Assassin's Creed Revelations|
The Assassinís Creed saga continues with the fourth and arguably best installment in the series, Revelations. This ambitious sequel follows the adventures of master assassin, Ezio Auditore, as well as filling in some crucial story elements from the original Altair plot thread. Both of these characters have advanced in years with Ezio looking a bit more haggard but no less spry when it comes to scaling buildings or free running through busy streets. Altairís story picks up 20 years after we last saw him and concludes with his death at age 92 in one of the most emotional cinematics of recent memory. I swear...something was in my eye... In some of Altair's later levels he is unable to climb or even run and walking fast will leave him breathless after a few yards, yet he remains the ultimate master of death.
If the adventures of Altair and Ezio werenít enough we also get to explore the origin story of Desmond who has been trapped inside the Animus since the last game, and that is where this adventure starts; on this virtual island of exile that serves as your hub to the game. Stepping into the large glowing portal will grant you access to the memories of ancient Ezio who has traveled to Constantinople, or you can head to the Stonehenge-like hilltop and use the Desmond memory portals to explore five of the most inventive and original levels in gaming since Portal.
Faithful fans of the series will slip right back into the gameplay groove since none of the core goodness of the franchise has changed, but Ubisoft did take some risks and added some new commands and new elements that may or may not appeal to you. These are explained in the opening level and interactive tutorial and additional tutorials are offered each time a new command or concept is introduced. There are nine DNA strands in Revelations, each with several memories to be revisited. The main story deals with Ezio trying to locate and secure five mystical keys to open the secret library Altair has built to hide the Apple. His quest will have him meeting up with old friends and making new ones including a romantic interest, Sophia, the local librarian who helps him locate a set of books that ultimately lead him to the keys.
Familiar elements have been given an update. You still recruit average Joes off the street and turn them into master assassins, only this time you are setting up dens throughout the city. There are seven dens in all but you must first take control of these locations by defeating the Templar soldiers and their captain at each base. Once under your control these will serve as a mini-hub for all assassin activity. Eventually, your hired guild members will reach level 10 and you can assign a master to each den and train them further to level 15 in a series of Master Assassin missions at which point the den will become a permanent fixture in your guild.
In a unique twist the ďawarenessĒ meter plays a much more critical role in Revelations. As you perform illegal activities or even purchase shops and renovate popular landmarks your red awareness meter slowly fills up. If it goes complete red the Templar will try to retake one of your dens forcing you to engage in a new tower defense mini-game. Sadly, this was one of the low points of the game for me, and I did my best to avoid ever having to partake in these. By bribing heralds and killing public officials you can lower your exposure and keep these attacks on your dens from ever happening.
Den defense puts you on a rooftop and allows you to command your troops with a unit selection radial menu. Pick a rooftop and assign a commander, archers, gunners, etc. to key locations to defend against several waves of incoming Templar soldiers. You can also drop in assassins, build barricades to slow their advance, or engage the enemy yourself with your gun or assault the enemy with a mortar-like cannon. If you can destroy all the waves and the flamethrower siege device you keep control of your den. Fail, and you have to retake the Templar base all over again by defeating its new captain and relighting the signal fire.
Over the course of the game you will recruit a dozen or more assassins and send them out across the region to various cities to perform missions to earn XP, money, and in a new twist, actually control the cities. There is a real-time push and pull system where the Templar are always trying to take back each city, forcing you to frequently monitor the status map and send in your men to build up the control percentage or risk losing the city and having to retake it. Each mission earns you a varying amount of cash, XP and control, usually at the cost of completion time. Any assassins you send out on missions will be unavailable to aid Ezio on his daily quests, so there is a bit of strategy and balance at work here.
Also new to Revelations is Bomb Crafting. I had my doubts at first but this actually became quite the cool component to the gameplay. Throughout the city are bomb crafting stations where you can mix and match ingredients to create a wide variety of bombs ranging from damage, tactical, and distraction. First, you pick your shell which can be time-delay, tripwire, or explodes on impact or even a sticky grenade. Then you choose your gunpowder which controls the size of the explosion and finally your payload. Depending on the type of grenade this can be deadly shrapnel or something less lethal like lambs blood or fake gold coins to distract guards, or perhaps a smoke or stink bomb to conceal your getaway or a cherry bomb to force guards to leave their post to investigate the noise. Once equipped, you can throw your bomb by aiming the arcing trajectory indicator or simply drop it at your feet. Bomb ingredients are plentifully stashed in chests all over the city or you can purchase them in the store or from black market bomb vendors.
While most of the game is the traditional ďexplore and loot the cityĒ there are a few highlight moments in Revelations; most of which involving finding the Masyaf Keys. These always start by finding a book. Sophia will give you key waypoints throughout the city that you must reach then use your Eagle Vision to locate the potential location of the book. The books will ultimately lead you to the keys, which will trigger exciting action sequences that you would expect to find in Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia. These were the best moments in the game and quite possibly some of my best memories in the series to date. Once obtained, Ezio can activate the keys to trigger memories that allow you to play as Altair, picking up mere moments after the final boss fight in the very first game and leading up to his end days.
Ubisoft has kept the core game intact although they did change a few buttons around and added a few new moves like the sprint-vault move. You can now sprint towards and enemy then tap/hold the B button to either somersault over the target or fling him with your new hook blade. The hook blade also comes into play by extending your jumping range by holding down B in midair to hook a ledge or even tapping it just prior to those 90-degree hanging lantern swings. But most importantly, you now have a complex network of zip lines throughout the city that allow you to travel faster, escape encounters, or even perform slick aerial assassinations.
The Desmond missions are perhaps my favorite part of Revelations and something I didnít even explore until the credits had rolled on the main game. There are 100 Animus fragments scattered about the city (donít worry Ė they all show up on the map eventually) and as you collect them you will unlock portals back on Animus Island that grant you access to Despondís childhood memories leading all the way up to the lab in the very first game. These missions are so vastly different than anything else in the game they almost seem out of place, and frankly, if you took away the Desmond voice-overs Ubisoft could easily release an entire game based on this style of gameplay.
These missions are played from a first-person perspective; quite shocking after spending 40+ hours playing in third-person, plus the camera is unusually low to the floor, and Desmond canít jump more than 8-10 inches. These increasingly complex levels are more exploratory puzzles than action, almost like a Portal game only portals have been replaced with geometric shapes; two to be specific. Your goal is to simply reach the exit and possibly pick-up a few multiplayer collectible cubes along the way. Desmond can summon a virtual plank or a virtual ramp to cross gaps over deadly floors that threaten to de-res you. It starts off easy enough then they start throwing in gravity currents, deadly lasers, then those lasers start moving, or you might have crisscrossing planes of orange grids that threaten to disintegrate your virtual bridge.
You can only summon four objects at a time with your fifth object destroying the first, so your bridge is always vanishing behind you. By mixing the two shapes you can creating snaking paths around and through puzzle traps or reach ledges and doors high above. If you fall you can quickly summon a plank beneath you to catch yourself. The environments are a mix of gothic chapel that has somehow been infected with the TRON universe. While most of the levels are fairly nondescript you will see interesting textures and design. One room slowly morphs into a barn, another, a train station, and another, a super-cool underground nightclub. One section takes you outside to a blurred New York street where you must cross speeding traffic, and another level takes you into a complex network of digitally constructed office cubicles. These five bonus missions are icing on the Revelations cake and something you will likely replay over and over again. If only they had a timer and leaderboards so you could do speed runs. There are also two unactivated portals on the island - DLC anyone...
Brotherhood introduced a daring new multiplayer aspect to Assassinís Creed, and Revelations enhances that gameplay and even adds a story mode so you can learn more about the Templars and their sinister plans. While multiplayer could have once been considered optional, by weaving more layers of the story into this mode Ubisoft is really encouraging gamers, even solo gamers, to at least experiment with the online component. With multiple modes like Wanted, Deathmatch, and Artifact Assault, you can pretty much pick the type and pacing of gameplay suited to your own style and assassination skills. And with all new characters, abilities, and maps, as well as plenty of forthcoming DLC, you can expect to be playing Revelations well into 2012.
As far as presentation, the game has never looked or sounded better. I still marvel at the intricately design costumes, the vastly complex cities with their mazes of streets and alleys, all visible from 20+ dizzying viewpoints throughout the city. The animation is fast and fluid with only the occasional hiccup in framerate. I did notice a small pause in animation each time you do the extended swing from a lantern Ė almost like the game is checking to see if you hit the B button in time. The combat moves and combo chains are deadly and thrilling to watch. Visiting the original castle from the first game was a real treat, and words canít begin to describe whatís waiting for you in the mind of Desmond trapped inside the Animus. Even the hub island has this magical Myst-like appeal to it.
As always, the voice acting is topnotch with great accents and sexy-smooth delivery by Ezio who is as deadly with the ladies as he is with a blade. He even manages to sing a few songs while working undercover as a minstrel. There is plenty of idle chatter from the civilian population and I found myself just standing there listening to the proclamations of the heralds, often ranting about the assassins until I slipped him a few coins, then his story changed. Every character, large and small is perfectly acted and totally convincing. Combine all of that with a soundtrack that will have you scrambling to find out where to purchase it Ė especially the techno track, "Party Hard" by Jesper Kyd in Desmond's Memory Sequence #4.
Assassinís Creed: Revelations doesnít stray far from the formula that has made it one of the best action-adventures of this generation. One could argue that the game is getting easier, or perhaps I am just getting that much better at playing it. At times the game felt like it was more of a delivery vehicle for the story the designers wanted to tell rather than providing a real challenge. The bomb crafting was a cool addition; the den defense was not, and thankfully the game offers a built-in (and realistic) way to defuse your notoriety so you can avoid this mini-game entirely.
If you are already invested in the series then playing Revelations isnít even an option - it's mandatory. The story is just too important, and frankly, this is the best in the series when it comes to story and action sequences, and not even misplaced tower defense distraction and endless city domination missions can hold it back. And with the ultimate in cliff-hanger endings, itís going to be an excruciating long wait until we get our next installment in the Assassinís Creed saga. Until then, we can at least immerse ourselves in the best Assassinís Creed game to date.