With Revelations' reviews on Monday showing a noticeable shock of 7s, should Assassin's Creed take a break after next year's game? Probably, says Johnny Cullen.
I'm an Assassin's Creed fan. While the 2007 original got its fair share of kickings, I gave it its due for being a decent game. It would be silly of me to overlook its faults - and it did have a fair few of them, like bugs, glitches, repetitiveness - but the potential was there.
That potential was realised two years ago with Assassin's Creed II. The sequel was such a turnaround. Jade Raymond, Patrice Désilets and their team at Ubisoft Montreal - mostly comprised of members of the original group behind the PS2 Prince of Persia trilogy - had fixed the mistakes of AC1 and, while it wasn't perfect, it was in my top three games of 2009, behind Uncharted 2 and the Beatles: Rock Band.
Then, along came Brotherhood, which continued Ezio's story. Did it need to? Probably not. Yes, ACII left on a cliffhanger, but so did AC1. It was here fans started to express concern that Ubisoft would go down the yearly route that's been tricky for series like Need for Speed or Guitar Hero. It was the thought that Brotherhood, at least before release, should have been some sort of expansion for Assassin's Creed II.
And yet, for all the worries, Brotherhood paid off for Ubisoft. It was a fully-fledged game that introduced multiplayer. Despite concerns, Ubi Montreal found ways to fit the narrative around it. If the story was about Desmond, Ezio and the Assassins, multiplayer could tie into Abstergo and the Templars. In a world of tack-on multiplayer, the game was rightly praised.
But when Revelations started bringing in several in-house developers alongside Ubisoft Montreal, it could have been seen as a first sign of trouble. Ubisoft Annecy
Ubisoft Massive, Ubisoft Quebec, Ubisoft Singapore and Ubisoft Bucharest all helped with development. It shocked me to see the amount of studios coming up in the opening credits of the game. It's worth noting that BioShock 2 went the same way, with 2K Marin the main dev being helped by five other studios, including the now Bethesda-owned Arkane.
Some of the feature additions this time also rang alarm bells. Is tower defence necessary, or just fishing for "something else"? A nice addition in theory, but it seems ridiculous to have Ezio, a character suited for open world exploratory, rooted to a rooftop. It's a bit off. My personal experience of this wasn't the best.
When you have six studios working on one single game, it's time to take stock. For a series like Assassin's Creed, it breaks my heart to say that.
Bombcrafting is probably the nicest addition to Revelations, but can be ignored despite the game basically begging you to take time out and make explosives. As good as it may be, you're basically crafting grenades. Hand grenades. What else do you need to know about it? You pick your shell, then your ingredients to determine what kind of 'bomb' you want to make. Lethal? Non-lethal?
Don't get me wrong; credit should go to Ubisoft for trying new things. It's partly that reason that allowed Brotherhood to work so well. But I can't help feel there's too much unnecessary stuff here even for Assassin's Creed fans to accept. In fact, it's logical to believe that all these additions, and the story, could have worked better as a big DLC for Brotherhood, à la GTA IV, with the next full game being Assassin's Creed III.
I haven't finished Revelation, but so far 7/10 feels right. Eurogamer, Wired, Edge and Destructoid all scored it in the 7s range this week. So far, Ezio's grand farewell may just be a farewell, plain and simple. I want Revelations to come back and turn around my initial impression, but it's impossible to ignore the feeling that the series is turning down a slippery path from which it may not be able to return. We're not at that stage yet, but it's getting closer each year.
Ubisoft's already confirmed a new game for next year, which will end Desmond's story arc, and I can only hope that finishing Ezio and Altair's story this year will help creatively with 2012's release. But what comes after that? If the following year isn't Assassin's Creed III, Ubisoft needs to take a break. Plain and simple.
Assassin's Creed may now be Ubisoft's biggest cash earner, but it wasn't made to be a yearly franchise in a similar vein Call of Duty. While multiple studios are working on CoD's yearly installments - such as Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer - you only have Ubisoft Montreal working on main AC installments.
Which brings me back to my initial point of bringing in those five in-house studios to help out on Revelations. When you have six studios working on one single game, it's time to take stock.
And for a series like Assassin's Creed, it breaks my heart to say that.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations is available now for PS3 and 360.