Assassins Creed has been a huge cash cow for Ubisoft over the years, backed up by massive television advertising campaigns. While I have enjoyed the games in the past, I have found them all slightly repetitive after a few hours of climbing, jumping and killing. The latest Revelations follows on from Brotherhood, adding a few new features but basically retreading the same old ground.
I make no pretenses, Revelations could almost be classed as a mission pack for Brotherhood. While this will sound primarily negative, Brotherhood was easily the best game in the series and I was saddened when it ended, hoping they would release another in the coming year.
Revelations won’t attract a new audience who found the older games ponderous and repetitive, because the development team have decided to ‘leave the concept well alone’, which in regards to a business model makes a lot of sense. Sadly this means that you would be hard pressed to tell whether you have loaded Brotherhood or Revelations – until you would check the weaponry for the new ‘bomb’ section.
Revelations is the last section of the storyline for Ezio Auditore, the star of the Assassins Guild who is almost a rock star in the world of Assassins Creed. I really like how they have aged the character by peppering his beard with flecks of white. His face is more wrinkled, and you can tell that he is tiring of the life and might even want to retire to the countryside with a nice lass. Thankfully Ubisoft will end his lead role in the franchise before we take to a zimmer frame and ‘portable ladder’ power ups so he can climb the buildings.
This game is based around Auditore, as he struggles to make sense of what has happened so far (aren’t we all having the same problem?). As the complex and confusing storyline continues, we experience Ezio’s story through Desmond, a modern day assassin who uses the ‘Animus’ machine to experience his ancestor’s life. I gave up trying to follow all the nuances of the storyline a long time ago, just waiting for the dialogue to pass before undergoing the next mission.
Desmond is facing a rather serious situation this time around however, he is strapped into the Animus, but has spent so long in it, that his brain has lapsed into a coma after the events of the previous title. He can sometimes hear conversations close to his physical body, but his mind is firmly locked in the Animus. Revelations continues to complicate the story by adding in ‘Subject 16′, a new character who died before the events of the first game. We find out that he has been transferred into the Animus, much like the background for a shoddy science fiction film. This is where Assassins Creed falls down for me as I feel it would have worked much better as a native period piece, with a new character for each game. The sci fi elements just don’t excite me at all, taking me out of the ‘world’ of the Assassin and into a B movie style sci fi set. I am sure however I am in the minority.
Subject 16 was responsible for all the cryptic writing in the previous games, and I have to admit I started to warm to his character, as he seemed slightly more rounded than many of the other entities in the game. Oh yes, Altair makes an appearance in Revelations as the story line is finally brought to a conclusion.
This leads me to another point I feel I need to make. If you are interested in picking up an Assassins Creed game, they are best played in order, which is probably why Ubisoft have included the first game for free on this disc. Tempting players to play the first episode could very well lead to sales of other games in the series.
As you shift between Desmond, Ezio and Altair you begin to wonder if the developers are deliberately trying to keep the gamer on edge, because just as you settle into the role with Ezio, you are brought back to earth with a virtual thump, tying up some storyline thread from Altair’s experiences in the first game. As the game progresses, we also see that Altair is aging as you progress through some of the later experiences in his life. If you haven’t played the earlier games in the franchise this will all be completely meaningless and even more confusing than it was for me.
The story sadly in Revelations is deadly dull, and very ponderous, slowing down the more interesting action elements (which there are, it isn’t all bad). You kill many of the bad guys, without really feeling connected to their actions. Sofia is a new lady in Ezio’s life, who is young enough to be his daughter, and while she is pretty has very little in the way of a fleshed out character. I quite liked Yusuf, a young Assassin who is in awe of Ezio and who teaches him the ‘new cool way’, featuring a plethora of bombs and new weaponry at his disposal. Yusuf is also quite astute to the situation, as mid way through the game he utters ‘Sometimes Ezio, I wonder who the mentor is?!’. A subject we can all relate to, as we spend time with our parents teaching them the basics of technology, while the younger generation leave us for dead. Ezio is somewhat of a relic now, aging and out of touch with the modern times … but thankfully still deadly with swordplay and stealth based combat.
Ah, the combat. How I could complain that nothing has changed, but this time I hadn’t expected it would. Combat is based around timing button presses to counter attack enemy units, often instantly killing them as you do so. It is literally as dull as dishwater and needed something more skillful and rewarding from the very start. You can be circled by 10 enemy soldiers at any time and only 1 (or at most 2) will attack Ezio at the same time, while the other 8 wait their turn. Almost as if a director is waiting in the wings to shout ‘Ok number 3, your turn!’.
