The Assassin's Creed series represents the best and the worst of the gaming industry. The current obsession with franchises and yearly release schedules often threatens to strangle any of the remaining originality that survives in the industry. After a while the relentless releases of FIFA and Modern Warfare titles can start to grate but they do give developers that rare chance to refine, tweak and generally polish their products. The Assassin's Creed series, now onto its fourth title on the mainstream consoles, has benefited from these regular releases. The original Assassin's Creed title was a beautiful but a somewhat clunky and bland affair but the sweeping crusades era story however showed definite potential.
It was potential which, helped by some considerable resources, has been realised over the last couple of years. Ubisoft have improved their 2007 effort and buffed it to a considerable shine. There may have been a significant gap between the original and the sequel but since its first showing the series has been joined by another three titles in the space of just three years. Despite the punishing release schedule that Ubisoft have embarked upon Assassin's Creed has gotten better with each passing release. An interesting story and lead character played a significant part in a well received sequel. The Renaissance period setting continued for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood as the action switched to Rome and packed in yet more content and a well received multiplayer addition.
Perhaps more interesting than the games themselves however is just how quickly and efficiently the Assassin's Creed series has managed to become a staple of the modern gaming landscape. Looking back at the original game (which is included in the PS3 release) it is remarkable how far things have come in such a short space of time. However four titles in the space of just five years have started to take their toll on the series and Assassin's Creed: Revelations never quite manages to match the brilliance of the previous two entries in the series. So stuffed to the gills with content (and Revelations adds yet more) it has started to erode much of the central gameplay which made the previous two games, and in particular the sequel, so great.
Main protagonist Ezio Auditore once again returns whilst modern day assassin Desmond Miles is also back. Desmond has suffered a mental breakdown and finds himself trapped in a safe area of the Animus. With his mind unravelling at the seams he is forced to play back his ancestors memories and separate his true self from them. As a result he finds himself venturing back into the shoes of master assassin Ezio who has travelled to Masayf in a bid to unlock the secrets that Altair (the assassin from the original game) had discovered. There he learns that five keys are required to unlock the door and that the Templars have the first, with the rest residing in Constantinople. Ezio sets out immediately and upon arriving comes across yet another Templar plot for control.
If none of that makes any sense then it might be best to give up right now as Assassin's Creed: Revelations does require some prior knowledge of the series to work out what is going on. The game does make a brief, and somewhat ill-advised, attempt to sum things up but if you are new to the series you may well be in for an uphill battle. Indeed if you never got around to finishing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood you will want to go and dust that off first before playing this otherwise you will be in for a struggle. The weird setup which has been established in previous titles does still work however. While it might be initially difficult to get your head around, it does allow the developers to break the fourth wall with story lines layered on top of one another. Despite all that however the Desmond Miles character remains one of the most annoyingly bland creations in the history of gaming. While each successive game has given him a slightly larger role to play he is constantly trumped by his ancestors who are far more interesting. Thankfully you get to spend the majority of your time as Ezio and Altair which relegates Desmond to the sidelines for much of proceedings.
Given how good a job Ubisoft have done in improving the series with each passing game it is curious that old niggles have never been straightened out with the series. The amazingly bland Desmond Miles is one such example but there are plenty of others as well. The parkour, free running elements of the series are another. When they work it is brilliant to watch but it was always prone to stuttering at odd moments or getting caught and breaking your flow. It is something which has never quite been fixed with each passing game. Indeed it has got worse as Ubisoft have made the strange decision to adjust the controls slightly from the previous outing. Even the irritating minstrels which crowd around you and impeded your progress are back, this time in the shape of beggar women. None of these are game breakers but it has always been strange how, despite the improvements, long standing irritations remain.
