Review: Assassin’s Creed – Revelations (*** stars)

TL;DR – Assassin’s Creed: Revelations fulfills your yearly quota of Assassin’s Creed. It greatly improves on the mess of great ideas that Brotherhood had, making them into actual game mechanics. The Assassin’s Guild features and money-making schemes show the greatest improvements. The new mobility device, the hookblade, also makes traversing a new city more manageable and interesting; the bomb construction, as well, adds some much-needed tactical variety. Some aspects, however, have gotten worse as a result of this tinkering, notably the platforming segments being little more than showy set-pieces and how easy everything has become. In the end, it’s still another Assassin’s Creed title – your enjoyment will rest on whether you can put up with the series’ notable flaws.

Other than giving Ezio the coolest outfit in the entire series (seriously, it’s totally rad), what has improved here since Brotherhood?

Given the Western iterative model of game design, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that everything has received tweaks, fixes, and refinements. For one, Constantinople gives a much more varied, diverse, and interesting location than Rome. Unlike that city (which, more often than not, tended to be a rehash of ACII’s city state model compacted into one location), Revelations provides a playground that represents the place on which it is based – full of various people of all races, architecture that recalls both Ottoman, Muslim, Christian, and Byzantine archetypes all at once. Ubisofts modeled this unique city in all its glory, down to the Janissary uniforms and the Hagia Sophia. The music, as well, creates an atmosphere that reflects the eras of both Altair (the Crusades) and Ezio (The Renaissance). Simply put, it’s less oppressive than Brotherhood’s brooding chants, and much more relaxing to boot.

Furthermore, whether for game contrivance or something else, navigation isn’t nearly as odd as Rome’s bizarre open fields. There’s none of that filler here – instead, you’ve got a wide variety of different obstacles and huge structures to traverse, from shanty-towns to minarets. Ezio, in turn, gains new abilities to make exploration all the more enjoyable. First, we have the much-maligned hookblade – this makes climbing wallfaces MUCH, MUCH faster than before – seriously, I’m not sure whether I can go back to climbing on hand after seeing the speed of this maneuver. The hookblade also doubles as an excellent weapon AND (a feature I long wished) a way to jump over guards and other civillians blocking your path. I always wondered why an agile assassin couldn’t, bu some means, flip over an enemy; well, now you can, and with style. The ziplines are just icing on the cake, although I honestly wish there were more of them; sometimes, you’ll see one go in the total opposite direction, and it’s just a shame that I can’t use it and go “WHEEEEE!!” all the way down. Simple pleasures, people.

My biggest complaint from Brotherhood was the money-generation resource model – wow, was it TEDIOUS. Revelations takes a giant leap forward in this regard! First, you still have to visit shops to open them and make money, that much is true. However, these shops aren’t the only source of income – now, the Assassin’s Guild makes tons of money instead. Assassins can now take over cities and develop them, providing income from said cities by investing in them. The more Templar influence is reduced in said cities, the more money you can make, but you’ll need to monitor these cities in case they fall to the enemy – the only way to keep them is to do more missions. You’ll follow this model throughout the game, and it takes quite awhile for you to amass any significant money – that’s a good thing! It forces you to make decisions about investment versus immediate needs (weapons, armor), and that’s a sorely needed addition! Granted, you’ll still want to buy all the shops (and that, as usual, gets tedious), but the tunnels/teleporters are all unlocked from the start, making this a less frustrating task. Personally, I only opened most of the banks just to hold all the money. You’ll be making much more money than in Brotherhood faster, granted, but there’s other mechanics that cause this to become a non-issue. It fixes my biggest complaint with Brotherhood – it requires an active hand to make the most out of the system.

