Thursday, 15 March 2012

Assassin's Creed: Revelations [PS3]

Better than Brotherhood? 
.... maybe only just. 

It was only better for me because it came with the original Assassin's Creed. 

It could be the most epic and cleverly-woven piece of storytelling ever weaved into a game - and I wouldn't know because I was so alienated 
I just didn't care any more.


WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
The successor to Assassin's Creed 1, 2, and Brotherhood;  this is the conclusion to the stories of Altair - the 13th Century Holy-Lander who stars in the original AC - and Ezio Autitore di Firenze - the 16th Century Italian who has been the lead protagonist through AC2 and AC:B


Both Altair and Ezio appear in-game as old men - we see Altair in his 30s, 60s and 80s, and Ezio is now in his 60s. 


For a man of 60-odd, there is little sign of Ezio Auditore di Firenze slowing up while fighting and razzing about through the game's environments - mainly Constantinople in 1511 but we also revisit our old haunt of Masyaf, Syria. The sections with Altair aged around 80 show a true frailty to the him, but it hasn't been applied well enough to do it credit - I'll explain that later.


The story set-up is still the same and the "genetic memories" of these two legendary Assassins are being played by a modern-day ancestor, Desmond Miles. Thankfully, there isn't too much of him - until you get right to the end..... anyway, let me go through things in order.



+++ O.K. - The Good Stuff +++

Much more colour - YAAAAAAY!


I much prefer the new setting as well. Constantinople looks beautiful - with the ornate towers, decorated markets full of carpets and other wares, crowds of people wearing vibrantly coloured robes - it it a much more satisfying visual experience. Masyaf is much the same as it was in AC1, but now is much more decrepit and so isn't quite as nice.


There is certainly more emphasis on the colour, variety and spectacle that's been caked in to Revelations but for the most part it pays off. Being able to kit Ezio out in a deep purple cloak and shiny new armour was at least slightly satisfying.


Using bombs and mines is one of the more fun hobbies in this game


+++ BOMBS! +++
Yes - OK - these were great fun. As stupid as it actually sounds on paper that people in the 1500s had bomb-making stations posted on every other street corner that allowed you to cook up a multitude of different bombs... but it was still fun to get cooking.


The bombs are good to experiment with - as there are perhaps too many bomb-crafting ingredients thrown at you (luckily not in explosive form), you are therefore able to play around and see what works for you.


Varied enough to be interesting - probably the best implemented new feature for several games. There are several types of bomb - diversionary, tactical and offensive. Diversionary simply draws a guard's attention and is made up of noisecrackers and that sort of thing. A great example of a tactical bomb is the one that is full of lamb's blood - so when it explodes onto a guard they think they've been seriously injured - and then invariable are. Finally the offensive bombs have varying strengths, fuses and effects to take out the diverse range of guards you face in the game.


+++ PLENTY OF VARIETY +++
There's lots of different enemy weapons - loads available to scavenge from fallen enemies - and stuff to buy from the shops so if you want to search for the perfect sword and lance to go with your purple cloak and shiny armour then go for it.

There's also a nice mix of armour types - guards with heavy body armour can now be fairly tough and require some good footwork or use of a bomb to drop their guard.


The variety sort of makes it through to the missions too - you spend your time searching environments for hidden objects, scaling the highest towers to unlock more of the map, defeat senior bad guys in an area to take over more control of the city. 


Side note: On the "city control" point, you can beat the captains in each area by simply sneaking close to them and shooting them. When the captain dies, all the other guards run away. You then set the guard tower alight. WIN. Yawn.


Anyway, the city is varied and interesting enough to keep you searching around for a few hours - but I don't think there's much incentive to work towards 100% completion on this one.


For added value, those who bought the game new (or had it bought for them by awesome brothers) get a copy of the original Assassin's Creed game. I mention this now because it's about the last good thing I can say about Revelations.


Here goes the rant....

What a beautiful city. What a terrible game.


--- "GO GADGET GO" AND "GOT GADGET WOES" ---
Really I haven't gotten on board with the whole gadget thing in Assassin's Creed. I've felt that the stealthy killy concept is perfectly suited to minimal gadget interference, but the game insists on offering you absolutely loads of toys to choose from - if you so wish.


There's a gun, crossbow, hidden blades, bombs, mines, poisons, throwing knives, a hookblade, parachutes (I know, wtf?) - and the developers seem to think the series will fall apart if they don't cram 3 new things in each game to "improve" on the last. Oh well - they're there if you want to use them.


So then comes my big problem in Revelations - it's bad enough that they throw in dozens of crappy gadgets. 


Then I give up and accept that - fine, although it doesn't fit the setting at all, I'll get on board with the whole parachute thing. Flinging myself off buildings and swooping safely to the ground saves time at least (Not that you need it because Ezio is now near-invincible and anything actually fatal can be cured with a well-timed health potion). So I start to razz around the city by parachute - getting to a high location and then just leaping and gliding down to targets was great fun.


