A Totally Biased Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

 Even a weaker story, and boring additions to the gameplay can’t quite hold these Master Assassins down.

PROS
– Powerful and emotionally rewarding ending
– Improved movement adds even more fluidity to the platforming
– Greatly improved storytelling maintains interest despite the weak story

CONS
– Newest additions to the gameplay are not welcome
– Desmond is an afterthought
– Weaker story than past entries despite the fulfilling ending

!!!WARNING!!! WILL Contain Spoilers !!!WARNING!!!

This review will also assume you’ve followed the story thus far in the Assassin’s Creed games. Sorry, but this would be twice as long as it normally would if I had to recant the events of the first three games and the playability of all of them.

Desmond Miles has seen much better days. Well… maybe not. Raised from birth into a nomadic order of assassin’s he never fully understood, he was kidnapped by a shadowy corporation and put into an experimental machine that let him “relive” the memories of his ancestors. Luckily for us, Desmond is the descendant of a few particuarly saucy dudes. Over the course of four games we have followed Desmond on this bizarre journey, while he’s “watched” two of his great ancestors live out pivotal moments of their lives, he’s fallen in love with Lucy and, following the end of the last game, killed her after being hypnotized while being left a vegetable whose mind is trapped inside the animus. Sound weird? Well, maybe it is. A little. But, if you’ve played an Assassin’s Creed game before, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. For the most part. And for the most part, that’s not such a bad thing. The fluid-as-ever platforming is enhanced by quicker movement thanks to some nifty new gadgets, and it’s not until the newer components are forced upon you that the game stumbles at all. Luckily, those bits are easily avoided. Mostly.

Ezio wants some answers. So move, bitch! Get out the way!

As I already mentioned, the game sticks to the tried-and-true and adheres to the familiar dynamic of living out the memories of your ancestors. This time, the story finds Ezio in search of his ancestor, Altair, and the trail leads him to the original assassin fortress of Masyaf, and eventually to the city of Constantinople. There, he becomes embroiled in the typical political trappings which are more of an afront to the agendas between the continuing factions of Templars and Assassins. You may have noticed words like “typical” there, which isn’t necessarily a knock against the story. If you’re into political conspiracies and intrigue, like I am, then this will hit the right notes. However, it’s the 4th game in the series so far, and the 3rd starring Ezio, so this setting is starting to border on “getting stale,” and the weaving webs of betrayal aren’t as convoluted or surprising as they were in earlier iterations of the series. They are, in their defense, still quite good in comparison to other stories written into games, and the continued reliance on factual historical information gives the story arcs a weight and gravity they wouldn’t otherwise have. That is, when you’re playing as Ezio and Altair. When playing as Desmond, you move around on an island that’s a manifestation of his memories in the animus. Or something. Anyway, you gather data fragments while playing as Ezio or Altair, and in turn, these compile and turn into a section Desmond can navigate in 1st-person, giving him a chance to regain some of his lost memories. These sections are pretty mundane and simple, and are more an excercise in patience than anything. They’re also, thankfully, entirely optional, which is really quite a pity, because the way his story complexly interwove with Ezio’s and Altair’s in the past games was intriguing, provocative, and handled masterfully. Here, it’s an afterthought to what the developer’s wanted to accomplish with the historical settings.

Aside from simply taking place in a new setting, the game does a good job of avoiding repetition in the story by improving on certain aspects of the storytelling. The cinematic sequences seem to have borrowed, lightly, from games like Uncharted, where quick cuts of cinematic are interspersed between climbing or running sequences. These are done exceptionally well, though not on Uncharted’s level, and this sense of gleam and polish extends beyond just the action sequences. The story cinematics are all very well done this time around, and the stiff, awkward, sometimes even incomplete-looking cutscenes of the past are now all well done, with no visible sorespots. The characters are well and consistently written, and are all behaving exactly as you would expect them to. Ezio himself is presented as tired, aged, and weary from the decades he’s struggled to maintain the power of his order. It’s reflected both in the portrayal of his character and by the world around him, where passersby will remark that “he’s a little old to be doing that, isn’t he?” as he scales buildings or leaps around. It’s refreshing to see a familiar character portrayed in a different light, and it works better here than in Metal Gear Solid 4. Besides that, however, as I stated above, there’s very little in the story that we haven’t seen in one form or another in an earlier game, and if the story has any real weak point, it’s that there’s no real tangible villain until the very end of the game. Although Cesare Borgia was a bit of a caricature and way overdone in Brotherhood, having a name and a face on the bad guy is always helpful, and gives you something to work towards over the course of the game. Without it, the struggles and missions in Revelations fall a little flat, as all you’re really doing in Constantinople is looking for a bunch of keys. Wow. That makes it sound so much more boring than it really is. The search is helped along by a budding love interesting of Ezio’s, which I don’t feel was entirely forced, and despite his age, isn’t awkward. So, points for that. I guess.

