Assassin’s Creed Revelations is precisely the kind of product that makes you question if it’s worth reviewing game sequels. Even though the asking price troubles the comparison, intentionally missing out on playing Revelations would be like missing out on the latest episode of a TV drama – you’re only not going to play this game if you’re planning to rage quit on the entire series. And aside from a somewhat lacking sense of forward momentum in the series right now (and concerns that a rushed Assassin’s Creed 3 will suffer the same problems), there really is no reason to miss out on playing this game. Assassin’s Creed Revelations: buy it at some point before the next one. Review ends.
But I’m obliged to write significantly more words on this game then that, maybe praise the game at large and have a good old moan about the less impressive minutiae of the experience. At some point I’ll say something sweeping like ‘This is the least rewarding Assassin’s Creed game since the first instalment’. In fact, since I’ve already said it, lets start there. Revelations is all too familiar, yet all too hard to criticise. When it comes to it, the core game remains as compelling, as slickly presented and as fun to play as ever. Moaning that there’s so little that is genuinely new in the game seems petty, yet it’s the thought that will nag at you as traverse the stunning city of Constantinople with the same winning combination of wall climbing, haystack jumping and plain old fashioned stabbing that has served so well up till now.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations tells us the story of present-day Assassin Desmond Miles’ search for a way out from the genetic memory simulating ‘Animus’ after the shock-induced coma he was put into at the end of Brotherhood. His search frames that of his ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze’s own search for the final secrets of original protagonist Altair in the Ottoman Empire. On the way, Ezio hob-nobs with the usual array of historical figures, gets the Assassin order out of dire straits in a cosmopolitan city, falls in love and stabs a lot of people in a variety of gruesome and sometimes hilarious ways.
Excepting the way that some of the city’s character is somewhat obscured by the familiarity of Assassin’s Creed’s systems, 16th Century Constantinople is a perfect setting for some classic Assassin’s Creed gameplay, along with some stunning scenery, a healthy amount of conspiracy and a lot of political drama. The story and the primary missions that facilitates it is as fun, as silly and as brilliant as the best of the series so far. A smattering of Altair-focused missions give that character the effective conclusion you never knew he deserved and a few Desmond-specific memories flesh out his past with some surprisingly well-written monologues. Based on these features alone the game is a success and worthy of the rating I eventually get round to giving the game. But it’s not without its problems.
The least of these problems is that a lot of what would appear on the fact sheet as a ‘new feature’ has the air of the expansion pack about it. Bomb synthesis is a case in point, giving you bombs to kill, disrupt and distract. Are they fun and easy to use? Yes. But it’s not like the series doesn’t already have enough ways to take down targets, particularly when the core combat remains exactly as half brilliant as it has been since Assassin’s Creed 2. It’s a system that features some fantastic finishing moves, but the same old complex system of grabs, kicks, counters and attacks that inevitably descends into button mashing against an uncannily orderly queue of pissed off guards.
Sure, the bombs can be specifically useful in such situations, but it’s too easy to forget they’re there. A more unequivocally successful addition is the hook-blade, which adds a few more speedy-parkour moves into the aging Ezio’s repertoire (zip-line usage, a faster climb, longer jumps and edge grabs). Whereas the game constantly has to remind you that its bombs exist, the environments are built in such a way that the hook-blade is too useful to ignore. It’s probably the one new feature in Revelations I actually hope will return in the future.
Revelations‘ desperate attempts to scrape together new secondary content are a far more serious problem. Rather than the guild missions of the previous games, a large amount of this content is centred around the Assassin recruitment and city control systems that were introduced in Brotherhood. This time round, you can assign a trainee Assassin to each area you control in the city to unlock a special two-part training mission, which, save for the fact it feels ‘more Brotherhood than Brotherhood‘, is actually great.
The trouble is that now, the notoriety you get by gaining control over areas and renovating them now has consequences. Cause a ruckus, and one of your towers will come under attack. Tower-defence style.
So, is the problem that the tower defence game is terrible? I’ve heard criticism, but I honestly cannot verify it. Having consequences for notoriety isn’t necessarily the problem either: instead, it’s the fact that the underlying mechanisms of that system haven’t changed sufficiently. It’s in no way difficult to prevent your dens coming under attack, it’s just incredibly tedious: Buy a shop. Bribe a herald. Repeat. Having raced to train my master assassins, I found the entire tower-defence mode locked out, and it’s only accessible if you’re playing like a total lemon in the first place. A terrible implementation of an already questionable idea.
Even the process of training your master assassins comes with its own unpleasantness. Again, you send your trainees throughout Europe to get XP, gold and now via a joyless menu system. However, now you can gain control over the cities for greater returns. But to keep the cities under your control you have to constantly send your team away. It’s a logical evolution of a system of dubious worth, and the micromanagement injected into it have turned it into an odious piece of digital plate-spinning, a feature that constantly nags at you to the point of distraction. It’s like having Roman Bellic page you every five minutes, except instead of going bowling, he wants you to spend some quality time with him dicking around in Excel.
“So?” You ask indignantly. “Just ignore it and play the story”. Trouble is, you’re basically obliged to play this mode if you ever want to be able to afford decent equipment and to trigger those master assassin training missions. It’s also development time that could have been used to create something that actually adds to the experience. Or a sign that, with more development time, there could have been something far more worthwhile in its place. Considering that the aforementioned Desmond memories are first-person puzzle sections, it would seem that there are no bounds to the level of feature creep these games can suffer. The problem is less a matter of negligence than a matter of too much love.
Multiplayer is almost a microcosm of the issues in the story mode. Like the singleplayer, the basic fact is that this is a game that deserves to be mined for gameplay hours and held in high-regard for its best ideas. But many additions made to the game seem like ‘variety for the sake of variety’. That the multiplayer never originally featured capture the flag or a simplified deathmatch mode almost felt like a point in its favour. Nevertheless, the tweaked levelling / reward system and the unobtrusive story elements will be reason enough for the player-base to switch to this ever so slightly superior version.
There isn’t really a compelling reason not to buy Revelations if you’ve already been bitten by the Assassin’s Creed bug. Perhaps the story is only as ‘revelatory’ as its predecessors, but it’s an excellent send-off to the series up to this point and a fine bridge to whatever is coming in both our 2012 and the one the game’s titular Assassins are so worked up about. But when we all say that we’re expecting something ‘more’ from that game, it’ll help if Ubisoft remember that ‘less is often more’.
Verdict – Head Shot
Platforms Available – 360, PS3 (Now) PC (December 2nd)
Platform Reviewed – PS3
For more information on our scoring system, please read this post.