I'm playing Assassin's Creed: Revelations, and I can't remember how to lock on during combat.
How embarrassing. And then I'm told there's even more equipment being added to change the way the game plays, and I wonder how Ubisoft Montreal could possibly make Assassin's Creed, a game that's been accused of creaking under the weight of its mechanics, better through adding more to that.
But if my initial time with Assassin's Creed: Revelations is proper precedent, the Hookblade is a sign of how Ubisoft is tying Assassin's Creed's various mechanics more closely together. It occurs to me that we've never actually covered the single-player aspect of Assassin's Creed: Revelations on Joystiq. It's not that surprising; Ubisoft has placed a big emphasis on multiplayer with both last year's Brotherhood and this year's release, so much so that the campaign itself has been overshadowed in press coverage. That's too bad, because Revelations seems like a return to form for Assassin's Creed. Brotherhood was fun, sure, but it was scattered, and narratively speaking it was the weakest of the Creed titles. This might in part be due to the numerous cooks in Brotherhood's kitchen -- its development was spread across a number of Ubisoft studios across the world, according to sources I've spoken with.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations, on the other hand, is very much original studio Ubisoft Montreal's baby. And it feels like it. I played through three chapters toward the beginning of the game and found an Assassin's Creed that feels more composed, with better integrated mechanics.
As a caveat, I'll get this out of the way first: I'm not going to talk about story specifics. If you're like me, you want to go into Revelations with as little prior knowledge of the story as possible. I will say that the story threads laid down in my few hours with the game dealt heavily with loss, regrets, and sacrifice -- apropos subject matter given main protagonist Ezio's more ... well, let's say "learned" age in Revelations.
I was dropped into Assassin's Creed: Revelations around an hour into the game, and after the tutorials that open every Assassin's Creed title (hence that embarrassing moment I mentioned all the way up there). It's easy to forget how complicated Assassin's Creed is to control, especially when you go a year without playing it. As I slowly re-acclimated myself to the controls, Revelations introduced the major new element in Ezio's toolset, the hookblade.
Initially, this was worrying, but if my time with the game is any indication it does improve how Assassin's Creed: Revelations plays over Brotherhood and its predecessors. Revelations spends its second chapter working you through the various things the hookblade can be used for. While rushing through crowds, the hookblade can actually be used to roll over a guard or other combatant, for example. This is a huge change to moments of pursuit in Assassin's Creed. Where before there was no good way to keep pushing forward with a human obstacle in your way, now you can maintain forward momentum.
In combat, the hookblade allows for a sweep move, which adds an important offensive option to combat that is mainly a reactive exercise. Amidst the platforming in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the hookblade can be extended mid-jump to catch ledges Ezio would otherwise miss, and as you climb vertical surfaces it adds a good 8-10 inches of reach upward.
These minor additions add up to a game that feels more ... proactive. While Ezio has gotten old, seemingly moments away from grabbing his back and coming to a halt after running even a short distance, the hookblade makes for a more environmentally versatile killer. And like every other Assassin's Creed game, the controls that seem at first so over-complicated become a nuanced means of making your way around a complicated world, and the hookblade slides right into place in that vocabulary.
There are other things, like the fanatics that will take hold of you without warning, attempt to stab you and then trigger a button prompt to slip their grasp. Ubisoft Montreal has also added a tower defense element that I'm less certain of based on my limited time with it. It's a natural extension of the recruitment and guild elements of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, but it's very involved and, most jarringly, you lose direct control of Ezio during these battles. I'm not quite sure how they'll work long-term over the course of the game.
But the hookblade gives me hope. By the end of my time with Assassin's Creed: Revelations, I was zipping around Istanbul, picking fights and butchering my enemies, or running away and making jumps I never could have made in previous games. It felt great. And I became excited for Assassin's Creed, again.