We’re not the world’s biggest fans on the Assassins’ Creed series. On paper, you’d think we would be – a historical action drama about assassins, templars and global conspiracy theories should be like crack. But, beyond our initial excitement at the first game’s mechanics (which we kinda regret), the franchise has consistently failed to grab me.
With that in mind, it’s kind of fascinating that during a recent nearly three hour hands-on preview session for the latest in the series – Assassins’ Creed: Revelations – we were rather more drawn into the game than we’ve ever been before.
A big part of that comes down to the absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous game engine, and the incredible detail that Ubisoft developers around the world have pushed into the textures in particular. Forget jumping from rooftops to stab people in the face – we had almost as much fun gazing in adoration at the rich costumes on display, or the immense attention to detail in the game’s architecture.
It might be a stretch to say this, but this attention to detail is a real game-maker for me. The game boasts possibly the richest historical setting possible – renaissance era Constantinople, with all its east meets west glory. There are influences from all over the world crammed together in this one vast melting pot, and as a giant history nerd, who’s visited great sites like the Alhambra and lots of other medieval landmarks, the game just feels real.
Though we admit, exclaiming “Wow, I’ve never seen such detailed Islamic architecture and design in a game before,” is a great way to baffle most games PR – it certainly drew some odd looks during the preview session.
Thankfully, for those not into their history, there’s also a mess of stabby, jumpy gameplay to get your teeth into.
Tower defense? Really?
We got to play three portions of the game, and these featured a lot of interesting gameplay elements. Probably the most interesting was a sequence where, once you’ve arrived in Constantinople (you’re there to search for the five keys to a magic library that unlock the past of Altair, the first game’s protagonist, and, um, do some other stuff), you need to secure a tower that is your local hideout. To do this, you must hold off an attack by Jannisary troops, by deploying assassins along the street to stop them. It’s basically a simple tower defense game, and while we did scoff, it was awesome fun.
The way it works is simple – as you stand on a roof, you get a limited amount of morale to deploy leaders, who then unlock further troops under their command. You start with crossbowmen, but then get access to riflemen, barricades and cannon, and killing more attackers gives you more morale. Like we said, it is pretty simple, but it’s also very flavoursome, and does a great job of giving the player a sense of command and control over their destiny.
Most of the game is taken up by your hunt for the keys, but while in Constantinople you also get dragged into local politics – which are appropriately Byzantine (we’re here all week – try the veal). You local Assassin pals (does anyone else feel like these guilds are basically Unionising murder?) are supporting and trying to keep alive the Sultan’s son, his heir, and you get dragged into the mess. One of our missions was not only quite fun, but also a great laugh, as you seek out then beat up minstrels, steal their clothes, and then sneak into a shindig the son is throwing to seek out hidden assassins – bad assassins, that is. As you stroll about the gardens of the Sultan’s Palace dressed in possibly the silliest tights and doublet combo outside of Blackadder, you need to use Ezio’s Eagle Vision ability to suss out evildoers, then distract crowds with some ribald songs while you’re buddies kill the killers before they can act. There’s a lot going on during the sequence – the Sultan’s son is busy politicking, your assassin pals are stabbing and hiding bodies, and you’re showing off a repertoire of music that surprises everyone.
It’s a great change of pace from the bulk of the game.
We didn’t get to see any of Revelation’s modern sequences, but we did get to see a lot of Ezio leaping about in search of these hidden Keys. In some, it’s pretty much you against the environment in what is essentially a platformer from hell as you scale walls, swing on hanging torches and generally risk life and limb like a circus performer on mescalin. In others, it’s still all-jumping, all-whacked out fun, with the addition of people trying to kill you. In one of these latter types, you’re racing a boatload of soldiers to the key, and while they follow a subterranean river you’re leaping long ledges and ruined bridges to follow them. It’s intensely cinematic.
I’m still not sure this is the game to actually pull me into the franchise, but it certainly comes closer than any title before it, and it’s unmistakably a great game. It continues to build new elements on top of the now tried and true parkour+swords gameplay of the original, with more moves, more sub-games, and possibly one of the most beautifully rendered worlds in gaming.
If you are a fan of the series, this is going to be a worthy finale. Check out our gallery for some shots of the singleplayer action.