Ubisoft brings us the third game in three years in the Assassin’s Creed series. Much like other games that have such a fast turnaround, the series is starting to show fatigue. The story picks up right after the events of Brotherhood. Desmond found a Piece of Eden, and under its influence, he has killed Lucy. Due to this, and the expanding influence of the “bleeding effect”, Desmond’s mind has entered a state of shock. Shaun and Rebecca have saved him so far by hooking him up to the Animus. While Desmond cannot interact with them, he can hear parts of their conversation at certain story points. From these snippets, we know that Desmond and the Animus are traveling by vehicle to an unknown location.

The Animus is keeping him alive because of low level safety programs that have kicked in to prevent a complete collapse of his psyche. In a very Inception-inspired way, he is several levels deep into the system. In the bowels of the Animus, he meets the mysterious Subject 16. Subject 16’s body has died under the strain caused by too much time spent in the Animus at Abstergo headquarters. During those sessions, Subject 16 managed to download all of his memories into the Animus program. He acts as a guide for Desmond on his road to recovery. For Desmond to recuperate, he must complete the unfinished memories of Ezio Auditore. Only then can the Animus help him separate himself from his ancestors’ memories and prevent the insanity that is overtaking him.

Ezio has aged a lot since we last met him. It’s about 10 years after the events of Brotherhood and Ezio is traveling on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the modern order of Assassins, the fortress at Masyaf. He arrives to find that the Templars control the area, and they have found a secret library under Masyaf. There are five keys to needed to open the door and the Templars have one of them. Ezio finds out that this key was found in Constantinople and the others are believed to be hidden there as well. So Ezio travels there and his adventure begins.

For the Assassin’s Creed series at least (I am unsure about any of their other games), Ubisoft has been sending their artists to visit the cities that will be recreated in game. This allows a level of detail that and authenticity that is hard to find in most games. Not only will the streets and buildings be laid out as they were in ancient times, but the small details are added as well. Considering how large the cities tend to be, most gamers will completely miss this detail as they fast travel or sprint by, unless they stop to appreciate the work. The riggings on the ships in the dock, the trimming of a guards uniform, down to the peeling of paint on ancient frescoes you will find in the subterranean portions of the game, go a long way to add life and realism to the game.

Ubisoft didn’t skimp on the audio. The voice acting portrays the feelings and attitudes of the characters. The streets come alive as you hear street merchants attempt to get your attention to sell their wares. Citizens react in horror whenever you perform high profile acts such as attacking town guards or tackling civilians. They also comment in amusement when they see you climbing a building or running along a ledge when there is a perfectly good sidewalk to use. Whenever there is background music, whether for ambiance or because of minstrels in the streets, it helps to enhance the mood. Except when Ezio plays. He’s terrible.

You're lucky I didn't attach a sound file to this.

Control-wise,  the button placements have changed, but the overall controls are the same as Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood. There are three changes to the arsenal: There is no horse combat as there are no horses to ride, but Ezio does get upgraded with a hidden hook and bomb crafting.

The hook has been added to the hidden blade, which now allows for new grappling attacks, the riding of ziplines, and quicker climbing. In combat, the hook can be used to do leg sweeps, throws, or to allow Ezio to quickly escape. For no discernible reason, the city of Constantinople is plagued with ziplines that connect many of the buildings. The hook blade allows Ezio to ride use these ziplines to move quickly about the city and allows for new assassination techniques. You can take out targets at the other end of the line, drop from the line to a target below, or you can throw knives on the go.

Early on Ezio will be taught how to make bombs. They’re essentially grenades that come in 3 main types; killing, distraction, and immobilizing. There are several subtypes under these main categories that add some variety to process, but unless you are going for 100% completion rate you don’t really need to use anything but the shrapnel type for killing and the cherry bomb for distracting. Bomb making materials can be found in chests hidden around the city, on guards, and there will always be a small stash near any bomb crafting bench. More materials can be unlocked by performing training missions that teach the basics of using each bomb type.

Ezio’s other attacks remain unchanged. There are new killing blow animations though for successful combo attacks, and like the previous game, once the killing combo starts, you can tap (X) while highlighting a nearby enemy for an instant kill. This can be stringed together with no limit. This is quite useful as many of the guard types have been given a significant increase in their combat abilities. More guards are able to dodge your attacks, even your guard-breaking attacks, and many of them can even counterattack. The worst, (or best depending on point of view) is the Janissarie guards. They are the “elite warriors” of the game. Not only can they block pretty much all your moves, they carry pistols on them. They will stay just out of sword striking range and shoot from that distance. I found that most of the time I had to call my assassins for help or I needed to get the killing combo going in order to defeat Janissaries.

As I already mentioned, there is no horse combat. That’s because except for a handful of story points, you never leave Constantinople, and even then all the maps are incredibly small. There is a fast travel set of underground roads just like in Brotherhood, but Constantinople is so small you don’t really need to use them. I feel this limited space is due to Revelations coming out so soon after Brotherhood. And since the next game in the series is due by November 2012, I would expect it to have a small world as well.

The recruiting and training of new Assassins by sending them on missions around the Mediterranean returns. Every city has a certain amount of Templar and Assassin influence. Each mission you successfully perform reduces Templar influence and reduces the difficulty of each mission thereafter. Once the Assassin’s take control of a city they can then rebuild the cities and begin gaining money, XP, and bomb components every in-game day. You can also leave Assassins in each city so you can recruit more in Constantinople. This would be nice except that every game day the Templar influence increases until they attempt to take the city back. So, to prevent this requires you to micromanage the sending of Assassins on missions as the ones you leave in each city do nothing without your input. This gets old very quickly and, in my opinion, destroys the usefulness of recruiting more assassins.

A tower defense style mini-game has been added. Killing guards, renovating shops, and pretty much doing anything in the game raises Templar awareness of your activities. When it reaches 100% the Templars will launch an attack on one of your dens in an attempt to gain control of that part of the city. Any area under Templar control no longer generates money for you, and prices at shops are increased. To defend your den, you must place different types of Assassins on the rooftops (such as Riflemen and Archers) and different types of barricades in the streets. The enemies have different abilities and weaknesses and they also get the use of several types of battering rams. The first two or three times I played the mini-game, it was fun. Just like with the Mediterranean missions, it gets really tedious really fast and becomes a distraction from the rest of the game. If you train an assassin up to level 10 you can then install them as a den leader. This makes that particular den immune from further Templar attacks. If you are an achievement hunter, you only need to perform three successful den defenses to gain the achievement. My advice is to do that early on and then install the den leaders so you’ll never have to be distracted by that again.

Some of my favorite parts of the game were the memories that dealt with Altair. These memories are very short but they fill in an extreme amount of detail about Altiar’s activities before and after the events in the original Assassin’s Creed. Those who love the overarching storyline of the series will appreciate these sequences as each one covers a significant event in Altiar’s life. These include what Altiar did with the apple after defeating Al Mualim, civil war among the Assassin’s, and Altiar’s eventual death.

Speaking of story, around the Animus you can find data fragments. Collecting enough of these (100 in all) unlocks segments of Desmond’s past. This involves a pretty boring and aggravating block building segment. As Desmond navigates a maze by building straight or angled blocks to make a path, you will hear him talk about his past, before he was picked up by the Templars. This segment is a great example of why platform jumping and first-person views don’t mix. If you want 100% completion, or would just like to hear the whole storyline it becomes a necessary evil.

See how they are all running around and not being stealthy? It's kinda like that.

The multiplayer training ground makes a return. In this mode, you play as a Templar in training. The Templars are using the Animus to train you to be a hunter with the same skills as the Assassins. As you kill opponents you gain experience and points which allow the unlocking of new disguises, powers, and videos that further the story from the modern Templar point of view. While they encourage you to be stealthy to get the biggest point value for each kill, in the games I played most people seem to be running around like madmen. That may only net you 100 pts per kill instead of 500, but you’ll get more points per match using this tactic then doing things “the right way”. Plus, there is no penalty for death other than a few seconds of load time, so why not just go with whatever tactics will allow you to level faster? You’re going to level up very slowly if you try to go stealthy the entire time. The matchmaking system only looks for available players and does not try to separate people by their level or any skill indicator. As a Level 1 player, I was in matches with Level 47 players. I died many times that match to those players. I would have liked it better if the system matched by level so that every player could potentially have equal footing.

To be frank not much has really changed since Brotherhood but that’s not necessarily bad. Once you have a good system going it’s not good to change just to say you did. But due to the smaller play area and the fewer amount of story missions I feel they could have easily made this an expansion pack for Brotherhood or they could have just waited and combined this game with the one scheduled for Nov 2012 release. Still it’s worth picking up if you find a sale.

Graphics: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Story: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Gameplay: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Balance: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Audio: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Intangibles: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Overall: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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