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Assassin's Creed Revelations review

Great
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AT A GLANCE
  • Hauling ass across rooftops is more fun than ever
  • Master Assassin missions are a cool addition
  • Multiplayer remains amazing
  • Underdeveloped, disappointing storyline
  • There's less to do than in Brotherhood
  • Short on actual revelations about the series' plot

When it became clear last year that Assassin’s Creed was going to be a yearly franchise, fans reacted with equal parts excitement and unease. Assassin’s Creed games are sprawling, open-world epics that follow a history-spanning, conspiracy-laden plot about acrobatic killers; is it really possible to do all of that justice on an annual schedule? Ubisoft seems to think so, and with no fewer than six of its worldwide studios on the job, Assassin’s Creed Revelations certainly looks poised to prove the doubters wrong.

Will it, though? Can it? Well, yes… and no. It depends on what you’re hoping to get out of it.

Are you interested purely in the series’ rooftop-hopping gameplay? Then you’ll be happy to know that Revelations continues the “let’s just throw more features at it” approach to design seen in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, changing little while piling on new elements. The basic gameplay’s essentially the same as before; playing as 16th century Assassin Ezio Auditore (now the graying, middle-aged leader of his order), you’ll spend a lot of time running up walls, darting across rooftops, parachuting off buildings and destroying guards with an ever-more-lethal assortment of blades, clubs, guns and other era-appropriate weaponry.

Stealth is encouraged but rarely required, opportunities for deadly mischief are everywhere and there’s a huge new city to explore. This time it’s the bustling, predominantly Muslim metropolis of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), where Ezio’s come to seek keys that will open a secret library built by his predecessor, Altair. And just like Brotherhood’s Rome, Constantinople is filled with landmarks and vacant shops to buy (which will then funnel money into your bank account and offer you discounts), secrets to uncover and hidden challenge levels to explore.

Above: There’s also been a small but significant uptick in graphical detail, as evidenced by the new faces of Altair, Desmond and Ezio. Oh, and it’s in 3D now, which is great if you’ve got a 3D TV

Unlike Rome, however, nearly all of Constantinople is freely explorable more or less from the moment Ezio arrives there. So if you’re one of the many who’s been irritated by the Creed games’ insistence on blocking off certain areas until you’d unlocked the right memory sequence, that’s definitely a plus.

Also unlike Rome, Constantinople is completely devoid of any horses to ride. Granted, the city’s design is compact, with lots of narrow streets that would make horses unwieldy, and you might not even notice they’re gone. However, their absence is still noteworthy enough to point out.

Oh, and one other thing: Beggars are back, and this time, they come in threes.

Above: At least you can still throw coins to make them stop bothering you

Not slowing with age

Aside from a new story and a new city, Revelations brings several big additions to the gameplay, the biggest being the hookblade. Far from simply being a way to shoehorn ziplines into the game, the hookblade gives players a little more control and agency over Ezio’s actions, making climbing and swinging across Constantinople’s skyline just a little more fun in the process. With the hookblade equipped, Ezio can grab ledges that are just out of reach, launch himself up the sides of buildings and swing across gaps by hooking onto hanging lamp-like objects (which, when grabbed normally, still let him swing in 90-degree arcs).

Ezio can also use it to tumble right past any guards in his path, or – by tapping a button at just the right moment – throw them to the ground (or off rooftops, which is much more entertaining). The hookblade’s also good for yanking scaffoldings down onto pursuing guards and, and as you might expect, it makes fighting with Ezio’s hidden blades about 50 percent more gruesome.

Another big addition: Bombs. Using ingredients found everywhere (most frequently in chests placed across the city), Ezio can craft a pretty wide assortment of explosives by combining different shells, gunpowder strengths and payloads. Each can accomplish a different goal, whether it’s simply killing a bunch of guards at once, luring them away from a spot they’re protecting or causing panic with an explosion of animal blood.

Above: There’s so much new weaponry, ranged attacks are now mapped to a second button, and weapons are selected from two separate wheel menus

Whether you’ll actually ever use all of those bombs is another matter. Most of the guards in Revelations are just as easy to kill as in any other Creed game; as before, they’ll surround you and attack one at a time, and you can either hack away at one until he forgets to block and dies, or simply wait for them to strike and either disarm them, or kill them in one hit with a counter.

Like in previous games, combat can be immensely fun (and it’s flashier than ever here), but its simplicity means that A) there’s little practical benefit to buying new weapons, since anything you wield can kill in one hit, and B) there’s little incentive to use any bomb other than a lethal grenade or a smoke bomb, unless mandated by the mission. The rest demand a certain level of patience; you have to want to mess with your enemies, and mustering that level of interest is difficult when killing them is so much easier and faster.

That doesn’t hold true when you meet the Janissaries, however. The elite slave-soldiers of the Ottoman army, the Janissaries are faster, more devious and much tougher than any other enemy in the core series. Taking one down requires at least three “killing” blows, and they have an annoying tendency during combat to step just out of sword range and shoot you with pistols. They’re bastards in a fight (although they’re relatively easy to beat once you understand their patterns), but it’s kind of a nice change to see an Assassin’s Creed enemy that’s actually formidable enough to make avoiding them a serious consideration.

Gather your forces

Like Brotherhood, Revelations pads out its relatively short narrative with plenty of side missions, although these are both less numerous and a little more closely integrated with the storyline than before. The centerpiece this time is your brotherhood of recruitable Assassins, which (as in Brotherhood) can be signaled to help you during a fight, and can be sent off on various errands abroad (which brings you money, nets them experience points and can eventually open foreign cities up for Assassin conquest).

As you slowly conquer Constantinople by taking back Assassin Dens (analogous to Brotherhood’s Borgia Towers), you’ll earn the right to recruit up to 12 Assassin helpers, who now come with short introductory quests. Where in Brotherhood you just had to rescue them from angry guards, you might now have to beat a prospective recruit in a race, or catch one as they’re picking pockets, or rescue one’s wife and daughter from a Templar madman.

Next page: So how's the story?

Then, once they’ve done enough to reach level 10, you’ll be able to assign them full-time to a Den, which kicks off a new quest in which they’ll need Ezio’s help to track down a local troublemaker (actually one of the multiplayer characters). They’ll fail, of course, but the attempt will raise their level cap to 15; once they reach it, they can complete the second half of their assassination quest and will be permanently assigned to their Den, thereby protecting it from attack.

That’s another thing – your Dens, once captured, can be targeted and attacked by Templars. See, this time around, your “infamy” – the little meter that fills whenever you steal, murder or start fights with guards – actually means something. It’s been replaced by “Templar awareness,” and if it fills up, you’ll have a short grace period to whittle it back down by bribing heralds and killing witnesses. After that, the Templars will try to take back one of your unsecured Dens.

If that happens, you’ll be able to jump into a tower-defense minigame, which – despite technically being a punishment – is one of Revelations’ most enjoyable new additions, inviting you to set up Assassins with crossbows and guns on rooftops to guard against waves of marauding Templars and their occasional siege engines. Cannon fire and Ezio’s hidden gun can be used to thin the Templar ranks quickly, and eventually, you’ll unlock defenses including grenadiers, hand-to-hand fighters and barricades with gun-turret emplacements.

The other side tasks mainly involve scanning areas for ancient books lost to history (a less interesting replacement for the last two games’ paintings, which apparently would have been anathema in the Muslim world), and taking on faction quests, of which there are two. No, not two factions – two quests, one for the Mercenaries and one for the Thieves (the Courtesans of earlier games are replaced by squads of belly-dancing Romani, incidentally). They’re still enjoyable, but after the intimidating wealth of side missions in Brotherhood, the offerings in Revelations seem disappointingly sparse.

Now the bad news

You may have noticed that, up until this point, we haven’t said much about Revelations’ story. More so than in a lot of other modern games, the storyline of Assassin’s Creed is central to the experience of playing the games, and while scaling walls and leaping across rooftops is fun, devoted fans have gotten heavily invested in the history-manipulating Templars, the mysterious First Civilization and the development of Ezio and Desmond as characters.

And then, of course, there’s the question of just what the hell happened at the end of Brotherhood, which had one of the most frustrating, confusing cliffhanger endings since Halo 2. The good news is that at least one of the big questions Brotherhood left us with is answered (somewhat unceremoniously) in the game’s opening act.

