Assassin's Creed: Revelations ReviewMike Birchall
Assassins Creed: Revelations is an aspirational game. Tasked with tying up three separate storylines each with their own era and leading character, only a handful of game studios could have pulled it off. Thankfully, Ubisoft is one of these studios- no matter what storytelling challenge they set themselves, they always seem to overcome it. If only by hurling every possible idea they have at it until it crumbles into submission.
The main storyline, like AC: 2 and Brotherhood before it, is Ezio Auditore's. In the final chapter of his tale, Ezio heads off to Constantinople to find five keys to a mysterious library under Masyaf. These are a thinly veiled plot device to put the player back into the memories of Altair, star of the first Assassin's creed game, for a few solidly fun missions that don't depart too much from the gameplay formula we all know and love. Meanwhile the two storylines are framed once again by everyone's favorite present-day hero, Desmond. If you missed the sarcasm of that last line, Desmond's storyline usually only serves as a dull, unnecessary obstacle to get to the historical homicide- though this is probably the strongest game for Desmond action yet, in that his sections are completely optional, but also relatively interesting. They're also quite a departure from the series' usual gameplay, as you roam about in first person in a trippy techno landscape, finding out more about Desmond's life.
Adding to these plots are Byzantines vs. Ottomans, good ol' Assassins vs. Templars, the overarching 'gods and humans and assassins and artifacts and a bit of magic and doomsday' plot, and even a romantic sub-plot between Ezio and a woman about half his age. Nice one, lad. Ubisoft never really forces these elements in the player's face, however, and the characters remain interesting and fleshed out. If you lie back and let the intricacies of the various conflicts wash over you, the plot becomes an entertaining character drama, with humor that is woefully stark in plot-heavy games nowadays.
All in all, the story is complex, but refined- though the same can't be said for a lot of the gameplay. If Revelations were a soccer team, it would be as if ten substitutes were put on the pitch while only one was taken out, and that one was a horse anyways. Yep, galloping across Brotherhood's Rome is replaced by hooking around the rooftops of Constantinople like an acrobat. Ezio now has a new 'hookblade' used to climb faster, jump farther, and use zip lines to speed across rooftops. The problem with this is that the climbing system and the environments are designed with the same hookblade-less frame of mind as the last two games, meaning that the hookblade is only useful about 20% of the time, whereas minor refinements in the climbing system would have meant that the hook blade was useful more often. This may be a minor annoyance but when each mission is a five minute trek apart, it is quickly made more frustrating.
Added to Ezio's arsenal is bomb crafting, which is actually very fun- though you may end up feeling like an amateur terrorist (which the Assassins are, when you think about it). Bombs can be tactical, lethal or diversionary, with over 120 combinations of shells (how the bomb is set off), powders (how big the boom is) and fillings (blood, coins, smoke etc.). Try throwing a light smoke bomb to draw guards to a spot, who then step on a tripwire blood bomb to create fear and panic, and then top it off with a sticky thunder bomb to blow their legs off- it's a fresh, creative new way to murder your foes.
Other tropes of the series return, like assassin management, renovating the city and clambering up viewpoints to unlock areas of the map, and I can't help but feel that some of these could have been taken out easily to refine the overall game. They even tried to add a tower defence minigame for capturing Templar dens for the Assassins, though this is only necessary in the tutorial- it's supposed to occur whenever your notoriety meter fills up, but a quick bribery of a herald or a discreet murder of an official will solve that problem much more quickly.
A lot is crammed into the gameplay and story, and the setting is no different. Thankfully, save for the aforementioned hookblade incompatibility, the city of Constantinople is one of the series' best environments, with bustling life on every street and an incredible attention to detail. The underground platforming sections that Ezio ventures within to retrieve the Masyaf keys are also the series' best, featuring oh-no-I-almost-plunged-to-a-bloody-death platforming reminiscent of the uncharted series, really showing what the hookblade can do, unlike the city above.
The cutscenes also have a more cinematic feel, with faces in particular getting a noticeable graphical upgrade. This cinematic effect is what, in part, makes up for such a complex story, allowing the characters a wide range of emotions, supported by stellar voice acting. As always, the sound design is of the highest quality - but we're four games in now and still hearing the same background music as we did in the first game. This would be okay if the soundtrack was as iconic as Zelda's or Metal Gear's, but the operatic-techno music in Revelations is in definite need of an upgrade.
Revelations also takes Brotherhood's innovative multiplayer and truly refines it, introducing new characters, locations and upgrades with the same level of detail that we've come to expect and appreciate from the series. The ability to create your own guilds and coats of arms is added, as well as some interesting story elements, though nothing as aspirational as the single player. Like Brotherhood, the main multiplayer concept is a game of cat and mouse and cat and mouse, as you tail another player disguising themselves as an NPC in order to execute them, whilst they do the same to another player, and so on. This still proves to be a fantastic and innovative mode, but after a few hours it does get a little tiresome- thankfully the single player provides enough content that you can swap between the two for a good few weeks' worth of play.
All in all, Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a game that adds about three layers of icing to an already iced cake. Removing a couple of layers would have been wise, but at the end of the day you're still going to wolf it down, because everyone really likes icing. Is it worth buying? Let's face it; chances are that if you've bought any Assassin's Creed game you'll probably buy this one regardless of what I write here. If you're new to the series, start with the first game (thankfully packaged on the same disc as Revelations in most editions), as Revelations often expects the player to already be a fan. And who can blame them? This is a series that is consistently stellar- bring on Assassin's Creed 3. That is, if the world doesn't end on its release day.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.