Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

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Christmas 2009 was when I was first introduced to Ezio Auditore.  Assassin’s Creed II grabbed me and took me on a journey that satisfied so many gaming loves: amazing story, fascinating setting, fun combat, modern conspiracy theory, and even a bit of OCD compulsion with the eagle feathers.  The game fired on so many levels to make a unique and gorgeous world that when Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood would be released the next year and add multiplayer, I was a bit skeptical that the same magic could be captured again in such a short period.

Due to such an overwhelming amount of titles during the 2010 holiday season, I didn’t actually get to play ACB until earlier this year.  By the time I played the next chapter of Ezio’s adventures, enough praise had been showered down on ACB to help curb my skepticism as the multiple teams from Ubisoft had managed to capture lightning in a bottle a second time in one year’s time.  While I would agree that overall ACB managed to improve and add some new mechanics as well as continue a fantastic story, I couldn’t help but feel a bit frustrated by some of the repetition I noticed while continuing with the Ezio saga.  So with my love of Assassin’s Creed II and eventual acceptance and love of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood were cemented, I again felt a bit of trepidation and skepticism with such a short turn around time of the release of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

The one thing about the Assassin’s Creed games that I find so compelling is the ability to weave multiple stories together around more than one character.  ACR focuses on Ezio, Desmond and Altair, the main character from the first Assassin’s Creed title.  The actual creed that all assassin’s follow is “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”  This idea is central to all of the games, but really resonates in ACR as the story focuses on the resolution and redemption of Altair and Ezio’s lives.  As with the previous titles, ACR builds to a satisfying conclusion but still manages to end with a cliffhanger and left me with a strong excitement for the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 3.

Of course I’m getting ahead of myself by already talking about the next game.  How is ACR?  At first I felt a bit disappointed.  Sure the game mechanic’s were the same great mechanics from AC2 and ACR, the visuals (while being different as the story mainly takes place in Constantinople) were still amazing, I couldn’t help but think that nothing has changed.  The compulsion to climb the view points to unlock the map, as well as collect Animus memory fragments (this year’s version of eagle feathers or Borgia flags) gently got me back into the swing of things as the story developed.

Ezio has aged a good amount from ACB and has taken on the task of learning the secrets hidden in Altair’s library vault.  As Ezio attempts to gain entrance to the library, he discovers that the Templars have the same idea and have overrun Masyaf, the home of Altair and the original Assassin’s “HQ” or training den.  By the end of Altair’s life, Masyaf has fallen into ruin and the Assassin line has realized that one central location is not a safe idea and thus have splintered and scattered throughout the world.  Once Ezio defeats the Templars located at Masyaf he learns that the library has been locked behind a door that requires five unique keys that were entrusted to Niccolo Polo by Altair to be hidden around Constantinople.

Once Ezio travels to Constantinople, the game and story proper begins but also falters a little bit.  While Templars are an ever present danger, ACR stumbles initially on who or what is the main enemy or threat keeping Ezio from finding the hidden keys.  As I mentioned earlier, Ezio has aged considerably and because of this his reputation as a master Assassin follows him wherever he goes.  Ezio befriends Yusuf, the leader of the local Assassins, and is introduced to new techniques employed by those assassins, including the hook blade as well as several types of bombs beyond the typical smoke bomb.  This is where the game lost me at first.  Everything that has been established in the previous games is open and available as well as the new game mechanics, but very little time is spent giving a good introduction (and better still) an actual reason to use the new mechanics. There is a vendor that can be found in the middle of the bazaar in Constantinople that offers training missions to explain the various uses of the new bomb types, but the game doesn’t force players to actually run these missions. While the new bomb types aren’t essential to the established game mechanics, they do add a new tact to distract guards or take out a target.  

Open world games are fun because there are so many things to explore and find.  AC2 introduced the idea of buying up various shops throughout the different districts to earn money and ACB tweaked the concept by allowing any bank that had been renovated to allow Ezio to withdraw the earned income without having to go back to the main hideout.  This economy returns in ACR and my own OCD nature fell into the trap of immediately needing to find all the shops, free them of their Templar restrictions, and then renovate them.  While open world games allow this style of play, I would argue that I almost “played the game wrong” by skipping over the bomb tutorial missions until I had actually finishing the game.  It wasn’t until I had played those missions too late in the process that I realized that they added a valuable component to taking on enemies.

Aside from bombs and the hook blade, the other new feature that ACR introduces is the concept of an Assassin den defense mini-game.  Throughout all of the Assassin’s Creed games the idea of killing guards or high ranking officials brings notoriety to your character.  In ACR, high notoriety not only brings guards down on Ezio like white on rice, but Templars now will retaliate against Assassin Dens that were once Templar Dens.  The den defense mini-game centers on the idea of Templars rushing in to retake the den similar to tower defense games.  Ezio commands assassins to take up posts along the roof tops of the path to the den to fire down arrows or bullets to take out the waves of Templars.  While the concept is intriguing, the actual mechanics are a bit frustrating. Fortunately by keeping Ezio’s notoriety low I was able to avoid having to play the den defense very often.  This addition to the plethora of mini-games employed by the series is by far the weakest and if it were my choice, one that should not return in the next game.

