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