Review by Crono09

Reviewed: 08/08/12

Worth playing, but still a step back from its predecessors

I have been a fan of the Assassin's Creed series since the second game. The story was fascinating, the gameplay was addictive, and the lore behind the series kept drawing me in. It was fun watching the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze play out in front of me. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood took all of the elements that made that game great and added to them to produce an even more amazing experience. Ezio's story concludes in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, but how does the conclusion to his saga live up to the previous games?

As always, there is a framing story that takes place in the year 2012. After the startling conclusion of Brotherhood, Desmond Miles's mind has fractured, leaving him in a comatose state. To save him, the other assassins place him in the Animus in hopes that it would keep his mind from going completely. Desmond experiences the Animus as testing area called the Black Room, which resembles an island. He meets Subject 16 (whose real name is Clay Kaczmarek) here, who had downloaded his memories into the Animus before he died. Clay tells Desmond that he must finish reliving the experiences of his ancestors until there is nothing left for him to see. All that's left are the final missions of Ezio Auditore.

Ezio's story takes place in the years 1511 and 1512. Now a middle-aged man and mentor in the Assassin Order, Ezio wants to unlock the history of the assassins, so he seeks out the secrets of their ancient leader Altair ibn La'Ahad, who reformed the Order into what it is today. Unfortunately, when he arrives at the assassin stronghold in Masyaf, he finds it overrun by Templars. After a narrow escape, he learns that Altair's vault has been sealed by five keys that have been hidden in various locations around Constantinople. Ezio travels there to locate the keys. During his visit, he helps strengthen the city's Assassin Order, gets tangled up in a Templar attempt to overthrow the sultan, and falls in love with an Italian librarian who has made her home in Constantinople. However, the keys to the vault are no ordinary keys. They also store memories of Altair and reveal his role in rebuilding the Order centuries earlier.

The core gameplay from Brotherhood is unchanged. Almost all of the weapons, items, and skills from that game return, including the crossbow and parachutes. In spite of his age, Ezio can still practice parkour better than anyone, assassinate people with his hidden blade without being noticed, and fight off groups of soldiers with all kinds of weaponry. Combo kills, counter-kills, and execution streaks are still in full effect, although battles are generally tougher. Ezio still has Eagle Sense, and he has honed his talents to now be able to see trails and enemy patrols. Most of the game takes place in Constantinople with a few excursions to Masyaf and Cappadocia. The main story is mostly linear, although there are plenty of side missions, and Ezio is generally free to explore Constantinople as much as he wants between missions.

A new piece of equipment is Ezio's infamous hookblade, which replaces his second hidden blade. It functions just like the original hidden blade, but it can also hook onto walls. Supposedly, this gives Ezio some extra reach so he can grab ledges that he couldn't before, but I didn't notice much of a change from previous games. It can also be used to latch onto ropes so that they can be used as zip lines. While this would be an excellent idea to speed up getting around the city, in practice, these zip lines aren't very common and are not placed in areas where they would be most useful. The hookblade was a great concept, but it was too underutilized to be an effective addition to the game.

Another notorious addition is bomb crafting, which replaces the smoke bombs of previous games. Early in the game, Ezio becomes able to assemble various types of bombs using four varieties of shells, three kinds of gunpowder, and ten types of effect ingredients. These bombs can be used to injure guards, distract them from their posts, or give Ezio a tactical advantage in battle. The best ingredients tend to be rare, but Ezio shouldn't have trouble finding the core ingredients he needs for basic bombs. The large number of options means that you can probably find one to help in any situation. Many people have complained about the bomb crafting system, but I was rather fond of it. Bombs are rarely necessary, and you'll probably only use three or four of the many options available, but they still add more to the game than they detract.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said of the assassin recruitment system. This was one of the best additions in Brotherhood, and it returned for Revelations. The basic system for recruiting assassins isn't changed. Most of them are obtained by rescuing them from Templar soldiers, although a few are recruited through unique side missions. They gain experience by being called by Ezio to fight enemies or by being sent on missions to other cities through the Mediterranean Defense mini-game.

This latter option is the main weakness of the system and possibly the entire game. Unlike Brotherhood, your assassins can retake Mediterranean cities from the Templars and increase their own control in these cities. This grants additional experience, money, and bomb ingredients. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea since it provides a tangible purpose behind these missions, and it could have been good in the right situation. The problem is that the Templars will regain some control over each city on every game day (about 20 minutes of play time), and if you don't keep your assassins on missions, the Templars will retake them. The amount of control that Templars regain is immense, and since missions take a long time, you rarely have time to make up for it before the next day. The only way to keep control over your cities is to regularly seek out a pigeon coop whenever your recruits finish a mission so that you can immediately send them on another one. This is a constant distraction from the core gameplay, and it means that you will rarely have your recruits by your side to help you on your own missions, which is the one thing that made them fun to have around.

