Much like another work of fiction straying into the religious-conspiracy-populist shelf of literature, Assassin’s Creed closes down Ezio and Altair’s brackets through a chapter called Revelations. This time around, Ezio lays down the anchor in Constantinople, at the beginning of the 16th century, a capital that will serve as a theater for our adventure about three quarters of the game time.
The other two assassin protagonists modestly extract their playable times in the form of subchapters that set tone for the adventure. The Altair parts describe closed areas, short segments in key moments of the main assassin’s life, while Desmond walks around a limbo of virtual reality very similar in terms of concept to the subway stations in The Matrix Revolutions. Or Portal, in terms of gameplay and atmosphere.
Aside from these mentions, Revelations is more or less Assassin’s Creed 2 released for the second time, after Brotherhood. And when I say that you need to understand that I loved Assassin’s Creed 2 greatly, proof of it being the dozens of hours needed to get the platinum trophy on the PS3. It’s just that it was the third time when I cleaned out the map, discovering towers, renovating shops and collecting all the little collectible bits on, over and under every fence. But even with the raw feeling of satisfaction the patronage of the arts will bring you in an era when Photoshop meant canvas, the same game in three geographical regions… is still the same game.
The small additions, like new blades in a Swiss army knife, don’t do a whole lot more than postpone the moment when you realize that, even though you were expecting a chainsaw, you’re still holding the same tiny shiv in your pocket. More to the point, Revelations shows off two new elements: a form of tower defense that comes into play when you have to defend an assassin den and the so-called hookblade, a modified wrist blade that helps you move across ziplines, climb vertical surfaces faster and trip over some poor shmuck you’re pursuing with non-lethal intentions.
The „Tower Defense” part becomes more complex once attacks on the player’s base intensify – and even though strategically placed barricades, different types of archers or improving defensive structures will help ease the task, the whole ordeal is still nothing more than a minigame and can fortunately be avoided by keeping a reasonably low level of notoriety (by paying off heralds on the streets of Constantinople or assassinating certain delegates).
But without these elements (which, let’s get real, don’t change more than about 1% of the gameplay in any significant way) Revelations seems slightly out of time, particularly considering it’s more crammed up and smaller than Brotherhood or 2. Like getting the „end-game” armor – which in Brotherhood was obtained by visiting a fairly big number of mausoleums, catacombs and crypts to collect the pieces that made it up.
The optional crypt number has been reduced to 1 here, at the end, after you’re done collecting all the Animus shards spread throughout Constantinople. Conversely, the main objectives now consist of looking up five keys in catacombs and aqueducts, as the game effectively turns the aforementioned secondary objectives into the main plotline.
Since I mentioned the Animus shards, they have two roles: they unlock first person segments with Desmond (that part of the game that, as I said, resembles Portal) and ultimately unlock that crypt I was talking about. Naturally, we still have traditional collectible elements: shops, weapons, upgrades, landmarks or art objects that are here and there complemented by the tomes we get a special gallery for.
The assassins you train can once again be called upon in the same groups of three (or by using your Arrow Storm skill that uses up all the assassin slots, but kills off all the guards in range in return). They also kept the RPG element in Brotherhood, where successful world map missions and the kills they get reward your henchmen with experience and, when leveling up, with upgrades to their weapons and armor. The system also gained a few additions on the way: for instance, dominating a capital and completing certain additional missions will generate a constant sum of money, deposited in the player’s treasury.
Customization once again allows you not only to purchase armor parts that blacksmiths will have for sale once you advance through the storyline, but also coloring your character’s clothing in various nuances, while the arsenal is more or less the same. So there’s nothing new there – we’ve got the same old fighting tricks, including the unbeatable counter move, the pistol up your sleeve, poisoned darts and so forth.
On the novelty side, you can build bombs using various ingredients, sporting all sorts of effects. Each model has three elements dictating its behavior (range, type of grenade, duration) which can be made out of bits you find spread throughout the game world. As expected, they either cover up the protagonist’s escape (smoke bomb) or blast into a thousand small pieces built to shred through as many opponents as you can, and you can also unveil the other effects by combining ingredients on a workshop table.
Where Revelations trully shines is the attention the developers paid to Constantinople – from certain standpoints it’s superior even to Brotherhood’s Rome. And despite the detracting factor of doing the same old moves over and over again, getting on higher buildings will flesh out spectacular landscapes, populated by various urban minorities. While we’re here, Revelations introduces romani to complement the two classic factions you can support. Visually, Revelations still looks good, where its attention to details, materials rendering as well as varied structures and the fluent flow though levels compensates in full for the years the game’s engine collected dust.
Furthermore, I find the historical characters integrated into the story are much more memorable than many of the previous ones (Suleiman the Magnificent for instance, the sultan that brought the Ottoman Empire its golden age) or the antagonist, Manuel Palaiologos, who would have inherited the Byzantine Empire were it still on the map.
But launching new titles ever so often in the flagship franchise Ubisoft put forward doesn’t do it any favors: the rushed production can be felt, as well as the lack in content, there’s a constant need to change the scenery and above all else, you can feel an itching state of deja-vu determining a lot of gamers to distrust AC as much as they already distrust the FIFA or Call of Duty series in terms of innovation.
However, the brief single-player is compensated by the still excellent multiplayer Brotherhood first brought up. With new maps, characters and game modes (among which „Capture the Flag”, an essential passport for any modern action game’s multiplayer to be taken seriously.) Furthermore, there’s a clan system with customizable tabards, and going up in levels unlocks exclusive information on Abstergo.
The matches are short, pretty frantic and, once you’re used to the mechanics and objectives, incredibly fun. Customizing characters and abilities are very similar to older games, following the same pattern (Uncharted 2 or 3, Splinter Cell: Conviction), offering at the same time an exploration dimension and speculum that they don’t deliver (more similar to the Mafia social game than the current generation of video games).
The achievement points you get can be invested in Uplay rewards (wallpapers, new assassin missions) and motivates completionists to collect anything that can be collected in the game’s world. Even if that world can be cleaned out of all its rewards in about a dozen hours.
Ultimately, Revelations leaves behind a bittersweet taste: it’s the end of a saga (or two, depending on how you view things) and integrates fairly well in the timeline of the series, but… it’s nothing more than a detour that answers a few questions, not an actual step forward.