The ratio here looks pretty accurate: whole lotta Ezio, lil bit of Altair. But, that's not a bad thing.

One of the biggest selling points to the game is that you play as both Altair and Ezio, and the game does a beautiful job tying up loose ends in both character’s storylines, as well as give them fitting, well-deserved exits. Well… almost. Although it had me misty-eyed, like saying goodbye to an old friend, I don’t think the way one of them goes out is the way I would’ve done it. Not a knock, just my opinion. Although more than 90% of the game is played as Ezio, Altair’s segments have a poignancy and emotional impact that Ezio’s tale is simply lacking. The way the two stories interweave and finally interconnect at the end is handled masterfully, however, and like I previously admitted, had me shedding a couple tears.

The gameplay itself is as good as ever. Maybe better. Thanks mostly in part to the new Hookblade, which replaced one of Ezio’s hidden blades, he can reach previously unreachable ledges, leap higher up building, and climb walls at a pace he’s never been able to. The addition of ziplines rounds out an already massive repertoire of moves and abilites Ezio’s built up, over the first three games, simply for moving around. Aside from these new additions, though, there’s very little else that’s added to directly controlling Ezio. You scale viewpoints, counterattack the entire time you’re engaged in combat, and blend when you need to hide. Take it or leave it, the Assassin’s Creed formula for sandbox has been a great one since day one, and if you loved it once, you’ll love it again. That being said, if you didn’t like part of it, then basically nothing in the game has been fundamentally overhauled. Like I said, counterattack remains the most functional form of combat, to the point of turning combat into a one button affair, save for the nifty “one-button-kill” feature which makes Ezio into the whirlwind of death he always should’ve been. The climbing is still handled by simply holding down two buttons. The gameplay is the same as it ever was, besides the addition of the Hookblade.

Save for a couple of new additions that turn the game into a veritable smorgasbord of options. Unfortunately, most of these newer additions seem to work very directly against the sped-up flow this newest iteration has, due to either a boggling design choice, or simply a boring, unimportant gameplay mechanic. In the case of the former, the assassin recruitment remains largely the same as it was in Brotherhood. You spend time killing Templar captains who reign over a district of the city, converting it into an Assassin Den in the process. Once you train a recruit to a high enough level by sending them on missions to other cities, they can watch over that Den and prevent it from being retaken by the Templars. Sounds wicked cool, right? Not so much in execution. See, sending them on missions to other cities requires you to stop and find special pigeon coops, where you then navigate through menu after menu, picking and choosing which assassins to send on which mission. It deliberately, completely, and utterly destroys whatever momentum the story may have at that point, or whatever mission you may be on at the moment, because it forces you to stop and wade through menus. It just makes absolutely zero sense to me why they would include such a menu-heavy aspect to the game when they’ve clearly worked to make almost everything else more fluid. The other problem with this (the latter, as it were) occurs when you build up a certain amount of notoriety by committing illegal actions, and make the assassin presence known in the city. When you don’t have one of those handy Master Assassin’s in one of those Assassin Dens, the Templars have a chance to retake that den, forcing you to defend it in a mini-game called, “Den Defense.” What a nightmare this shit is… You’re stuck on a single rooftop, where you use morale (the mini-games currency, if you will) to place different assassin types along rooftops adjacent to the street leading up to the den, as well as barricades in the street itself. Templars will come in varying waves and it’s up to you to stop them. Unfortunately, this functions almost like a stripped-down, bare bones, boring RTS sim. You can fire cannon shots into one of the Templar raiding parties but, honestly? The whole sequence is trite, drawn-out, and most importantly, just not very much fun. Luckily, it’s avoided altogether if you manage to simply keep your notoriety down. Thank-Fuckin-Christ.

This isn't ending well for someone. I'll let you pick who.

One of the things worth mentioning is that alongside Ezio being older and wiser, his “mentor” status feels quite earned by the end of the game, as you recruit assassins and eventually accompany them on missions to eliminate particularly insidious villains. They’ll usually fail their first attempt, however, and after Ezio offers some sound advice and returns later for a second go, they redeem themselves by performing the way a true master Assassin should. These targets are the only ones with any of that sort of moral ambiguity the first game had. It’s been one of my biggest criticisms of the series so far: the first game was the only one, the only one, where you didn’t necessarily feel like you were killing evil people. Each target had reasons for their actions, however monstrous, and that writing that went into creating that gray area was one of the most brilliant aspects to the entire game. Since then, however, the world has become much more black and white, with wholly greedy, nefarious, and sometimes insane, sociopath types who need to be put down simply because the game needs someone for you to kill. It’s really a shame.

The technical aspects of the game, as usual, are quite good. The graphics haven’t changed a whole lot since the 2nd game, and still look quite good, which speaks volumes for how good Assassin’s Creed 2 really looked. The game looks notably better in the day-time, where the golden sun cascades across green grass, golden fields, and the wondrous city, while soft candlelight, and glowing torches illuminate the night streets in an equally poetic, beautiful way. There’s also not enough kind words to say about the amount of detail and work that must have gone into recreating 15th century Constantinople, with every detail looking meticulously crafted and recreated. I never feel these games will get enough credit for this aspect of the development, and it’s absolutely astonishing the amount of work it must’ve taken. All things considered, these games are still beautiful to look at, with realistic characters and absolutely top-notch animation, particularly on the part of Ezio, who moves so gracefully and beautifully that there’s hardly an equal to his parkour abilites in games.

The sound is also quite commendable, as I’ve always believed the foleywork and general sound effects to be a little on the poor side, and while they’re certainly not the standout feature in this game, they’re greatly improved from earlier editions in the series. I’m not sure what it is, and maybe it’s just me, but Ubisoft has a bit of a penchant for stellar graphics and lackluster sound. Ever since Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, it’s just something I noticed and something I don’t feel has changed. Revelations, however, has at least decent sound-work, with particular exception to the soundtrack, which is one of the best I’ve heard in quite a while. The series doesn’t really have a “theme” at this point, which I believe to be hurting the series as far as a soundtrack goes, so hopefully later editions of the game with latch onto the one Revelations used. The soundtrack is evocative, colorful, and has a feeling of nostalgia or melancholy to it, which beautifully reflects the paralleled stories of the two aging assassins. Hat’s off to Ubi for this one.

The multiplayer is as good as ever, as well, pitting you as a Templar recruit who’s stalking a single target through the city. Not knowing where your target is, or whose target you are, lends an incredible air of suspense and tension to the entire experience, and you never feel thoroughly outmatched by anyone you play against. I recommend checking it out if you haven’t already!

The powerful ending gives the game a lift the rest of the story couldn't.

The game is more than a little bittersweet. On one hand, you continue to live out the life of Ezio di Auditore, who has cemented himself as one of the best leading men of this generation of games. Altair is also one of the most wondrous, mysterious figures this generation of games has produced, and Revelations finally fleshes out some of the chapters of his life post-ACI. But, on the other hand, both men are taking graceful exits. Mostly. I still don’t like one of them, and it’s not how I would like to remember someone I feel like I’ve gotten to know over the course of four games, but hey. Can’t win ’em all. If you were a fan of this series at all before, you’ll be glad to know that whatever you liked hasn’t changed, and that this story, although a little bit on the weak side until the very end, is still quite good. The power and gravity of the ending, however, greatly outshines the blandness of certain aspects of the story. That same ending is given much more weight considering how much we’ve seen of each character over the course of four games, and if you’ve spent the time I have journeying alongside each of them, that weight makes Ezio and Altair’s final tales ones you definitely owe it to yourself to experience.

Goddamnit, if it isn’t still badass every time Ezio says, “Resquiescat in Pace.”

And yeah, I cried at the ending. So what?!

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