Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
It ends here, the story of Ezio Auditore draws to a close, but will we remember him fondly? Ubisoft's fourth outing in the Assassin's Creed series promises much but does it deliver or is the revelation that this game is not as good as it should be? Questions are answered, conflicts resolved and journeys brought to an end, but does Revelations do enough to set itself apart from Brotherhood?
- Worth The Time?Of course
- Things LovedConstantinople, everything about Ezio's character, new multiplayer modes, Altair sequences, revised combat, the hook-blade, bomb-making, side-mission have more variation and purpose, Desmond finally becomes an acceptable character, environments look fantastic, story is compelling, upgraded Assassin's Guild features, mission structures feel organic and never repetitive, some questions are finally answered, an excellent send-off for Ezio and Altair
- Things HatedDen Defense is an annoyance, Desmond's story is poorly explained, Desmond sequences play awkwardly, still many questions that remain unanswered, parts of the ending feels somewhat rushed, frame-rate can drop at times.
- RecommendationAnyone looking for a good action game, a great narrative or exquisitely recreated historical settings will appreciate this. Fans will adore it.
- Name: Assassin's Creed: Revelations
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: 4-8
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Price: R489.00 - R599.99 (PS3, Xbox 360), R329.00 - R399.99 (PC)
- Reviewed On: PS3
I’ve always adored the Assassin’s Creed franchise for its painstakingly recreated, historically accurate environments, and the way it weaves its tales into the fabric of history. This, coupled with excellent gameplay, some outstanding narratives and an intriguing overarching plot provides an experience unlike any other for me.
I suppose we need to attack that rather large elephant in the room before we go anywhere. With Brotherhood still very fresh in everyone’s mind and Ubisoft giving themselves only a year to come up with a new game, it was always obvious that Revelations was not going to make leaps and bounds, but I refuse to say that it’s the same game. That’s been the response of many other critics, but in my opinion, Revelations is a different game and makes enough improvements to the combat and free-running to make it feel different. Revelations also improves on several features and adds a few of its own which may not all work out, but it’s still enough progression to get by.
The change of setting to Constantinople, the change in the way Ezio’s story is told, the different approach to the way missions are structured and presented are all factors which tweak the overall experience. There’s no doubt that Revelations is held back by the fact that Ubisoft opted to make it in only one year, but it never suffers greatly as a result. Sure, it could have been better, probably a contender for game of the year, but as it stands, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is only a great game.
It is noticeably better than Brotherhood with the tweaks that have been made and the minor improvements here and there, but Ubisoft has really shot itself in the foot by announcing the ‘yearly release of an AC game’ thing. Revelations is still a great game though, despite effectively running on the same engines that drove Assassin’s Creed II, but I guess that’s just testament to how phenomenal that game was. There are clear limitations with the timeframe and subsequent technology that Ubisoft has to work with, but it never impedes the game greatly. If I had to sum Revelations up in a sentence I’d say the following: it’s a great game, with slightly better gameplay than its predecessor, but it could have been better and, as an overall experience, is probably not the best game in the series.
It’s not exactly great technique to tell you my ultimate thoughts of the game before we get to the end of the review but I feel that this was necessary because of the doubt hanging around Revelations. You should probably give our Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood review a read as well since the two games are largely similar. Right, moving on.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the fourth in the series and our third game in control of Ezio Auditore but if anything, this is his best outing as a character. I’ve always loved the character of Ezio not only because he’s an absolute badass, but also because there’s a lot of substance to him and Revelations really puts you on a more introspective, emotional journey with him and you can really see how he has developed as a character from the brash, arrogant youth to the wise Master Assassin.
There are monologues in which he writes letters to his sister where players will get a much deeper understanding of his thoughts and motivations. This sets you up quite nicely for the ending which really is well executed from Ezio’s perspective.
