Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review - Assassin's Creed: Revelations

I think that every time I begin playing an Assassin's Creed game, I go into it expecting something sub-par and yet hoping upon hope that it will change my opinion somehow and make the hype that many, many others out there feel for the series whenever a new one is announced.  Then I start playing it, and for the first few hours I near being impressed, very impressed, to the point where I start thinking maybe -this- will be the one game that captures the feeling that I'm looking for from the whole series.  -This game- will be the one that makes me understand, that I leave excited for, even after finishing up the little extra bits of content hanging around beyond the story.  -This game- will be the one that makes me -want- to do that extra content, rather than feeling that I'm obliging myself to do so for the elusive Platinum trophies that I hoard for no good reason.  -This game- will make me stand up and finally put the disc in its case with reverence when I am finished, because I will identify as a true Assassin's Creed fan.

That never happens.  More importantly, it did not happen with Revelations.

Assassin's Creed:  Revelations (henceforth referred to as AssRev) is, however, a rather accomplished game in my mind, almost surprisingly so, especially when weighed against the scorn that the game seems to hold in certain areas of the internet.  It's not completely undeserved, though, as there are some parts of AssRev that I cannot wrap my head around why it was considered a good idea, and other things just feel under-utilized completely.  Those are not the markings of a great game no matter the context and some of AssRev's highlights of that area are particularly egregious unfortunately.  Still, there's quite a lot to like and actually some improvements over Assassin's Creed:  Brotherhood's offerings, which you might remember that I was pretty happy with all things considered, and certainly a step up from AC2.  I'm not sure if I'm willing to say that AssRev is a step up from AssBro or even on the same level because of the issues with it, but it's certainly hovering in the same area, thankfully.

Re-reading the AssBro review so that I could effectively gauge AssRev against it has made me realize something a little hilarious in that the game has more or less traded the good points for fixing the bad points of the predecessor, which I will explain as it comes up.  I'm confused as to how it's possible to do this and still end up with a product that I quite like, but Revelations has managed to do that, and it's an impressive enough feat that a little elaboration on just that is necessary, I feel, so what better of a forum to do that in than that of a Review?  Kind of easy to do when you have a structure already to build with instead of sort of just free-wheeling it.  Trying to flow from one thing to the next without being too contrived or anything of that sort when all I really want to elaborate on is what AssRev does well and what it does not do well, which are very, very different camps than I expected.

To start on a positive note, I'll do a little re-iteration on bombs to really try and express just how much I enjoy the mechanic and how it was used while also being sad about how it -wasn't- used.  To explain a little further than I did in that post, let me go into the basics of it.  From one of your assassin contacts, you gain the ability and the knowledge to create bombs that you can use for tactical or combat purposes throughout basically the entire game.  As you can see above, there are three key elements involved:  the shell, the gunpowder and the effect, all of which determine just what kind of bomb you end up making.  Of the shells, you have Impact, Fuse, Tripwire and Sticky which are fairly self-explanatory I'd say - Impact explodes on impact, Fuse has a delay, Tripwire are things you set that are then set off by someone walking over them and Sticky bombs stick to things, exploding after a few seconds delay.  The three gunpowders just dictate explosion radius and power and it's the effect that -really- makes a bomb a bomb.

The Effect is the soul of whatever bomb you're making what it is and the effect is what changes the most depending on what bomb slot you're making for.  The above three options are for Diversionary use, where Sulfur makes a sound, Salt of Petra makes a smoke signal and Pyrite Coins explode in a shower of gold, drawing civilians over to it who will actually fight any guards off that also come around.  Tactical effects include Lamb's Blood which explodes in a shower of blood, frightening everyone in the vicinity, Caltrops which stops enemies dead in their tracks as they pull the little tacks from their feet, Phosphorus which makes your smoke bombs, and Skunk Oil while will repulse anyone away from the target, making it useful to single someone out in a crowd.  And finally Lethal effects are your basic Shrapnel which sends bits of metal flying everywhere, specifically into your enemies, Datura Powder which is your poison bomb, imbuing the same effects as poison but on an area, and coal dust which injures but also staggers, making it a fairly dual-purpose bomb, as you can launch one, hurt your foes and get out of there if you so desire.

