I scaled the outside of the church steeple, desperately trying to avoid detection from the guard watching on the roof tiles below. Noticing that he had spotted me, I let fly with a volley of throwing knives, snuffing out his life and any source of income that his innocent family had thus far enjoyed. In spite of my stealthy approach, my little display had attracted the attention of yet another soldier. I ran past him, ignoring his instructions to behave myself, accidentally picking his pocket, and confident that he would forget my deplorable crimes once I had disappeared from sight.
My target, a Templar captain, began to run as soon as he clapped eyes on me, the prospect of inevitable death not agreeable to his cowardly heart. It was a futile attempt. I dropped down from the building like an angel of death, sinking my hidden blade into the back of his neck with ease. His reign of tyranny was over. All that was left to do now was to set fire to the nearby bell tower. That way people would know that I was friendly.
The logic behind the story of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a little warped to say the least. In spite of their apparently noble intentions, the questionable tactics of the assassin’s guild often leaves them just as culpable as the power hungry Templars that they are trying to defeat. It might not seem so strange if you’ve played any of the other games in the Assassin’s Creed series though. The fact of the matter is that much of what’s here has been done before. Depending on your perspective, this is either Revelations’ greatest strength or its greatest weakness.
Not much time has passed between the ending of Brotherhood and the beginning of Revelations. Well, in Desmond’s world at least. He’s still lounging about in Limbo after the events of the previous game. Ezio, on the other hand, has gone from a debonair young man about town to a brooding old veteran in the blink of an eye. In the hope of finding the keys to a vault containing the key to defeating the Templars, he has transitioned from the sun kissed streets of renaissance Italy to Constantinople, enlisting the help of his Turkish assassin buddies along the way.
The content of the story is actually pretty good as it successfully marries the events of Ezio’s plight to his predecessor Altair’s. I didn’t quite get the lump-in-throat feeling that Metal Gear Solid 4 gave me when Old Snake returned to Shadow Moses, but seeing Altair gallivant around Masyaf was a welcome jog down memory lane nonetheless.
The story of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is different enough from what’s come before it to warrant a new title. The rest of the game, on the other hand, is not. From the moment you boot up Revelations to the moment you leave it out of boredom two hours later, you’ll feel like you’ve seen it all before. There really is no excuse at this stage for the developers to rely on the same old broken AI that the first game had. I really wasn’t joking with my first paragraph. The enemy AI really is that dumb. It completely sucks you out of the experience and makes more difficult stealth assassination games like Hitman look positively perfect in comparison.
My gripes with Revelations don’t stop there. So many of the old gameplay mechanics used in Assassins Creed II and Brotherhood have been rehashed here that it’s hard to differentiate them from the new stuff. Romanies line street corners behaving exactly as courtesans did in the previous games, the high street economy system has returned, the player must still “synchronise” different parts of the city in order to expand the playable areas and the much vaunted “brotherhood” system has been copied over in complete form. I fear I may be alone in my dislike of this feature. Many people seemed to love having an army of unstoppable assassins on hand to do all of the hard work for them. It irked me greatly. The little bastards always seemed to be having way more fun than the actual player, only too happy to further lessen the mind numbingly easy missions.
It’s a shame though, really. Amongst all of the old ideas, Revelations actually has some interesting new concepts. The hook blade, for one, is an excellent new addition that makes free-running a breeze. Missing buildings by inches no longer guarantees a slow fall to your death, as ledges can be gripped with the extra reach of this neat little gadget. The new mini-game “Den Defence” is also a triumph, successfully marrying RTS mechanics with the Assassin’s Creed universe to empower the player with the ability to defend their territories from the Templars. Also, the setting of the game, Constantinople, whilst still sporting the same old graphics engine, looks brilliant and is easily the most expansive and interesting of all the cities seen the Assassin’s Creed games so far.
Unfortunately, not even the new additions to the formula can redeem the title completely. I have long maintained that Desmond is one of the most redundant characters existent in video games. Sure, the initial concept of some kind of history jumping version of The Matrix whereby a modern day man can live vicariously through the memories of his assassin ancestors sounds good on paper, but in practice it just leads to sloppy game design and bewildering storytelling. The new “memory fragments” implemented for Desmond’s side of the story are some of the worst gameplay features yet, coming across as a poor man’s version of Portal instead of the ground-breaking puzzle mechanics that Ubisoft Montreal seem to have been aiming for. To their credit though, these sections can be avoided almost completely in favour of Ezio’s far superior story.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is actually the best game so far in the series. This will be enough for avid fans and newcomers, but not for those looking for something markedly new. The sad fact is that the series has been stagnating for a while now, only building ever so slightly on what has come before. Perhaps Assassin’s Creed III will bring the kick up the backside that the games have needed for so long. Until then though, we’ll just have to make do with this supposed “revelation”.