Assassin’s Creed Revelations, or how Ubisoft fucked one of the greatest franchises of this console generation

by Mr. Nobel

So, during the great Black Friday crapshoot of 2011, I acquired a couple of items from my friendly, neighborhood Best Buy, most notably of which was Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Revelations, for the uninitiated, is the fourth installment in the hugely popular Assassin’s Creed franchise, a series of games revolving around Desmond Fuckface reliving memories of his ancestors through genetic-computer wizardry.

For the past three games, we have been playing as Desmond as Ezio Auditore, a lovably snarky Italian playboy slash assassin for hire. And, for the past three engines, Ubisoft have largely rested on their laurels and delivered the same fucking game, but with more useless added on bling.

Of course, this wasn’t as big of an issue with Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (the third installment). Though Assassin’s Creed II ended resolutely, Brotherhood soon carved enough of a narrative out of the remaining plot strands from II to form a compelling story. Engrossing from in medias res opening to bloody ending, Brotherhood delivered the goods, even though Ubisoft largely left the gameplay/mission structure the same from II.

Brotherhood ended Desmond’s story with a cliffhanger, a good indication that its sequel’s existence had been planned, and that its story would not be some token stretching out of Ezio/Desmond’s already stretched plot. Yet, despite this promising development, Revelations’ plot is as token and as padded out as Charlie Sheen’s penis.

See, the chief flaw with Revelations is that the story doesn’t build upon Desmond’s cliffhanger. Rather than develop both Desmond and Ezio, as II and Brotherhood did, Revelations largely leaves Desmond in a Lost-esqe physical and narrative limbo, electing, instead, to completely pad out Ezio’s story to the game’s detriment. So, that bit where X gets X’d by X at the end of Brotherhood gets explained away in passing with a line or two, and we get some abstract first person LittleBigPlanet by way of Portal puzzle sections to crunch out with Desmond.

You know what? That’s a pretty god damned awful decision, but it could have worked! It could have worked, if the first person puzzles were somehow relevant to the plot, instead of being narrated by the increasingly and aggravatingly annoying/bland Desmond, and if Ezio actually had something interesting to do. But, alas, ’twas not to be.

Let’s start with the first person puzzle things. The nominal purpose of these interludes is to flesh out Desmond’s backstory. Yet, the more we learn about Desmond, the less we like him, because compared to Ezio and (earlier protagonist) Altair, Desmond’s a whiny little bitch. His narration is token and sentimental in the most off putting tone possible, and largely irrelevant to the neat, if completely out-of-the-blue, puzzle-platform sequences. Desmond spends so much of his time bemoaning his upbringing in this vaguely hippy commune which, of course, is nothing compared to what the developers have put Ezio and Altair through in their respective games. At the end of this game, I find it harder than ever to envision a future Assassin’s Creed sequel with Desmond as the main character. Because, if the man can’t take cold water showers, how the hell is he going to pull off some double hidden blade, running off the wall of a building assassining we’ve come to expect from the franchise? I do, however, appreciate the neat Mirror’s Edge crossed with Aperture Science aesthetic of these sequences.

Ezio, comparatively, has far less plot to get through in this game. We already know his backstory, and his actual quest appeared to have been ended by the final cutscene of Brotherhood. Yet, here we are again, in the now graying Ezio Auditore’s Italian shoes as he goes off to save the world, or something. Ezio’s after his ancestor Altair’s legendary lost library, presumably to either restock his collection of erotic fan fiction or hide said collection. Interwoven with Ezio’s quest are several flashbacks to Altair’s paralleled quest to build up the Assassins and hide dem Apples of Eden (super-weapons left behind by an advanced civilization wiped out by solar flares…just roll with it). The story’s barely there, and, really, not all that compelling. There’s never a sense of urgency or stakes to the game, until a contrived plot device is inserted into the penultimate mission sequence. Prior Assassin’s Creed games had nice, long campaigns, roughly about 15 mission sequences, each lasting roughly an hour. Revelations only has 9, and the last two are extra short. It also has nothing new to introduce to the franchise except the baffling tower defense mini-game that’s actually entirely skippable if you’re diligent about cleaning up after yourself.

Worryingly, the flashbacks retcon part of the first Assassin’s Creed game. Whereas Altair had this bland, American accent to complement his bland, dickish personality, the Altair in Revelations is a stoic and selfless hero of the lands, with an in-character Middle-Eastern accent. Ezio, in contrast with the Altair of games past, had personality and wit. To see him regard his largely dickish predecessor as this great hero/mentor figure is jarring, does not jive well with what Ubisoft had previously presented.

All of this meaningless, contrived plotting serves to extinguish the anticipation for Assassin’s Creed III that II and Brotherhood had so effectively built up. I haven’t even mentioned the massive leap in graphical fidelity or the beautifully rendered Constantinople skyline because Revelations is the first Assassin’s Creed game to be so fatally flawed that even the series’ strong core gameplay mechanic can’t entirely overcome the flaws. Assassin’s Creed I was better, Brotherhood was far superior. II still remains the strong point of the series, and possibly will forever hold this title, unless III does something drastic to buck the series’ downward trend.

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