Ubisoft is convinced they can churn out a full Assasssin’s Creed (AC) franchise game year after year, and keep up the quality and the interest in their product. I’ve had some time with the game - a good long time, actually, as I have committed to completing most quests and have been following this series closely since its inception. I’m not interested in spoiling for you, so I’ll endeavor to keep the plotline revelations to a minimum. That being said, the story is the most compelling part of this game - I will briefly discuss the beginning.
The story opens with Desmond on a hazy island with Clay, A.K.A. Abstergo’s Subject 16, who seems to be helping our hero recover from the mental damage suffered at the end of the previous game. We’re given clues as to what happened by way of hearing the voices of Shaun and Rebecca discussing the real world and Desmond’s current condition: ultimately his mind is trapped in the Animus which is the only thing keeping him alive. To help recover from the damage, there are two tasks – improve Desmond’s synchronization with a much older Ezio, as well as come to grips with Desmond’s own hidden past.
The science fiction that supports the world of AC interests me, and I look forward to the twists and turns. The previous games have been very reluctant to reveal too much about the present-day Desmond Miles, and while his story segments have been the most interesting in terms of overall progression, frankly the controls have always felt shallow and very limited. This hasn’t changed much, but this time you don’t control him as you did in AC, AC2 or even AC:Brotherhood. While on the island in his mind, you can enter into shadows of his own memories with climbing puzzles that reminded me, more than a little, of Portal (sans the portal guns, and instead using floating blocks to traverse the 3D puzzle environments). I rather enjoyed the puzzle game coupled with the narrative. It is a well executed series of segments that reveals a little about who Desmond really is, and while some of the puzzles and controls are a little clunky, it’s serviceable enough to get what you need.
The real meat-and-potatoes of Revelations lies in Desmond’s reliving Ezio’s later years, as his italian ancestor hunts down Templars bent on opening the locked library of Altair. There are five keys, only one of which that has been found and is currently in the possession of the a Templar. The hunt leads Ezio to Constantinople (no They Might Be Giants references here, folks). Most of the game takes place in this setting, and while a few game elements have been updated or upgraded, not much has changed. You still synch and reveal the map segments ala climbing towers, as well as taking over parts of the city by defeating the local Templar influence. There are plot missions as well as faction missions (mercenary, thief and Romani), as well as being able to control your noteriety by either paying off town criers or executing templar officials.
Eagle Vision is back, and you can (much as you could in Brotherhood) view the trail of where your target has been. You can now see patrol paths and their stop points within this mode as well. There are a few instances where you need to use it to identify somone in a crowd, as well as locating special Assassin clues. The combat, including the controls is the same as previous AC titles, with two exceptions – one of your blades gets upgraded to have a hook on it, and you can now craft and use up to three types of bombs at any given time. The hook lends itself to travel as well as combat; where in combat you can use it to flip over, trip, or slam an opponent- it can also be used to rush past an attacker to escape. In travel, it helps add reach while climbing as well as the ability to flip over people in the way, or even grab onto zip lines scattered all over the rooftops. The most interesting use I found from the hook blade, however, was the ability to catch a ledge without pulling yourself up. It extends your jumping range slightly, but more importantly, means you aren’t landing ON the roof with your intended target.
Bombs aren’t critical to the game, but you might be interested to know that you can craft and use lethal, non-lethal, and distraction bombs at the many stations situated around Constantinople, and using them is as simple as using the crossbow or pistol. The crafting is all self-explanatory and there are a ton of items available to build and create – the problem is, it takes up so much of the game in terms of focus that it can be annoying. When you loot bodies, you’ll find components for bombs more than you will other items such as daggers, ammo or medicine. If you aren’t building bombs then it all becomes annoying – you can sell off the stuff if you’re hard up for money, but there is no way to ignore the ton of components you’ll be handed everytime you search something.
