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Assassin’s Creed: Revelations Review

November 22nd, 2011 by

To think that it was back in 2007 that the first Assassin’s Creed game was released. To think that it has been four years since players were, for the first time, able to relive the memories of an asssassin who used his city as a parkour playground. It has nearly been half a decade when Desmond Miles first stepped into the Animus and began experiencing the memories of his ancestors, who were embroiled in their own bloody war against the advancing dogma of the evil Templars. It seems like an age away when this all happened, yet fans of the series still don’t have anything to call a trilogy. Instead they have a series of games not yet confident enough to face the criticism that comes when adding a three. In Assassin’s Creed we have a group of titles that, for too long, has rested on its laurels and whilst handing us one of the finest gaming mechanics of its generation, still isn’t brave enough to take any great leaps forward but instead is happy enough to be prodded slowly across a tightrope.

It would be very easy for me to say that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is essentially Assassin’s Creed: 2.2, than any real advancement of the series, and to be fair all the evidence points towards such a conclusion. The main gameplay mechanics of traversing wide open roof tops with speed and dispatching enemies with silent precision remain. The story as well, is not only a progression of the previous game but also makes a point of ignoring one of the main characters, further compounding its status as embellishment rather than anything more substantial . Also, all the same issues that plagued Assassin’s Creed: II are found in abundance. The constant screen tear, the heavy and poorly implemented combat and the often meagre animation. There is nothing here in Revelations that hasn’t existed before in any previous game in the series, which include all the technical faults. For nothing to have been addressed by developers Ubisoft and for the same brilliance and belligerence to exist un-accounted for makes it tough not to call Revelations anything other than a precursor, an inbred cousin to its fine lineage.

Taking place after the events of Brotherhood, Revelations finds series protagonist Desmond Miles imbedded inside the Animus.  The device that once transported him into the memories of his ancestors through his unique DNA, the Animus is now holding Desmond’s mind hostage until he can complete all the memory fragments left behind by his distant relative and assassin, Ezio Auditore.

Though it might not be the completion of the now thinly stretched saga, Revelations is instead the conclusion of Ezio’s personal fight against the influence of the Templars. Much older and wiser in Revelations, the alterations in Ezio’s character are a welcome change for the series. No longer is he the brash arrogant upstart with a penchant for revenge, but this time he is a much more considered presence.  His mission to uncover the library and secrets of ancestor Altaïr ibn La-Ahad is one of purpose and honour and not one of violence and vengeance. I for one enjoyed the more matured approach and along with a perfectly understated performance by Nolan North as Desmond, the pair are one of the highlights of the game.

Nothing though should be taken away from the location, where Ubisoft once again pick the perfect scene for Ezio to traverse and trail. Constantinople’s sloping roofs, domed and glorious mosques, tight alleyways and packed streets are a constant joy to behold.  The colour and vibrancy of the place juxtaposes beautifully with Ezio’s moody posture and black dress. It is a pleasure to hear locals discussing your actions, to come to the aid of those that are in need and use your gifted skills to help a town so obviously injured by the Templar authority. All of this alongside a tremendous orchestral score and you have all the parts that make up what has long been the Assassin’s Creed formula.

The benefits of the Orient are not only evident in its environment, with the location offering Ezio the addition of a Hookblade and the relevant skills and knowledge in Bombcraft. The former is much welcomed addition to the series, and certainly does help gloss over navigational inaccuracies that crop up from time to time. Being able to use the hook to travel at speed across zip lines and also act as a failsafe when jumps are wider than you expected makes up for those times you leap in opposite directions through no fault of your own or connect with objects not intended to be climbed and therefore seriously  hampering your progress. Issues of movement that still exist, even since Assassin’s Creed: II.

The Bombcraft is also a welcome distraction to the pace of a parkour specialist as well. Without knowing it you can spend a fair few minutes at the designated tables across the city to make a wide variety of bombs from ingredients you have discovered or looted whilst on your travels. The bombs can help maim, kill or distract enemies and collecting the right parts and piecing it together to then be successfully used can feel instantly gratifying.

However, both the Bombcraft and Hookblade are parts of many things in Revelations that offer depth and detail but are really optional extras to an experience that has been played out many times before. Even Desmond is a forgotten character by the end of the first few segments and you’ll rarely go back to him other than through your own choice. Also, a tower defence mini-game which is called into use when captured Assassin territory comes under threat by the Templars, is an entirely ignorable addition past the obligatory tutorial.

You constantly get the feeling that Ubisoft are once again testing the ground for what could be bigger inclusions should they finally finished off the true Assassins Creed Trilogy. For example, collecting archive fragments in the game unlock parts of a first person absurdist puzzle adventure with Desmond tracking back through his memories before being introduced to the Animus. It is truly an affecting experience. However, at no point is this ever explained or directed to in the game for fear that fans might not agree with where Ubisoft is taking the genre. Completing these very compelling  memories are again all optional and the mountains of intensity on offer from the title is never bragged about but instead left to weep in darkened corner.

It is also evident that Revelations is still trundling along with an engine that is definitely starting to show its age. Unable to cope with the growing size and scope of the title, it can no longer get away with blaming its constant texture popping and clipping as a symptom of the Animus.  Combat is also something that hasn’t altered over the series. Often a clumsy affair that constantly does it best to make you feel inept. Water effects are also below what should be expected of the game and the engine shows a keen indecisive attitude  between Ezio’s eye colour and where enemies should be placed. Having a character change in front of your face during a scene or enemies pop out of nowhere just shows that you have a game that it starting to outgrow its home.

In truth it hurts to see so much good work go un-rewarded, especially when you’re constantly reminded of the sheer excitement that pervades every single Assassin’s Creed title. There are times in Revelations when I had to sit on the floor as there was no edge left of my seat to hold me there. A finely paced race alongside a boat hurtling down rapids and a flying jaunt through several burning ships being some of the standout moments.  There were also times when I could see past the dead soulless eyes of the characters and actually feel connected with the story. The living economy of the city and the micromanagement of your assets, investments and interests is also a potent combination. The multiplayer also returns as a fine antithesis to the proliferation of gung-ho multiplayer tropes that exist today. Its display of tension and pacing makes it a joy to play and a far more rewarding experience, though again it is one that often seems ignored.

As any great Assassin knows, the secret to success is all about position and pacing. Get your approach correct and time it right and no one will know you’ve been there. However, when that pacing gets ignored, interrupted or even discarded the experience can turn sour very quickly. What is often an enriching and brilliant experience in Revelations  is constantly made to feel frivolous through bad design, ancestral errors and most importantly a lack of confidence in the product.

I am certain that there will be another Assassin’s Creed game and I hope it contains all the things that have made Revelations a brilliant ride. For a while fans have been enjoying small tweaks to the mechanics and in return have brushed aside constant bugs and flaws within the design. With the closing of the second chapter in the Assassin’s Creed canon, it is now up to Ubisoft to conclude the trilogy with style.

MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360/ PC Release Date: 15/11/2011

Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.

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