Revelations is also about an hour shorter than Brotherhood and later in the game I was becoming rather disillusioned with some of the shortcomings. Traveling for instance is very slow, and while you have a new hook grip to scale tall buildings, it is still painful. There are elements of the game I enjoy, such as following a primary character to assassinate, unseen from a roof, just at the right time. Low distance poison based stealth attacks are also fun, as you can watch the hapless victim mindlessly flapping around with his weapon, while his companions shout ‘What is going on, is he ok?’. In a few minutes he will drop dead to the ground.
The new ‘bomb’ making is unfortunately rather fulfilling. You can mix ingredients to make your own bombs, combining various elements for specific tasks. Blood splattering can confuse enemies and give you the element of surprise, or just enough time to slip through unnoticed. Damage related bombs can take up multiple people at once, but can create such a noise as to alert other nearby soldiers to the commotion. If making bombs sounds as boring for you as it is for me, then you can just buy several presets to use without the effort.
Ziplines have also been added, and immediately reminded me of a similar system used in Inferno. Ezio now has a hidden blade with a hook end which can be used to not only climb faster, but to zip between buildings, without having to jump to catch ledges. They aren’t everywhere, but make for a nice traveling speed up option and can be used for aerial death attacks.
Graphically, this is just as good as Brotherhood, but not any better. The sheer scale of the environment is impressive, especially when standing on top of a very high building and surveying the surroundings. The depth of field, distance and detail of the buildings made me wonder a few times, how such a dated console could handle it all. Of course 720p is the major shortcoming, and the PC version will be much more attractive with higher resolution 1080p+ resolutions, but still, it is clear that developers spend a lot more time with console optimisations than they do with PC counterparts.
I mentioned earlier that combat is no better than before, and I stand by my feelings on this. Ezio can easily kill hundreds of soldiers, as they all queue up like mindless chickens, ready to be counter attacked, and gutted in various ways. There are some soldiers however who use larger weapons and heavier armour, who are almost immune to the instant death kill. You have to land a kick first, so they lower their defenses. With another soldier swinging behind you, it becomes rather messy and you can end up going through a few health potions to stay alive. Thankfully you can call upon your Asssassins to help, by pressing the L2 button several of your guild will appear to offer help, swinging the balance in your favour again.
As before, various districts need cleansed of the Templar dominance. You need to find their captain, avoid his guards and try to kill him, while he runs away to escape. I found this very frustrating, because you have to try and avoid many soldiers to get to the cowardly leader, and then take him down before he has the chance to hide for a day. The best way is to find him from a roof, then poison him as he stands unaware. Some of the areas have many riflemen patrolling the roof tops, so this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. When you kill the captain of the area, then you light the main tower to clear the zone for yourself. All of the shops will be available for purchase, netting you valuable income every 20 minutes.
If Ezio’s reputation becomes too high, then the Templars can counteract the territories you have freed before. Ubisoft have incorporated a new, slightly bewildering ’3d tower defense’ style element into the game. You can place leaders on buildings, then various soldiers, such as riflemen, aerial assassins (who jump down and kill soldiers from above). Waves of enemy soldiers run down a street, while you defend, and try to kill them, before they reach your base. If you fail, then they take over the territory and you have to kill their captain again. Rinse and repeat. Killing officials and bribing public speakers will lower your reputation to avoid this part of the game completely, which is advisable. If your reputation is too high, then Templar’s can also send out Assassins to stab you in the back, causing serious health damage.
Multiplayer has been enhanced and is better than it was with Brotherhood. There are more game modes, a lot of characters on hand, and many, many maps to play with. I can see this becoming popular, even if Ubisoft have focused more on promoting the single player element of the title.
Assassins’ Creed Revelations is not a bad game, but it seems to be reaching an impasse. The new features it offers, such as bombs and the 3D tower defense mini game feel unfinished and unnecessary. The single player game is just as frustrating as Brotherhood, and although enjoyable will not win over any new fans who feel it is too ponderous and slow paced. We don’t know how Ubisoft can revitalise this series, but I really do hope they understand that this franchise needs a complete overhaul if it is to offer good value for money in the future.