Indeed the list of irritations from the previous titles has actually increased this time around with the additions of some very ropey new elements. One of them is a misguided tower defence mini-game which pops up at various intervals during the main story. Much like Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood you can liberate several dens from Templar control. Taking over a den means assassinating the Templar commander and scaling the top of a nearby tower to launch a flare. These are tremendous fun allowing you to carry out the assassination as you see fit. The trouble begins afterwards when the Templar army attempts to regain control of the den. The game often forces you to backtrack halfway across the map to get back to the contested den before pitching you into a woefully under developed mini-game which sees you position archers and the like on rooftops in order to defeat the incoming army. Not only is it boring but it ultimately gets in the way of proceedings. Failing any of these mini-games sees the den return to Templar control. In this event though you simply find the commander and assassinate him again rendering the previous ten minutes almost pointless.
Liberating the towers which are dotted about Constantinople may be presented as optional but in reality they are not. Gaining more dens allows you to recruit more assassins. This allows you to call upon them during missions to create confusion and take out troublesome guards. Without them the game becomes a much harder affair. Also ignoring the towers means you can forget about buying shops and gaining more money. Even getting through areas of Templar control is made more difficult without taking over the towers. Elsewhere another new addition is a strange first person jaunt with Desmond Miles which sees you navigating block rooms by placing down your own blocks. It is a very weird addition which is difficult to describe and one which jars badly against the rest of the game. Thankfully however these sections, which are unlocked by collecting animus shards in the main game, are completely optional.
Better however is the search for the five keys which take place in dungeons throughout the city. The game really shines here as it isn’t weighed down by the massive number of side quests (the map is covered in icons from an early stage) and pointless mini-games. The dungeons mix some clever design, neat puzzles and combat together to create one of the most focused parts of the game. They are similar to the tombs from the second game in the series but unfortunately they are over far too quickly. Locating each of the keys gives you access to important events from Altair’s past. Veterans of the series should welcome these as they do a decent job at bookending Altair’s story. The rest of Assassin's Creed: Revelations plays out in a similar manner to previous games in the series. Completing key quests, which often involve a variety of tasks such as trailing targets, assassinating people or duelling with guards, pushes the story forwards. Combat remains entertaining however there are more rewards this time around for being more aggressive. Previously it was easier to counter enemies for simple kills but you can now chain moves together allowing you to blitz through guards in a few short moments.
Meanwhile Ezio gets a couple of new weapons to play with, most notably bombs. These can be made from supplies which are found by looting bodies and chests around the cities. Combining the ingredients together gives you different types such as smoke and explosive bombs. The game is littered with bomb crafting tables throughout the cities to the point of obsession. Somehow though they don’t quite seem in keeping with a stealthy assassin. Elsewhere you can train assassins by sending them on quests and eventually assign them to a den. This allows you to prevent anymore Templar attacks and avoid the terrible tower defence mini-game. However it takes a long time to reach the required level and adds yet more side quests and that is half the problem with Assassin's Creed: Revelations. There are so many things to do that they start to eat into the main storyline. You will often find yourself doing things which probably shouldn’t be on the job description of an assassin.
Assassin's Creed Revelations finds a firmer footing however in multiplayer mode. Subtlety and quiet cunning has never exactly been a hallmark of the on-line multiplayer world but it works in Assassin's Creed surprisingly well. There are several modes to pick from including a capture the flag mode and death match. The best mode however is Wanted which sees you given a target to assassinate. At the same time you are also being hunted by someone else on the map forcing you to find a careful balance between hunter and hidden prey. Its a great mode and basically boils down to a very interesting game of cat and mouse. Death match is similar to wanted but there are no targets and instead you have to rely on observation to pick out your targets.
There is certainly some mileage in the multiplayer mode but unfortunately the same can’t be said about the single player campaign which is starting to look tired. Assassin's Creed has always bordered on being slightly portly when it comes to side missions and additional content. It is still entertaining enough and does well to draw a line under earlier storylines in the series but it feels more bloated than usual this time around. Assassin's Creed: Revelations is not helped by the additions of some misguided mini-games, namely the den defence elements, which further eat into the core of the game. In many respects they distract from it entirely. One feels the number of new features thrown in is a bid to make the game feel new and different to it’s predecessors and as a result it missteps. Perhaps though that has to be expected. Four titles in five years appear to have taken the shine off the series.
A look at the latest installment of the Assassin's Creed series.