November 14, 2011
It looks like old Ezio's been through quite a lot since the end of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. After all, he has a grey beard now, which as everyone knows is the universal indicator of old age. But while the master assassin finds himself on new stomping grounds in Constantinople, Desmond Miles is washed up on a beach following the shocking cliffhanger at the end of the last game, stranded in limbo on Animus Island (seriously). One of these stories is relatively interesting and absorbing. The other, not so much. We'll leave it to you to guess which is which. Assassin's Creed: Revelations marks the end of Ezio Auditore's story arc then, tasking the ageing badass with tracking down and acquiring the five Masyaf keys hidden away by Altair, while striving to loosen the Templars' stranglehold on the city. Desmond continues to wait in the wings, grappling with his own place in this whole brouhaha.
Predictably, Constantinople is a remarkable location and a fantastic new playground for Ezio, with stunning sunsets, bustling streets, vertiginous spires to be climbed and plenty of little nooks and crannies to explore. Yet while the playground is a startling departure from Rome before it, much of the same concepts and objectives remain the same, so Ezio will be rebuilding the city as he seizes Templar dens by dispatching the resident Templar captain and lighting the signal fires, and that's not all. You'll still be working with factions like the thieves, mercenaries and Romani - who replace Rome's courtesans - and you'll still be upgrading your league of assassins, sending them off on assignments around the world. More than ever, you feel like a real mentor to your assassins, despite the fact that Ezio's abilities remain at pretty much the same level they've always been.
This time however, it's not long before he gets his hands on the hookblade, and once you start clambering around with it, you'll wonder how Ezio ever managed without it. Indeed, the hookblade unlocks a range of new opportunities like faster climbing, greater extension for longer jumps and best of all, ziplines for that added swashbuckling factor. Ezio is also able to craft bombs, and you'll find ingredients for bombs all over the place, whether it's dead bodies, looted chests or from your assassins' trips to various Templar hotspots around the globe. There's three flavours of bomb to choose from, including diversion, lethal and tactical, and there are loads of combinations to experiment with using a range of bombshells that you can stuff with varying degrees of gunpowder for different blast radius sizes and different objects like caltrops, gold coins, shrapnel, smoke or skunk oil to cause a stink. It's a great addition that opens up a wealth of strategical options. We were somewhat reluctant to use bombs during story missions, but dedicated bomb challenges enable you to delve deeper into the bomb crafting if you so wish.
These new mechanics aside, Revelations does feel like its more of the same, and the opening moments don't help matters much either. Where Ezio's previous two adventures opened with a bang and suck you right in from the off, his third outing doesn't grab you like it should until later on, when you meet up with local assassin Yusuf, and get back into the swing of things. Once you've plodded through the obligatory tutorials introducing the new stuff, you'll be back on familiar ground, and if you're anything like us, it might take you a while before you get used to controlling Ezio, with all the niggles and irritants that were barely noticeable in the past. Perhaps it's the fluid, non-stop momentum playing as Batman in Arkham City that's spoiled us for other games, but Ezio's movement can sometimes feel laboured and clumsy. But then we reminded ourself that this is Assassin's Creed. It's always been like this, which you might say is part of the problem with Revelations.
Eventually, things click once again, and Assassin's Creed: Revelations fits like an old shoe. Diversions like the Assassins Den Defence are welcome, offering a bit of tower defence, as Ezio barks commands from the rooftops. Initially, we thought the den defence might be a pain, but it's actually good fun and simple to pick up. The basic idea is to manage the morale of your men, placing them at strategical points on the rooftops as Templar forces pour into the streets below. You can set up and upgrade barricades, as long as you have enough morale to spend, and there's several different units to choose from, such as air assassins, crossbow marksmen, riflemen and you can blast away with a cannon or your concealed gun to help out. Again, it's something you can essentially take or leave. You can't leave the Altair sections though, which should be a highlight in Revelations, but can be a bit of a chore. You'll play some pivotal moments from Altair's life, from pre-Assassin's Creed 1 segments to his twilight years as a frail old man, learning how he came to possess Creed's ubiquitous MacGuffin, the Apple of Eden. Unfortunately, these are somewhat patchy and all too brief, but you'll relish the chance to revisit Altair's story again regardless. This requires grabbing the five Masyaf keys, tucked away in complex tombs just like the Romulus hideouts from Brotherhood.