In Revelations, Ezio is done looking for revenge. He has struck at the heart of the Templars in Rome and is now looking for answers. He journeys to Masyaf in search of Altair’s library, which is said to not only hold the answers Ezio seeks but also the Apple of Eden that was hidden after the events of Assassin’s Creed. Upon arrival, he is greeted by an army of Templars, but obviously triumphs only to discover that 5 keys are required to unlock the library.
Long story short, the keys are in Constantinople (Istanbul) and it is here that Ezio must journey to in order to retrieve the keys before the Templars.
The story effectively breaks into two parallel veins. One has Ezio searching for the keys while the other sees him aiding the Ottoman monarchy, Prince Suleiman in particular, to free the city of the vengeful Byzantines who just happen to be in collusion with the Templars. There are overlaps and the two eventually meld together, but it’s a good way of varying the missions. The two have very different missions and every mission is a little bit different, but you never feel like you’re moving from one objective to another. Building on the tone set by AC II and Brotherhood, Revelations simply flows seamlessly and you’re always clearly aware of why you’re doing what you’re doing and what purpose it serves in the greater scheme of things.
There’s your usual spread of stealth missions, tails, protection missions, fetch-quests, assassinations and so on, but there are some standouts such as a few that employ classic Prince of Persia puzzle-solving and swift platforming. There’s one where you have to distract people by playing the lute and even a mission where you tail a florist to find where he’s getting his tulips from, because Ezio doesn’t want to wait for the flowers.
Added to that, there are side missions which offer much of the same variety of guild missions and saving citizens, but this time around there’s a bit more variety. For example, I went to save a citizen and did not find him locked in battle with a group of soldiers, but rather laying against a wall with severe wounds, and the objective was to rescue his wife and daughter from a mad man and, in return, he would join the Brotherhood out of gratitude. Also, all the random little things such as races now serve a greater purpose in that by winning, the loser will join your Brotherhood. We’ll get back to the Assassin Recruits system later. Another little touch that adds to the experience and makes a small but welcome difference is that mission-givers no longer wait statically for you to take note of them. Instead they will behave like normal people going about their business until you disturb them.
The guilds return but Courtesans are now replaced by Romani (gypsies!) although they provide the same function of serving as a distraction. Each guild has side missions for you to perform and there’s some good variety here. In addition to that, the guilds also have their own set of challenges for Ezio to complete and are great for all you trophy-whoring/achievement-mongering completionists out there.
As you would expect, Revelations recreates the city and atmosphere of Constantinople under the Ottomans perfectly. It’s a more intimate city than Rome and feels more vibrant but that’s probably because it hasn’t been raped by a psychopath. Often referred to as the crossroads of the world, the global influence is clearly apparent in the characters you’ll meet as well as the new toys Ezio uses.
The hook-blade, for example, is an excellent addition and makes platforming easier, simpler and much faster. Walls can now be scaled in roughly half the time and zip-lines make traversing the vast expanses of the city a lot quicker. It also lends itself to some sweet little tricks in combat which has also been revised. Combat is now faster and ramped up enemy AI makes it marginally more challenging although the game stays true to the AC ethos of being rather easy. As started in Brotherhood, the combat system favours those who strike first and the days of waiting to counter are long over.
Ezio is far more brutal in his manner of attack and can easily be launched into a flurry of quick-kills which can be done by simple tapping the ‘attack’ button after killing an enemy. This makes it easy to decimate a whole group of enemies swiftly. You can also use secondary weapons voluntarily now by tapping triangle or ‘Y’ button after attacking.
One thing I picked up on and was impressed by is that Ezio’s movement is different to what it was in Brotherhood. Make no mistake, he’s still a mean motherfucker who will slit your throat faster than you can say “assassino”, and he still traverses rooftops with the careless abandon of a boy, but you can see his age in the way he moves and reacts and that was just something special for me, which showed considered progression but not the type that annoys players (I’m looking at you, GTA V with your need to refuel cars).
Another great addition that the Turks give to Ezio’s arsenal of skills is bomb-making. Do you remember in Brotherhood when you collected all that random stuff from chests and corpses? The terracotta pots, phosphorous and God knows what else. It was unbelievably pointless and the only thing you could do with all those arbitrary items was sell them off so why not give us coin in the first place? Well, all those useless items now have purpose.
