I suppose I should bring everyone up to speed on Assassin’s Creed, first. In case you’ve missed the last three games, the series is about this wimpy, milquetoast near-future loser (no, seriously) named Desmond Miles. He ran away from his creepy cult family when he was a teenager, but was kidnapped by an evil corporation that is opposed to the faction his family is from. Turns out this feud has been in place for centuries, and Desmond is a descendant of a long line of assassins. The evil corporation (Abstergo in the future, the Templars throughout history) is interested in his ancestral memories, and can send him into them via some sort of pseudoscientific contraption called the Animus.
The second, third, and fourth entries in the series follow his escape from Abstergo and his reunion with his assassin bretheren, but follow the formula of the first game pretty closely. Between the first and the second games, the focus shifted from the Crusades-era adventures of Altair to the Renaissance-era escapades of Ezio, but the core gameplay was pretty similar. The third game (Brotherhood) added a few elements but by and large kept everything else identical.
Unfortunately, this penchant for duplication has hurt the series, especially in this latest iteration. There really wasn’t that much new in Brotherhood, and there’s even less new in Revelations. The core of the game is focused on parkour, and getting from place to place quickly with acrobatic movements. Combat focuses heavily on the element of surprise. Both the parkour and combat systems in Revelations are nearly identical to those in the past two games, even down to Ezio’s animations, even though they did bother to make a new “older” Ezio skin this time around.
Gameplay wise, Ezio wanders around a large, sandbox city area, encountering many of the same missions and mission types as in previous games. You’ll be tasked with things like killing certain enemies, stalking targets or infiltrating an area without detection, and climbing tall objects or navigating parkour challenges with a time limit.
Brotherhood introduced the concept of recruiting, training, and dispatching assassins, which was kind of an interesting addition. You could also call your assassins in to take down targets and assist you in fights. Revelations recycles this almost entirely unchanged, and the tweaks that were made are minor and not that interesting.
Revelations adds a couple of new game mechanics that are worth mentioning. The first is bomb crafting. You can hold up to 3 types of bomb, and 3 bombs of each type. While there are a variety to choose from, there are some clear winners. One or two types from each category of bomb will get you through 90% of the game’s situations. As long as you have bomb ingredients to spare, you can replenish your bombs from the weapon wheel at any time, which gives you almost too much in the way of tactical options. There’s very little need to conserve your bombs, when you can easily walk around with 20 or 30 in “reserve.”
Second is the “den defense” minigame. I think I only ended up playing this twice, and one of them was part of the tutorial for the game mechanic. If your “Templar Awareness” meter fills, there’s a chance that the Templars will assault one of your dens. You can repel them, if you choose, by playing a simple tower defense game. The problems that I have with it are that the camera is terrible and the game itself just isn’t that fun. It’s hard to see what’s going on or where your Assassins are, or even know when the tide is starting to shift until there’s not enough time to do anything about it. I found this game mode frustrating, and I prioritized the side quests that kept me from having to play this more than was absolutely necessary.
The plot of the Ezio sections is very similar to the structure of the plot of the other games in the series. Ezio is balancing political intrigue that likely involves the Templars with internal goings-on of the Assassin order. Much of the political intrigue just doesn’t appeal to me, as I don’t really have any interest in Renaissance-era politics.
This game also features a few segments wherein Ezio relives elements of Altair’s life, much like Desmond is doing to Ezio. The Altair segments are fairly short, and don’t really give us that much story, or even that much action. Ezio manages to relive Altair’s life through mystical artifacts that were left behind as keys, and apparently as a message to Ezio, although I’m not really sure what the message is. Altair had a secret library sealed off in the old Assassin HQ, and he sealed it with these keys that also hold memories. However, the memories mainly serve the purpose to set up that something was hidden in the HQ.
So… they’re keys that contain memories that tell you there’s something hidden, but you know that because you are looking for the keys to find the thing that is hidden, and you know you need the keys because you already found the hidden thing but it’s locked? Holy circular logic, Batman – if that last sentence tripped you up, don’t worry, I can’t figure it out either, and I played the entire game through.
The lowlight of every Assassin’s Creed game is the Desmond portions. In previous games, there were times where you were “let out” of the Animus device that takes you into your ancestral memories, and you could wander around and interact to some limited degree with the world of the “present.” Desmond is just not that great of a character, and all of the other Assassins are one dimensional.
In this game, the Desmond sequences are stripped down to a simple hub world where you can choose to return to Ezio’s time, or explore a few of Desmond’s memories from before he was captured by Abstergo prior to the events of the first game. These segments are absolutely awful. I will deal with a thousand lines of dialog from sarcastic British a-hole secondary characters (a la AC2 or AC:B) if it means I never have to play another one of these sequences again.
Learning about Desmond’s past doesn’t really add anything to what we already knew about him. He just comes off whiny and emo, and blaming his parents for everything. The gameplay itself in these sections is just terrible. It’s all done from the first person perspective, which the game rarely uses at all, and it focuses on manipulating 2 different geometric shapes in an environment to create platforms to get to new areas. The goals are sometimes obtuse, and the manner by which you solve them is just irritating and not fun.
I want to like the Assassin’s Creed series. The gameplay is excellent, the parkour elements are fun, and the plot, while often nonsensical and glacially paced, manages to keep the stakes high. However, there’s just too much dead weight here. The old, recycled gameplay elements are starting to show their age, and the new things that have been added or tweaked are often bad, and even the good ones just don’t do enough to keep the game fresh. If there’s a series that’s in desperate need of a reboot, a la the Splinter Cell reboot with Conviction, it’s Assassin’s Creed.