I meant to talk about this game a while back, but I let my love letter to Bastion get away from me. Oh an addendum to the post about Bastion, it has more than one ending. Every last one is awesome. Note how I didn’t reveal how many endings there are? That’s right I didn’t, because I am not some spoiler-spreading motherfucker. Motherfucker is apparently correct as one word according to WordPress. Okay now before I blow my next few paychecks on buying a diamond solitaire and sending it to Supergiant Games, let’s talk about Ubisoft’s yearly Triple A stab-fest: Assassin’s Creed. In this case, the one with the subtitle Revelations. It has some story revealing stuff. Heavy I know. Let’s move on.
First of all, I really cannot fathom this. In a console generation where trilogies are generally decade-long affairs, Ubisoft manages to pump out quality title after quality title once a year. The first game had a few pitfalls yes, but it laid the groundwork for the great games that started with AC2 moving forward. What is even more mind-boggling is that the games keep on getting better and better with each installment. Revelations is no exception to this trend; it is the best AC game yet, to a point. It underplays a lot of weaknesses of what came before only to introduce a whole host of new ones.
First of all, the game is gorgeous. Constantinople is easily the best-built and most alive city Ubisoft has ever tossed at us. The architecture of the time, like all the games before it suit the movement style perfectly. Plenty of places to explore, with a varied groupings of landmarks makes just running around the city just as fun as cruising around in any Grand Theft Auto. Ezio himself is animated amazingly in this game. They aged him well, in a believable way that obviously shows the toll of years while allowing you to still believe he can kick ass and run around the city. The new kill animations are fucking pretty. Really nothing else to say about that. Just…fucking pretty.
Also what I find amazing is that compared to other open world games that hit the shelves today, the game is surprisingly stable. Not once did the game lock-up on me, which seems to plague a lot of more open world experiences. Granted there are roof guards getting all stuck in world geometry, but it is nowhere near as bad or glitch-ridden as something like Skyrim. Ezio never once fell through a building into the Animus abyss. The same cannot be said for my Nord. Who would have thought a portal to Hell would have been at the fireplace in an inn?
The controls for AC: R are button for button exactly the same as what we have gotten used to since we romped around the Holy Land as the only Arab in the area who sounds like he’s from New Jersey. Really there is not much refinement here either; there doesn’t need to be. The second game was the great change for the series, and the games since have basically piggy-backed on what came then. If anything the game just keeps getting clunkier. This is something of a curse of necessity though. Ubisoft got it right the second time around, and then they have to keep building on that system, otherwise people would bitch the controls are stale, and there is no change. What people need to realize though is that simply tossing more gadgets on the pile does not typically serve to enhance gameplay; it usually just gives us multiple tools for achieving the same result. Does Ezio really need the Hidden Blade, dagger, poisoned Hidden Blade and One/Two-handed weapon? No, no he does not. The combat system basically boils down to Block/Counter-kill, rinse repeat. I eventually just stopped using the Hidden Blade because I was sick of seeing the kill animations, pretty as they are. As it turns out, the dagger kills are just as pretty, but the game would not lose anything for not having it.
A bigger offender is the ranged options. Throwing knife, poison dart, hidden gun and crossbow. Four ways to kill from a distance, only one makes the slightest bit of sense. The throwing knives are weak and bounce off armored people, which can be funny. The hidden gun is about as stealthy as yelling your murderous intent to a target from 40 feet away. The poison darts are at least amusing. Practical? Kind of, as they at least don’t break stealth, but it can take a bit for the target to die. The crossbow should be one of the first things you dump money into, as it’s the only money dump I would argue you need as the game progresses. This will become more apparent as you get almost cheaty with the missions loaded with the caveat “Do not be detected”.
As over-bloated as the previous equipment options are, they at least have their place, even if that space is shared with way too many like-minded killing devices. The worst offender in this game are by far the bombs. I used the bomb as a necessity once. I remember the time, I ran out of crossbow bolts because I was an idiot. Bombs were added for a reason I cannot begin to fathom. Not only are there bombs, but there are three different bomb categories, also different types of bombs in those categories, of varying strengths. Now note all of this you make yourself by collecting materials that everyone on the planet seems to have. Why is the guy with a sword and nothing else carrying gun powder around? There is no real answer for that. Ezio flatout, has enough ways to kill someone. Low-tech hand grenades do not to be thrown into the mix. This is one of the worst examples of needless bloat I have ever seen. They took a combat system that was perfectly competent and attempted to shove in this tactical option that feels needlessly out of place. A bomb that explodes with fake gold…really? It’s like the game forgot you can throw money on the ground.
