"We make time our plaything, take the scenic view of the city, and go all detective to uncover the past in our latest hands-on."
Get ready to do the time warp with Assassin's Creed: Revelations. While the game may appear to be more of the same rooftop acrobatics, hidden blade stabbery, and subterfuge that has made the series a hit three times over, things are going to become even more Inception-inspired, as this time Desmond, controlling Ezio, spends his time locating the five keys to unlock Altair's Library of Masyaf. Successfully tracking down these remnants allows Ezio to travel through time and relive pivotal moments in Altair's life from age 26 all the way past 60 years. Warning: this preview contains some potential storyline spoilers.
Our previous peeks at the game have showcased some of the new item creation that is possible, such as bombcrafting, which lets you turn three rudimentary found items into (among others) proximity mines, smoke grenades, or bombs filled with gold coins to create impromptu diversions. We've also been given a taste of the new tower defence mode that will crop up at intervals during the narrative, providing you with the chance to hang up your wall-climbing boots for a while and sit for a spell. As you play as the general, you will place archers, gunners, and Brotherhood leaders on rooftops, build upgradable barricades, and call in mortar-style cannon attacks to demolish aggressors.
In our most recent hands-on time with the game, we took both Ezio and Altair for a jog.
Spoilers Click to Reveal
After successfully locating and securing one of the five keys used to find the lost library of Altair Ibn La'Ahad, we were transported back to the Crusades to wrap up some unfinished business. Twenty-six-year-old Altair had just slain Al Mualim, Grand Master of the Syrian Assassin Brotherhood, for his betrayal, corrupted by the apple at the centre of the original game. Abbas was the only onlooker to express concern with what had occurred, but made no attempt to stop us as we picked up and cradled the leader's body, carrying it down a grassy slope towards a prepared funeral pyre. As the flames licked at the sky, Abbas returned, pushing us off the raised area towards the crowd below. Because crowd surfing wouldn't be invented for another 600-odd years (thanks, Benjamin Franklin!), we hit the ground and watched as our attacker took possession of the apple, fleeing with it to a nearby tower.
As power is known to do, it quickly did its magic on Abbas, putting a vicelike grip on him and radiating energy that knocked us backwards, loosening our handholds as we attempted to climb scaffolding to retrieve the artefact. Once we were successfully at the top, we found him begging for forgiveness with outstretched hands. We retook control without delay.
Back in the Ezio timeline, Tarik, leader of the Janissaries, had been wheeling and dealing. With no faith in Prince Suleiman, heir to the throne, he bided his time, preparing an army to attack Constantinople. Our job was to infiltrate the arsenal area located in the Forum of Ox with a hope of finding out exactly what sort of forces were being amassed. The amount of armour and training provided to the Janissary guards made them tough targets to take on solo at the best of times. For this reason, we opted for a slightly more deceptive approach, colluding with and bribing leaders in the marketplace to stir up a dash of civilian unrest. With guards' backs turned to us as rioters trashed the place, we were able to choose our moment to strike, plunging swords and wrist blades into them from behind to take them down more easily. Granted, it wasn't all that honourable, but it was effective. While the crowd managed to hold its own reasonably well against the better-equipped forces, you won't be able to sit idly by and let them do all the work. Sacrificing too many civilian lives will cause you to fail the event.
With slain guards swimming in pools of their own blood, we slipped through the gates of the arsenal. Inside, we used Ezio's upgraded eagle sense ability to locate and stalk Manuel's slimy ethereal trail, which had been left painted to the cobblestones underfoot. Finally inside the building, we opened up large wooden crates where muskets were being stored. Unfortunately, even pro assassins aren't always as stealthy as they think they are, and we were spotted in the act, forcing us to run rather than stay and fight. Ezio's free running had us leaping over gaps between suspended wooden slats, scaling the edges of a ship and using the game's many conveniently placed ziplines and the beneficial forces of gravity to zoom to safety, ditching our less-nimble pursuers in the process.
With a clean set of heels, we found and entered an underground cavern filled with a maze of damaged walkways and perilous falls. As we snaked our way through the finger-tip-sized grabs using the prowess of a spider monkey, we came across a group of armed guards loading barrels of gunpowder into a boat. A free run and some gymnastics later, we got a look at the sequence's multiple available paths. Rather than failing you and requiring a restart for mistiming a jump or for grabbing instead of maintaining momentum to swing, the action stayed fast and frenetic, pushing us down other avenues. Feet barely touched the small pillars of wood poking out of dark, swirling water before we were off again. The scene ended with a zipline execution, as we zoomed above our targets before plunging blades into skulls as we landed with a thud. The boat was destroyed in the action, but we made it to dry land and came across another of the pieces of Altair's memories.
Spoilers Click to Reveal
Now much older, his face wearing the creases of a life hard fought, Altair sought an explanation for the death of one of his sons. His wife, Maria, pleaded for him not to seek a violent resolution, and as we approached a looming tower, we were stopped by old pal Abass and one of his cronies. Abass explained with a venom-tipped tongue that he was the one who had called for the murder, and before you could say "peaceful adult discussion," blades were unsheathed, and Maria was stabbed and killed in the conflict.
With no time to mourn, we needed to locate and protect Altair's living son. As we hurried out of the city on the escort quest, blades swished with attackers, dashes were made down hills, and the two of us leapt from building to building with ease. Capable of defending himself against multiple simultaneous attackers, he was clearly his father's son.
Everyone has a few skeletons in the closet, and with three concurrent timelines intersecting to cover The Crusades, late 15th-century Renaissance, and present day, expect this to be a significant adventure of discovery. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Assassin's Creed: Revelations will launch globally on November 15, while the PC release is planned for December this year. Stay tuned for our full review soon.