Wait, why would I not be interested in explosives? There isn’t a need for something powerful like bombs. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is easy, almost ridiculously so. Hiding in crowds is a waste of time, and at no point with my time with the game did my notoriety feel like a hindrance -only an inconvenience- and it wasn’t like I was looking to break the game. Revelations isn’t anything more than Brotherhood with some tweaks, and stripping any challenge out of it. I disagreed with the folks complaining about Brotherhoods’ tombs being too hard to master- there were parts that were frustrating but that had to do with unclear paths, not the challenge level or overall design. I’m ok with sweating a little bit when I’m flying through a dungeon at breakneck speeds to survive. Akin to Indiana Jones running from the boulder, the excitement was in overcoming the challenge. In fact, some of the advanced movement skills are present and completely unrequired in this game. For example, the wall-climb-and-jump-to-the-side was a prerequisite for several of the hardest tombs in Brotherhood. Here? If you knew it, there was one and only one scenario I can recall using it in, and it was optional.
All of the climbing challenges are so easy a monkey could do it. Not a monkey proficient at climbing, mind you, but a slightly inebriated monkey who’d had all four thumbs removed. There is never a compelling reason to run from battle, and there are only two or three short segments where you need to stay incognito. For most of Revelations, you can be as ostentatious as you want to be and you’ll suffer no consequence. In fact, at one point I started piling corpses up in front of a town crier who had been condemning the assassin taint in the city. While people stood around listening to him rather than reacting to my grisly act, I approached him and payed my 500 gold, and he laughed in the way only a sinister person would.
The only real challenge I experienced was restraining my frustration at the frequent game crashes. The lockups seemed to stem from overloading the game on the “Risk”-like mini-game offered through managing your Assassin clan. In a nutshell, you can assign one or more assassins to missions all over the Mediterranean. You can even move your assassins from Constantinople (where you are), to the varying regions, thus being able to recruit more than just the first twelve. As you move up to 5 assassins per city, and not only can you complete missions there, you can also take over.
I had just finished up DNA sequence five of nine, and pretty much ruled the streets of every city with a full complement of assassins (both abroad and locally). I was about to head off to follow a storyline mission, so I queued everyone up to be doing something while I was gone. Not all the mission times were the same length, but I’m guessing that as several missions came back (all successful) it was too much and locked up my 360. Over, and over, and over again. The missions were clearing out with each lockup (as the autosave was being updated) so after a dozen lockups, I finally was able to play again. You can bet my stranglehold on Europe waned as I let my guild fall into disrepair.
The other broken part of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the manner in which they encourage you to keep your notoriety down. If you don’t, the Templars will attack one of your bases, and then they force you into a shallow and unimaginative tower defense game. It just didn’t fit, and there were balancing issues. What’s more, they put an achievement on the game that you need to win three such battles, one of which being mandatory. To keep yourself from being dragged into this banal minigame, all you need to do is keep notoriety down, and, by training master assassins, each one makes their assigned base imperveous to these battles. Be warned though – once you have all your bases covered you can’t get that achievement in that savegame, as there will no longer be any penalty to having a full notoriety. Not even guards taking any significant notice of you. And if they do? They die fast.
Yes, there is multiplayer, and no, it isn’t all that compelling. If they wanted to give this game longer legs, they should be looking at inFamous 2′s user generated content as a step in the right direction. The multiplayer experience is about as fun a playing deathmatch, over and over and over again.
All in all, Revelations could have been two DNA sequences in Assassin’s Creed 3, and left it at that. Yes, I got another 30 hours of Assassin’s Creed only one year later, but I’d rather have something that felt substantial - more than just buying and playing the same game I had last year. I enjoyed some of the characters, and I’d recommend a playthrough for those following the AC storyline. If someone were to ask me to recommend a good Assassin’s Creed game to start with, Revelations will be fighting for the back of the line.
As it stands Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is worth playing, but not as a premium title. The content is thin, the game isn’t as interesting, and Ubisoft shouldn’t have diluted the game to make a yearly cycle. In a glut of other games to buy during the holiday season, it just doesn’t stand out as a must-have.