Assassin's Creed has helped define the current generation of interactive entertainment. The series' consistently marvellous recreation of historic cities has set new benchmarks in virtual world design, and its twisty, time-hopping narrative remains one of the most ambitious ever conceived for the world of games.
However, heading into Assassin's Creed: Revelations – the series' fourth instalment in five years – Ubisoft's epic project faced a couple of serious challenges.
With more than 100 hours of dense and complicated exposition under its belt, the storyline was in danger of collapsing under its own weight. Thankfully, Assassin's Creed: Revelations lives up to its name and ties up many of the series' loose ends.
The story of roguish, Renaissance-era assassin Ezio Auditore comes to a satisfying close in an adventure that sees our hero – now 50 and greying but as agile as ever – searching a staggeringly beautiful 16th-century Constantinople for artefacts that help explain what became of Altaïr, the Crusades-era hero from the series' first game.
We also get a much clearer picture of protagonist Desmond Miles – the modern-day barkeep who can recall the memories of his ancestors and the centuries-old war between ideological factions via a device known as the Animus. We are also given new details about the mysterious "first civilization" – a technologically advanced culture that went extinct long ago but left behind provocative and disturbing traces of its existence.
Unfortunately, Revelations doesn't deal as well with the franchise's second problem: That we have been playing what feels like the same game for four years.
Of course, some things are just too good to change. The series' immensely satisfying parkour-like climbing mechanics – which see Ezio gracefully pulling himself up the sides of landmarks like the Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome – are a hallmark of the series, and ought to remain until its end. And the thrilling cat-and-mouse multiplayer, which involves players alternating between roles of assassin and potential victim, remains a refreshingly unusual experience in the world of online gaming.
However, other parts of the game are in dire need of overhaul. Tailing missions are as tedious as ever, and combat – while graceful and entertaining to watch – often boils down to repetitive block-and-counter tactics (more advanced moves are available but rarely necessary).
To be fair, Ubisoft has attempted to inject a few fresh concepts, but with mixed results. Parts of the game that see Desmond in bodiless form exploring the cyber core of the Animus have an almost Portal-like vibe in their puzzles and presentation. Less engaging is the dull and slightly confusing new tower-defence mini-game that sees players setting up barricades and snipers to defend against an onslaught of enemies.
There's no question that Assassin's Creed is one of the great achievements in this generation of games, and Revelations is just as playable as any of its predecessors. However, much like the series' protagonists, it's beginning to grow old. It's time for Ubisoft to shake – or wrap – things up.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed); PlayStation 3; Windows PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal