It's easy to forget just how far Assassin's Creed has come in the last four years. At it's inception, Altair's romp through the Third Crusade offered more style than substance, providing the series with a solid foundation to build on. Enter Ezio, and Ubisoft Montreal's production instantly flaunted a new-found swagger. Alongside the confidence of the charismatic Italian, subtle tweaks were made that helped galvanise the formula towards consistent financial success, something echoed by the annual updates we now receive. Bringing both characters together, how does Ubisoft's latest release stack up against the best of 2011?
In many ways, Revelations has that special feel about it. The developers have continued to improve on their initial improvements, and it's a hugely impressive feat. Age is a prominent theme throughout the game, as Ezio's boyish charm is exchanged for a seriousness that matches his dark robes. He heads to Constantinople to re-establish himself, but also to hunt down the truth behind his creed. After an excellent opening that sees the aged warrior escaping from imminent execution, the game settles into a stride that allows players to get back into the groove of being a feared assassin. Little by little, it becomes clear that the series is at it's most confident, as Ubisoft slowly introduce new mechanics that change an awful lot for the better.
The hook blade makes getting round each city a lot easier
The most important addition to the franchise is the hook blade. This completely alters the way players can manoeuvre across the landscape, adding speed and stability to a system that has always worked adequately. With the hook installed, Ezio can leap from momentous heights without fear of making human pie on the floor below. More importantly, it always allows him to fling himself up the side of buildings with great speed, eliminating the frustration that often plagued previous instalments. Zip-lines are also littered on the rooftops, giving players the opportunity to cover fair distance in a matter of seconds. It really is incredible how such a simple blade re-design can impact the core gameplay so excellently, as Ezio's journey across each city becomes entertainment in itself, and not just a chore until the next mission.
In 1511, it seems the advancement to technology didn't stop there. As an assassin, it's not a surprise that players have plenty of targets to take out. Eagle Vision is now massively useful, allowing Ezio to follow a trail left behind by the presence of the hunted. Of course, there's no point tracking a target if you don't have the tools to complete the job, and this is where the art of bomb crafting comes in. Early on Ezio is shown how to create his own grenades from ingredients he finds on his quest. By choosing the shell, the gunpowder and the type of bomb, some interesting inventions can be concocted. Guards can be lured away by smoke, embarrassed by a stink bomb, or annihilated by something a little more explosive. Whether you like your bombs to be sticky, fused or explode on impact, there's enough variety to make experimenting worthwhile. It's a simple addition, but again, it alters the way the game is played for the better. If you craft the correct bomb for the correct situation, expect to walk away with that 100% memory sync in tact.
As ever, the visuals are a real treat
As the title suggests, it's not all about Ezio. Original hero Altair has a prominent part to play, in sequences that bring the narrative together well. Players will visit Altair's era numerous times, where progression down the time-line of line comes to prominence. Age is a huge theme throughout, as both assassins struggle with the fact they're heading into the final chapter of their lives. At one point, players take control of Altair at the age of 82; a mission that signals an immediate change in pace. Indeed, get past the first few hours, and set-piece after set-piece is rolled out. There really are some superb objectives to complete, as Ubisoft unleash their best set of missions to date. If you've ever wanted to get your own back on those irritating minstrels, this one is definitely for you.
There's always a lot of content crammed into each Assassin's Creed title, and this is no different. Once again, Ezio will be tasked with leading his brotherhood to safety and wealth. By recruiting assassins, much of Europe can be dominated. Fellow brothers can be sent on individual jaunts across the globe, or can offer a helping hand when a tight situation arises. It's still extremely cool to see a helper slice their way through an oblivious foe, all initiated with a high-pitched whistle. Templar control towers can be overrun if you kill the leader in charge, but interestingly, so can assassin strongholds. At certain moments, Ezio has to orchestrate his troops, commanding them in a set-up that pays homage to tower-defence games. Guards can be placed on rooftops, barriers installed to keep the threat minimal, and even cannon shots utilised for players to defend their turf. It's simple, well-executed, and most importantly, fun.
Thankfully, Ubisoft have decided that the modern day assassins aren't worthy of much screen-time, and it certainly stirs up no complaints. Danny Wallace's annoying quips can still be heard between sequences, but he's nowhere near as infuriating as in the other games. Desmond's state of comatose opens his world up significantly, as players can experience his memories by collecting shards of the Animus in Ezio's world. Once a certain amount has been collected, a strange first-person section can be initiated via the pause menu. While these are more bizarre than they are entertaining, they add another sub-plot to a story that has matured well over the past couple of years. The franchise hasn't always gripped players with its narrative, but Revelations does it better than any of its older siblings.
Once the set-pieces start, they don't stop
On the multiplayer side of things, there's still a lot to be desired here. The presentation is top-notch, as each player is inducted into the Abstergo program upon firing up the competitive world for the first time. Tutorials are provided on how to find and eliminate targets, as well as defending your own back. Unfortunately, most of the maps are too small to make each the lone wolf or team-based modes intense. Trying to spot someone in a crowd is usefully very easy, as the player-controlled characters move differently to those the computer puppets. It's early days, but the multiplayer fails to flourish like the single-player side of things.
ASSASSIN'S CREED: REVELATIONS VERDICT
We really have been spoilt this year. With the release of Revelations, Ubisoft have finally turned their initial concept into a truly unmissable game. Pulling the narrative together alongside some vital gameplay additions, this is the best, most complete Assassin’s Creed title to date. In the space of four years, the series has turned it’s infantile expectation into a showing of maturity and extreme class. It seems the developers have grown up alongside their assassins, nurturing the series with enough confidence and pizazz to execute a top contender for game of the year.
TOP GAME MOMENT
A handful of missions are up there with the best in the series. Too much to choose from!