Then - WITHOUT MENTIONING IT - you have your parachute taken away. How did I find this out? By leaping off a building to my death only to find no cloth wings of safety there to back me up. Thanks, AC:R. You have managed to successfully:

  1. Introduce gadgets that I loathe because they dilute the glorious Assassin concept
  2. Make me accept defeat - and so start to make use of said gadgets
  3. Take the gadgets away again without telling me - meaning that I died and had to restart a level from the beginning due to the lack of a parachute (for no good reason too - still don't know why they aren't present in the "Underworld" level)
  4. Piss me off. Like, seriously.


Good old hidden blades - how you served me well.


--- TOWER DEFENCE THAT SUCKS??? ---
Yes, surprise surprise, putting a tower defence mini-game in to defend your base when the enemy tries to siege it into a stealth-action-adventure game didn't work. Who on Earth thought that a tower defence mini-game would work in Assassin's Creed anyway!?!

But why exactly didn't it work? Because it was totally half-arsed. Hear me out, and I'll explain how I think this could have been awesome.



They devised a set-up that could have worked as a great, near-endless mini-game - you line the rooftops with your troops and place barricades in the way of wave after wave of incoming enemies. You also have a cannon to blast away enemies - but this is on a timer and so takes a while to reload. You can even just shoot the enemies from the rooftops with the stealthy pistol you hide up your sleeve (accurately, every single time, in the 16th Century - sure).


So why is it no good? Because it's only used maybe 5 times in your whole story play through. I think you can choose to do more - but all of the fun, variety and enemies will be sapped once you've played about 5 rounds. Actually, more like 3.


The way it would have worked perfectly is if you got to do permanent upgrades - use experience points earned in tower defence to upgrade squads of assassin's to use on the rooftops again and again. Then upgrade the cannon, the strength of your defences, the resilience of your troops - give the player more flexibility in play and make it more worthwhile to play through many more levels. 


The way tower defence games work, you could easily have it stretched over 10, 25, 50, 100-or-so levels before a "boss" came and if you beat them then you got a custom cloth dye colour unlocked, weapon, or set of armour.


It would become a meaningful part of the game rather than an annoying and redundant tack-on.... just like most other newer features in this series.


I still really like Constantinople's architecture.


--- CITIZEN CANED ---
So there's still the massive bugs present in the non-player characters in both free roam and during missions. 

Some civilians get confused when you sit on benches, walk near them or jump, and have a habit of vibrating like a washing machine for as long as you are next to them.

You are often still required to be 2 feet away from your target instantly and at all times throughout escort missions, causing serious problems when I was playing an Altair mission - he is running away from an angry mob with his son - and then the computer-controlled son hit a wall accidentally and fell down a hill backwards. I failed the mission because I just couldn't keep up with him. Mission restart. Yippee. That cutscene had so much depth and intrigue - I just can't wait to watch it again. Not.

--- FRAILTY HANDICAP ---
In some missions with Altair, you are actually unable to kill people - you have to use assassin buddies and gadgetry to help. The missions throughout are sometimes very restrictive - this actual inability to fight leaves you wondering why this was used as an action sequence in the first place.


Although the variety and change of pace is interesting, these games are now just so, so different from the original set-up of "Anything is permitted", and I feel it has lost a little something with each subsequent game. 


While I applaud them for trying to do something more meaningful and artistic in a mainstream game, I still wouldn't feel that having a soppy moment where you call in other people to shoot for you in a Call of Duty game would work. Actually, I'm pretty sure you do at some point. Alright, arse. 


Basically I didn't enjoy the aged, story sections of the game - mainly because I now feel so detached from the characters and loathe the way the story is presented that a section I may otherwise had appreciated just made me even more annoyed that I wasn't being let off the leash to go stabby stabby. That may be something in that I need to get checked out.


--- STOOOOOOOPID DIALOGUE ---
In one level you play as Altair, who has been away from his home, Masyaf, in a self-imposed exile for 20 years. As you approach, the 2 guards you are meant to kill stealthily using your hidden blade start talking about Altair:


Did you hear about that old guy Altair, who looks a lot like that old bloke down the hill?
Yeah, I heard about him. They say he used to kill people silently, using a hidden blade.
Well I don't believe a word of it.... "hidden blade".... what a load of nonsense. Oh hi, old man!

*Stabby Stabby*

WIN. Yawn.


--- CUTSCENE HELL ---
The cutscenes don't do much to help my problems with the game's story - the character models are all pretty ugly, the way they speak and move is creepily unrealistic, and they are generally either Ezio or Auditore looking soppy and old. He grunts slowly and whines about age and love and his life - and yet when it comes to crunch time and it's time to save his order he gives it all up for a woman he's only just met! Urgh. Rubbish.


Sometimes they spend a while talking about some exciting conspiracy (that I'm not exactly sure the reason you are involved) and there is talk of answers, truths and Assassin secrets.