The bad news is that, if you’re hoping for another epic storyline that sees Ezio and Desmond grow and develop in interesting ways, you’re going to be disappointed. First, let’s talk about Ezio’s narrative: while the previous two games saw him dismantling and undermining conspiracies run by colorful historical figures, this one sees him trying to find the keys to a library before a bunch of generic Templar nobodies (who never really have a chance in hell of finding them anyway). The “real” villains aren’t revealed until fairly late in the game, and when they are, they tend to bite the dust before they do anything too villainous or memorable. They don’t even seem that bad, really, which makes it less than satisfying when Ezio finally slides his blades in.

Also, none of the allies we got to know over the last two games return in Revelations. Considering this is purportedly Ezio’s final adventure, it would have been nice to see at least a few of them get a proper send-off. Instead, Ezio gets a handful of new allies who are either A) utterly devoid of personality, or B) charming, but don’t get enough screen time to really leave their mark. The only real standout is Ezio’s romance with bookshop owner Sofia Sartor, which – despite feeling a little forced and awkward – nevertheless gives Ezio a chance to finally put aside his air of dry, world-weary confidence and show a little glimmer of his old cocky charm.

At certain points, Ezio’s narrative gives way to a second one – that of Altair, the protagonist of the first Assassin’s Creed, who’s stored his memories in the keys Ezio’s trying to track down. These six memories – which take place years before, immediately after, and then years after the first game – are a fun change of pace and an opportunity to return repeatedly to the familiar fortress of Masyaf. They’re also some of the more memorable parts of the game, especially for longtime fans of the series, but they’d have been even more memorable if they hadn’t been so short.

Then there’s Desmond. As interesting as he became in Brotherhood, he spends Revelations in a coma – or, more accurately, confined to Animus Island, a dreamlike but dull environment where he’s occasionally visited by his enigmatic mentor, Subject 16, and listens to the voices of his Assassin friends as they fret about his condition. Here, after collecting enough Animus Data Fragments (which replace the collectible feathers and flags of previous games), you’ll be able to jump into a handful of first-person puzzle levels that reveal key things about Desmond’s past, filling in the details of events that fans kind of knew about already.

 

The levels themselves seem at least partly inspired by Portal, with Desmond creating platforms and ramps to work through stark, futuristic environments, and they’re an enjoyable departure from the central gameplay. However, their voiceovers and static-image projections don’t really add anything new or interesting to Desmond’s character. If anything, they just flesh out his backstory a little, and in that respect they feel like a missed opportunity. Especially since they replace the brilliant Glyph and Cluster puzzles, which provided a measure of subversive social commentary that’s completely absent here.

To be fair, all three plotlines build toward a genuinely great finale that’s in turns explosive, then touching, then explosive again. Until then, however, it plods and meanders through a storyline that, while serviceably interesting for a videogame plot, feels flat, disappointingly underdeveloped and well below the series’ usual standards.

Next page: The multiplayer, and the verdict

Search and destroy

There’s one area in which Revelations doesn’t disappoint even a little, and that’s multiplayer. The stealth-based, somewhat solitary hunt-or-be-hunted action from Brotherhood is back, and this time it’s brought a slew of new refinements, modes, maps and customization options. It also brings a bunch of social features, including customizable profiles and automated challenge ladders for your friends, as well as an in-game store that sells new perks, abilities and modifications for your avatars.

At its heart, though, it’s still the same hunt-and-be-hunted gameplay that won us over in Brotherhood, as you and a handful of other players – whether on your own or in teams – are set loose in smallish villages, cities and palaces (populated by a bunch of wandering lookalikes and random characters) to stealthily murder each other. Success largely means relying on environmental hiding spots, your ability to blend in with the crowds and assorted Templar tricks to get the drop on your target, while not attracting the attention of the players out to kill you.

Revelations’ multiplayer is crammed full of little improvements, but the biggest ones are the new modes, including Deathmatch (which is a lot like the lonely Manhunt mode, but does away with both the radar and any player-character lookalikes in the crowd), Corruption (essentially a zombie mode in which one team tries to kill and convert the other) and Escort (which tasks one team with defending a VIP and the other team with killing them).

There’s also Artifact Assault, which turns classic capture-the-flag into a game of sneaky misdirection. Here, you’ll be tasked with stealing the enemy team’s flag and escaping before any of them chase you down, immobilize you with traps or otherwise stab you to death. Tearing ass through enemy territory (in which you’re vulnerable to attack) with two or three opponents on your heels can be a genuinely pulse-pounding experience, and it makes safely reaching your home base with the enemy flag extremely satisfying.