Combining the elements from each one of those slots will make your bombs and each casing and effect has some sort of tactical advantage that you're going to want at some point in the game.  Personally, I'm a fan of filling sticky bombs with shrapnel and impact shells with sulfur while playing around with impact shells filled with caltrops or phosphorus for my tactical pouch.  If I had to complain about anything, it would be that you're limited to only three per pouch, each pouch a category, and you can only increase that number to a maximum of four (five if you bought the Signature Edition) which is honestly just not enough for as wonderful as these toys are.  And if I could complain about a second thing with bombs, it'd be that the game just completely ignores that you have the ability after granting it to you, never really 'making' you use them, nor ever giving them a purpose that really affects the 'world' at all.  Like throwing a Thunder bomb (bomb filled with Coal Dust) at a scaffolding making it collapse.  Does it?  I don't know, I never had a reason to try it, and that bothers me since I would have liked one!

Still, for what they were, just a toy you're given at the start of the game to use or ignore as much as you want, they add a surprising amount of depth to the game in that I spent real time specifically wondering about the merits of each type of bomb as I made them, eventually falling into a groove with the type that I enjoyed the most.  And using them effectively was always a point of pride and entertainment - Tossing a Cherry Bomb (Bomb with Sulfur) somewhere to draw all the guards in an area to a spot and then throwing a smoke bomb in the center of it, jumping down and stabbing the lot of them and rushing off to leave a heap of guard bodies in the middle of a road was an amazing feeling, no matter how many times I did it.  And don't even get me started on Sticky bombs, because I love sticky bombs.  In anything.  But especially here, as they made for fun and excitement, as well as efficient room-clearing whenever it was necessary.  Finding ways to clump guards together just to set one off was enjoyable to see the mass heap it created, and whenever I needed to scavenge some ammo or crossbow bolts in a hurry, that was quite a way to create a supply.

Not all of the things that were added in Revelations worked out quite so well and, in fact, Bombs might be just the only one really.  One of the big things that came into the game was Den Defense which is exactly what it sounds like - the Assassin's Dens you accumulate throughout the game will occasionally come under attack by Templars, and you, as the Mentor of the area, have to guide your Assassin's into successfully driving them off.  The mini-game is basically every flash Tower Defense game you've played with an Assassin's Creed skin in that it's slow, unbalanced and is just generally not fun to play.  I'm not a fan of Tower Defense games as it is, and this certainly did not change my opinion as, if anything, it only strengthened it.  It's not really thematically fitting for Assassin's Creed, what with Templars playing fair and only attacking in waves, giving you time to bring in Assassins wielding rifles and other Assassins that just like to punch whatever comes past the flamethrowing barricades you are given ample time to build, unless it's a battering ram to assault a building that the Templars want to inhabit, in which case you probably need to signal unseen Assassins to fire cannons at it that are also basically unseen.  Because that makes sense.

Similarly awful are five easily missable missions called "Desmond's Journey" which offer a special slice of hell for you, should you choose it's wise to attempt to brave them.  It's not that they're difficult because they're not at all and in fact there's such a lack of difficulty that they're basically superfluous, but that there's a specific bug for the PS3 version at least that I encountered in a big way until I went to consult the internet.  In Revelations your 'hub', as it were, is the Animus Island, which is a sort of default program that you're allowed to wander around in if you're trapped inside the Animus as Desmond is for Revelations.  On this Island, there are five gates for the five missions that are only unlocked after you find Animus Data Fragments hidden around Constantinople (and another location) serving as the 'flags' of this game which makes even the barest amount of sense as opposed to the Borgia flags of Bro.  Now, the bug for the PS3 version is that if you do anything but WALK inside the gate, as in if you fast walk, if you run or if you jump into the gate and try to load the level, your PS3 will freeze about 90% of the time.  Four times, I attempted it without knowing the correlation and thereafter, simply walking into the gates never gave me a single issue.  That is piss-poor QA.

About as equally piss-poor as the levels themselves, unfortunately, which feature very very basic 'puzzles' that involve you throwing down blocks in a way that allows you to get around.  Sometimes you make bridges and sometimes you make elevators and sometimes you make stairs.  That'  There are things you have to dodge because they'll kick you back to the nearest safe zone to try it again, but they are very, very easy to get around and again, they really offer nothing resembling a real challenge.  Throughout them, you're given the barest hints of development for Desmond that tastes specifically of Retconning even though I don't remember a lot of the original game (and even though it's included on the PS3 disk which would probably highlight said differences) and given the most meager sense of 'resolution' I've experienced in a game in quite some time.  That they're in the game is confusing to me, but that there's specifically a DLC pack that adds more of them baffles me, and not in any way that is good.  They really do not belong whatsoever and I thought all the nay-saying about them that the internet had to offer was a little overmuch, but after experiencing them first hand, I have to take part in the echo chamber.

