14 December 2011
I'm starting to get bloody annoyed at the Assassin's Creed series, and not just because I can never remember if you're supposed to put an apostrophe in there. Imagine you're walking to a lovely party with your friend Adrian Assassin's Creed and on the way the two of you find a discarded top hat in a sewer drain, whereupon Adrian puts it on and does an elaborate and spellbinding five minute performance of "Singin' in the Rain" on the nearest lamppost and you are astonished by this sudden display of heretofore unknown talent. But then as you pass another lamppost he performs exactly the same routine. And you laugh good-naturedly and say, "All right, we've had a lot of fun with this, but we really do need to get to this party now." But he responds by launching into the routine a third time, and then you notice a grim, tortured expression on his face and your mutual friend Yolanda Ubisoft arrives and sucks the your money out of your pockets. If Brotherhood was Assassin's Creed 2.5: Oh No, More Faffing About, Revelations is Assassin's Creed 2.75: Faff and the World Faffs With You.
So after Future Desmond stabbed up his girlfriend at the end of the last game - oh, yeah, spoiler alert, Future Desmond stabbed up his girlfriend at the end of the last game - his mind is trapped within the Animus, and in order to awaken from his coma he must - you guessed it! - relive the memories of an ancestor. Because that's Desmond's solution for everything, isn't it? "Hey, Future Desmond! Where did you leave the salad tongs?" "Hang on, I'll relive the memories of an ancestor to find out."
So it's back into the Winklepickers of Ezio Audacity the Refrigerator, now in his fifties but still as sprightly as ever despite his age and the ever-growing hamper of deadly stocking fillers he routinely straps to his body. This time, he's faffing about in Constantinople looking for the five lost keys to Altaïr's secret library, which Ezio really needs to get into before his overdue fees mount up. Meanwhile, Future Desmond, who's starting to look unsettlingly like Adam Sandler, gets the chance to relive some memories of his own in weird, abstract first-person sections in the hope that he can piece together some kind of personality before he's called upon to carry a whole game by himself. Yeah, not happening, Future Desmond. Not unless you peel off your face and reveal that you've been Columbo all along. Ezio hooks up with the local Assassin's Guild in Constantinople and finds them locked in a deadly struggle - oh, no, everything seems to be fine. The worst you can say is that they've been a bit lackadaisy about their recruitment quota, so Ezio has to do the same thing he did in Brotherhood and hire a new patch of trainees. Ezio Auditore, freelance personnel officer!
The problem with the plot is that there doesn't seem to be much at stake. Ezio's main motivation is to girly slap fight some Templars over the keys to a library, but he doesn't know what's inside or how it will help. There's some political intrigue concerning the succession of the local sultante, but Ezio seems to be only tangentially involved. The closest thing to a driving plot element appears to be our randy Mediterranean friend trying to get some midlife crisis-style roughdee (?) from a buxom wench - a Florentine lady, mind, not a piece of local crumpet. The native Constantinople women seem to spend all their time whining for coins from passersby. I must say, I'm grateful Assassin's Creed II introduce the coin-throwing ability for getting rid of beggars, 'cause it's hard to claim you're championing the downtrodden when you can't walk down the street without throwing one at a wall.
With Assassin's Creed dragging its legs like a leper with a length of rope, Revelations 's idea of innovation is to add one or two new killing devices to Ezio's already ungainly repertoire and call it a day. It's at the point that Ezio could trip on a flagstone or brush his cloak past a doorknob and kill everyone in the room. So if the hidden blade, sword, dagger, crossbow, unarmed combat, throwing knives, other hidden blade, poison blade, poison darts, pushing people off rooftops, and the motherfucking gun weren't quite enough murder variety for ya, then now you get to craft bombs from a variety of materials. There's the classic shrapnel bomb, if you want your victim's next-door neighbors to see what happens when you make poor choices in life; the more subtle poison bomb, if you enjoy sparking impromptu dance parties; and the blood bomb that makes enemies think they've been wounded so you can run up and wound them for realsies. Or just use the poison bomb, you fucking show-off.
But the more tech you have, the more strategic challenge gets sucked out of things. In my day, we distracted guards with coins or hired strippers, not lob firecrackers at their feet that make them all catch Saturday Night Fever. Kids of today, eh? Don't know they're born. Aside from that, Ezio also gets a hook-blade that lets him climb onto things one foot higher - fucking Christmas has come early! It was gonna be two feet, but steady on, guys - save some ideas for the sequel.
But there's one major new mechanic apart from new weapons, and that's a tower defense minigame, of all things. I know, that's exactly what I always thought Assassin's Creed was missing, besides maybe a color matching game. Basically, the Templars attack one of your strongholds and you have to stand on a rooftop placing snipers and barricades and directing the battle. But here's the odd thing: you only have to do it once. In the tutorial. It's supposed to happen whenever your notoriety gets too high, but you can bring your notoriety down easily by bribing a herald for roughly the cost of a Twix or killing an official and hey, money for old rope. On top of that, you can make your strongholds immune to attack by powerleveling all your little munchkin trainees to maximum level, so not only is the most elaborate new game mechanic entirely optional, but not having to do it is considered a reward. Well, I'm glad we agree, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, but I feel your efforts could be better directed.
The cynic is an isolationist beast but can always recognize one of their own, and the Assassin's Creed series is getting very cynical. I like the games, but I feel my like is being exploited for coin, and at the risk of devaluing one of my favorite words, it's now faffing about like it's never faffed before. And the faffing is getting out of hand. All of this bullshit - the Championship Manager human resources management games, the Templants vs. Zomsassins - all of this is just more and more layers of flaky pastry between me and the succulent meat of the Assassin's Creed Cornish pasty: one bloke in a bedsheet hopping about on the rooftops carefully planning a stealthy guerrilla assault, to surgically strike like a thumbtack in a McChicken sandwich.
The best thing one could say about Revelations is that it does make the effort to decisively wrap up the stories of Altaïr and Ezio so we can finally move on to some new berk in a dressing gown. Mind you, wouldn't put it past them to hold out for Assassin's Creed 2.875, in which Ezio must defeat the evil Templar nursing home orderlies by shooting blades out of his Zimmer frame.
Hope I die before I get old: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I do find it slightly disturbing that the assassin trainees all have a body count score like it's part of their report card or something
Man I would kill for a cappuccino right now