As fun as playing multiplayer is, however, the real incentive to playing through and leveling up your character is that doing so unlocks chunks of a parallel, multiplayer-only storyline that reveals tidbits about Templar history. As you rise through the ranks of Abstergo, you’ll be treated to occasional videos and (more frequently) text/image files that offer a glimpse of the AC universe from the bad guys’ point of view. It’s here that the series’ conspiracy fans can get their fix, although getting to level 50 and seeing everything requires a considerably bigger time investment than simply running through single-player.

Is it better than…?

Assassin’s Creed II? Depends. If we’re talking purely from a gameplay standpoint, then that's a yes, but Assassin’s Creed isn’t a franchise that can be judged purely from a gameplay standpoint. Its story and characters were too important to the overall experience. Taking them into account, ACII stands as the best game in the series thus far. Revelations may have amazing multiplayer, and it may have added and refined a few game mechanics, but as a whole experience, ACII still stands above it.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood? No. Well, its multiplayer is definitely better (although it’s really just refining something that was already great), but Revelations feels as though it just adds a handful of bells and whistles to Brotherhood’s formula. And where Brotherhood’s story seemed weak and flabby compared to ACII, it feels epic next to Revelations’ meandering, treasure-hunting plot. Also, while Revelations arguably tries to make its side missions more meaningful, there are noticeably fewer than there were in Brotherhood, and none of them involve piloting Leonardo Da Vinci’s bizarre inventions – or anything more awesome than a horse-drawn carriage, for that matter.

Batman: Arkham City? No. Arkham City is prettier than Revelations, its side quests are more compelling, its city is more fun to explore and its villains (however many of them there are) are better defined and more fun to take down. True, Revelations’ Constantinople feels like an actual, living city, while Arkham feels like a hostile, thug-infested prison camp, and climbing buildings as Ezio is neck-and-neck with Batman’s grappling hook as a fun way to get around. In the end, though, Rocksteady’s superhero sim wins out as the better overall experience.


For those who skipped straight to the end

While it brings some undeniable improvements to the series, Revelations feels like one step forward, two steps back. Its gameplay and multiplayer are still fantastic, but they come at the expense of a lackluster storyline and a shorter overall experience. Instead of being the exclamation point at the end of Ezio’s story, Revelations feels more like an ellipsis.

More Info

Release date: Nov 15 2011 - Xbox 360
Nov 29 2011 - PC
Nov 15 2011 - PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Franchise: Assassin's Creed
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Language, Violence, Mild Sexual Themes
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

We Recommend

51 comments

  • Darkhawk - November 14, 2011 2:46 p.m.

    Great review. Think I'll hold off until it drops to $10. Here's waiting for the proper ACIII.
  • sleepyMexican45 - November 14, 2011 2:47 p.m.

    Haven't bothered with AC since 2 mainly because the 'assassination' parts felt shit and secondary :/ I doubt it's changed in the latest 2 games. Arkham's bat signal is calling me!
  • obviouslyadouche - November 14, 2011 2:47 p.m.

    WAAAAAAAT AN 8, thats a great and completely acceptable score for any game, great review Mikel
  • ncurry2 - November 14, 2011 2:52 p.m.

    It's so frustrating. I understand the Activision logic that yearly releases = more games = more games to sell = more profit. But come on. Didn't people see what Activision did to Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk (I was really hoping the same was going to happen to CoD this year but that definitely didn't seem to happen.) People really need to stop supporting this garbage strategy.
  • bryce255 - November 14, 2011 3:11 p.m.

    It seems like the theme of this year is less than stellar story lines. I've always found CoD's and Battlefield's story a bit boring, Gears of War was a bit disappointing, and now this? Some people still care about the narrative dammit! That being said, I'm still picking this up tomorrow because it seems way better then anything else out there right now aside from Arkham City and Saint's Row.
  • gmcb2011 - November 14, 2011 3:19 p.m.

    Uh...there's a game that came out a few days ago called Skyrim.
  • Dmancapri - November 14, 2011 3:35 p.m.

    Skyrim was single player only-no multiplayer to speak of. games with both are looking good to me, but i'm an optimist.
  • UberNoob - November 14, 2011 3:22 p.m.

    What about Skyrim? There's still Bioshock Infinite which will release next year (I believe in February). Let's hope next year will be a year with storyline in mind...
  • Burdmayn - November 14, 2011 3:32 p.m.

