Review by Suprak the Stud
"The Series Might Be Stagnating, But The Multiplayer Shines"
Goodbyes are always difficult, and in the video game world they seem practically impossible. The odds Nintendo ever lets Mario say goodbye are less than zero, and usually when a company has a character everyone likes they will continue to trot him out every other year or so to wave at the fans and shill his latest appearance in Mascot Mania 17: The Re-Revenge-aning. Thus, it came as bit of a shock when we learned that Ezio would finally be saying goodbye in the Assassin's Creed series to make room for new protagonists, and that Assassin's Creed: Revelations would essentially be his retirement tour. Unfortunately, this most likely is not the retirement tour he had in mind as the old guy is clearly showing his age. While Assassin's Creed: Revelations boasts the best multiplayer in the series (and one of the most entertaining in all of gaming), the single player simply isn't up to snuff making this the weakest of the entire Ezio trilogy.
While the last two games featured Ezio traveling across Italy in a battle against the Borgias in his quest for revenge, Assassin's Creed: Revelations provides a much needed change of scenery and transports the game to Constantinople. Ezio is searching for the secrets left in the old assassin headquarters of Maysaf, but unfortunately finds it crawling with Templars (and mold; leave a castle unoccupied for a couple centuries and boy does it destroy the property value). It turns out they are after the same secrets as Ezio, but the door leading into the legendary assassin library needs a specific set of keys to open. These keys can only be found in Constantinople, leading Ezio to embark on one last quest to recover all these keys before hanging up his assassin robes for good and retiring to a quiet life of relaxation and providing color commentary for all the latest assassin vs. templar matchups.
As usual, the story in Assassin's Creed: Revelations is split into multiple perspectives, but this time around things are split even further by giving a third perspective to observe. Desmond Miles is back, and continues to be utterly boring in every way possible whenever it is unfortunate enough for the plot to be back on him. Luckily, he's in a coma this time around so he only pops up for a couple of brief segments now and then and mostly stays out of the way of the action. The other perspective this time around is Altair, the protagonist from the first game, and Revelations seeks to tie up the stories of Ezio and Altair as neatly as possible before moving on to the next game. The keys you collect to open the final door actually have pieces of Altair's memory embedded in them, giving you more insight on his life leading up to and after the events of the first Assassin's Creed. To me, these were the most interesting segments of the entire game, detailing the evolution of Altair of a character and providing a lot of nice backstory that we were sorely missing. Altair is still less likeable than Ezio, and he has all the emotional range of a sociopathic rock, but at least all this content was interesting, which is more than you can say for the rest of the story.
Ezio's story just comes off as remarkably dull, and as likeable as Ezio is and as excited as I was for him to return from one last hurrah, it is obvious they couldn't really think of how to satisfactorily end his story. The first two games were all about Ezio's quest for revenge, and this one has Ezio looking for some lost library books and for some reason I found this story less compelling. They try and throw you in some big familial power struggle during the emergence of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople, and the whole thing sounds epic and amazing but it never really develops into anything interesting. It feels more like Ezio is a traveler in their world, a tourist taking pretty photos but with no real emotional investment in the outcome. The change in scenery is nice, and there is a lot of interesting history the game revolves around, but they never find an interesting way to insert Ezio into the action. The characters are fine, but the cast is definitely weaker than in Ezio's previous adventures and the entire adventure is largely forgettable.
In terms of gameplay, you could basically swap out the engine from the last game and you wouldn't even notice. The core system is just as strong as it ever was, and parkour style running melds into crisp action and the game is every bit as fun to control as its predecessors. Running up a building, pulling a guard down with your blade, scampering across a rooftop to dive into a bale of hay is every bit as fun to do as it is simple to control. This series has always done a great job combining fantastic and simple controls with rewarding, visceral gameplay, and Assassin's Creed: Revelations is no exception. Combat is still fairly simple, heavily relying on counters, and while the kill animations are over the top and satisfying, it is always more rewarding to sneak up on your foes and dispatch them before they realize what is happening. Unfortunately, missions this time are based more on combat than stealth, and the game suffers for it.
