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perhaps the most obvious way in which games are becoming like films, to return (briefly) to that whole thorny hornets' nest, is the relative prevalence of sequels/prequels/reboots over and against novel, non-franchised titles (in the upper strata, at least).
in particular, this year has yielded a bumper crop of '3s': Uncharted 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, Resistance 3, Tom, Dick & Harry 3, Etc.3, and so on. the new Assassin's Creed, 'Revelations', however, is (crucially) not a 3 - it's a 2.2.
even as (or, perhaps, "because i'm") a big fan of the series, i can't help but see it as a magnificent but necessarily flawed entity. to me, it is a paradox: its greatest strengths are its apparent weaknesses, and (tautologously) vice versa.
right at the heart of the series is the way in which it brings its several, great Medieval cityscapes - Jerusalem, Akko, Damascus, Florence, San Gimignano, Forlí,Venice, Rome and (now) Constantinople - alive. however, the history of the crusades or the late middle ages apparently never struck Ubisoft as a large enough canvas on which to paint their epic franchise, and so we have to put up with all the modern-day, sci-fi, time-travel, memory-exploration, framing bollocks.
in a sense, the nature of the backstory makes Assassin's Creed the ultimate postmodern experience. despite the ways in which it seems to invest in and flesh-out the history that it invokes, it is in itself essentially dislocated from, or perhaps more accurately unlocated in, time. the strictures timespace hold no sway over it - it is, like some sort of dreadful, Fukuyamian nightmare, beyond history.
this is, of course, the architecture of its inbuilt longevity. Desmond, the contemporaneous touchstone through whom we inhabit the past lives of the game's real heroes, is a necessary cog in the series' 'pomo' wheel. he is but one man, in one place, and yet so far he has walked us through two lives, five hundred years and many thousands of miles apart. And, crucially, after him, there can be others. increasing the layers between the audience and history not only enables more experiences per narrative, it also reduces the likelihood of follow-up fatigue.
it is, like some sort of dreadful, Fukuyamian nightmare, beyond history.
if our adventure were truly set in tenth century Damascus or fifteenth century Rome, more of the inconveniences of historical, bodily, located life would stand in our way. the experiences and relationships of our characters would have to be more complexly intertwined in order to achieve anywhere near the chronological and geographical scope that the series has offered so far.
but, through Desmond, and the Animus, such breadth becomes easy. that is, however, very much not to say that the narrative world of the series is simply a lazy convenience - it is not. much of the plot is complex and skilfully woven. and, in a sense, that is what makes me resent Desmond all the more.
as we stand, mortality is reaching the outmost shell of the narrative complex - Desmond's story is coming to an end. those who've been following it along through the previous games will be well aware of the significance of December 2012. therefore, how ever you squared it, this game was, in a sense, always going to be a filler. 'Revelations', they say, but this is no apocalypse - that, we already know, won't arrive until next year. there can be no Assassin's Creed 3 until then.
so, does Revelations play like a stopgap? well, yes and no.
i found it impossible to entirely escape the sense of this game as the penultimate piece of a puzzle - a thrill, but also a postponement of satisfaction. having said that, once you leave the shaky-shimmering, silver-toned Abyss in which a mentally deconstructed Desmond finds himself, and walk Ezio ashore in golden-hewed, late fifteenth century Constantinople, things look, sound and feel better than ever before.
it's a spruced-up case of more of the same. which is no bad thing.
the game includes sections where you play as AltaÏr and as Desmond (yawn), but its mainstay involves you leading a grey-haired, but no less agile, Ezio around the Ottoman capital.
for the most part, it's a spruced-up case of more of the same. which as far as i'm concerned is no bad thing. the 'traditional' hook blade, a gift from his new brothers, functions as a useful upgrade to Ezio's hidden blade and enables not only a series of new combat manoeuvres, but also a speedy form of transport when combined with one of the several zip lines erected all over the city. the wires definitely speed up travel around the map considerably (assuming you only want to go downhill).
additionally, you quickly learn the art of bomb-crafting, both to bolster your assault weaponry and, more interestingly, to significantly supplement your arsenal of distraction techniques. somewhat annoyingly, however, once you've starting making bombs, your environs become filled with caskets and boxes, containing the necessary ingredients, that have been carelessly left around every corner and in every recess, and which sparkle in a way that's in equal parts distracting and patronising.
while the open combat sections of the game play in largely the same way as always, the new explosives, along with some other neat innovations, add a new level of creativity and enjoyment to those that require more stealthier means (which are by far my preferred parts). as always, i found myself unable to move on without achieving 100% synchronisation (apart from during the demanding Yerebatan Cistern level, which i let myself rush through, so that I can go back later and savour a stealthier and more satisfying, probably even bombless, approach).
the presentation has improved all round - the graphics, animation, character models, sound effects and (quite stirring) score all perform pleasingly, although the horizontal screen tears that have plagued the series on both Xbox 360 and PS3 are still noticeable, regardless of attempts to distract us from them by the repeated use of jerky, scratchy, 'Animus' animation overlays that are straight out of Call Of Duty: Black Ops, and to my mind should be sent straight back there.
i have invested more hours in very few other franchises than i have in the Assassin's Creed
changes to the gameplay format, however, are less successful. commanding the Assassins of Constantinople as they attempt to reclaim and then hold dens that have been overtaken by the Templars involves enduring dull, clunky tower-defence minigames. then, later, in another first for the series, there are the (optional) first person segments which involve leading Desmond through the suspiciously Portal-esque chambers of his unravelling mind. yuck. skip.
the plot clunks and character weaknesses that slightly marred previous instalments in the series are largely gone, with Revelations offering the smoothest and most satisfying narrative of the franchise and pleasingly plaiting the several strands of the AltaÏr/Ezio cycle.
what is more, once the single player is done, there is the fiendishly addictive multiplayer scenarios, which perhaps represent an acquired taste (FPS fans will probably need to upgrade their mental firmware), but for my money represents some of the best online gaming thrills around.
despite its several flaws and dissatisfactions, i can honestly say that i have invested more hours in very few other franchises than i have in the Assassin's Creed series (possibly only the Mario games), and this is the best, most polished and most addictive instalment yet.
it might be a place-holder, but it's a profoundly engrossing and enjoyable game.
at around 4:15 a couple of mornings ago, a car pulled up outside our house and remained there for ten or so minutes with its stereo cranked fully up. eventually the music stopped and a couple got out, crossed the road and entered a house on an adjacent street. shortly after that (in my dreams) i, standing proud on the roof of our house, peppered the lawn of the house with bombs filled with lamb's blood and sulphur. when the pair emerged, all confused, i pressed LB and a team of assassins came and murdered them.
it might be a place-holder, and ultimately unable to utterly escape the fact that whatever it reveals, some secrets will remain, Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a profoundly engrossing and enjoyable game. even if it apparently did (rather troublingly) subconsciously desensitise me to the idea of having selfish neighbours executed.
[if you'd like to see more of the weird and wonderful world of reallyquitetired then the door is always open at his semi-detached house/blog]
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: