By now, our blades have tasted the blood of many. Countless conspiracies have ebbed away at our feet, and we’ve felt the thrill of flying across a dark rooftop many times. Stealth is second nature. Secrecy, a brother.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations places us back in the all too familiar shoes of an assassin. Within its world, you will find little that is ingenious or new. But the lure is not the promise of a new experience, but rather a continuance of the old. We come for answers to our questions. We come for revelations.
The latest installment picks up where its predecessor left off. Desmond, now trapped within the animus, must once again follow Ezio until he has nothing left to learn. As for Ezio, he’s traded in the sprawling city of Rome for Constantinople. Inside the walls of this great city waits yet another Templar conspiracy to unravel. Ezio hunts for the keys to Masayaf’s great library, left behind by the legendary Altair.
During his journey, Ezio will pick up a few new toys to play with: the hookblade and bombs. Of the two, the hookblade is far more useful. It allows you to gleefully fly down a zipline and climb faster. In battle, you can use it to flip over enemies. Ezio’s other tools are easy to come by. You can purchase or craft your own bombs with ever-abundant items, but it’s very unnecessary. Bombs come in a few different flavors – some cause distractions, others just damage. You know, stuff bombs do.
Bombs are not a new concept, but Revelations seems to be so proud of their newest addition you’d think they invented them. Gameplay is saturated with reminders about their bombs, from the frequent crafting stages to the constant shower of ingredients you need to make more. I used my bombs a total of four times, but the game made sure I was always stocked for more. Opening treasure chests often felt like Christmas, as I was showered with stupid crafting supplies when all I really wanted was money.
Revelations prefers to play it safe and doesn’t bring a lot of improvements to the table. Unlike its predecessors, the changes are slight, or in some cases, a nuisance. Borgia Towers, for example, are newly remodeled to Templar Dens. Once captured, they revert to Assassin Dens and provide a hangout for your recruit buddies. But capturing a den doesn’t mean you’ve played for keeps. Notoriety is now known as Suspicion, and maxing out your meter will tip off the Templars to your dens. Your once homey little hangout suddenly becomes contested territory – set foot in the area and Templars jump you. Enter Revelations’ new Den Defense system.
This little tower-defense styled mini-game can be surprisingly tricky. I went into my first few battles with a devil-may-care attitude, and in some cases I paid for it dearly. It’s not enough to just stick troops at random – you’ll need to keep an eye on your barricades, watch where you set your assassin leaders and be mindful of Templar waves. But let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Den Defense is just plain annoying. You’re given a single vantage point to oversee the battle, and although you do get troop and weapon upgrades, it’s still repetitive and far too time-consuming. It creates an odd paradox within the rules of the Assassin’s Creed universe. Your biggest ally has always been stealth, and yet here you are waging a full-on war in one of the city streets. You have fire-spewing walls and cannons, for god’s sake. Someone is going to notice.
Den Defense can be a fickle thing. Templar waves are triggered after you’ve defeated every last man from the previous group—a blessing and a curse. In one particularly frustrating situation, I spent a good five minutes searching for one mysteriously MIA Templar. The game had glitched, allowing me to drop a barrier on top of him Wizard of Oz style—but also leaving him very much alive. If you’re really keen on avoiding the entire thing altogether, it’s just as easy to let the Templars nuke your base. Once you’ve lost control, you just need to seek out the captain again and give him the old one-two-shank.
The good news is that there’s a perfectly reasonable way to shut down Den Defense. Forever. Tied into the system are your little assassin recruits, and much like you could in Brotherhood, you’ll pull rowdy citizens under your wing and guide them into full-on assassinhood. Unlike Brotherhood, each assassin will require a unique side-mission to reach the rank of master. It’s a nice touch, making Ezio feel more like the mentor he’s supposed to be. Once your recruit has reached the rank of master, he or she will lock down their respective den, making it impervious to annoying mini-games. It’s an easy enough feat to accomplish, thanks to the XP-hefty recruit assignments. Mediterranean Defense replaces the old assassin contracts. You’ll send your recruits to various cities to claim ownership, which means you receive various goods and money.
Multiplayer makes its return in Revelations. There are a few new options you have for online gaming, but most center around games of hide-and-stab. In Deathmatch, you’re given a target to stalk while you avoid a pursuer of your own. You’ll need to rely on your assassin instinct to be successful. Although the portrait of your target will light up when they’re in your line of sight, it’s easy to mistake a civilian for your mark and accidently slaughter some poor guy on his way to the market. Artifact Assault plays like a high-speed, capture-the-flag chase. One player possesses the artifact, while the rest frantically follow with sharpened weapons at hand.
Revelations’ multiplayer does well. It’s an incredibly tense feeling, stalking down your mark while keeping an eye out for your own pursuer. The thrill of a kill is even better than in the single player game, and escaping another player only seconds before your death never gets old. I sank hours into the multiplayer effortlessly, and yet I still feel like I could lose even more.
Despite the fun of the multiplayer options, Revelations’ strongest point is the overlapping story of Ezio, Altair and Desmond. Altair may have come first, but Ezio is our golden boy. We’ve watched him transform from a foolish young man to a wise, weathered assassin, and we’ve watched him do it well. Still, Altair’s memories arguably provide some of the most interesting parts of the game. Each sequence builds on the protagonist from the original story, adding a retrospective richness to Altair’s character. These memories are perfectly varied, if not disappointingly short.
Desmond’s backstory is also finally fleshed out in this title through the recovery of Animus Data Fragments. Only 30 of these little cubes are required to unlock the truth about Mr. Miles’ past, and it is well worth the time to experience all five sequences. These moments play out as a first-person-styled puzzle. The obstacles you cross often mirror the narrative Desmond is trying to tell – in one of the more interesting puzzles, you float across a river of light specks as Desmond recounts his own brief journey along the water.
But the game still has its hiccups. Although completionists will find no shortage of work, there’s very little motivation otherwise to complete side quests. Renovations provide income, but little else. The tail-end sequences feel hurried and oddly short. Completing a handful of the main missions will quickly end the segment. Ignoring the padding of side quests and extra missions, there’s very little standing between you and the end of the game.
Revelations is something of a conundrum. While it features moments that are truly the greatest and most cinematic in the series, it cannot be called the greatest Assassin’s Creed to date. Its moments of “revelation” are as satisfying and strange as you’d expect, yet its story is anemic compared to its predecessors. The game itself feels rushed, whether in the brevity of its final sequences or the lackluster nature of its side quests.
But Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is not a finale to the franchise. It is the farewell to Ezio Auditore da Firenze and Altair ibn La-Ahad. In this regard, it succeeds. Our graying heroes are played out to a close that is so definite and complete that there is no more we could possibly ask of them. We look to the future and to Desmond Miles to breathe new life into the series, but for now the tale has been told. Find peace, brothers.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was released on November 15th, 2011 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version