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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Assassin's Creed Revelations review: the upside of yearly releases

With Assassin's Creed: Revelations being the third Assassin's Creed release in as many years, a fear of trepidation that the series would be back with diminishing returns isn't unfounded. Look at what an annual release schedule did to the once-great Guitar Hero: it takes time for developers to create and implement new gameplay systems and features. I went into Revelations skeptical and expecting to be unimpressed—and being wrong never felt this good.
The first Assassin's Creed came out in 2007 and felt like a proof of concept. Regardless of how beautiful the Crusades-era Holy Land setting was, the game's mission structure and environments were monotonous and bland. It was the video game equivalent of a supermodel serving you plain oatmeal. But it had potential. In the two years between the release of Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed II, developer Ubisoft hammered out the template for sequels to come.
With AC II, all that remained from the previous excursion were the big-picture elements. Rote missions and boring combat got the axe while a large go-anywhere parkour-anything historical environment—this time, Renaissance-era Italy—and the ongoing war between an ancient order of assassins and the Knights Templar stayed. And this is where it gets a little tough to explain.

Backstory—or lack thereof

In the first game, you played as shamed assassin Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad. From AC II through Revelations you're playing mainly as Ezio Auditore, an Italian assassin. They tie together through Desmond Miles, a twenty-something bartender kidnapped by modern day Templars. Desmond is the descendant of Ezio and Altaïr, and the Templars access genetic memories stored in his DNA via a machine called the Animus. This technology has a dark side: the Animus is destroying his mind.
The fiction is dense, and Revelations assumes you've played the three games before it. There are no recaps at the the story's outset nor during the lengthy campaign. While the narrative of last year's Brotherhood was a grind, taking too long to get anywhere or do anything interesting, Revelations is much more focused and personal. Flashbacks to Altaïr's life break up Ezio's quest and bring a tale of redemption to the table.

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