From less than auspicious beginnings in 2007, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has risen in a few short years to become one of the most deservedly acclaimed series of the current era. It created its own legacy with a run of increasingly complex, expansive and impeccably crafted historical worlds for players to navigate, complete with a great sci-fi premise that binds the disparate parts of the narrative together while also giving the developers almost limitless freedom to explore new periods. But with the move to a yearly release model and the arrival of the latest entry so soon after 2010’s sterling Brotherhood, has Ubisoft managed to keep the same high quality?
In short yes. Revelations brings to a close the story of Ezio Auditore, an Italian living during the Renaissance who first featured in Assassin’s Creed II. He was the main protagonist in last year’s Brotherhood and returns here on a quest which is intimately tied to the entire AC mythos. Ezio is in pursuit of five Masyaf keys which will unlock a library at the ancient Assassin fortress that contains secrets left behind by the legendary Altair. But the keys are also containers for memories from Altair’s life, giving Ezio the chance to relive these chapters and gain new insight, while modern character Desmond is trapped in a safe mode in the latest version of the Animus while he tries to rebuild his shattered psyche.
It’s easily the most complex and finely woven tale yet told in an AC game, and the finale brings the three main characters together in ways that are both unexpected and emotional, touching on the immense sacrifice necessary for a life as an assassin. Players can also partake in Desmond’s Journey, voluntary mini quests which give some background on the character’s early life. These sections are completely unique – told from first person and filled with voice over (The Joycean steam of consciousness writer Darby McDevitt mentioned in our interview
), unusual architecture and even strange, Tetris-like, puzzle elements and it’s just one more sign of Ubisoft’s commitment to continuing to develop the feel of the series.
The main game takes place almost exclusively in Constantinople at the turn of the 16th Century, a smaller focus which is reflected by the lack of regular horse-riding or travelling outside the city walls. Rather than being restrictive, it simply feels more concentrated; you’re never more than a few meters from something interesting on your mini-map, which remains littered with icons. Ezio teams up with the local Assassin’s initially to seek out the Masyaf keys but soon gets caught up in a Byzantine plot to usurp the Ottoman rule.
The first notable gameplay addition is the hookblade and it changes every aspect of the game in subtle ways; from new combat options (such as the ability to flip over the back of an enemy) to the ability to ride ziplines. Fundamentally, the hookblade massively increases your exploration speed, as Ezio can leap and grab up most walls in a matter of seconds, streamlining the experience and removing one of the series’ prime frustrations
Another new addition is an expanded mentoring system for new assassin’s called Mediterranean Defence, giving you more cities to conquer and the ability to assign highly trained students to dens. This will decrease Templar attacks and give you the chance to partake in unique Master Assassin mission where you’ll accompany your young padawan on their own quests. It’s quite something to head out on a mission with someone you personally recruited and to watch them use their deadly skills. If you lose a den to Templar attack, you’ll launch a mini game called Den Defence which is a basic tower defence clone that lets you assign assassin’s to rooftops and construct barriers in the street below as waves of enemies try to smash through. It’s a lot of fun, and the difficulty level is pitched quite high though it’s possible to avoid these pitched battled with careful play.
Regular missions have more variety than ever – including the chance to dress up as a bard and play decoy as we detailed in our preview
. The open world structure means you are rarely forced down a certain path, moving from major story missions to pottering around and rebuilding dilapidated sections of Constantinople with ease. Revelations features a few more linear sections than its predecessors, like the fiery escape across the harbour which has been trailered for months or the chase sequences which open and close the game but they rarely feel too restrictive (like some in Uncharted 3) and are paced well enough to be unobtrusive.
There were several moments during my playthrough of Revelations where I felt overwhelmed by the possibilities; by the sheer number of available missions, submissions and optional extras. By the plethora of available weaponry and armour, shops to buy and a whole romantic sub plot. Then there’s the bomb crafting which you may promptly forget about – until you come up against groups of tougher foes in the last third and you’ll be glad you’ve got something with a little more kick. The mechanics are simple – just choose your case, powder and filling – with the bombs falling into the category of offensive, distraction or obscuring. A massive explosion is certain to draw attention, so why not toss a time delayed shell filled with lamb’s blood into an unsuspecting crowd and line up your target before all hell breaks loose.
Apart from the blade part of the hookblade, combat is relatively unchanged. The same block, dodge and counter gameplay is encouraged and I swear those finishing moves are more bloodthirsty than ever before. Of course, that also means they’re incredibly cool, and the variety means you’ll never tire of Ezio’s badass flourishes as another foe expires. Counter steals are new, giving you the chance to ridicule an enemy by stealing his loose change before gutting him. Awesomely of course. Enemies are perhaps a little tougher than before, and the game has no trouble throwing a bunch of those dastardly pike wielding bastards at you with a few riflemen for extra giggles but we figure they’re just asking for a face full of gunpowder. And those Janissaries which caused me some bother in the preview code
seem to have been toned down a little here. They’ve still got an immense health bar but they seem a little less aggressive, and you can always call down a fellow assassin or five to stab them in the brain.
Multiplayer has also been revised, with the first significant addition being a self-contained story which places you as an elite Abstergo agent who is given the chance to prove themselves in the violent virtual playground of the Animus. Succeed and you’ll learn more about the company as you level up to its highest echelons. Fail and… well they’ll probably kill you. The uniquely compelling hide and go kill gameplay from Brotherhood is back and it’s just as tense as ever, providing a different, more defensive and calculated flow than the headshot heavy multiplayer gamers are used to. Personally, I love it and wish more games made such a concerted effort to break the mould.
The basic game modes from before have been expanded to include a hefty 10; including two flavours of deathmatch, wanted, assassinate and CTF style modes that ask you to steal and retain artefacts and chests – both as a team and on your own. Escort charges you and your fellow killers with guarding a VIP while the frenetic Corruption mode sees one player infect everyone he can until a single agent is left standing… for a frantic game of sudden death. Abilities, perks and kill streaks also make a return and there’s more variety than ever before, especially as you level up and begin to unlock new combinations to assault and confuse your foes. Hit level 30 and you can even craft your own abilities.
All this, and I haven’t yet had the chance to mention the remarkable visual style of Revelations. The world of Constantinople is stunningly rendered, with each street featuring the kind of detail you don’t expect in an open world game. The range of NPC character models continues to improve and the animation of the major character is superb, though those motion captured movements are starting to look a little familiar. Ezio doesn’t navigate his world in as smooth a fashion as Uncharted’s Nathan Drake but this world dwarf’s Naughty Dog’s glorified corridors
in scope and scale.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is an immense achievement, filled with epic moments like the exploration of massive underground city and so many optional missions and abilities that you’ll never be able to use them all – case in point, I didn’t even know I had parachutes until the final hour of the game! Of course, it also has its flaws – a game world of this size is prone to moments of broken mechanics and frustrating falls and for those used to regular multiplayer, you might find the more measured pace of these arenas a chore. The ending is also primed for debate as to what exactly occurs and how it feeds into the no doubt pending release of Assassin’s Creed III but the regular story comes to a fitting and satisfying close as the temporal strands of the story unite for one tenuous moment.
With a challenging open world, an epic, semi-historical story, a varied and well-designed single player and unique multiplayer, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations represents one of the best, most well rounded packages gamers will find this year. Coming at a time chock full of blockbuster titles, it’s likely that Ubisoft’s stunning adventure won’t get the attention that it deserves but as of right now, it’s one of my contenders for game of the year.