Assassin’s Creed: Revelations Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: November 15, 2011 (November 29, 2011 for PC)

Do you like to stab dudes? I know you already stabbed a bunch of guys for the past couple years straight, I just felt compelled to ask you this question. In just a mere year, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations has been released, following up last year’s Brotherhood. I can’t say that putting out a game every year has helped the series (because it hasn’t), but Assassin’s Creed: Revelations holds just enough of the series’ strong points even though the law of diminishing returns continues to rear its ugly head.

Remember Brotherhood‘s stupid ending? Even though this game doesn’t even explain why that happened or dwell on it at all (outside of two throwaway lines of dialogue), Revelations picks up right after this moment, leaving Desmond’s fragmented mind inside the Animus. He is unconscious and has everything at stake unless he can divide the memories of Altaïr, Ezio, and himself in time. Basically this gives us an excuse to play as Ezio and Altaïr… again. Ezio’s immediate story picks up in his midlife crisis. Rather than purchasing a motorcycle and getting a tattoo, Ezio has focused on getting in Altaïr’s library of secrets which is conveniently locked. Five keys means five keyholes and Ezio has to seek said keys out in Constantinople to see the secrets this vault has kept for centuries.

Altaïr was retroactively made a cooler character.

Yeah and that’s kind of it. You aren’t told what is really in this vault but Ezio is determined to find it before the Templars. It could have been Altaïr’s secret stash of Playboy magazines for all I was told. Regardless of the contents, the story doesn’t feel dire or urgent. You need these keys to progress for some mysterious secret and that’s it. Not having a sense of urgency doesn’t do the story any favors.

Not only that, but the game doesn’t make good on its promise of “revelations.” Altaïr’s story after the original Assassin’s Creed is fleshed out, which is easily the most interesting narrative aspect of the game, but nothing opened my eyes in the way the title infers. Ezio’s story meets an end, and is a little heartwarming, but I wanted more as it wasn’t handled in the best way and feels a little anticlimactic and abrupt.

Interesting story threads are hinted at, like controversy surrounding the Sultan’s successor or Ezio’s love life, but not much comes out of it. Although it can be said about most of the game, I can’t help but feel that the narrative is just filler.

Ezio has aged gracefully and has traded his bombastic personality for a calmer, wiser (and a bit more boring) one.

The story isn’t all bad, as the characters are well-written and give great, convincing performances. Ezio is still charming and some of the new characters are worthy additions to the franchise. Ezio’s schtick is an act we’ve seen before, but he is older and wiser, giving him a more respectable position. Altaïr, however, has gone through the biggest changes. By doing some recasting and giving a better script, they have retroactively made him a better, more interesting character and he steals the show. Not like there was much to steal, but his narrative threads make up some of the best in the game.

Similar to my complaints with Brotherhood, the missions don’t make me feel as much as a badass as they should. To me, an assassin is someone who works in the shadows or crowds to eliminate important figures, something that Assassin’s Creed II absolutely nailed. Mission types just don’t match up and seem a tad bland especially in comparison. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they are bad, they just didn’t make me feel as special, usually needing to tail someone or just run somewhere. I usually just felt like a man who murders a lot of people rather than an assassin. Yes, there is a difference.

Just killing more dudes. The usual.

Part of the reason these missions rubbed me the wrong way could be blamed on the stingy fail states that can be further blamed on the controls. Moving Ezio when calm and careful is intuitive through the puppeteer system the series has stuck to, but this control method completely crumbles under pressure. During high-adrenaline chases, since your thumb is on the X (PS3) or A (360) button to run faster, the camera control is basically nonexistent. Blind jumps lead to blind falls which lead to a target getting just out of range, meaning mission failure. It usually only takes one mistake to botch the mission which doesn’t help given the situation with the sometimes-shoddy controls.

It doesn’t end in chase sequences though. I choose to go stealth when given the option, but when it is literally forced on me, it becomes cumbersome. Too many missions cause a desynchronization if you happen to get caught, but the game can feel downright unfair and limited when this happens. Touching back on the control issues, if Ezio doesn’t do what you want him to do while trying to be discrete, your cover is blown and the mission has to be started over from the last checkpoint.

Sometimes it was my fault, but I almost always felt like I wasn’t given much chance to correct myself and the narrow-minded desynchronizations didn’t help either. For a game that gives you numerous items and weapons for dealing with situations, these rigid options seem to go against what the game should advocate: freedom. It’s like they want to grant you this freedom, but can’t figure out a way to design around it. A few good missions are peppered in throughout (although ironically they have harsh fail states as well), but the ratio isn’t too strong. I miss the days of infiltrating and eliminating important figures like a true assassin.

Just killing normal, non-important guards.

Since objectives don’t hinge much on being an actual assassin, fighting in groups has been the method to lean on. One of few fantastic contributions made in Brotherhood was the combat and even though it wasn’t perfect, it was an excellent jumping off point. It took what Batman made, threw some extreme gore in it, and made it a stylish and fun to drive your blade inside groups of enemies. The “slow motion makes everything better” law still applies and really emphasizes the horrible things Ezio does to his opponents. Kill animations have ratcheted up the violence and are probably the biggest contribution Revelations has made to combat.

If that last statement came off as odd, that’s because it was. If the biggest improvement was having new animations, that means no mechanical improvements were made and that is a problem. That means execution streaks are still easily broken, dodging can still be shoddy, and countering still requires one too many buttons. The timing required for countering doesn’t lend itself to pressing two buttons at once so, especially right after Batman: Arkham City, it just feels like a missed opportunity.

