Assassin’s Creed Revelations takes a lot of creative risks, considering it is the fourth installment in a video game series that has sold more than 30 million copies for French game publisher Ubisoft. I’ve had a good look at part of the single-player campaign and it plays better in parts than past games.
The game debuts Nov. 15 amid a ton of competition in the hardcore console market, but innovations in its story line, scenery, and game play (which I’ll get to shortly) should help it stand out from the crowded field of potential blockbusters. In the past, the game series has had no problems beating the competition, so this new game is just about as close as you can get to a guaranteed blockbuster. The question is only whether it will outsell previous Assassin’s Creed games.
The title is a huge investment for Ubisoft, which has come to depend on the revenues from this series every year. The company has more than 500 developers working on the series, making it as big an investment as Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty franchise. A half-dozen studios from Montreal to Singapore collaborated on the game.
“It’s the only way we can create a game of this quality in such a short time,” said Alex Amancio (pictured below), creative director of the game, in our video interview (see below).
With all of that development might, it would be tempting to create a no-risk title. But that’s not the way the creative team approached the game, which they wanted to be the biggest in the series to date. This title has a lot going for it, because there are some changes to the ongoing story, the scenery (with the game set in the beautiful Ottoman-era city of Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, and even the game play. As near as I can tell, old fans will like it, and those new to the series might like it too. Like past games, the new title gives you the thrill of parkour movements, where you can run up walls and jump across building gaps with the grace of a ballet dancer, just before closing in for the kill on an assassination target. This game will end the stories of its previous protagonists, Ezio Auditore da Firenze and Altair Ibn LaAhad. It is also the final game to be set in the Renaissance era.
“More so than any other game, we’re telling a continuing story here that is the heart of the game experience,” Amancio said.
The game continues the pattern of having a deep and complex story, like in the Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. In the first game that came out in 2007, we find that scientists have created a machine called the Animus to allow the character Desmond Miles to go back in time by visiting the memories of his genetic ancestors. That game took us back to the Crusades, as seen through the eyes of the assassin Altair. That game set up the conflict between two secret societies, the Knights Templar and the Assassins. The game flashes back and forth between Desmond in modern times and Altair in the year 1191 during the Third Crusade. The second game, Assassin’s Creed II, came out in 2009 and focused on a new assassin, Ezio, during the Italian Renaissance. That was followed by last year’s Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, which featured Ezio and Desmond’s further adventures, with Ezio’s story set in Rome during the time of the corrupt Borgia family.
The new game is all about the completion of the trilogy of Ezio. He became an assassin in Assassin’s Creed II, became master of assassins in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, and now he is on a personal quest. He looks back on his life and realizes he has always been very reactive. He became an assassin because his father and brother were murdered. He started a brotherhood of assassins because his uncle got killed.
Now, in the year 1511, Ezio is older and wiser and tries to find some answers about the Order of Assassins. He seeks the answers left behind in a library created by the great assassin from the first game, Altair. But he finds the place, Masyaf, teeming with Templars, the enemies of the assassins, and he has to find five keys to open the library and deny them to the Templars at the same time. So what started out as a pilgrimage to the beautifully rendered city of Constantinople becomes a race against time. Of course, Desmond, a character from the modern day, comes back into the game as he tries to access Ezio’s memories in a plot that continues in the modern era. Desmond has to pull together the threads of Ezio and Altair’s stories so that he can recover from a coma that has him locked in the Animus machine.
“It was a no brainer to choose that city” as the setting for the new game, Amancio said. “It was the New York City of the era, a cultural hub” that was a capital of multiple empires. It was also on the shore of two continents, which was a cool metaphor for Ezio meeting Altair, his predecessor.
The title is an open world game, where you can roam anywhere in the game world, even as you follow certain missions on particular paths. As always, you can spend a lot of time just roaming around the digital recreation of Constantinople. You can make money by pickpocketing passersby, but they will scream and finger you to the authorities if you get caught. You can find items like poison around the city, you can loot stuff from the bodies of those you kill, and spend all of this on better gear for your assassinations. The city has its own ambient life, like gypsy beggars who surround you and won’t let you escape. You can climb up to the top of a tower to see a spectacular view of the city. Half the fun is exploration.
The game includes many new things you can do, like crafting bombs after collecting the parts for them around the city. You can now use them to attack your enemies and also distract them so that you can reach your targets more easily.
“The limit is your own imagination” in how you use those bombs, Amancio said.
Ezio can also use a hook blade — a hook attached to a stealth kill blade hidden in a wristband — for all sorts of new things, like grabbing on to an opponent and then flipping over them before closing in for a kill. He can also use the hook blade to grab onto a wire and slide down it in zip line fashion. That’s one of the coolest parts of cruising around the rooftops of Constantinople. You can also drop down on top of an enemy while sliding on a zip line, killing the enemy instantly through an “air assassination.” That one little hook blade creates all sorts of new game play opportunities, and it’s an example of a tiny innovation that can make a game seem creatively fresh.
The graphics engine behind the game has seen a major upgrade. The characters move more fluidly. The game can now render smoke and skin. The game camera can focus in on the skin and it really does look like skin. That’s been one of the weak points of the series in the past, since other games have been moving ahead on graphics at a faster pace. The motion capture has also been improved so that the movements of characters are more realistic.
I’m not sure every creative risk will pay off. In one part of the game, you are called upon to command a group of assassins to defend your turf from the attacking Templars. So you take command of soldiers, place them on rooftops, and defend them from attacks. You essentially become a general in a defensive or offensive operation. It’s a nice idea, but I’m not sure it’s perfectly executed. But we’ll see how the fans like it when it comes out. This game series is getting better and better, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the game.
Here’s our video interview.