The…let’s call it a sub-quest of purchasing property is back. What is a little annoying is that to actually access the properties you need to buy them. To buy them you need to control the area. To control the area you need to kill dudes. Which you were probably doing anyway. This time however, you need to kill specific dudes and light something on fire. It’s gating, pure and simple, and it kind of annoys me as a lot of people would do this sort of thing anyway for the simple reason of getting it done, and they’re in the area anyway. There is absolutely no reason to cut us off from shops entirely to pad out the gameplay hours, especially in a game where the story is supposed to be the focus. It gets you away from a tight experience all under the auspices of providing the most bang for the buck. There are ways to do this that can be optional and fun; making it so the closest blacksmith is four miles away is not one of those ways. It is bullshit and makes no sense. If not for Ezio apparently, horseshoes and books would not exist in Instanbul.
Now this is not to say all the additions are pointless. Equipment-wise, the Hook Blade is something that I find adds to the game. Unlike the game’s issue with having too many options for one issue, the Hook Blade provides one solution for many problems. The solution being hook it. This adds a long-jump feature to those lantern-swing around things, which actually throws in what usually ends up being two alternate paths to the same goal. That is actually pretty cool when you think about it. It also acts as a reach tool, giving you about 9 inches more room to grab a ledge, which I have no complaints about. Most fun however, is the ability to hook someone’s chest and roll over their back, which is actually useful if you’re a pussy and run away from combat. Also back to the pretty, the Hook Blade provides some creative kill animations.
Another addition that I find engaging is the Tower Defense mini-game. Den Defense let’s go with. That may even be what it is called. Now it’s not a great version of the genre, it’s no Plants vs Zombies, but it is functional. Now I have seen some reviews complaining about this feature, but I don’t get it. Besides the first, tutorial Den Defense game, the mini-game is entirely optional. Now this is accomplished by making sure your notoriety stays down; which goes up by doing a few things. Capturing a new Den will shoot that right up, buying shops to make sure Istanbul has access to tailors is another way to raise this bar slowly. However, it’s easy as hell to lower that bar to something more manageable. You can bribe heralds, which takes things down a notch, or kill a guy in red pj’s to lower it even more. Most of these bar-dropping activities are easy to do, and you never have to go far for them. However, if you’re lazy or blind and never notice that herald talking smack about Assassin’s and don’t bribe him, your Dens can be attacked by Templars, forcing you into that Den Defense game. So when it comes down to it, going four seconds out of your way to bribe someone can save you a headache if you choose to avoid it. Or embrace the rooftop shenanigans this defense game brings, a welcome shakeup of the stabby status-quo. That’s the main point, the choice is yours. Would have been nice if they could have followed this idea with the shops. Own them for a discount, make some spare cash? Or just buy things from them? Those are the choices we need to see, not the choice that comes from sifting through a ton of stabby things and determine how best to counter-kill someone.
Den Defense wasn’t the only out of left-field diversion. As Desmond, you get the chance to do some weird first person platforming puzzles that serve to expound on a life I honestly care very little about. The puzzles are fun, don’t overstay their welcome and offer a pretty good mix of complexity and variation. It’s no Portal, but it works, and again like Den Defense, totally optional.
Last, let’s talk about the story. I don’t feel like spoiling what goes on here, mainly because it so damn convoluted at this point it makes most mind-fuck TV shows seem like Sesame Street by comparison. So for purposes of me talking about the story, let’s keep it simple. Like the title suggests, some heavy stuff happens in the main arc. It does this while also ending the story of Ezio in a way that I honestly see as the only way to end it. We had Ezio for the course of three games now, and if you pay attention to the story, you find he is a character worth caring about. Someone whose true self does not come until he is faced with tragedy, who cannot stop the cycle of violence no matter who he kills and where he does it, and who in his last outing finally is able to find wisdom he seeks in the memories of someone who came before him. As elegant as Ezio’s ending is, the swansong of Altair is possibly more so, if nothing else for its brevity. There is no wasting time with building your property portfolio, there is simple story, showing you what you need to see in a way that combines gameplay and cut-scene that is frankly pitch perfect. These memory sequences also serve to show you the best parts of Altair, building on the character transformation that happened at the end of the first Assassin’s Creed. Also, Altair now has an Arabic accent, which is fucking awesome. It keeps the immersion going for me, which has always been one of Assassin’s Creed’s strongest parts. Even with it’s time-jumpy silliness, there is a flow present that Ubisoft has been building on, and in this game, have truly mastered.
Oh yeah, this game has multiplayer. Never touched it.
Revelations is a game about piling crap on, seeing how much you can add to a game before it gets crushed under the weight of its own mechanics. This is a shame, because the story is great, well written and multi-layered. However, you unfortunately have to deal with some pretty bad game design in order to get to this story. While nothing is a deal breaker, and a lot of it is optional, some of this crap serves to only pad out the gameplay of what should have been a tight fucking story. The collectible garbage is just par for the course with an open world game, and like all the games of its kind, optional. Collect data fragments at your leisure. However while doing this, I hope you enjoy wasting your time making sure Templars are dead to make sure you have access to the local toy store. The next game would do well to learn from the idea that sometimes less is indeed more. I would much prefer 12 hours of good, to the point story than 20 hours of stupid building purchasing that messes with what should be a tight narrative.