Assassins Creed is a series that draws much of its temperament from
the character of its protagonist. Under Altar, the game was grimy
and obsessive, an adventure that felt like mild flagellation as a
12th-century killer pursued targets through a landscape of medieval
squalor. With Ezio Auditore in charge, however, Ubisofts open
worlds have been transformed by a knockabout lead bringing a touch
of renaissance roguishness to proceedings. Vengeance and
backstabbing aside, its all a bit of a lark to Ezio. There are
plots to foil and Templars to silence, but there are also maidens
to seduce, and gadgets to test. Revelations final confrontation
wouldnt be out of place in one of the stupider Bond films, but it
almost works. The Italians charm is irresistible.
As leading men go, Ezios the equivalent of a well-travelled and
slightly tipsy dinner host: voluble, rangy and devoted to ensuring
everyones enjoying themselves. Three games in, though, its clear
hes also easily distracted. In the Auditore years, Assassins Creeds
narrative has travelled sideways as much as forwards, while the
world, which players once complained there was nothing to do in,
has expanded greedily, its streets filled with innocents to recruit
and bookshops to visit. Its mean-spirited to complain about so much
content, particularly in a game where the setting is more important
than the plot, but is it always the right content? If anything,
being an assassin is in danger of getting lost among all the other
trades international spyrunner, say, or property developer.
Assassins Creeds ancillary systems tend to be thin in execution:
levelling up guild members and banking blacksmith profits is
rewarding rather than genuinely entertaining, and with a shift to
Constantinople, Revelations only adds to the distractions.
Like most of ACs cities, Constantinople is huge and hard to
learn your way around in the flesh. Its built for speed of
traversal rather than tourism, and while its a delight to scramble
over, its monuments struggle to arrange themselves tidily in your
mind, leaving you to navigate, as usual, by the clutter of icons on
the mini-map. These include a new den-defending minigame thats
Desktop Tower Defense by way of the 16th century, but its cleverer
than it is engrossing, hampered by mundane units and an awkward
view. More importantly, its another aside in a series that already
has plenty; another diversion that obscures rather than
Elsewhere, Revelations is defined by the slightest of
incremental improvements. Bomb crafting is smartly implemented as
you pick recipes and gather ingredients, and theres an amusing
sense that Ezios behaving as a perky barman rather than a master
killer. Its hardly game-changing, though, even if it does give you
new options distract, confuse, destroy during combat and stealth.
The Hookblade, meanwhile, introduces a little complexity to the
traversal, allowing you to leap higher and farther and even slide
on ziplines. It speeds up both movement and fighting, but its
another minor embellishment; its still the animation that makes AC
sing, conveying a majestic blend of agility and effort while you
sit back and hold down a few buttons.
As the game swells outwards, the plot becomes thinner. Political
rivalries aside, the core of Revelations focuses on Ezios attempt
to open a door thats studded with five locks. Its a dangerously
direct premise for a 15-hour adventure, and its simple tug can make
everything else feel like youre wasting time a mistake for a series
with so many extra-curricular options. At least theres variety.
Everything is permitted, a character says at one point, and they
could be discussing Ubisofts missions, which can segue from
pummelling minstrels to picking tulips. Its pleasantly
freewheeling, but the core of the game is being gently eroded, and
the end result is a narrative that wallows.
Fortunately, the dungeon sections in which you track down the
keys themselves are one of Revelations real successes, not just in
the manner that they chain platforming together with elegant
challenges, but because they provide this wayward game with a
sudden burst of momentum. In the caverns beneath Constantinople,
theres no armour to repair or landmarks to buy, no dens to defend
and no tulips to pick. You simply engage with both environment and
gadgets, and make off with a fresh piece of narrative.
Beyond that, Revelations most interesting elements lie outside
the campaign, with an expanded multiplayer suite that still hinges
on some ingeniously murderous twists on hide-and-seek, and some
exploration missions as Desmond, who spends the adventure stuck
inside the Animus, sifts his past by picking a firstperson path
through vast concrete memory palaces. The puzzling is bland Desmond
can conjure platforms at will and interact with a simple range of
tractor beams and switches but the architecture is stark,
mysterious and timelessly religious. As an exercise in backstory,
its far more stylish than the Altar subquests, in which you go on a
brisk tour of the assassins life while sticking, rather cannily, to
a single location.
Revelations? Not really, unless you count a tease for the games
true third instalment. Ending with what amounts to a CGI advert
only reinforces the suspicion that Ezios legacy is an accidental
trilogy, the happy by-product of the characters undeniable charm
and the publishers willingness to cobble together mega-teams
capable of churning out new locations every year. Its been fun, but
its also been something of a gymnastic dawdle. Unlike the elegant
lead, whos grey-haired but unbowed by the end of the adventure,
Assassins Creed has been quietly compromised by age.
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