Assassin’s Creed Revelations
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has become so successful that its producer (Ubisoft) has adopted the strategy of releasing one title per year. It was inevitable, therefore, that this business plan would begin to generate games that would clearly show a rushed development simply devoid of creativity. For this reason, it is surprising that only the franchise’s fourth game, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, is the first to expose such signs.
In order to finish the stories of the previous protagonists, Ezio Auditore da Firenze and Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, Assassin’s Creed Revelations follows the last days of the two Assassins, although it devotes most of its time to explore Ezio’s mission. The Italian intends to discover the secrets that lie lost in the great library of Masyaf and, in order to enter the place, he needs five keys that were hidden by Niccolò Polo in Constantinople.
The plot, which never goes beyond this search, divides itself into several fronts. In the first, there is the local political dispute, which will result in the appointment of the new sultan of Constantinople. The leader of the Templars has one of the keys and it is up to Ezio to discover his identity in the court and for which side – Byzantines or Ottomans – he is fighting. The second front focuses on the search for the four remaining keys – scattered by tombs and caves that need to be located by reading books that also need to be found – and accompanies the strange relationship between the protagonist and the owner of a local bookstore. The third, led by Altaïr, is episodic – only by “reading” each key is one of his chapters opened – and tells of the Assassin’s last days. And the last front is focused on Desmond as he tries to overcome the consequences of his actions at the end of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood.
The political plot matters little to Ezio and therefore much less to the player. Although it contains interesting dialogues that reflect the ideology of that society, the feeling that all events are irrelevant is extremely strong. Ezio’s journey in previous titles was always extremely personal, driven by revenge, which helped reinforce empathy for the character and his conflicts. Thus, since in Revelations the script does not have any emotional foundation, it becomes devoid of any element that could arouse the player’s interest. To make matters worse, the villain is only known at the end and has very little time to discuss his intentions. And adding insult to injury, the plotline about a love relationship is equally ineffective, never convincing – the age difference between the two is a crucial reason – as well as being equally irrelevant to the main plot.
Altaïr’s part is even worse, since his the dialogues are filled with unnecessary exposition. The rise and fall of the Assassin are told very quickly and are all without any purpose: Altaïr’s narrative arc was completely finished in the first game, which means that all the events narrated here do not add anything to the character.
And Desmond does not do much more than complain and be confused by the inquiries of his predecessor “Seventeen.” Trapped in a kind of limbo inside the Animus, he must reminisce about his past and reconstruct the fragments of his memory to prevent the life of Ezio and Altaïr from being confused with his. For this, in addition to collecting 100 pieces of memory throughout the environments, players need to overcome first-person platform sequences. The objective is to create blocks in the air and overcome some obstacles to reach the other side of the rooms, while Desmond remembers, in an annoying way, its childhood and adolescence. This part is absurdly slow and built with a boring, inorganic art style – there are only concrete and blue and gray blocks on the stages – and it requires very little of the player’s intelligence.
Another mechanic even more out of place in the franchise is the inclusion of Tower Defense stages. When the alertness level reaches its maximum, Ezio’s territories are attacked by Templars and players will find themselves trapped in a minigame of this genre. Ezio stands on top of a roof, placing Assassins on top of the other houses to attack the Templars who are invading down the street. In addition to being repetitive and very easy – players even possess a cannon shot that kills almost all enemies, if the situation is urgent – because it needs the alertness level to be at maximum to be activated, a minimally attentive player will only need to play it in the tutorial. That is, the execution of this mode demonstrates the tendency of the franchise not to innovate, but to add more and more absurd and empty mechanics that in no way add to the main gameplay.
The combat, for this reason, remains devoid of difficulty. Players just need to wait for the enemy to strike and press the counter button to eliminate him. If he is immune to counters, pressing the left trigger releases Assassins on him.
Training the assassins in the long run also remains devoid of any reward and the practical difference of having a level 8 Assassin from a level 10 remains a mystery. However, the use and crafting of bombs that can distract or kill guards is a good addition, since it is a mechanic quite simple and, to some extent, appealing – without any negative points – that increases the stealthy possibilities of facing a mission.
Parkour, on the other hand, has received small but harmful adjustments. Early in the adventure, Ezio receives a hook from a Turkish colleague that expands his options of climbing and moving. The problem is that the hook, combined with the “super jump”, expands so much the movement that makes analyzing the geography of the buildings an unnecessary exercise: just jumping randomly and using the hook works. Thus, this seemingly simple inclusion ends up making one of the main attractions of the franchise significantly worse.
Constantinople must have been an ideal locale for the developers to explore because its architecture has Greek and Roman influences. The city is beautifully represented and feels alive, especially its most important sights such as the crowded Grand Bazaar. However, its design is so similar to that of Rome, that a region next to a large broken aqueduct seems essentially the same as the one observed in Brotherhood.
The two previous entries in the franchise were also successful in being a kind of tourist guide to the cities they were set in, showing the player their most important sights, such as monuments and the interior of great churches and palaces. This characteristic reinforced the idea of historicity very important for the central plot to work – basically a conspiracy theory –, especially when they contextualized such structures within the game: when structuring missions inside churches, for example, the developers made them a great labyrinth of platforms, while at the same time impressing the player with the detailing of their paintings and frescoes. In this way, by bringing tension to these famous places, the development teams made them immediately memorable, significantly increasing the player’s immersion. In Assassin’s Creed Revelations this is not accomplished, and so beautiful structures and important places are not explored as they deserved to be. The largest building in Constantinople, Hagia Sofia, for example, is relegated to a hidden secondary mission and many players will give up on the game before even finding it.
The developers’ lack of creativity is so apparent that the best addition that Brotherhood had made in the gameplay, Full Sync, exposes the blandness of the level design. Normally, players can solve a mission in the way that they want, stealthily or with a more combative approach. However, because of Full Sync, players are stimulated to solve missions in the way that Ezio “really did”, thus achieving total synchrony with the memory. Therefore, the development team can lead players to exhaust the level design of the stage, indicating the most challenging and interesting ways to complete it. What in Assassin’s Creed Revelations obviously only comes down to simple objectives like “Do not get caught” and “Do not take damage”.
Nevertheless, the rushed development is still visible in the game’s technical execution. Not only is the soundtrack practically non-existent – apart from the good main theme, almost no music is heard in-game – but the number of bugs, at least in the reviewed PS3 version, is alarming: Desmond’s stages only loaded when they wanted to, often crashing the console; when Ezio jumped off from roofs to assassinate somebody below, he would occasionally get trapped in the air and miss the mark, or hit a ladder and the target would die from a heart attack far away from him; and after an assassination, the alertness meter would jump to the maximum and stay there endlessly, being necessary to restart the console for the situation to return to normal.
The foundations of the Assassin’s Creed series were never solid. Its titles were getting more and more stuffed with abstract mechanics that little influenced the real gameplay. Yet it was a franchise that tried to tell great stories filled with twists and turns. In Assassin’s Creed Revelations none of this is achieved, resulting in an extremely flawed game without any creative reason to exist.
December 06, 2018.
Originally published in Portuguese on March 12, 2015.
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Lorne Balfe and Jesper Kyd