The only other 'addition' that the game has to offer is the Hookblade, an improvement to your wristblade and its newness is minor at best.  You will be primarily using the Hookblade to use ziplines which are pretty fun and offer a nice way to get around when they're available, but the game -does- offer some other things for which they are apparently useful.  Such as the battle uses they've implemented, and by uses I mean use, called the "Hook and Run" which basically allows you to ninja flip over an enemy if he is in your way and you decide the best way around him is through him.  If you use it on anything but a guard, however, Ezio will instead default to running up to them, stopping and tripping them like a gigantic asshole which not only kind of defeats the Hook and Run thing, but also makes it -dangerous- to use if you're honestly intending on getting away.  For instance, the game insists that you are able to take down scaffolding with the blade as you pass by them, taking out guards under it and causing a blockage for a few seconds of escape time.  However, any attempt by me to use that technique (specifically for the Mousetrap trophy) met with disturbing amounts of failure as Ezio saw fit to do everything -but- hook the scaffold.  Tripping old women, jumping over an old man, actually jumping -on- the scaffolding, never just hooking it and taking down the thing when it was necessary, like the brief window that you have before guards come back from the caltrop dance.

The core of AssRev, however, remains as the core of AssBro was, with Ezio having a heaping dose of murder to hand out to anyone standing in his way through a multitude of fashions.  Beyond the new ways like the bombs, you still have the trusty dual wristblades (even though one is a hookblade now and strangely doesn't change some murder animations as you would suspect), a main weapon of your choice (default being a sword of course), a secondary weapon which means knife, throwing knives, poison darts, your hidden gun and a crossbow, should you chose to repurchase that.  I don't know why it's necessary to give you everything -but- the crossbow, but it's only 18k and you'll make that really really fast.  You also have access to the Brotherhood early on which is just as overpowered as it was in AssBro and just as satisfying as well.  Even in AssRev, there's nothing quite like walking past some guards, calling in a set or two of assassins and just walking away, listening for the sounds of them getting shanked, knowing that's just what is happening without even looking.

Similarly, you are again allowed to send your assassins off on missions to do various things that occur well off-screen and only bring you numbers to dine on and then look at more numbers to increase other numbers.  Numbers.  What I don't like about the Assassin missions in Rev, however, is that every place you send them to has a Templar rating at first that you whittle away at with missions, eventually causing a mission to show up that allows you to wrest control of the city from them.  Following that, you're given a bunch of missions that will raise your control of the city as well as make it profitable for you in new and exciting ways, like raking in bomb ingredients for you with no fuss.  The downside of this is that your control is also represented by a percentage, and one that is only raised temporarily before it's ebbed away at by the flow of time.  If and when you start to neglect your missions, your control will slip away and Templars will eventually contest your control, meaning all those benefits you've installed are inaccessible to you.  After time, they probably even recapture the city if you do not deploy Assassins to defend it successfully (that you thankfully do not have to play a terrible mini-game for), but I never found out.

I've been told after-the-fact that you can apparently install an Assassin to a city to make the percentage static, or at least reduce the amount it goes down by, but I cannot check the validity of that, nor do I care to, as the game certainly didn't want me to know as much.  It was merely presented to me as I presented it - a battle that you cannot win, but merely prolong the amount of time that your grip is absolute.  Even still, I imagine the amount of cities you have access to is greater in number than the amount of assassins you can hire, so the point is a little moot anyways if it only applies to -most- of the cities and not all.  I'm not sure if it was implemented as a quick-n-dirty way to ensure longevity without relying on 'randomization' or what, but it really kind of detracts to one of the things I personally actually enjoyed from Bro, even though it was a completely menu-based system that had no real payoff whatsoever.

Something else that felt the sting of a tarnish between AssBro and Rev was the Borgia Towers which pains me because I liked the Borgia Towers so much in AssBro.  In Revelations, the Towers are the Dens, specifically starting out as Templar Dens before you go through much the same means as you did to claim a tower in AssBro to claim the den for the Assassins.  Specifically, you have to find the captain in charge and murder him, then go up, light the fire and suddenly, you are victorious!  I didn't think it was possible to make me dislike that set-up, but they managed it by drastically cutting the amount of times you get to do it, and making the bulk of the Templar Captains cowards, which meant that if they saw you and you weren't able to get to them in time because you were, oh, say, caught up on something because of the awful controls or you couldn't lock on to the captain because I don't know, why wouldn't you work lock-on?!, then they would escape and you could only rush off impotently and wait for the next in-game day to try it again.  Because of sniper dens and the like, you -are- going to get noticed early, which completely kills any ability to build tension and wait for the perfect moment to strike, effectively neutering all the fun to be had.