    *cough*Uncharted 3*cough*
  • UberNoob - November 14, 2011 3:18 p.m.

    Could have been better. It seems multiplayer was more of a focus in Revelations. I guess it's worth a rent...
  • MysterEnygma - November 14, 2011 3:28 p.m.

    that ACR image of Desmond is funny, he looks like a drug addict with a "derp!" expression
  • Pwnz0r3d - November 14, 2011 3:29 p.m.

    To be honest, i thought the story to AC2 was rather dull. All it was was just Ezio running around killing the boss of the Templar he just killed, and repeats this process until he reaches Rodrigo Borgia, and *I suppose SPOILER, but you really shouldnt be here unless you completed the second game anyways at least* doesn't even kill him in the end, which left me with a HUGE "then what was the whole point of the game?" feeling. It felt like there was no real sense of purpose, and the bad guys he encountered were all killed literally minutes after they were introduced. It was a great game, oh hell yeah, but the story to me seemed the weakest aspect(I'm not saying it was unbearable, it suited its purpose, just not as well as it should have for a revenge-fueled plot.) of the game as a whole. I enjoyed Brotherhoods story more, because they kept it simple, but not monotonous as in a "Oh hey theres a Templar here, STAB STAB oh crap there goes his boss gotta get him too" mentality. It stuck to one to two bad guys at once, one huge city, and you dealt with one of them in a satisfying end battle. I will pick this up at some point though, even if the story seems lackluster.
  • ypab - November 14, 2011 3:30 p.m.

    8?!?! I was hoping for a higher score... I hope the story isn't too dissapointing.
  • Burdmayn - November 14, 2011 3:35 p.m.

    So it looks like the verdict on this game is the same on just about every site. I'm extremely excited to play it, but it sounds like the story will disappoint me. Oh well, as long as it provides some closure and sets us up for ACIII.
  • Gibsonsg527 - November 14, 2011 3:43 p.m.

    I am getting tired of these yearly releases.
  • BoxingMarco - November 14, 2011 4:21 p.m.

    So.....wait for Black Friday/week after release price drop? I was gonna pick it up tonight at midnight, and I am a HUGE Assassin's Creed fan, but after reading this review I feel comfortable waiting for the price drop or Black Friday. I know I can trust Mikel's review seeing as how he's as much of an AC fan as I, probably more. I'm already swamped playing Skyrim and Uncharted 3 as it is. Well, thanks for the heads up Mikel!
  • Mooshon - November 14, 2011 4:28 p.m.

    Great read that Mikel. Having played and loved the series so far I'll be pretty disappointed by the sounds of it. I can put up with the great, but identical campaign gameplay but the main thing I was after was a bigger punch and real closure to this storyline. Think this has slipped quite low on my massive games-to-buy list. Two quick questions Mikel: - have they added any end-game for your money? What is the point of all that shop income? - can you own spear weapons this time?
  • GamesRadarMikelReparaz - November 14, 2011 5:07 p.m.

    Sure thing: The money's used for the same things it was used for in Brotherhood; weapons, landmarks, more shops, etc. The difference this time is that, once you've reached the stage where you've got a ton of otherwise useless cash piling up, you can turn your attention to Mediterranean Defense (the away missions for your Assassins). Once you take over a city, most of the new missions actually cost money to pursue, so bottomless coffers come in handy. Also, while I didn't buy every weapon in the game, I'm pretty sure the big weapons are still limited to axes and swords; no keeping spears this time, sorry. Thanks for reading!
  • Mooshon - November 15, 2011 1:34 a.m.

    Cheers for the reply. The tweaked away missions sound pretty interesting. Just wish they'd done.... more. I will pick this up at some point, as for their short lifespan, the AC games really are the most addictive games going. Plus the wife likes the scenery...
  • garnsr - November 14, 2011 4:31 p.m.

    Running down people on horseback was the only thing that I didn't get tired of in the first AC. Too bad that's gone away. I spent a ton of time buying up building s and things in Brotherhood, and really enjoyed that, so a meandering story might not bother me as much it bothered Mikel. But, I'm finding Uncharted 3 underwhelming, the way you find clues that the bad guys don't have, go to a place no one has been in millenia, then when you come back out suddenly the bad guys have figured everything out and are waiting for you. It sounds like something like that happens in Revelations, which bums me out. As much as I've enjoyed the games this generation, the newest sequels are getting harder to enjoy as much as earlier iterations.

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