Assassin’s Creed II ended on a bizarre, disarming note that I felt was brave for a modern, big budget game. Our hero, Desmond, is using a machine called the Animus to relive the life of his ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. After hours of building Ezio up, suffering his losses and enjoying his achievements, the game flipped everything on itself: Ezio was irrelevant, Desmond is the only person who matters and this story is a whole lot crazier than its conspiracy theory roots suggested. “What the fuck,” indeed. I couldn’t have been more excited, what a finish! Where would Ubisoft take the franchise next? There was so much potential. Now it’s two years and two sequels later and I’m kind of worried about the future of the franchise.
As far as AAA action games go, the Assassin’s Creed story is pretty cool, sort of like a time-traveling Inception. But the problem is the developers have focused all their effort on the dream instead of the reality – giving us an entire Ezio trilogy, even though his role is the meta plot was essentially over in the first game. Brotherhood has this problem, but addressed it by explaining that Ezio was now just further training for Desmond and giving plenty of time to build the personalities of the modern day assassins. Revelations, is actually really lacking in the revelations department, especially because the entire story takes place within the Animus.
It seems after the ending of Brotherhood, Desmond’s mind is rightfully screwed up. We’ve been told the Animus can have that effect on people. So we get to watch him try to put his mind back together… From within his mind. Don’t really worry about it, because you’ll quickly be taken into Ezio’s world and never really given a reason to come back out. So the Ezio story better be pretty damn important, right? Well, no. He’s looking for something Altair (the protagonist of the first game, so long ago) left behind and it brings him to Constantinople. Then the game turns into Brotherhood in Istanbul: Ezio must recruit new assassins, reclaim the city from the templars and find the big secret at the end. Except the big secret at the end isn’t that exciting, because, well, Ezio shouldn’t have starred in three games. But here we are.
For the most part, Revelations plays just like the last game. That is to say, it’s still one of the best stealth action games on the market. It remains awesome to drop down out of nowhere and stab a fool in the throat. It remains frustrating to simply want to run around on the roof tops but instead be forced to deal with annoying, highly suspicious guards. All the city building elements return, you can still buy new gear that is ultimately made redundant by unlocks and there’s almost always more than one way to accomplish your objective. This many games in, the forumla isn’t going to be drastically changed. But it has been tweaked a little.
Early on, Ezio shows off some of his new gear: parachutes, the hook blade and custom bombs. Parachutes add a fun element to traversal and seem tailor-made for the people who liked flying in Assassin’s Creed II. The hook blade speeds up climbing and allows Ezio to slide around on zip lines, plus it adds a little more interaction to free running. That’s nice, since at this point, holding right trigger, A and up was getting kind of tired. I’ve never found bombs particularly useful, but the bomb crafting component is kind of neat and at the very least a solid source of income.
But not everything new is good: now when you take over a district, templars can try to take it back. If that happens, you are punished by having to play a tower defense minigame. No gameplay mechanic that is introduced as a punishment can be that fun. It’s a fairly barebones take on the genre and not particularly fun or challenging. I get that they were trying to give the game a grander scale and a better sense of the push and pull nature of this war, but this aspect of the game became something I dreaded on focused on avoiding. Unfortunately, it can be triggered any time you draw attention to yourself by doing things like investing in small businesses or killing people, so the minigame was kind of difficult to avoid. At least it can be permanently shut down by installing a maximum level assassin in the den.
Outside of Constantinople, you will get the occasional chance to play through critical moments in Altair’s past. They are brief, easy missions that remind us that hey, this guy was pretty cool, wish we could’ve spent a little more time with him. Also, if you’re feeling feisty, you can step back and go into a different part of Desmond’s brain. Here, you play weird first person platforming sections while Desmond talks about his life, starting with growing up in a weird assassin hippie commune. It’s odd and just challenging and interesting enough to be worthwhile.
Multiplayer is back and the same as ever. The you hunt someone while someone else hunts you game mode is the most fun to play, if that sort of thing sounds entertaining to you. I didn’t really play much of the last game’s multiplayer, but I heard that community dried up pretty fast, so if this is something you want to get in on, you should probably get in now. It’s not really for me, but I think it’s kind of cool and I like that it’s a multiplayer mode that is actually, tangentially, related to the story.
By the end Revelations, you’ll have seen the highlight of Altair’s life, most of Ezio’s life and heard Desmond’s life’s story. That’s everybody, right? We don’t have to keep going backwards, do we? At this point, I have no doubt that there will be another one of these games out around this time next year; I just hope it’s a true sequel. Assassin’s Creed has stalled out and needs to change things up or it might just wake up dead.