would love to have a chance to speak with the developers of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and ask if they had originally planned the direction the series has taken since it’s 2007 debut. What started out as a somewhat simple story involving genetic memory and a secret war between a cadre of assassins and the Knights Templar has spiraled out into a nearly convoluted tale about space Romans who held dominion over Man until they rebelled and Adam and Eve became the first Assassins.
Once again, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations follows the exploits of Ezio Auditore, the young Italian who found himself swept up in the war with the Templars after his father was killed in a conspiracy perpetrated by Rodrigo Borgia, an eminent member of the order. I can’t help but wonder why Ubisoft Montreal has stuck with Ezio for so long, using him for two separate spin-off games instead of moving directly onto Assassin’s Creed 3. Is it because the direction of the story was too big for one game? Or were they pleased with the financial and critical success of Assassin’s Creed 2 and decided to simply ride the wave? Ubisoft was smart, though, as I get the feeling that you need to play through Brotherhood and Revelations in order to get the whole story.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations picks up almost immediately after the events of Brotherhood. After finding Ezio’s piece of Eden underneath the Colosseum in Rome, Desmond interacts with Juno, one of Those Who Came Before, who forces him to stab Lucy before he falls unconscious. As the remaining Assassins are on the run, Desmond finds himself on Animus Island, an Inception-style place deep inside the archives of Abstergo’s Animus program. There, he meets Subject 16 (who looks almost like Val Kilmer) and tells Desmond that he has to sync up Ezio’s final memory or risk being deleted by the Animus. Or something. Ezio’s memory involves his pursuit of Altair’s library, but finds it locked behind a mysterious vault door. The Templars have discovered five keys to the vault and have learned that they are hidden within the city of Constantinople. Travelling there, he meets up with an order of Assassins and must once again take up the fight against his adversaries.
The Assassin’s Creed formula has changed very little since the second game and, in a way, that is a good thing. Having recently started a replay of the first Assassin’s Creed, I recalled how much I loathed the structure of it and how welcoming the changes Ubisoft Montreal made for the sequel. That being said, I can’t help but feel that the experience has finally gotten stale. For the most part, the city of Constantinople is largely open to you. You’ll travel through the city conducting a series of missions in order to get through the game’s story. Diversions include locating 100 Animus data fragments, upgrading the city by purchasing property and training Assassins. Much like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, you can establish an order within Constantinople by recruiting citizens to join up and train them by sending them on missions.
In order to develop assassins, Ezio has to clear out Templar dens all throughout Constantinople. The process involves hunting down a Templar captain and then lighting a signal fire which will cause all Templars in the area to leave. These assassin dens will become your safe havens (especially when the Templars periodically send their own assassins after you) and function as the training hub. You level up your troops by sending them off to Templar controlled cities throughout the Mediterranean which yield bonuses for you such as additional assassin slots and extra cash. You can even liberate these cities from Templar control, earning you even more rewards.
You’ll need to keep an eye on these Assassin dens because as you build up the city, you’ll increase a Templar Awareness meter. If this fills completely, you run the risk of having the Templars attack one of your dens. In order to defend it, you’ll have to play through a superficial tower defense-style game in which you place barricades and troops in order to defend the den. These mini-game sequences, ultimately, are not very good and I was pleased to discover that careful management of Templar awareness and constant bribing of heralds allowed me to never play through them during the course of my game. These sequences can also be avoided once you level up your followers to Master Assassins, who will halt any increases in Templar awareness in the area around a den.
Another new mechanic introduced in Revelations is the ability to make bombs. You can craft three types of explosives, Tactical, Defensive and Lethal. You’ll begin by choosing what type of casing you want. The cases affect how the bombs go off and could ether explode on impact, a delayed fuse, tripwire or can even be stuck on a surface or enemy. You’ll also choose what sort of gunpowder to use, each with their own area of effect and damage rating. Finally, you’ll select an effect for the bomb, which is dependent on what type you are creating. For Diversion bombs, sulfur or phosphorous can be use to distract and alert guards, while a simple powder will fill the area with smoke, allowing you to flee, hide or stealth attack. Lethal bombs allow you to poison or inflict damage with shrapnel and Tactical bombs aid you in fights. My favorite bombs to make involve using lamb’s blood, which will cause all affected enemies to freak out.