Grabbing Animus fragments scattered across Constantinople and the subterranean caves of Cappadocia unlock sequences for Desmond back at Animus Island, which are bizarre first-person platforming missions solving puzzles and spawning various shapes to form floating platforms. These piece together Desmond's side of the story, but they're not exactly enthralling – in most cases, they're mind-numbing - and before long you'll be itching to get back to Ezio. It's back in the city where you'll find the big set pieces and the more absorbing aspects that the game has to offer. Multiplayer is also a more fleshed-out experience this time around too, with more modes, characters, customisation and unlocks to hopefully keep you playing longer than Brotherhood's sophomore effort.
Where Brotherhood was establishing the multiplayer creed for the first time, Revelations picks up the ball where it left off, running with it and building successfully upon those foundations. It's something that takes time to get into, but once you do, it pays off big time. It has its problems, like murky player portraits that don't look much like your target and some dubious contested kills, which can lead to frustration, but Revelations' multiplayer is immense fun for the most part, and well worth delving into. There are great team modes, the always fun Wanted mode, deathmatches, Find the Artifact and a wealth of other elements to discover in the multiplayer, and it's all brilliantly presented and far more streamlined than before. Ubi has definitely taken on board and addressed the criticisms.
As far as achievements are concerned, this is another mixed bag, with gaining 100% sync for all sequences (again) being the worst of the lot. There are some pretty smart achievements too, such as parachuting to a zipline, or climbing the iconic Hagia Sofia in less than 25 seconds and so on, but again, there's an emphasis on collectibles, like the Animus data fragments and memoir pages and more than a smattering of multiplayer achievements, which is always a bugbear for some. They're no different here, requiring a fair bit of grinding to level up, but they're thankfully a lot more forgiving than Brotherhood's multiplayer achievements, which really were a grindfest, or a case of blind luck over skill. By comparison, these MP achievements are mercifully straightforward and simple.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations isn't quite a case of diminishing returns then, as the formula is still as inviting as it ever was, embracing completists with its array of collectibles, various shops and monuments to restore to their former glory, as well as Templar dens to capture and control. Constantinople is an awesome place to explore too, and Ubisoft has clearly gone the extra mile once again with the visuals in Revelations. The faces and animations in general are superb, managing to one-up Brotherhood, and those trademark vistas are back in full effect, enabling you to look as far as the eye can see into the distance. That said, Assassin's Creed: Revelations simply doesn't offer enough in the way of innovation, meaning that while it's still a fantastic game, the formula is starting to grow a little stale. Here's hoping Ubisoft mixes it up and brings something new and startling to the table for Assassin's Creed III, otherwise, this is a franchise in danger of cruising along stuck on autopilot.
Jesper Kyd's score is soaring and beautiful as always, whereas the hustle and bustle of the streets helps build the immersion. There are niggles, like some very slight audio syncing issues and repeated incidental lines of dialogue, but on the whole this is stellar stuff.
Hands down the best looking Assassin's Creed yet, with improved faces and animations making for some convincing cutscenes. Those sprawling landscapes stretching into the horizon are still as breathtaking as they've always been, and the overall look and atmosphere of Constantinople is a triumph.
It's Assassin's Creed, just as it's always been. No more, no less. There are a few new gimmicks to muck around with, but Revelations essentially plays exactly like the other games. Meanwhile, the Desmond-based first-person platforming sections might be optional, but that's no excuse to make them so damn painful. There's far too much trial and error in many of the missions too, which can grate.
Sadly, there's a palpable sense that Assassin's Creed might be starting to wear a little thin. The main storyline doesn't seem to last all that long, and it's not nearly as compelling as past instalments. You'll find yourself performing many of the same activities from AC II and Brotherhood over again, so as a package, this is somewhat lacking. Still, multiplayer is superb once you get back into it, and offers hours of assassination for your buck, while improving immeasurably upon the Brotherhood template. It doesn't take five weeks to connect to an online match this time either, which is nice.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations achievement list could have been almost perfect, were it not for the hateful 100% sync, which is one of the most irritating achievements we've pursued in some time. The rest of the list is fun and creative, making the most of Constantinople as a playground for experimentation. Kudos to Ubi too for making the multiplayer cheevos nice and easy too.
For a game with the suffix 'Revelations', there are surprisingly few to be found here. Still a solid and immensely enjoyable game, Assassin's Creed: Revelations nonetheless fails to instil the same level of excitement that previous games in the series managed to muster, reheating many of Brotherhood's mechanics and throwing in a few half-hearted features for good measure. It's the end of an era for sure, and well worth playing to see through Ezio and Altair's respective stories, but don't expect to enjoy it quite as much as AC II and Brotherhood. Perhaps the only real revelation to be found here, is the possibility that Assassin's Creed is in imminent danger of passing its sell by date. Your move, Assassin's Creed III.