Unlike AssBro, I am able and willing to talk about Multiplayer -before- I wrote this and, by that measure, as I write this as well.  I gotta say, I'm still rather impressed with not only the concept, but the execution of the multiplayer direction that they've taken and even moreso in Rev.  Rev's multiplayer just works and they've fine-tuned it and improved it in many ways from the few matches I managed to find in Bro when I tried it out.  Joining the original modes is a slew of what I am fairly sure are new modes, all based around some popular other multiplayer modes while still steeped in AC's different controls and setting, bringing a new freshness to them.  Capture the flag, base capturing and tagging are all styles executed with a little flair, becoming Artifact Assault, Chest Capture and Corruption respectively.  They play as you expect, with the first two being self-explanatory - grabbing a flag and bringing it back to your base and standing next to chests to 'capture' them (or defending them if that's your duty), where Corruption has you converting people to your team with violence, necessitating you survive or convert the survivors before the time limit runs out, allowing all the points you accrue to be your score.

So long as you're up for Deathmatch games and the odd Artifact Assault or Chest Capture game, you'll have absolutely no problem in finding a match to play, and in most cases, I found that the netcode was rather good, never really giving me any issues I could blame on lag, even with my entirely poor internet and poor NAT type.  Of course, if you're looking for that shiny Explorer trophy, which necessitates that you play one round (rather, finish one round) of every single multiplayer type offered, you're going to find a bit of a problem as most nobody wants to play those 'extra' modes.  And...for good reason in some cases.  Still, if you find yourself in a group who aren't quite as attentive at the end of matches as they ought to be, you can hope that your vote and perhaps the vote of someone else who might be similarly searching for a trophy will steer the game into one of the modes you might need, but it's hard to count on.  But so long as you can muscle your way into a game somehow, even if you connect in the last minute, so long as you finish out a round, it'll log as a play and then you'll never have to try that again.

When I can say that I had fun with a multiplayer game, you know that it's something to look at with a little interest at least, because I just cannot stand most multiplayer experiences for whatever reason.  Still, AssRev's MP offers a good amount of choice and personality in the way you try playing, which necessitates different strategies depending on how your prey is playing.  Some decide to go with the more impatient method of playing, choosing to run around, taking to the rooftops and searching around for their kill.  This has the advantage of allowing for air kills which cannot be contested, and if you're on the top of a building, you're practically requiring your hunter(s) to come up and get you, which blows their cover entirely.  Then you'll find the more methodical players, the ones that walk everywhere and try to be as discreet as possible, oftentimes choosing the option to poison whenever possible (when that ability is purchaseable at least) because it's quite effective.  I know several times I keeled over from poison without even knowing when I was injected and that alone is impressive.  The downside to this style is that if you're pursuing someone, you might find your kill taken by another templar as you try to build up your approach meter for more points.  Then there is the middleground play which most people will end up falling into for the first few levels at least, I think.

The whole meta-game surrounding the Multiplayer, or the meta-story at least, is rather impressive as well, and certainly a step up from Bro's offerings.  It really pushes the Templar angle, having you in the 'advanced training' of the MP, and as you advance in in-game ranks, you'll sometimes get the odd cutscene here and there where the 'perks' of becoming an influential and effective Templar become more and more obvious and granted.  At level 20, the highest I made it before I was done because I wanted to move on, Vidic (the guy in charge) basically showered me with riches an inducted me into the high-life, ensuring that my life couldn't get better as I had all the money I could want, servants to attend to my every need, a mansion to inhabit, and the best of the best for my family.  For a very brief moment, I forgot that it was just a meta-story and I wondered how I would be able to celebrate, in-game, that I had 'arrived'.  But I then discovered the only way to do that was by spending Abstergo points on some abilities and/or playing some more matches.  Maybe some later date, but not right now as I have a ridiculous backlog as is.