To expand on the Assassin’s Guild a bit: it’s very similar to Brotherhood’s system, in that you find recruits, then train them by sending them on missions, etc. However, assassins can now develop to rank 15 instead of 10 – this takes a LONG time, but there’s good reason for it. See, the Borgia Towers in Brotherhood “liberated” sections of the city in Brotherhood so you can develop them – the same concept exists in Constantinople, except Templars can retake territory if your notoriety level gets high enough. Now, your actions don’t just make it hard to get around town – you may find your economics models shots as Templars invade your places. These take the form of mediocre tower defense segments – you know, build turrets and wall, and kill all enemies using good placement. Frankly, I never found myself playing these segments, as reducing notoriety is incredibly easy. Find a herald, give him 100 in whatever the currency is, and you’ve just reduced it by 25%. Furthermore, placing certain Assassins in the city territories will prevent invasions altogether if they hit level 15. I never got any of them that high, as the heralds were too easy to placate. Maybe they should raise their prices? At least this would incentivize being a little more cautious in the streets, rather than becoming a mass murderer whenever you want. Alas, fun trumps realism here, not that I’m complaining. Still, it’s obvious they wanted to penalize the player, but they don’t go far enough in that gesture to make it meaningful.

This extends to the combat, which somehow got worse. It isn’t necessarily a problem with the combat itself – other than it being much, much more glitch-filled than before, with lots of janky animation if you’re not fighting on a flat surface, for example – but it’s been made easier through one component: bombs. Bombs are awesome; bombs make the world go ’round. Want to make a giant bomb that kills everyone in a wide radius? Go ahead; the game won’t stop you. Want to make smoke bombs that let you kill three or four guards at will with no effort on your part? Sure! I love the idea of tinkering with these bombs, as it offers a lot of variety and strategy to each situation. They fall into the two categories listed previously – kill or distraction, However, they also break much of the mission structure. Whereas some missions in the past would require you to kill an enemy, loot his body, and run away, Revelations allows you to kill said person from a distance AND (magically) get the key. That, I’d say, is a problem. In fact, many of Revelations’ missions are designed seemingly without the new mechanics in mind, making them terribly easy.

Anything that require acrobatics and free-running, furthermore, doesn’t require anything past holding down two buttons and pressing forward – not much thought required in that, though the action set pieces look nice! It’s not poorly put together; rather, it’s not designed with any modicum of thought as to how anything will fit with the whole.

Take the Altair segments – shoehorned into the game to fit some preconceived plot contrivances. Why not just make a whole new game with Altair? Instead, we get bits and pieces of his fascinating story in weird flashbacks that require zero effort. There’s no attachment to the character at this point, other than to finish Ezio’s plot – it’s a shame. Not that Ezio’s journey is terribly interesting in this installment either. Rather, behind the perfunctory “Templars are bad and we need MacGuffins!” segments, we have a tale of a man realizing he’s coming to the end of his life. Will he fight for principle until his dying day, or can he pass his conflict on to the next generation and let go of his past? I like this, and it works well – I just think Altair deserved more than this, as his segments show snippets of something fascinating (heck, all the information we got about him previously WAS fascinating). Desmond, on the other hand…well, let’s not talk about that. It’s become a bizarre, unnecessary framework – they should, at this point, just retcon the sci-fi elements and remove them. Do they make sense? Yes! But I don’t see what they add to the history of the Assassins.

If you’re wondering about the three star rating, most of the same problems from ACII persist, as it’s still the same framework underneath. If you must know, my other reviews of the Assassin’s Creed series will give you a good overview. In sum, it’s the same game with lots of minor improvements – some interesting and well-done, some not. But it really shows a lot of elements are simply out of place and don’t fit well into the whole. Surely, it’s a vast improvement over the previous work, but it doesn’t stand out except for the setting. Not to say I didn’t have a lot of fun with it, or that I didn’t love its aesthetic style (it’s a nice touch that they gave Ezio Altair’s running animation to show his “master” status), but it’s a forgettable game overall.

10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Unfortunately, Ecclesiastes 1 rings rather true here: there’s nothing new, just more of the same.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.