Most of the game, though, is spent doing random errands for people - meaning that even Ezio acts and grunts exactly the same while being told to assasinate royalty as when he is told to get a bunch of flowers. Seriously, that mission is in there. 


It's that bizarre juxtaposition that ruins the game - trying to keep a player engaged in an epic conspiracy spanning centuries needs some really intense and gripping action. Revelations only lasted me 10 hours and most of that was spent watching slow, tedious cutscenes and carrying out menial tasks. Oh what epic adventure.


Eagle sense is still used - if a little sparingly - to detect mission targets.

--- OH GOOD GRIEF! AM I GOING TO FALL!?!?! ---
Most story missions follow the standard format: 

  • head through town, 
  • talk to someone, 
  • watch boring cutscene,
  • tail a baddie... 
  • *stabby stabby*
  • head to an underground cave, 
  • watch boring cutscene,
  • find a handhold to climb up, 
  • get halfway up and... 
  • *cinematic tense action moment!*.....*yawn*,
  • climb more, 
  • watch boring cutscene, 
  • *stabby stabby*
  • *talky talky*
  • WIN.

On the *cinematic tense action moment!* point, the developers of this are so shamelessly stealing things from Uncharted that they should put "(c) 2011 Naughty Dog" in the corner. I'm not talking about climby action stuff - that's been around for decades - I'm talking about the camera angles, animations and effects as the now-inevitable bit of scenery falls. 

It's not even slightly mixed up - the control is taken away from the player, the camera shifts to look downwards (at that scary drop that you may well fall down! Even though there's no chance because it's a cutscene). When control is returned you've already found that safe bit of ledge to start climbing up again so most of the action goes on when you're not playing. Whoopee.

--- L.A. NOIRE'S GUIDED ACTION TOUR ---
Those of you who read my review of L.A. Noire back in May 2011, would know that one of my major issues with that game was the fact that action sections comprised of you holding the "forward" button down AND THAT IS ALL. The character automatically ran in the right direction towards your target - requiring no skill and totally failing to engage the player in the action.


So why do I mention this now? Er... duh. Because Revelations does exactly the same thing. Tense, cinematic action sequences as detailed above - filled with explosions, fire and crumbling scenery - are all traversed by holding down the "run forwards" buttons. Wow. This doesn't feel like a cutscene at all.


So basically, they made the cutscenes feel like an archaic novel and the action sequences feel like a cutscene. 


Maybe the end credits will feel like a 3D first person puzzle platformer?





--- PARAGLIDING ACTION ---
Then there's a section where Ezio (no word of a lie) has to paraglide after the big baddie to catch him.


Is this really the best you can do, Revelations? You think that as a thrilling conclusion to the series should be an utterly stupid, Hollywood sequence.


When you catch the big bad, you then throw him off a cliff and battle as you fall. Well, when I say battle - you have to block ONE of his attacks and then punch him THREE TIMES


And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the final action in the Ezio/Auditore story. You are then left with half an hour's worth of talking and cutscenes before being treated with a baffling "Desmond" section.


--- STORIES END ---
And the conclusion to the tale? I HAVE NO IDEA. 


I can't tell if they were setting up the next game, if they trying to be all philosophical and poinant - or if it meant jack shit. 


I'm guessing at option c) Jack shit. It was awful. Just like the last 3 games, it made very little sense - had no sense of drama or conclusion - it just rambled on and then the end credits rolled. 


Now this may be one of the best story narratives ever - taking the player and 2 lead characters right to the end of the story - only for none of them to have an effing clue what was going on - but it didn't sell to me. 


Altair wasn't sure what he was doing. Ezio didn't understand a thing. I hadn't the slightest idea or care what was happening - it was a load of boring pap..... I really got bored here.


Then after the end credits there's a whole new section with Desmond in first person in a weird, Portal-esque puzzler environment. And was it gripping? Conclusive? Amazing? Game-changing?

I played through 2 out of the 5 Desmond levels and decided - No. I'm not wasting any more of my life listening to this crappy story. You know what, I don't care any more.



For the same reason, I didn't carry on with the multiplayer section of the game either - it was trying to keep you hooked by providing more details on the backstory and throwing in hundreds of useless gadgets - and I couldn't care less any more. 

Too much talky, not enough stabby. 
Disturbing but decisive. 
Revelations was no revelation at all.


CONCLUSIONS
It took me three whole games to get here but yes - I have finally given up with the Assassin's Creed series.

The new features add very little - and the fact that the new scenario is nice should make for good DLC - not a full priced game.

The conclusions to the stories of Ezio and Altair made no impact upon me - mainly because I lost touch with both characters a long time ago. I doubt I will be finding out what happened to Desmond in the end, either.

I do not mourn their passing - but out of respect for the original I will offer them this:

REQUIESCAT IN PACE






Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!


Any images in this review are subject to relevant copyrights and are kindly provided by: http://assassinscreed.ubi.com/revelations/en-GB/game-info/index.aspx

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