One cool feature that returns from ACB is the ability to recruit assassins from the local citizens being harassed by guards.  Each assassin recruit can be used for foreign missions through a different mini-game where assignments are given to kill officials, steal treasure or eventually overthrow Templar rule in various  Mediterranean cities. New to the Assassin recruit leveling in ACR is the ability to train assassins as Master assassins.  Once an assassin has reached level 10, new missions are unlocked that Ezio can play a direct role in which adds some of the best side mission stories and really helps to bring out a sense that Ezio is a true master that all other assassins look up to for leadership.  This is a subtle and potentially overlooked aspect of the game that in my opinion is almost more rewarding than the main quest of searching for the Masyaf keys.

After finding each key, Ezio is drawn into key moments of Altair’s life allowing gameplay to shift from Constantinople and Ezio, to Masyaf and Altair.  While there are only four distinct moments of playing as Altair, each segment helps to remove the sour taste of Altair being a bit of a jackass in his youth, as time and age have made him a wise and changed older figure by the end of his tale.  A redemption to his youthful brash behavior befits the character and helps to drive home the creed that nothing is true and everything is permitted.  Youth and arrogance can be molded into patience, wisdom and forgiveness, which ultimately helps Ezio make his final choice and complete both sagas of Altair and Ezio.

Pacing in an open world can be a bit hard to control as players ultimately have final say over what they want to attempt next.  To me, the Desmond sections of the game were unlocked in a mostly well controlled pace, as they could only be accessed once Ezio collected enough Animus memory fragments.  Unfortunately for me, I found my OCD kicking in earlier than the game’s story progression and so I found myself going through the last Desmond section earlier than I feel the developers probably intended.  That being said, I couldn’t help myself.  The Desmond sections switch to a first-person perspective and feel similar to the puzzle chambers of Aperture Science in Portal and Portal 2.  As Desmond works through the puzzles, he recounts his past, growing up in a modern day nomadic Assassin compound.  The puzzles are navigated through a means of switching between placing a rectangular or a ramp shaped platform to reach the next pathway.  Each new Desmond segment adds additional obstacles by means of moving laser beams and transparent walls that destroy the platforms that Desmond can place.  There are only five Desmond segments which allows enough time for the developers to add to his history, but I almost wish there were just another puzzle level or two more as they were a new unique twist to a series that already has lots of fun side games sprinkled throughout each title.

When ACB came out last year, Ubisoft’s initial promotional push was focused entirely on the fact that the game would ship with a multiplayer component in addition to the continued story of Ezio.  I’m not a huge fan of competitive multiplayer.  I’ll play it if I have enough friends on my friend list playing it, or if it is an absolute “must play,” but in my mind the Assassin’s Creed games are all about the stories of Altair, Ezio and Desmond.  I admit that I never played a minute of mulitplayer in ACB.  But to be able to give a fair and balanced review of ACR I needed to give the mulitplayer a chance.

After finishing the single player component I took the plunge and loaded up the multiplayer side of the game.  Immediately the thing that struck me as cool was the fact that the developers have written a story of sorts, and thus narrative-minded gamers such as myself have a reason to play the multiplayer.  A cutscene begins the multiplayer experience explaining that everyone playing are actually employees of Abstergo (the corporation hiding the true intentions of the Templars) training to become good enough to be able to combat and defeat all that oppose the Templar way.  Games in multiplayer are mix of deathmatch and mascarade, in that each player selects a character model that is unique from all other players during the match. Each character model then is replicated and controlled by the Animus and it is up to the player to try and seek out and assassinate the target that is assigned to them.  Each player has the option of blending in with the rest of the crowd, hiding in piles of hay, or flagrantly running around.  Of course, the more secretive a player is, blending in with the surroundings, the more points for creativity are earned when a kill is made.  Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t play multiplayer in ACB.  The matches are set to play for ten minutes and there are variations on what I described, but what I’ve found is that no matter which style of matchplay is selected, patience is the key to winning and leveling up.

Leveling unlocks several things. First off, leveling offers the ability to add new distractions to help trick those that are pursuing you as well as adding new methods for detecting those that you are assigned to kill.  Secondly, leveling unlocks progressive cutscenes which unfold a fantastic Templar slanted view of the Assassin’s Creed world.  My only true complaint about multiplayer is that most times, the other players I’ve played against vote to simply play deathmatch, even though in my opinion Corruption, Wanted and Steal the Artifact add a more robust experience.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a fantastic game that continues the story of Desmond and provides a powerful resolution to both Altair and Ezio.  There are some minor missteps in the game with the den defense and the lack of better focus on showing players how to use the new bomb types, but overall the game is great.  While I would definitely recommend this game, it is not one that should be played without the context of at least AC2 and ACB before it.  Players new to the series also get a treat with AC1 being included on the disc for PlayStation 3 owners, and those who have not played that title–such as myself–now have an opportunity to go back and play the original game as well.

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Pros:
+ Great resolution story for Ezio and Altair
+ Unique new puzzles with Desmond
+ Fun multiplayer
+ AC1 included for PS3 players

Cons:
– Den defense mini-game is not fun
– Some features aren’t explained as effectively as they could be

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Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3; also available on PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 11/15/2011
Genre: Action / Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.