While the core here is solid and it is fun to just run around and pop out of hiding spots to stab a guard, the rest of the gameplay seems to take a bit of a kitchen sink approach to things. The thought process behind things seems to have been can we insert this aspect into the gameplay somehow and then they worked through the logistics of it, how well it would integrate into the game, and if it broke anything about the combat, and then they through that away and put it into the game anyway. Brotherhood had a lot of additions, and Revelations tries to keep all of them and throw in even more random stuff until the game feels like it is bursting at the seams. Ezio ends up feeling far overpowered as a result, and his huge arsenal makes almost any enemy encounter trivial.
The biggest addition is the tower defense mini-game that pops up if you're being particularly bad and stabby. At this point, the templars will launch an assault on one of your dens in the stupidest way possible, which is marching a whole bunch of troops right down the middle of a street while you place archers on the rooftops and cut down an entire platoon. You can place archers on the roof, barricades on the ground, and assassin leaders on other rooftops so you can place more archers there. Most of these have some sort of upgrade, and for example you can later make barricades that have some offensive capability in addition to slowing down progress of the enemies. You can fire off some shots as well, but if you want to clear the level you will have to make good use of troop placement as trying to stop a platoon by yourself is like trying to drain your fish tank using a spoon.
As a whole, it is an interesting idea but completely incongruous with the rest of the game and not really developed into anything worthwhile. It is fun enough once, but it isn't a strong enough tower defense game to really provide any sort of interesting challenge. The whole thing basically comes down to did you place enough archers to finish of the final tank-like boss before it destroys your base, because the build up is so easy that if you're paying attention I'm not sure you can lose. I had the hardest time even getting one of these to trigger intentionally, and one time I spent like twenty minutes running around murdering every guard I saw and the game still wasn't interested enough to send some guys after my den. When I finally did manage to trigger one, it was because I bought a whole bunch of property in a row, meaning the game puts small business ownership somewhere above mass murder on the list of punishable offenses. Sure, go ahead and kill fifty guards but don't expect any mercy if you try operating a book store without the right paperwork. As such, I doubt most people will even play this outside of the tutorial mission making the whole thing pointless. These two paragraphs I've spend talking about it are already twice as long as you'll spend playing the thing, and if your big new gameplay feature can be skipped entirely without any sort of consequence you may want to rethink things.
The other big addition to the gameplay is a series of five puzzle platforming segments that essentially give you access to the level editor. These occur outside the confines of the main game, in that little limbo segment you can wander around in as Desmond. Once you enter one of these areas by walking through the portal, the game takes on a first person perspective and you need to get to the end of the level. You can plant blocks of two separate shapes and use these blocks to navigate over a variety of obstacles. Why is this in an Assassin's Creed game, you ask? I have absolutely no idea. I mean, it isn't like they're terrible or anything and they would make for a perfectly average puzzle game if released on their own, but now they're just throwing random things in the game for no reason. There is nothing assassin-y about this at all. It feels like five levels from some other game Ubisoft was developing got dropped in here by mistake. Some guy misunderstood his assignment, made this, and they figured, forget it, just put it in because there wasn't enough time to fix it. It isn't bad (or really good, either) and they were a fine distraction, but they just felt weird and completely incongruous with anything else found in the game.
It has become increasingly apparent that the design document for the Assassin's Creed games now is a result of just throwing everything the developers can think of at it and hoping something sticks. While the aforementioned additions pretty much summarize the major additions, there are a ton of other minor additions as well. You can craft bombs, assign your assassins in training to monitor your dens, manage assassins in various missions across Europe to gain control of other cities, and look for books to build your library. While more content usually isn't a bad thing, this game has so much and it is all so superficially done that the game feels bloated and it slowly waddles around the entire game hoping to entice you into something that might resemble fun. Nothing is really developed in any detail, so instead of having the focus be on assassinations like in the past games the focus this time is on I don't even know what, and while there is a ton of content here there is so little to any of it that it is hard to get excited about anything in particular. Worse yet, this new stuff seems to have been added at the expense of some of the old stuff and it is hard to even classify this as a stealth focused game anymore.
