Wednesday 28 December 2011

Video Game Review | Assassin's Creed: Revelations, dev. Ubisoft Everywhere

You want revelations?

Well, that's too bad: there aren't any in this tepid second sequel to Assassin's Creed 2.

When the first sprung out of a conveniently-placed haystack late last year, it came fully-formed out of almost nowhere. The pre-release publicity had pitched Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood primarily as a multiplayer game, and in part it was that... but in the same breath, to the shock and awe of game critics far and wide, it was so much more than that.

As a single-player game, Brotherhood was an experience which built smartly and expansively upon the already-solid foundation of the last installment in this secret sci-fi franchise. The introduction of a marvelous managerial metagame whereby the player could recruit, train and then call upon an entire battalion of junior assassins proved to its biggest, bestest - but not its only - innovation. This worked both to add depth and texture to the world of Renaissance-era anti-hero Ezio Auditore, fleshing out the eternal conflict between his hidden guild and the wicked Templars to great effect, as well as to spice up the play mechanics of a series already looking a little long in the tooth.

Alas, like a wagon without wheels, the incremental betterment of the Assassin's Creed franchise shudders to a halt here, because there is no such masterstroke in Revelations. Saying that, there are a few new mechanics, most notable amongst them a tower defense mini-game which is every bit as awkward as it sounds, and dull as day-old dishwater to boot. More successful than Den Defense - though similarly derivative - are several heavily-scripted set-piece sequences likely to put players very much in mind of the Uncharted series.

There are a handful of further new features, too, but by and large, those embellishments Revelations makes on the tried-and-tested formula of the essential Assassin's Creed experience are... uninspiring, to put it politely. Insipid, if we aren't minding our manners. 

Revelations is still an incredibly competent game, all things considered - particularly given the sordid story of its development in such a tight time-frame (one year) by no less than six different studios - but fatigue sets in early on, such that the end, when it comes, is a real relief.

Needless to say, that's a great shame, because Revelations is a game all about endings, and Ezio Auditore's story is not the only narrative to clatter to a conclusion in this scattershot annual installment: we also spend some time - rather too much time, in point of fact - with the protagonist of the ill-considered original Assassin's Creed, Altair.

As it happens, the conclusion of Altair's story is markedly more satisfying than the end Ezio meets, which is to say no end at all since - in their infinite wisdom - Ubisoft have deemed to tell that tale in the short animated feature Assassin's Creed: Embers... and unless you invest in the limited edition of Revelations, you'll have to buy Embers separately, or track it down on YouTube, as I did.

Leave it to the purveyors of all things Tom Clancy to spin off the spin-off of a spin-off...

Revelations is assuredly not the last hurrah Ezio has earned. It's not even the send-off Altair deserved, and I didn't like that dude in the least. What it is is a bit of a kick in the teeth... an elaborate insult which does a disservice to so many of the stories this series has told better before. It looks the part and, insofar as it has such a firm foundation in its predecessor, it actually plays pretty well, too, but Revelations is ultimately no more and no less than a stopgap between Brotherhood and Assassin's Creed 3, and with it, Ubisoft run the risk of putting people off the franchise entirely.

A dangerous game, that...

...not at all like this one!


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