When Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was released last year, plenty of gamers were asking whether that would be considered the third iteration of the series. After all, Ubisoft had previously hinted this particular storyline would be a three-act structure, so it’s safe to assume that would be the “Assassin’s Creed III” players had been hoping for.
It wasn’t, and sadly, it’s the same case here. Ubisoft has decided to take a detour on the way to ACIII, and Revelations is the final stepping stone in that deviation. And while Revelations adds a few nice features to the gameplay and plenty of fun in a nicely crafted multiplayer, the story essentially stops altogether.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the final chapter of Ezio’s journey. Now a grown man in his 50s, Ezio is a battle-weary assassin, although still a charmer and hit with the ladies. His travels have seen him head to Constantinople, where elements of the Byzantine empire still control the city.
His quest is to uncover a secret treasure hidden inside a vault by his ancestor, Altair – the protagonist of the first game – that could help end the war against the Templars. Of course, they want it too. Your job is to find the keys to the door, hidden throughout Constantinople, open the vault and find what’s inside.
Meanwhile, in 2012, devoted players would recall Desmond was forced to kill one of his companions after being forced by a god-like creature called Juno. It was a shocking moment for the series, but there is little payoff here. Desmond is put into the Animus, and is warned by a digital representation of Subject 16 that his mind is actually cracking. Complete Ezio’s memories, he says, and you’ll be fine.
So off you go.
If you’re familiar with the AC series then you’ll be glad to know not much has changed. You have an open world to explore, being able to climb up and over buildings, jump across rooftops and blend into crowds to avoid suspicious guards.
Combat was one of the worst parts of the original AC, but since ACII it has continued to improve. It’s not perfect, but hacking and slashing away is still enjoyable and fluid, although the targeting system can get confused and wander from enemy to enemy still.
A couple of new additions include the ability to actually pickpocket while attacking someone, and the ability to use the hookblade to swing over an enemy while running towards them, taking them down in the process.
Unfortunately, the hookblade is the only major new weapon you’ll get to control, as opposed to the previous two games where Leonardo Da Vinci would provide you with cool gadgets to design and try out. But it’s a nice addition, giving you an extra bit of length to claw on to rooftops without falling over. It makes jumping over buildings a lot easier too. That said, I found the climbing system and controls scheme is still a little clunky, so you might find yourself jumping off buildings when you actually wanted to climb on top of them – be careful.
There are also ziplines set up around the city for you to hook onto with the blade – great for quick getaways, and extremely enjoyable to assassinate from.
Jumping puzzles are back here, and one again, lots of fun. As much as you hate falling down time after time by grabbing the wrong ledge, it also gives you a sense of accomplishment when you climb a huge castle wall or the inside of a cathedral.
One particular jumping puzzle has you run alongside a speeding boat down an underground river, so you’re forced to look out as quickly as possible. I’ve found the series is most interesting when you have to complete these puzzles in a certain amount of time, and the only complaint here is that there aren’t more of them.
There are a couple of new additions to gameplay, including the ability to upgrade buildings and a tower defense mode. But one of the new additions, bomb crafting, is simply fantastic and should definitely be carried over to the next installment.
You can use different shells, components and parts to make different bombs. You can create shrapnel bombs to kill, others that stick to walls and detonate when touched, and non-lethal bombs to distract guards. And covering guards in lamb’s blood from a sticky bomb never gets old. It’s a lot of fun and allows you to experiment with different forms of combat. You may decide to throw a bomb to distract guards instead of tackling them with your sword – the autonomy is welcome.
Another interesting new addition is the use of the aforementioned tower defense mode. Just as you did in the previous game, Ezio has to recapture some districts of the city from the Byzantines by killing a Templar and then setting a single fire atop a tower. This allows you to upgrade buildings to boost your income. But Ubisoft has thrown in a bit of a challenge here, as the occupiers may show up again to claim their district back. When that occurs, you need to rush to that district where the game will have you enter a new type of gameplay, where you set different types of obstacles to stop the invading forces from recapturing your claimed area.
