Ezio the Elder
The last three Assassin’s Creeds have seen Ezio Auditore da Firenze mature from a cocksure ladies’ man into the Mentor and elder statesman of the Assassin family. The series has grown alongside him, developing from an entertaining but seriously flawed debut into a highly polished romp through Renaissance era Europe, garnering a large enough following and critical clout to justify annual releases.
Last week, I completed the latest in the franchise: Assassin's Creed Revelations. I enjoyed yet another stunning recreation of a city and period of great historical importance and, unlike in previous entries, I came away satisfied by a finale that offered closure for the assassins of antiquity. The decision to bring Altair back into the fold was well implemented and never overdone, casting him, convincingly, as a man of huge significance and not just the blank canvas from the first AC.
Constantinople is vast and detailed, and there’s plenty on offer for even the most adventurous of gamers. However, Revelations is not without issues, such as the first-person puzzle sections that make Desmond even more uninteresting than ever before. Tower defence is a transparent attempt to shove in more content where it’s not needed, though with some careful management and a pocket full of bribes I managed to avoid all but two of these encounters.
There were of course some worthwhile additions. Just as Brotherhood brought multiplayer and assassin apprentices, Revelations introduces a spring loaded climbing hook that I don’t know how I ever lived without, as well as new combat options including bomb creation. Despite a number of additions across Brotherhood and Revelations, I still feel that Assassin's Creed 2, with its collection of smaller but equally wonderful cities and memorable characters, has yet to be beaten and perhaps never will.
As I have with every other Assassin's Creed, I struggled with Revelations’ opening thanks to unintuitive controls and complicated combat menus. In past entries, these early problems have passed after an hour or so, once I’ve gotten to grips with the rhythm and feel of combat and comfortable with the city and how I'm expected to interact with it. However, in Revelations these teething problems lingered for a good three hours and at one point I was considering abandoning it entirely. It was only the strength of character and likeability - an understated likeability as opposed to the outward charisma of a Nathan Drake - of Ezio, and to a lesser extent the potential of Constantinople, that allowed me to endure. I'm glad I did, as once I’d pushed beyond these familiar, early issues I discovered another excellent game in a consistently excellent series.
Revelation's supporting cast is rather forgettable, but this is perhaps more an reflection of Ezio’s excellence, his presence casting a show over his lesser support. Even when he is forced to share time with Desmond and Altair, Ezio is clearly the star and I can appreciate why Ubisoft decided to milk him for all he’s worth, to the tune of three games in as many years. It is difficult not to like Ezio; he boasts many of the characteristics we look for in a protagonist - strength, leadership, morals, and charisma - without all the outward bravado or emotional baggage of your typical, muscle-bound, video game hero.
In his latest incarnation - wiser, greyer and with no less of an appetite for life - I have found my favourite Ezio. He has accepted his role, even if he doesn't fully understand it, undaunted by the realization that he is only a bit player in something much bigger than he. He understands that glory is not his to be won and that Altair's work will not be competed in his lifetime, but he fights on all the same and commands the respect of those around him. Thoughtful and learned, he also has the capacity to enjoy the simple things in life and in Maria, his love interest, he finds reason to exist once the curtains fall on his part of the story. Matched up against a lead with all these qualities, it’s no surprise that I so dislike the dull as dishwater Desmond. I made no attempt to complete his sections of Revelations and I wonder if Ubisoft have perhaps cottoned on to his shortcomings, having made his role in Revelations almost entirely optional.
Ezio Auditore de Firenze has improved with age, just like our old friend Snake. The years took a far heavier toll on Old Snake than our Italian assassin, but made him no less of an intriguing character. In Metal Gear Solid 4 we learnt much about the motivations and desires of a warrior at death's door, revealing more of this gaming icon than in any of his previous outings. It’s so much easier to sympathize with Snake as he wheezes his way through checkpoints, newly vulnerable and relying on instincts to survive. Old age, albeit unnatural, made him far more human than the man who would clear out a nuclear base full of super soldiers and comic book villains of an evening. Along these same lines, I love the idea of one day playing as an older Nathan Drake, accepting one last treasure hunt before he retires. Struggling up cliff faces that he once tackled with abandon, he would pass on his knowledge to a young, wide-eyed apprentice, just as Sully once took him under wing.
When I thought that Assassin's Creed held little more of interest, it was Ezio that came to the rescue and inspired me to keep going. I'm drawn to him and the time period he inhabits and am concerned that his departure will lessen my fondness for the series, as it begins to move into a more recognisable world of gunpowder and industrial development - a world more suited to Desmond.