I talked about this game quite a bit already, so I’m not going to be terribly verbose about the gameplay or mechanics. Read the linked post in the previous sentence if you want more detail on those items. The short of it is: if you played Brotherhood, the game is very similar. The hookblade is an interesting addition to the game, which allows for fast travel between rooftops that HAVE a cable set up between them — incidentally, these cables are painfully deliberate that one wonders how they ever got set up in the first place – but those cables are not common enough that you won’t be spending most of your time just jumping between rooftops. Beyond that, the game play is largely the same.
I do want to elaborate, however, on something I began talking about in that post, which is to say the scripted sequences. Scenes like the underground chase I described before are prolific in the game, and it’s wonderfully cinematic and exciting. I know, intellectually, that these scenes are rigid and must occur in nearly the same way ever time, but the fact that the game lets me run them under my own power, makes them feel so much more meaningful.
Emily Short talks about Player Agency a lot in IF games, and basically what we’re seeing here is a very good job at giving the impression of Agency while not actually letting the player do anything unintended. There are two things at work here that make this effective for me: strongly hinted gameplay, and a story that provides a sense of meaningful urgency.
The strongly hinted gameplay is pretty ingenious, as I spoke of before. Visual cues become a language in Assassin’s Creed, because they’re essential to travelling quickly across the city (Constantinople). The more you play the game, and the more it makes you search all over the map for things, the more you’re encouraged to learn the language of the rooftops to make travelling quicker. The fact that certain roof heights that you can hop verses have to climb up become ingrained in the player is intentional. The cues for a hookblade possible cable are subtle but very consistent. Even the spaces you know you can jump versus can’t are important because when the game sets up an action sequence where you have to race, those cues will all come to the forefront of your mind and will guide you towards the right path simply by presenting those cues in the right sequence.
The other half of what makes this work for me is the presentation of the story. Simply put, while I technically can poke around and try to break the game in these sequences, the story is interesting enough and the urgency of getting to the next story sequence compelling enough that I don’t want to. And that, I believe, goes a long way to hiding the fact that you’re in a scripted sequence. There will always be people trying to break games, but I think a well written and well communicated story will encourage a majority of players not to try. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations does a good job at making the player feel compelled to move forward at the points where it feels the most exciting to do so.
So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the story.
I loved it.
I had always liked Altair, but it was pretty obvious that he was a jerk in the beginning of Assassin’s Creed. The great and noble leader that he supposedly leaves as legacy during Ezio’s time always seemed a little false to me. The first game portrayed a childish assassin, in my mind, and I didn’t understand how he rose to such glory. Revelations answers that question superbly. We get to see Altair’s challenges after the death of their leader, the betrayal of one of the other Assassins to usurp his position, the fate of his family (very, very tragic) and the eventual return of Altair to the leadership of the Assassins by becoming the Mentor. Finally, we get to see Altair’s end in a way that skillfully, and touchingly, wraps up the whole story of the 4 games thus far.
That ending, incidentally, is really well done. Ezio finally makes his way into the vault where Altair’s library remains hidden. It turns out, however, there is no library. The vault holds only two things: the Piece of Eden that Altair came into possession of at the end of Assassin’s Creed 1, and… the body of Altiar. When Ezio reaches the body he finds a Memory Disk on him and gets to relive Altair’s final moments. We see that Altair created the room right before the Mongolian invasion and sealed himself inside in order to pass on his Piece of Eden to Desmond’s future, which he had seen through the Piece of Eden. We see him bidding farewell to his son, who is to travel to Alexandria to take the last of the actual books of the library away (probably setting up events of Assassin’s Creed 3) and then his final walk to sit in the chair an peacefully die.
We also see Ezio’s end as well. He finds the Piece of Eden but decides to leave it, concluding that it wasn’t meant for him and that he’s ready to retire. He then uses his knowledge of the experiences in the previous two games to conclude that Desmond must be watching and gives him a final message of hope and, despite all of the tragedies of Ezio’s life, a bit of thanks to the First Civilization. Ezio actually feels gratitude, that he got to be part of something that transcended his life and wonders what it was that made him so special to be able to live hundreds of years past his own death. It was a remarkably humble scene that really solidified Ezio as the ‘Greatest Assassin’ that Lucy said he was way back at the start of Assassin’s Creed II.
Finally, we learn what the objective of the next game would be: there is a hidden First Civilization bunker, beneath Maine, that contains the controls to activate the last of their efforts to save the civilizations of the earth from destruction from solar flares. The First Civilization did not have time to use them all to save themselves, but they have left them behind, intact, for Desmond’s time, in the hope that tragedy could be averted.
Assassin’s Creed started off as a novel idea that took a great gameplay mechanic and wove a subtly complex story around it. Now, four games later, I play these games just to see where the story will go next. The gameplay has remained great, but it’s the tale being told that interests me the most. This game has continued to intrigue me and I can’t wait to see where things end this year with Assassin’s Creed 3.
Some critics have complained that the gameplay hast gotten stale, but I think it’s just moved to a point of refinement instead of revolution. I’m okay with that. The gameplay was good in 2006, it’s still good today. But the story has never ceased to amaze me.