Each game in the series seems to get further and further away from the huge important key figure assassinations that were to sole of focus of the first game and a major focus of the second game, and Revelations is so far away from it now that you'd need a telescope to see it. There are only three big target missions this time around, and only one of these three tries to capture the sneaky, stealthy surprise-o kills that were so much fun in the earlier games. And then it turns out that one was a complete misunderstanding and oops ha ha don't I have egg on my face now. Sure, there are tons of minor targets you get from master assassins missions plus the ones you need to complete to clear out templar dens, but these just don't have the same feel the big targets used to. Build up the target some, spend some time detailing what makes them so detestable or powerful or something, anything to make me feel like I'm not just killing some random guy from accounting. It was always the assassinations that made these games so fun and unique, and as the series progresses it feels less like assassination and more like straight up murder.
To be fair, it isn't like Revelations does everything worse than the past two games in the series. Some of the missions are quite impressive, at least from a directing standpoint, and the one where you take what is basically a flamethrower to half of a harbor stands out as one of the most memorable parts of the entire series so far. It is just these strong missions are in the minority, and for the most part a lot of the game just feels like worse versions of stuff featured in past titles. There are also a handful of more puzzle platformer exploration type missions, and these for the most part are really well designed. The crumbling architecture always gives you this one perfect path to make your way through the level, and while these were featured in the past games this is the first one in the series to actually make them mildly entertaining. They are well designed both in concept and visually, and they ended up being pretty much the highpoint of the story missions. They are incredibly linear and don't come close to capturing the excitement of the fun assassination missions from earlier games, so the fact that they were the highpoint probably isn't as much of a compliment as it initially appears. Again, while they are a nice distraction, this isn't the sort of stuff I come to an Assassin's Creed game looking for. There are dozens of games that use this same sort of concept and do it much better, and as well designed as they were they end up serving as just another example of how much this series has lost its focus.
There is certainly a lot of stuff to do in this game, with an assortment of side missions and factions missions that should keep you busy while you try and find the fun the game seems to be hiding from you. The last game had a lot of missions to help the mercenaries or thieves, and while they weren't as solid as the main missions they were at least entertaining enough to make you want to finish them. This game has like one or two of each before running out of ideas and quitting on the whole thing so they can make you find more books. That isn't meant to be a joke, as there are literally a series of missions that have you climbing to high places and looking for books. If this doesn't sound like fun, then you are completely and utterly correct in your assumption (and you most likely aren't an over zealous librarian). There are other things to do, like clearing out templar dens or completing bomb missions to unlock new ingredients, but there really isn't anything worth doing unless you are a completionist.
The one thing this game absolutely nailed, however, was the multiplayer. It is utterly fantastic and loads of fun. I thought the multiplayer in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was good, but this is a significant improvement in nearly every way. Like the last game, the core of the multiplayer content here is finding and killing the target you have been given to assassinate while avoiding anyone who has you as their target. The concept is simple, but the execution is outstanding and it offers a remarkable difference from the usual cover based shooting you find in most multiplayer games. This requires stealth and intellect, hiding in a crowd and using your abilities as best as you can to lure your pursuer away while sneaking up on your target for the perfect kill.