In fact, even though I still like it overall, the combat has actually been slowed down and made a bit less fun. Janissaries are the new badasses in Constantinople and they pack some pretty decent armor. Armor so decent that it takes way too long to actually murder these guys. They dodge almost every hit and are pretty reluctant to strike, meaning you can’t even counter. Also, ranged enemies that are unreachable by normal weapons hide out in the vast city and take annoying pot shots at you while in battle or free running. These assholes stop the flow, forcing you halt what you are doing and shoot them before you proceed. The battles that Brotherhood worked so hard to speed up almost falls to waste with the additions of these guys. It’s just an example of changing things that didn’t need changing.

This Janissary is getting what he deserves.

Although the same could be said about the Templar awareness system and its correlation to the new Den Defense. Notoriety has played a big role in the previous installments, but none have been as tedious as Revelation‘s interpretation of it. When you kill people or buy places, your “Templar awareness” rises. When it gets too high, they launch an attack on your part of the city’s den and lock out your shops. Getting back a contested den leads you to the tower defense-esque minigame that you must do repeatedly. This would be all fun and dandy if the minigame itself was fun and dandy.

As you can tell by the sound of typing voice, it isn’t. Not only did I feel somewhat punished by stabbing people (this is Assassin’s Creed, right?), it just felt incredibly tedious to have to go back and forth and win back my dens in this mediocre minigame. The problem with tower defense part is that it isn’t particularly deep or engaging. Losing at the last round because you unknowingly screwed the pooch at the start of the waves is far too prevalent and just feels like a grand ol’ waste of time. Honestly, as a badass assassin, I’d rather go down there myself and stab as many soldiers in the face and neck as possible. I don’t want to stand on a roof and order people around, but they didn’t do a good job of convincing me to want to do so either.

Get ready for boredom.

Crafting bombs, however, was something I didn’t need much convincing on. Smoke bombs have been a popular tool in past entries, but that was just the tip. There are multiple types of bombs like ones that specialize in tactics, killing, and diversions. Even though it is disappointing that the missions don’t call for these methods very often, making a bomb to improvise a strategy makes me feel like I made my own way to go about my situation. This freedom is something I wished the game had more of, but these bombs are a good start.

Bomb making doesn’t go off without a hitch though. There are about ten types of bombs ready for use, each spread within three categories listed above with the shell type being decided my the player. It would be good to carry a little of each, right? Sadly, the game doesn’t offer you this freedom. If you want poison bombs, you can’t also have a shrapnel bomb in the same pouch; it’s all or nothing. Unless you know what you are going against, creating a bomb is usually just a shot in the dark in what one you think will be the most useful. I felt limited in that sense because having one of each would have allowed for greater possibilities.

Setting a trap is difficult when anything can set it off.

Like Rome, Constantinople is one enormous city that serves as your personal jungle gym. I would have liked to have more, smaller cities, but given the sheer beauty and size of Constantinople, it’s hard to complain. It’s a city ripe with detail, and even though the color palette isn’t as diverse or interesting as Renaissance Italy, it still amazes. Buildings are insanely tall and true to their real-life counterparts, giving it the series’ signature “Holy crap that actually exists” feeling.

Since these buildings are so tall, navigating has been sped up in a few ways. The oft-talked about hookblade grants you the ability climb a bit faster and zip through the ziplines mysteriously scattered throughout the rooftops in the vast city. It isn’t much, but the climbing is still something the series’ can call its own. When the controls cooperate, climbing around can be a joy.

Climb it. You know you want to.

One of the Brotherhood‘s other key improvements was the multiplayer. I immediately became infatuated with the new stealthy, methodical take to the online frontier in the previous game, so I was hoping the see some refinements and new features on top of the idea I already fell in love with. Revelations makes good on this promise and keeps everything the game had going for it and adds to it.

Kill trains are not as common now as the game rewards being stealthy in a more important way. The sneakier you are, the shorter and more discrete your kill animation is, meaning you can get back to looking like an NPC as soon as possible. Stunning has also been made a lot better. Taking care of you pursuer in Brotherhood was a tad unfair because it gave the prey the shaft most of the time. Predators still get priority (as they should) but contested kills even the playing field and make the game a bit more fun. Contested kills give the prey some points for being alert and inhibit the killer for a few seconds. It’s a good step to remedy an issue many had with previous game. I might be preaching to the choir, but Assassin’s Creed should definitely be taken as a serious contender in the online space.

One of the best multiplayer modes to grace gaming.

I realize this review sounds negative, but buried beneath these issues Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is still a good game. It’s just hard to accept it as much because it refuses to evolve past being “just another Assassin’s Creed game.” The problem is that you’ve seen almost all of these mechanics and having just a year between releases highlights issues along with failing to keep the ideas as fresh as they should be. New things it does don’t always hit and it hasn’t done anything to fix the series’ blatant issues, but the strengths still remain, although you might have to dig deeper to discover them. Hopefully next year when I ask you if you still want to stab dudes, the response will be a bit more enthusiastic. Given the direction the series is going, I hope you (and I) are still interested.

+Kill animations are gloriously disgusting
+Gigantic, beautiful city with likable story characters
+Climbing has been sped up and is still reasonably cool
+Multiplayer has been made faster and better
+Making bombs is (mostly) a quality addition
-Fail states are still infuriating
-Gripes with controls, along with other mechanics, are almost no longer tolerable
-Most missions don’t really make you feel like an assassin
-The “been there, done that” feeling is almost all too prevalent
-Lacks revelations and has a reasonably lame (or just tame) ending
-Tower defense, along with the Templar awareness system, is tedious

Final Score: 8/10

Platform Differences: The PS3 version comes with the original Assassin’s Creed already on the disc for you to play. I was not a fan of the game back in 2007 when I played it, so it’s a novelty at best. There aren’t any trophies or any other incentive to go back, so unless you really like the first one, you might not even care. If you never played it, it will be really hard to go back, given the series’ many refinements over the years.

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