Another new feature related to assassin recruits is Assassin Dens. Much like Brotherhood, you can regain control over districts of Constantinople by assassinating the Templar leader residing in certain towers. This turns that tower into an Assassin Den, and it lets you renovate shops and landmarks in that area. Once a recruit reaches level 10, he or she can be assigned to a free Assassin Den. Completing certain missions with that recruit will allow him or her to become a level 15 Master Assassin. The renovation system and side missions are fine, and they actually made up some of my favorite missions in the game. My problem with it is the Den Defense mini-game, which is probably the most highly-criticized portion of Revelations. If Ezio's notoriety gets too high (easier now since renovations now increase notoriety and wanted posters no longer exist), the Templar may attack an Assassin Den. Ezio has to go to the Den to start a Den Defense.

The concept of Den Defense is similar to tower defense Flash games that you find online. Ezio is positioned on a rooftop, and he must assign assassins to other rooftops or barricades to snipe at hoards of Templar soldiers as they rush through the streets. I like tower defenses, so I thought that I would like this as well. However, the execution was very poor. In most tower defenses, you get a top-down view of the entire field. However, in the Den Defense, you only see from Ezio's perspective, which provides a limited view of the battlefield. You have to turn to see things on the ground or to your side. It is very difficult to see distant rooftops, so it's hard to assess the status of your forces. Assassins are slow to respond to your commands, and the placement of assassins is not intuitive. You get very little time between waves to prepare, and enemies can wipe out your forces quickly. The difficulty of these missions rises quickly, and you get few attempts to practice them. Fortunately, only one of these missions is required in the story, and Assassin Dens become immune to them once the resident den leader reaches level 15. As a result, they can be easily avoided unless you are striving for 100% completion, but I still think that the game would have been better off without them.

Much like Brotherhood, most missions in Revelations have a secondary objective that must be completed to reach 100% synchronization. This is only for completionists since there is no reward for getting higher synchronization. While this objective is sometimes logical for the mission, it's often nothing more than an arbitrary rule. If you fail a secondary objective, you have to restart the mission from the beginning if you want to get 100% completion, making it worse to fail the secondary objective than to fail the main objective of the mission. A simple “Restart from Checkpoint” option would have gone a long way towards making secondary objectives more fun to handle. On the plus side, missions are broken into smaller chunks than before, making repetition slightly less of a nuisance.

Constantinople was an interesting choice for the setting. I think it was a great idea to choose a setting so different from the Italian cities of the last two games. The Muslim garb and Ottoman architecture is a welcome change, and it's a setting you don't see that often in video games. However, the city design was inferior to any previous game, even the original Assassin's Creed. Even though Constantinople is larger than any other city in the series, it's also less remarkable. Other than a few landmarks, every part of the city looks alike. It's often impossible to tell what district you're in because they all look the same. This is a disappointment after Assassin's Creed I and II, where you had several cities to explore, each with a unique design. Even though Brotherhood only let you see Rome, each district of the city had a distinct feel to it that made it seem larger than it really was.

Much like the Glyphs in Assassin's Creed II and the Rifts in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Revelations has a special side mission that has to do with modern times rather than Ezio. In this case, it is Desmond's Journey, which is unlocked by finding Animus Fragments in Ezio's memory and accessing them through the Black Room. Instead of being puzzles like the last two games, these are first-person platform mazes that Desmond must get through by placing blocks to get around obstacles. Now, anyone who has played first-person perspective games before knows that platform puzzles do not work for them simply because you can't see your feet or determine where you are in relation to an edge. These missions are no exception and represent a grievous error on the part of the developers. They should have known better. In spite of this, these segments provide insight into Desmond's past and work better than simply reading about it.

Even though you'll spend most of your time as Ezio, the story isn't so much about him. Whereas Brotherhood is a direct continuation of the plot that began in Assassin's Creed II, Ezio's story in Revelations is altogether different. It has something to do with a scheme by the Templar-controlled Byzantines to take control of the Ottoman Empire by placing one of their sympathizers in the sultanate. It's passable, but it's not that important in the grand scheme of things. The important part of the story is Ezio's collection of the five Masyaf keys, which are found in secret locations resembling the hidden areas of Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood. Once a key is found, it is followed by a memory of Altair. These are the best parts of the story. We've experienced the important parts of Ezio's life, but we haven't heard much about Altair since the first Assassin's Creed, even though that ending implied that there was much more to tell. In this sense, the story of Revelations is more about Altair than it is about Ezio, even though it concludes the lives of both protagonists.

After the outstanding advances in gameplay made by Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood, Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a step backwards for the series. The few additions to the gameplay add too little to the game to make up for the many aggravations that were added to it. This game exists mostly to finish Altair's story and doesn't do much to advance Ezio's story or improve gameplay. This isn't to say that it's a bad game though. It's still fun to play, and it's far better than the original Assassin's Creed. All the things we like about the series, such as the hiding, blending, parkour, fighting, and assassinating, are still there. They just weren't used to their fullest extent. This makes Revelations worthwhile if you want to see how the story continues, but it's better to stick with the earlier games if you just want to do some assassinating.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Assassin's Creed: Revelations (US, 11/29/11)

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