This was all true in the last game as well, but in Revelations they've added some much needed diversity to the gameplay and made it more dependant on skill instead of luck. The best addition is the inclusion of around ten new modes that all take different approaches to the game. The two from the last game do make a reappearance if you were particularly attached to either of those, but honestly the new game modes blow the old ones away. My personal favorite is one that actually doesn't give you ANY target. It throws a bunch of people into the game and says, alright have fun. You have to find your own target by monitoring everyone and picking out whom amongst the NPCs is not actually an NPC. It was a stupid amount of fun to be hiding in a crowd of people, pretending to be an NPC, watching as one character moves from crowd to crowd trying to be sneaky, stealthily following them down some alley and offing them all without the slightest hint from the game that you were stalking another player and not an NPC.
You unlock new abilities, new costumes, and new story related videos and messages as you progress up the ranks. There is some semblance of a story here about how you're some up and coming templar agent training in the Animus against other agents, and some of the videos and files add a bit to the narrative the game has been creating for four games now. The new abilities are nice and allow you to design your character in a way to best fit your play style, although there are some that seem fairly worthless compared to some of the better, higher level abilities. The little bit of diversity is nice, but it isn't like any ability completely changes the rules of engagement so low level players can jump in against higher level players and not feel completely overmatched. The balance, the progression, and the diversity of game modes here is really impressive, and everything that I loved about multiplayer in Brotherhood I love more in Revelations. The multiplayer is so enjoyable that I would basically recommend the game for that alone and it more than makes up for the lackluster single player campaign. To be clear, this is one of my favorite multiplayer experiences ever, and the fact that I didn't score the game higher is only indicative of a similar lack of quality in the single player campaign.
As Ezio fades away into retirement, resting on his laurels in whatever the video game world equivalent of Florida is, I can't help but feel disappointed for how his saga ended. I was hoping for some grand final voyage, complete with cannons and fireworks, and what I ended up with was a leaky dingy and a kazoo solo. The single player is perfectly playable and the core gameplay here is as solid as ever. Unfortunately, there just isn't very much fun stuff to do and the mission design is by far the nadir of the whole trilogy. The new additions are either incongruous to the game or entirely insubstantial, and the old stuff feels like rejected versions of the stuff from the last game. While running around is still fun and the combat can be entertaining for a while, the story is dull and the game provides no real challenge in part because of Ezio and his insane repertoire. An amazing multiplayer mode saves this game from mediocrity, as the multiplayer experience is so well crafted that it makes the game worthy of a purchase on its own. Despite all my complaining, it is worth noting that this is by no means a bad game and it is still worth checking out, especially for fans of the series. It is just a lackluster single player Assassin's Creed title with amazing multiplayer content, and your enjoyment will largely depend on how many people you like to play with.
Curtain Call (THE GOOD):
+An excellent, much improved multiplayer mode that is one of the best of this generation
+Sense of progression and a lot of variety in multiplayer makes it tremendously replayable
+Some decent story missions that are quite impressive from a technical and directional standpoint
+Core gameplay is just as fun as ever
+Controls are smooth, and assassinating enemies is still a blast
+Change in scenery is nice, as this is a very interesting historical period
Bowing Out (THE BAD):
-Story lacks the same focus as previous games and is just not as interesting or gripping as its predecessors
-There is a lot of content here, but most of it is not well developed and feels superficial
-The big additions end up feeling pointless, with the both the tower defense and puzzle platforming segments entirely skipable and completely unrelated to anything else in the game
-Lackluster mission design that fails to capture the fun, stealthy assassination missions of previous titles
-Even easier than past games, as the more tools Ezio collects the more trivial encounters become
Booed Off Stage (THE UGLY): The game clearly shows Ezio is getting up there in years, which made me worry that every time I had him jump off a building I would get a game over for making him break a hip. Golf is usually a strenuous activity for people Ezio's age, and his greatest foe should have been diabetes, not templars. It was clearly time for Ezio to hit retirement, because if they forced him into another game he would be in his assassin nursing home trying to exact vengeance on the templar orderly that keeps stealing his pocket change.
THE VERDICT: 7.75/10.00
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/10/13
Game Release: Assassin's Creed: Revelations (US, 11/15/11)
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