As deep as the process of bomb making is in the game, much like the tower defense mini-games, it is not so integral. The bombs certainly give you an edge, but when you’re capable of killing enemies either by assassination, counters or having your assassins fight for you, they are pretty unnecessary. The game never forced me to make or use a bomb outside of the initial tutorial and I was content with that.
Without sounding like a Negative Nancy, I will say that I greatly appreciated the new Hook Blade. While it very much functions similarly to Ezio’s arm blades, it has the added function of grabbing onto surfaces that, normally, would have been just out of reach. One of the biggest problems I had with the Assassin’s Creed games is that it seemed difficult at times to judge the distance while free running on rooftops. With the hook blade, if it doesn’t look like I’m going to make the jump, pressing the Circle button will deploy the hook and reach out for those few precious inches, saving me from crashing painfully to the ground.
If Ezio’s adventures get to be too much, collecting a specific number of Animus Data Fragments will unlock areas in Animus Island that reveal Desmond Miles’ back story as a child born into the order of the Assassins. These flashbacks play out in strange, Portal -like areas that require you to traverse certain areas by spawning strange platforms. Later memory sequences get incredibly involved, as hazards are introduced that will either move your blocks in a specific direction or force you through areas that will not allow you to spawn blocks at all. Initially, I thought these sequences were interesting and unique, but it wasn’t long before they felt strange and out of place. They feel thrown in at the last minute and is somewhat indicative of how the series has presented itself over the years.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations, much like its predecessors, is a great looking game. Constantinople is a nice change of scenery after the last two games, but there were times that I felt as if I was back in Italy because the buildings, while textured differently, seem to have been taken from the previous Ezio adventures. I kept noticing the same strategic placement of platforms, fences, barrels, light posts and wall hangings that would allow me to free run all over the sides of buildings and rooftops.
Ezio has been given a significant makeover, as he has grown older and more mature, with a softly graying beard framing his scarred face. Ubisoft Montreal deserves credit for the modelling and texture work of their main characters because they look fantastic and full of detail. Women look beautiful and none of the characters have those dead, soulless eyes that plague most other 3D characters.
Much has to be said for some of the scripted moments towards the end of the game. This is the first game in the franchise to use Uncharted-style scripted sequences that involve pure chaos going on as you pursue targets or flee the scene. In one sequence, weak scaffolding collapses all around you as you traverse underground catacombs and in another, you’re para-sailing through a village while dispatching enemies on horseback. What was once reserved for in-game cutscenes, the game now puts you in direct control of the action, which is pretty cool.
It’s more Assassin’s Creed, so if you’ve enjoyed the series up to this point, you’re likely to enjoy this game. That said, I found the first few hours to be slow and uninteresting. Thankfully, things pick up during the later hours of the game, but on the whole, Assassin’s Creed Revelations is the first game to really feel like a sequel to me. Assassin’s Creed 2 was amazing because it completely revamped the game’s structure and addressed all the problems of the first game. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood was also amazing because it featured a surprisingly robust story, despite the multiplayer component getting the most attention, and new city building mechanics. Revelations just really doesn’t bring anything new and exciting to the table. Bomb making and Den defense aren’t as robust and rewarding as they should be. Thankfully, you don’t have to do them at all.
One of the selling points of Revelations is that you get to explore the memory of Altair, the assassin you controlled in the first game. These memories are cool because they flesh out the character more, revealing major turning points in his later years when he was cast out of the Order only to return and take it back. Oddly enough, Altair is retconned slightly and given a more Middle Eastern-sounding voice. If you recall the first game, he was the only character who spoke in a European accent, while those around him didn’t. As a bonus, Playstation 3 owners get a free copy of Assassin’s Creed with purchase.
The bottom line? If you have any intention of playing Assassin’s Creed 3 to see where Desmond’s story is going, you must play through Brotherhood and Revelations. Whether or not Ubisoft Montreal have painted themselves into a corner is up for debate, but the series has certainly taken some interesting turns. Assassin’s Creed Revelations will satisfy those who are looking for more of the same but if you’re expecting some major innovations, prepare to be disappointed. Revelations isn’t a bad game, but the experience no longer feels fresh. The game feels shorter than Brotherhood and can be completed in a few afternoons. The multiplayer component from the last game returns as well, offering maps both old and new as well as more character skins. While I am interested in the next Assassin’s Creed game, I certainly hope Ubisoft Montreal has got some major changes in store because if it ends up feeling very much like the same game I’ve been playing for the last two years, I’m going to be severely disappointed.