Two days before E3 2010, we sat in a hotel room near the Los Angeles Convention Center watching a demo of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. And now, two days before E3 2011, we once again found ourselves in a hotel room, this time watching a demo and presentation of Assassin's Creed: Revelations.
Had it been any other series, this would have caused a rather bad case of deja vu and a sense that the developer is simply milking the franchise for everything its worth. In the case of Assassin's Creed though, Ubisoft have already shown that they are able to do a solid title in that short time frame - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood launched only a year after Assassin's Creed 2 and managed to be a fully fledged, triple-A title that delivered on more or less all counts. It's hard to tell if Assassin's Creed: Revelations will be able to pull off the same stunt, but most things point to that it actually will. As long as we, the players, get good games the company is free to milk as much as they like.
When we join up with Ezio again, he's gone on a pilgrimage across the world to find out more about the mysteries of the Assassin order. His travels bring him to Masyaf, the old Assassin stronghold that we saw back in the first game, where he finds a vault that has been locked with five keys. To top it off, Masyaf has also been overrun by Templars who are also trying to get into the vault and the treasures it contains. They have also managed to secure one of the keys, leaving four of them hidden in the sprawling city of Constantinople. Thus Ezio has to not only find the four missing keys before the Templars do, he must also search for clues to find out who the Templar Master is that holds the fifth.
We only catch a glimpse of Constantinople in the demo we're shown, but it's obvious that it's completely different from the Rome we saw in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. According to creative director Alexandre Amancio, the city is actually a bit smaller in size than Rome, but it lacks the big open areas that we spent so much time riding around in Brotherhood. It's a bustling metropolis, set on different hills and slopes, and it blends together a myriad of different cultures and civilizations. The small part of the city we get to see during the demo looks inviting, and I can't wait to go exploring every nook and cranny of the place.
I get a bit worried about the exploration and sandbox-part of the game when Alexandre talk about how they have wanted to focus the narrative more in Revelations and make it more "meaningful." At face value, it sounds like something you'd say to excuse cutting away content and a big part of what made at least the two last games so enticing. When asked about it though, I'm told that it's still in there and even expanded upon - instead it's about the various game systems that have been made more meaningful and given more room in the campaign.
One new thing that will be introduced in Revelations is the hook-blade, a new weapon in Ezio's arsenal. It can be used to slide down ropes, but it also comes in handy during combat - Ezio can grab enemies with it and throw them around, adding a whole new flow to the fights. The finishing moves look as brutal as ever and I actually feel myself flinching as Ezio stabs the hook into the neck of an enemy to hold him in place while stabbing him repeatedly. It's fast and deadly and seem to expand upon the combat system that Brotherhood already did so well.
By the time we reach Revelations, Ezio is "older and wiser." This doesn't only mean that he has now got a stylish grey beard (Solid Snake got a thing or two to learn from him), it also means that some of his techniques have become more refined. This is especially clear when it comes to the Eagle Vision which has been redubbed Eagle Sense. It's much more versatile now, it can for example be used by "seeing" enemies inside thick smoke - handily created by throwing a smoke bomb at some tactically chosen time - or by observing enemy patrols and getting a sense of where they are going.
But Ezio is not the only character we'll get to play as in Revelations. Altaïr, the main character from the first Assassin's Creed, will make a return and play a pivotal role here. As the title of the game implies, this is supposed to wrap up and explain many of the mysteries that have been set up in the previous games and since Altaïr is such an important part in them, it just makes sense that we'll get to play as him again.
Interestingly enough, it won't be Desmond that re-enters Altaïr's memories - instead it is Ezio that will get the honors. Through Altaïr's actions, Ezio will be able to find the clues he needs in his search for the five keys. The keys themselves are artifacts from the first civilization of man, which in itself should make anyone that finished all the glyphs in Assassin's Creed 2 raise an eyebrow or two.
Speaking of Desmond, he's not having an easy time. Without going into too much of what happened at the end of Brotherhood, he's stuck in a coma and in order to save his mind from a total meltdown he's put back into an Animus-machine. Something goes terribly wrong though, and Desmond falls through the White Room (the white area we see during loading screens in the previous games) and ends up in the Black Room - the root system of the Animus, which Alexandre likens to the DOS prompt of the whole machine. There he will not only go back to Ezio's memories, he'll also come face to face with his own subconscious and the depths of the genetic memories that the Animus decodes; if he fails, the coma will be the end of him.
It's a pretty complex story, like a high-tech conspiracy version of Days of our Lives, and Revelations is the final part of Ezio's story. It will most certainly set the stage for the next game in the series, presumably Assassin's Creed 3 proper, but at the end of Revelations we should know what the heck has actually been going on for the last four games. How do Altaïr, Ezio and Desmond fit together? Who is Subject 16 and what do his visions mean? What is locked into the vault beneath Masyaf?
The short presentation and demo we're shown do nothing to answer those questions. It gave us a sneak peak at Constantinople and how an older Ezio moves and fights. But beyond that, we'll have to wait until later this year to find out the answers to all the questions that have been burning in our minds since the end of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.