At some point in the game, Ezio is shown how to make bombs and it opens up a whole new aspect of gameplay to players. All those random items are now bomb supplies and can be used to craft bombs at bomb-crafting tables which are conveniently dotted around the city. I’ve been accused of being a terrorist (which is why I love the bomb-making feature so much) on many occasions and I think the implication being made here about Turkish people is clear.
Anyway, there are three types of bombs, namely Tactical, Diversion and Lethal. Each has its own set of ingredients that can be used. You get different casings for different uses, a variety of gunpowder depending on what you’re trying to accomplish and a wide variety of effects for each type. For example, you can use a terracotta pot, British gunpowder and Datura to create a bomb that sends out a toxic gas, spreads out over a wide area and explodes on impact. You can carry up to five of each type of bomb and have the option to test your bombs out so experimentation is easy and does not waste your resources. It also helps to gauge how useful that custom design would be and precisely what its effects would be.
Recruiting assassins is more important than ever and given more purpose. You recruit assassins in much the same way as Brotherhood except for the greater variation in the manner through which you acquire your recruits. As before, you can only recruit in an area after relinquishing it from Templar control by seizing the Templar den. What makes this illogical is that the entirety of Rome was under Templar control in Brotherhood so the mechanic made sense but in Revelations, Constantinople is under Ottoman rule and yet Templars seems to control the city.
Nonetheless, by seizing the Templar den you convert it into an Assassin’s den and you can then assign a recruit as the head of that den. As before, you need to level your recruits up and can do this by sending them on missions across Europe. These are much the same as before except now each mission diminishes the Templar control in that specific city. Your recruits can also gain XP every time you call upon them to dispatch of enemies. The trade-off is that if you send a group of inexperienced rookies or too few assassins up against a group of tough enemies, they will likely die. This balances the system out rather well while adding some great depth.
Should one of your dens come under attack and they (frequently) will, you will have to venture over to it and take charge of defending the den. Enter Den Defence. A tower-defense-style side-mission where Ezio commands his assassins and must place them strategically on the ground and rooftops to protect the den. Each rooftop needs to be assigned a leader and from thereon you can choose from a variety of assassins such as riflemen or archers to be positioned on the rooftops or ground. You can also set up various defences such as barricades. You must then survive a series of attacks from the Templars. Each successful Den Defence unlocks new types of assassins and defences which can be used. Den Defence has the potential to offer a nice change of pace in gameplay but is instead too tedious and drags you away from what you want to do far too often. Initially, it’s also far too easy to just decimate enemies with a never ending series of canon strikes. It’s a good idea but really doesn’t work very well and becomes more of a pestering buzz in your ear than a welcome distraction. Mercifully, you can eventually train an assassin to protect a den so that you don’t have to.
Now, about those keys I mentioned. The five keys are hidden throughout the city of Constantinople, much like the Assassin’s seals in AC II. Each key that you uncover is embedded with a memory of Altair’s. You play through each memory and not only get to see what happened in the wake of Assassin’s Creed’s ending but also get to know Altair much better as a human being. If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed (why wouldn’t you have?) then you will really appreciate these sequences and even from a noob’s perspective, they’ll be intriguing, engaging and very well-done. They’ve also given him a more Middle-Eastern accent which suits the character far better.
I suppose we need to strike a bit of a balance here by talking about Desmond. I can tell you’re just thrilled. After doing a bit of recon, I discovered that, like myself, not many people like Desmond Miles as a character. In fact, many would rather see him die in a hole filled with upturned hidden-blades and otters than have him as the protagonist for an entire game. Now, this is not his fault. It’s Ubisoft who made him a shallow, aimless character devoid of any personality. There’s a considerable attempt to rectify this in Revelations though, as you’ll see later.
You have to pity Desmond just a little though. After the crazy ending of Brotherhood, Desmond’s mind is at risk and if it weren’t for the being plugged back into the Animus, he’d be a vegetable which really wouldn’t be the greatest tragedy to the world. Basically, his mind is fragmented. Nonetheless, his mind has been put into a sort of safe-mode called the Black Room and this manifests itself as Animus Island. There, Desmond meets someone (I’m not saying who) and learns that he must gain closure on his ancestor’s memories to repair his subconscious. Premise for game found.
If you’re still here, give yourself a pat on the back, take a toilet break and maybe have some cup-kittens (though not at the same time, hopefully). Back already? Good, we’ve still got some ground to cover.
As usual, there are some collectibles which serve a certain purpose. There are pages from Ottoman Grand Vizier Ishak Pasha’s memoirs which when collected unlock Pasha’s armour. This is perhaps the best armour the series has ever had, next to Altair’s armour in AC II, and is effectively indestructible. There are also Animus data fragments which are dotted around the game and every few that you collect unlocks a Desmond sequences which is then playable on Animus Island.
These sequences are strictly optional but have clearly been designed to fill in a bit of Desmond’s backstory so that we understand him better. They do well to teach us about Desmond but do little to actually develop him as a character since this can only be done by showing the character in the real world and how they interact with people and such. There are 5 sequences and by the end of them, you’ll know a lot more about Desmond but I don’t think you’ll be anywhere near familiarising with him and he definitely doesn’t develop any more of a personality.
The sequences are decent at best. They are first-person puzzle-solving levels with simple mechanics and a strange close-to-the ground perspective. They are full of geometric environments made up of various blocks and I’d imagine it’s a lot like how the world would have looked if you were on acid during the 80’s. They require some basic sense of timing and logical thinking but that’s not the point of them really. The sequences are meant to be dead easy so that you focus on the Desmond monologue that plays while you’re going through each sequence but they could have at least made it a bit more challenging.
The monologues give us a lot of insight into Desmond’s childhood and what it was like to grow up in a society of Assassin’s but do little to further him as character. The fact that they’re voiced by Nolan North doesn’t help because despite his talent, the monologues sound like he was reading from a script in a recording room. Then I pictured Nathan Drake from Uncharted standing in a recording room. And then I pictured Sully there with him. And then I pictured them laughing with each other about how pathetic Desmond is. Suffice to say, things got very weird, very fast within the confines of my head.
The economic system of restoring shops and buildings for revenue returns in Revelations and while I enjoy the system, it doesn’t seem to fit in Constantinople. I’m not too aware of the situation in Constantinople during the early 1500’s but I’m pretty sure the Ottoman Empire was a thriving civilisation. You see, in Brotherhood, Ezio took it upon himself to restore the city of Rome which had been debilitated and raped by the Borgia. In Revelations it doesn’t quite make sense since the city of Constantinople is under Ottoman rule and should be seen to by them and not some foreigner.
The visuals are great, as usual. The environments still look amazing but could be better and you can see the game, with its larger-than Rome environment, puts strain on the engines that are still in use from AC II. The framerate can stutter when things get a bit hectic on-screen and this puts a damper on the overall visual quality of the game. That said, this doesn’t happen often and when it does it’s noticeable, but the game doesn’t exactly turn into an interactive stop-motion animation.
I adored the multiplayer component of AC: Brotherhood. It was fresh, exciting and entertaining. Despite being somewhat limited, it was one of the best multiplayer’s I’d ever played. This is perhaps the only part of the game where Revelations truly makes leaps and bounds.
Not only are there more modes now with the inclusion of Artefact Assault (Capture the Flag), Deathmatch and some more story-orientated quests, but the multiplayer now also has its own story beyond the simple premise of it being a facility designed to train new Templars. By levelling up and progressing through the multiplayer ranks, you will learn more about Abstergo. You can now customise your characters with unique looks and can even determine how your character kills and stuns in-game. The interface has also been improved greatly while matchmaking has been fine-tuned so that you don’t get put against a group of pros in your first Deatmatch.
I was greatly surprised by Brotherhood’s multiplayer and I barely gave Revelations’ multiplayer a thought until I launched it and it is damn good. It is perhaps the best multiplayer mode I’ve ever played. Every match feels different and fresh, all the modes are entertaining and customisation is just awesome. There’s a similar selection of classes to choose from in Revelations and they’re rather well balanced. All those short-comings and issues that Brotherhood’s multiplayer had have mercifully been remedied. The Revelations multiplayer is honestly just phenomenal and is well worth playing.
The story in Revelations is a bit of a mixed bag since it is essentially three stories interwoven, albeit Ezio’s is obviously the lion’s share. Let’s go chronologically here. Altair’s story is portrayed quite nicely and it’s quite a treat when you do get to play through it in those brief sequences. Ezio’s story is very well told, with an outstanding narrative that drives you on. The characters are all well-defined and fleshed-out while Ezio himself shows clear development. Desmond’s story is rushed, little gets explained and it sort of skips pieces of information that you think might have helped make things a little more legible but then it makes up very, very little of the game so it’s not so bad.
I’m an Assassin’s Creed fan, and I have been since the first game. I know the full story of the series thus far but even that wasn’t enough to fully grasp what happens during Desmond’s part of the story. It’s a mindfuck of epic proportions and takes about 72 seconds to properly process what you just witnessed. The same goes doubly for his ending. This part of the game can be extremely confusing to newcomers and you’ll hate them for their absolute disregard for the concept of explanation.
Now, given that we’re dealing with three protagonists here, there are effectively three endings which expectedly tie into each other. Altair’s ending is emotional and very well done. It also ties excellently into Ezio’s ending which is simply exquisite. It is the perfect ending for the ultimate assassin and rounds off his swansong very nicely.
With closure brought to both these characters, Desmond can finally sort his shit out and fix himself but his ending is rather rushed with little explanation. Although I suspect that this is because Ubisoft didn’t fully understand what was going on so they sort of just imply things and rush through it in the hopes that you don’t notice the dozens of things which make little to no sense. I think I finally understand the happenings of Desmond’s ending now, after much meditation. In fact, even the parts that do make sense are a bit rushed for no apparent reason. There’s one part right at the end that really should have meant more but because they rushed through it, it barely registers. Luckily, some of the answers that have lingered from AC II and Brotherhood are finally answered but they are the broader questions. The ones that need to be answered to complete this game’s primary purpose of setting us up for Assassin’s Creed 3.
The main story of AC: Revelations will take you roughly 15 hours which is a decent length but paltry by Assassin’s Creed standards. Throw in all those side-missions and extra do-dads and you’re looking at something closer to 30 hours.
Before we conclude, I’d like to personally thank all of you who stuck through till the end. I know it was excruciatingly long, but a game like this deserves a thorough analysis.
In conclusion, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is perhaps not the best game in the series as an overall experience, and while Brotherhood trumped AC II with a ‘bigger is better’ mentality, Revelations could only go so much bigger. Revelations is definitely better than Brotherhood when it comes to gameplay, but in the end it’s not by much. There are small tweaks to combat and free-running that make the feel marginally different and a revised approach to missions and side-missions enhances this feeling, but if you scratch away at the box art you can still see ‘…otherhood’ written underneath. It doesn’t get to a point where you just want to put the controller down because you feel like it’s the same thing all over again, and the game is still great, but it could have been much better and that saddens me.
I don’t know how much longer Ubisoft can keep going with this ‘one a year’ strategy but if Revelations is anything to go on, they are going to be royally screwed pretty soon. The only reason Revelations is still so good is because Assassin’s Creed games are so unique and offer an experience unlike any other, so you’ve only really had this experience twice before (Assassin’s Creed was a very different game).
That is perhaps Revelations’ saving grace, the fact that the series is just so unique that you hardly notice its stark similarity to Brotherhood. Nonetheless, it is a great game and does improve on its predecessor in every way if only by small margins.