And while I'm on stories, let me finish this out a little ranting about Assassin's Creed 2's overall story, as it's quite a bit overdue.  Since we have the entirety of the story now after this third game, I'm now finally able to voice my opinion on the overarching nature of it because there's no more "oh, are they going to explain this before AC3" or "is that going to make sense before AC3" and while I'm not going to outright spoil anything here, this is your warning that I -am- going to talk about the endings in vague terms, so skip the next paragraph or two if you don't want anything even resembling a spoiler.  Now, the answer to both of those issues that I raised is a resounding NO, and if anything, each title serves only to further obfuscate the predecessor's already confusing groundwork.  And if it's not bad enough that the ending bits don't make sense at all, they're jarring and completely out of place as well.  They could be completely excised from the game, and not only would you not notice, but all three games would probably be better for it.  If you've played them, then you -know- what parts I'm talking about, and you probably agree unless you really, really like cryptic bullshit.

Of course, they are slightly more intertwined into the 'actual' story more than I would suggest, but only barely which I think is exemplified by the fact that you -only- get these bits at the end of each game.  It's 99% 'normal' stuff and then in the last ten minutes, here's the game to wiggle its fingers and go "WooooOOooooOoOOoooo" at you that I'm guessing is meant to leave you wanting the next game so it'll explain any of that, but as Bro and Rev have taught us, the next game does -not- do that and doesn't even touch on what's presented there unless it's in another one of those sequences.  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, and I'm just happy I bought the game for $10 because that part alone frustrates me to no end, despite any good will I have to the game for what it is.  I'm not even going to delude myself in thinking that AC3 will manage to explain these sequences in a satisfactory manner, much less one that will occur in any actual part of the gameplay proper.  It'll be less disappointing that way, and perhaps even surprising if they decide that it's important enough to actually put some effort into trying to actualize, instead of using it as a shock tactic.

That all aside, the actual story of Revelations proper is decent, perhaps even good, in that it's actually easy to follow, even if it's not necessarily the best story the series has to offer.  (I'm not sure what would be, but certainly not Rev)  All throughout, it's pretty clear as to what's going on, and there's not a whole lot that's decided and/or done without you knowing about it or participating in it, and if you're participating, it's pretty obvious as to why.  That was refreshing among the rest of the confusion sprinkled about the entire series and in Rev's over-arching story itself which will leave you scratching your head if you don't remember the whole artifact angle and explanations from both games that came before.  Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that remember, there are a -lot- of artifacts and I'm guessing that some of them might be similar?  Or something.  Just.....just go with what the game offers and don't think about it too much and you'll do fine.  Because trying to make sense of these things without some help will leave you wondering how this guy has that when this was there for four hundred years and it's just better to not put yourself through that.  Just be satisfied that most of the game in Rev is understandable enough.

The Good
  • Combat remains visceral and satisfying and offers slightly more variety
  • Ezio's final chapter is pretty easy to understand and follow, thankfully
  • The parts where you play Altair and get more insight into him are rather enjoyable and entertaining
  • Calling in Assassins to kill guards?  Nope, still not old
  • Bombs, bombs, bombs, I love them because they're fun
  • The multiplayer is also incredibly fun and deep
  • The sheer variety Ezio has when it comes to death-dealing is impressive, if nothing else
  • The actual scale and flow of some of the missions is really rather wonderful, and there's not a one that I 'disliked'
  • Full Synchronization was never incredibly difficult to achieve
 The Bad
  • Desmond's Journey was a chore at best, not to mention the severe bug associated with playing them
  • Den Defense sucked and was completely out of place
  • Templar Dens did not effectively replace Borgia Towers in a fun way
  • Assassin Missions offer only a way to fight against time and is ultimately unsatisfying
  • That Ending
  • No, really, I still don't understand anything not pertaining to Altair and Ezio what are you doing
  • The controls still aren't great and seem a little less optimized than Assbro's own
  • The Hookblade never lives up to its potential aside from allowing you to zipline and feels wasted, much like bombs, which is not how you treat new toys
Mogs Says
It's impossible to say Assassin's Creed:  Revelations is the best of the three titles in the Ezio Trilogy because it's not.  No one game really is, in my opinion, as they all have some rather glaring issues that prevent them from being really elevated in any fashion.  Still, had Revelations not packed in the things that ultimately were only detrimental to it, it would have been the sum of the other two games and would have been a strong contender for that 'best' spot.  Strong Multiplayer, decent story (for Ezio), and the strong combat from AssBro make it a game that's enjoyable, and things like bombs that add versatility and extra enjoyment really nudge it towards that golden zone.  Tying up Ezio's story and Altair's story in a single game without feeling exceptionally rushed is an impressive feat as well, and Rev is probably worth it for that alone, but the fun bits make it worth staying around.

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