The Assassin’s Creed games always look like they might be quite enjoyable, all backstabbing and historical intrigue, like a Dan Brown novel for the hard of thinking.
In reality though, despite the lush settings, dramatic music and variety of hooded garments, they always come across as a bit, what’s the word... boring? Go there, endure some earnest exposition, kill somebody for reasons you’re not entirely clear about, repeat to fade. And when you’re not doing that, you’re bowling around pushing people out of the way like in some medieval Verve video, or prancing around on rooftops and leaping into conveniently placed haystacks.
Revelation is the fourth Assassin’s Creed game in five years, and the strain is arguably beginning to show, with a Splinter Cell level of franchise milking. All of the above features are present and correct, but there’s also a "shark-jumping" attempt to liven things up early doors, in the form of a Ben Hur style chariot race. Which doesn’t comfortably fit into what is traditionally perceived as a stealth game.
We need to talk about Desmond
For those who care about the story, it’s mainly set in Constantinople, and you play Ezio Auditore, who is now knocking on a bit, since he appeared - as a baby - in Assassin’s Creed II. Except of course you don’t really play Ezio; you play a bartender called Desmond Miles, one of gaming’s most contentious characters. As anyone who has ever picked up an Assassin’s Creed game will confirm - possibly through gritted teeth - all of the action takes place in the head of Desmond, who is strapped into something called an Animus machine, reliving so-called genetic memories, while in the ‘real’ world an improbable war rages between modern day Templars and Assassins.
It is of course poppycock of the highest order. There’s always a lot of talk about immersion in gaming, and it’s one thing to believe that you’re sat on your sofa controlling a renaissance assassin, another to make the leap that it’s all going on inside someone else’s fevered mind. If anything, Desmond has an even bigger role than usual in Revelations, able to access a place called Animus Island where he has his own collection of sub-Portal platform-oriented levels, accompanied by an unconvincing voiceover where he reveals his origins as a proto-hippie. The man is a tool.
Ignore him. Back to the "real" action, it’s familiar fare, with the core mechanics honed if not quite to perfection, then at least to a level of resigned functionality. The big hook is that Ezio has a big hook, which he slips out of his right sleeve in order to make clambering up buildings some 30 per cent quicker.
It can also be used to slide down conveniently placed - and slightly anachronistic - telegraph cables, as well as garrotte passers-by. It doesn’t stop him occasionally throwing himself to his death in a fit of pique however, something that almost makes you yearn for the "press X to continue" simplicity of Uncharted 3. With that game and the new Batman, we’ve spent a lot of time on rooftops of late, but Revelations arguably trumps them both, with the cities seemingly consisting of more roof than street.
Missions are doled-out in an open world fashion and generally involve walking somewhere to be told what to do and then going there and doing that thing. It might be killing someone, spying on someone, retrieving some kind of artefact, or buying a carpet. By and large, it’s massively po-faced, although there is a brief moment of levity when you disguise yourself as a bard in order to gatecrash a party, and tear someone’s throat out with a lute.
The whole thing hinges around finding some lost keys, which unfortunately aren’t in your other jacket. Those keys enable you to play flashback (or flashforward?) missions as the series’ other big cheese, Altair, otherwise known as a man in a hood. Something of a running theme, even the berk Desmond wears a hoodie.
Beyond the action, there’s an entire meta-game going on involving buying properties, recruiting Assassins, and even sending them away to foreign shores to perform missions. There’s also an incongruous attempt at strategy involving an irksome tower defence mode that requires you to place soldiers on rooftops and build barricades to protect your den.
And the game is all but obsessed with bombs, inviting you to craft bombs, buy bombs, throw bombs at people, carry bombs around in a variety of pouches for a rainy day, none of which appears entirely essential. As for the combat, it’s so easy as to be pointless, and even if you do get into bother you can call in a few assassins to help you out. In fact, there’s no great challenge in the game at all - you either do something or don’t do it.
Weirdly, nobody really talks about the multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed but it’s actually highly original, involving pursuers and targets playing cat-and-mouse over a series of tight maps. A neat idea, identifying yourself as different to the AI characters gives away your position, hence it’s one of the few games where walking around casually minding your own business is a viable tactic.
As an exercise in tying up loose ends for those who have managed to follow the story, Revelations does its job in sold but unspectacular style. We’ve seen it all before, and we certainly don’t want to see any more of Desmond. If they do make another game, they should make it Assassin’s Creed Unplugged, free of DNA sequences, memory fragments, and the rest of the preposterous twaddle that blights the series. Just say no to Desmond.