I’ve heard a little bit of grumbling about this new feature but I wasn’t bothered by it. I actually welcomed the challenge, as it makes you think a little more strategically than you would in normal hand-to-hand combat. I did have to defend my territory about four or five times during the course of the game, but that may be lower or higher on other difficulty levels.
Multiplayer is back and there are a host of new additions like the ability to more successfully block an attack and get points in the process. You’ll also get more points if you kill your target while hidden, and a new snappy interface makes playing a lot easier as well.
The multiplayer mode in AC is a great concept, the only problem with it is that players don’t seem to want to obey the rules. For every stealthy assassin there are players bounding across rooftops. But it’s easy to slip into a game, and if you enjoy it there’s no reason you won’t be able to play for hours at a time.
Unfortunately, this is where the praise ends for AC, because while the gameplay is solid and enjoyable, there’s nothing much beneath the surface. I’ve said before one of the greatest inclusions of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood were the subject 16 puzzles. They added an element of political intrigue and even commentary that at times was downright scary
Solving puzzles that show various political and military leaders were actually in control of the Apple of Eden itself was a shocking and thrilling moment, and added a huge amount of depth to the conspiracy. They clarified the stakes involved in finding the Pieces of Eden. Unfortunately no such commentary is to be found here, and the game is worse for it.
There’s an alternative, but feels extremely shoehorned. As the player collects fragments of memories in the main story, you’re able to return to the “limbo” state of the Animus and guide Desmond through a journey that reveals more of his childhood growing up in the Assassin order.
The most interesting part about this interlude is that all these puzzles are completed in the first-person.
It adds a nice layer to the gameplay, but doesn’t contribute anything to the main narrative of the history of the artifacts and why exactly the main characters are fighting for them. I remember feeling completely shocked after seeing that US presidents and ancient military leaders had the Apple under their control in the game’s ethos – I felt no such shock here.
There was simply nothing to be shocked about. And that’s fine, a change of pace is welcome and giving Desmond some depth isn’t completely unwelcome. But these journeys don’t deliver that information in a way that’s interesting, only tedious. They’re optional, but more work could have been done to make them at least interesting.
More and more, I think games are going to have to justify their existence. What is a game’s purpose? Why was it made? A title like Heroes of Neworth is designed for people to have fun for a few hours – but others, like Assassin’s Creed, have demanded a call for attention. And in Revelations, I think the series abandons its intentions a little.
Assassin’s Creed has promised its players a narrative. That is its purpose. From the very beginning, the series has been focused on the race to save the world from a cataclysmic event in 2012, against the backdrop of a war between two rival factions that have been battling against each other for thousands of years.
But as far as Revelations is concerned, the anticipation of this event barely exists. It provides background knowledge on Ezio and delivers nothing of consequence until the very end of the game.
This is extremely alarming – the series has lost its soul. Just as Guitar Hero flogged itself to death, Ubisoft is in real danger of lessening the impact of its narrative by delivering too much of the window-dressing and not enough substance.
Let me be clear though – this is not a badly made game. The visuals are gorgeous. Gameplay is rich and varied enough to keep things interesting, and the voice acting – minus the horrible accents – is decent enough. But it’s missing narrative elements from the previous titles that make it feel so obvious this is just a monetary stepping stone on the way to Assassin’s Creed III, which will be set in a new era with a new character.
So make no mistake, this is an enjoyable ride for those who have invested their time and money into the series. Its world is well crafted, and the variety in gameplay keeps things interesting for the 15-20 hours you’ll devote to the main story. But be weary – for a game called Revelations there are very few to be found until the end. A cut-scene at the end of the game sets things up for the third installment, and for those eager to advance the story it provides some juicy tidbits about the so-called First Civilisation, but honestly, did it require slogging through an additional game? It’s difficult to defend.
If you’re a dedicated fan and want more of the series, you’ll have fun despite being disappointed at the lack of exposition. As for the casual players, there are unfortunately very few reasons to check this out.