When Ubisoft began the Assassin’s Creed series with the 2007 eponymous release, the promise of lush conspiracy theories, diverse mission structures, and strong, free-running mechanics seemed lofty to many. Unfortunately for first title in the franchise, the promises and hopes ended up being a bit too lofty to get right on the first try. The missions were repetitive and tedious, the free running was average at best, and the conspiracy-centric story never really got it’s tires out of the mud until the later portions of the game.
Continual improvement leads to a better experience
With Assassin’s Creed II, Ubisoft Montreal corrected many of the mistakes made in the first entry. The missions felt meaningful, the story was an epic tale of conspiracy and betrayal, and the free-running was industry leading. Those very areas were further improved with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which proved to be one of the top games of 2010. The title was considered a spin-off of sorts, opting to continue the story of Ezio Auditore, rather than shifting focus to another assassin in Desmond’s lineage.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a game focused on building upon the successes of Brotherhood, while working to close out the Ezio story arc. After the traumatic events at the end of Brotherhood leave Desmond unconscious and trapped in the Animus, he decides to use this time to further his knowledge of the life of Ezio. The Ezio segments see the player handling a much more weathered assassin than has ever been handled in the series. In the first segment, Ezio has traveled to the familiar assassin headquarters of Masayf, where Altair based his operations in the first title. Ezio is dead-set on discovering Altair’s fabled library, but he soon finds that he’s not the only one looking for the power found within.
Stellar cinematography makes up for a slow start
While the opening cinematic — which was already seen months ago at E3 — is absolutely fantastic, the game doesn’t exactly start off with a bang. Escaping from Masayf proves to be more of a headache than the epic cinematic sequence that the developers had hoped for. Sure, it serves to be a more of a brief tutorial for players than anything else, but the developers needed to start the game off in better fashion, as those not devoted to the series may find it easier to turn it off than complete the opening part. This is particularly pressing during this time of the year, where Ubisoft is vying for player attention against time-consuming juggernauts like Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3.
After leaving Masayf, Ezio travels to Constantinople to search for the five keys needed to enter Altair’s library. Luckily, once he arrives at his destination, the action picks up a all the main characters are introduced and the different tutorials come to a close. After players are introduced to mechanics such as bomb crafting, which allows for hundreds of different creations, and the new hookblade, which enables players to ride a zipline from rooftop to rooftop, climb with greater ease, and perform useful enemy takedowns, the storyline starts to take shape.
The story in the final sequences makes up for the slow start, however, as it focuses on story more than any other title in the series, and it shows in the ending. The storytelling takes a few cues from the Uncharted series, as large scripted cinematic moments find themselves embedded within climbing sequences. These moments work surprisingly well within the actual gameplay, as they masterfully set the stage.
With the emphasis on storytelling, as well as wrapping up the Ezio story arc, Ubisoft does something very interesting: they include an Altair segment in each of the memory sequences. These segments tell the tale of the moments following the events of the first Assassin’s Creed title, and highlight what happened to lead to the creation of the aforementioned library that Ezio seeks in the main storyline. The intertwined storylines are well-executed and fans of the first Assassin’s Creed title will appreciate the fact that Altair is back in a prominent role.
Strong presentation held down by glitches
The presentation in Revelations is very impressive from a technical aspect. Constantinople doesn’t have the same number of recognizable landmarks that Rome had, which lessens the impact of the exploration within the game itself, but the visuals make the game feel very much alive. The hustle and bustle within the city is apparent, as conversations can often be heard as Ezio traverses the area. The downside to that is that over the course of the game, many of the same conversations and one-liners are noticeably reused, which can become laughable as you hear the same conversation about an NPC’s mother within three minutes of the first time you heard it.
Despite how technically impressive the game is, it is not without its flaws. When the camera pans a busy area, Revelations can experience some minor screen-tearing, or insignificant slowdown. While the game is efficient in displaying many structures, people, and items on screen at once, there are times when pop in becomes an issue as the game struggles to keep up with the enormousness of the city. There are also several examples where AI characters fall through the roof of a building, or get stuck inside of objects such as trees. Characters (player controlled and otherwise) also seem to have issues handling slanted or uneven footing while engaging in combat.
Gameplay isn’t exactly a ‘revelation’ in this title
The gameplay is largely unchanged in both single and multiplayer. Combat feels identical to that found in the previous two entries, and, aside from the hookblade, traveling throughout the city is the same as well. The overtly simple climbing mechanics remain in place and bring with them the same highs and lows as before (though it is now quicker thanks to the hookblade). Climbing can still mean an easy ascent to the top of the tower, but there’s also the chance that Ezio will jump the opposite direction and plummet to his death, much to the chagrin of the player.
The stealth system that was competent two years ago now feels more aged and weathered than Ezio himself. After playing titles like Arkham City and Uncharted 3, it has become apparent that the stealth controls, as well as the way the AI reacts to stealth situations, need to be updated in order for this element of Assassin’s Creed to remain relevant.
Multiplayer will not surprise anybody that spent any amount of time in the Animus in Brotherhood. Again, this is a section of the game that Ubisoft decided to play it safe and build upon successes rather than try to innovate. The multiplayer matches can become quite hectic, but there is no greater feeling than finally learning the ropes and sniffing out your first target as they desperately try to lose you in the crowd.
The art of subtraction through addition
Fans of the Assassin’s Creed series will find that the features for Revelations remain very much the same as what was presented in Brotherhood, but that doesn’t mean that Ubisoft didn’t try to innovate within the proven formula. Unfortunately, the innovations are bigger failures than successes. The most anticipated feature was the introduction of tower defense elements in the defense of Assassin Dens. The feature sees Ezio commanding a team of assassins against waves of Templars, and while it has moments of promise, overall, the Den Defense mini-game falls flat. Tower defense should be about digging in and slowly upgrading units as the waves of enemies become tougher and tougher. In Den Defense, however, the controls are repetitive, and the waves expire before things really get rolling, leading players to feel the mode is anything more than pointless.
The other new feature added actually involves Desmond, rather than Ezio. When not controlling Ezio or Altair, Desmond’s consciousness is housed in “Animus Island.” While there isn’t much to do in this virtual world, there are five passageways that lead to first person segments that recount pivotal moments in Desmond’s life. These moments are presented through platforming puzzles that very much resemble what Portal 2 might look like if the Portal Gun were taken out of the equation. The puzzles are, at times, quite clever, but overall the sequences end up being less than memorable, and the information revealed doesn’t quite feel like enough to justify plowing through the segments instead of spending that same time advancing the main story.
The bottom line
Overall, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a great entry into the series. Sure, the story stumbles early on, and the new additions do little to improve the experience, but the complete package is still a very solid one. The story wraps up nicely, and the gameplay feels as good as ever, if not a bit aged. Fans of Brotherhood will find a lot to like once things get rolling, but those that are looking to get into the series for the first time may want to start with Assassin’s Creed II and work their way forward through the outstanding Brotherhood prior to playing Revelations. Either way, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a more than worthy finale to the Ezio story, and the title does an excellent job leaving the player wanting more.
- Release Date: November 15th 2011
- Genre: Action, Open World, Stealth
- Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- ESRB Rating: M
- MSRP: $59.99
Our Score: 4/5
Review Statement: This review is based on a retail copy purchased by the author.