Review: Assassin’s Creed Revelations (Sony PS3)

Assassin’s Creed Revelations
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 11/14/2011

I only got around to playing through the Assassin’s Creed series this year. That’s right. I played through all four of them in a matter of months. I feel this gives me an interesting take on the series. I found the first game to be repetitive and boring, while the second game was, pardon the pun, a renaissance. I was equally excited to play through Brotherhood, only to discover a weak side story with a tacked on recruitment mechanic and a penchant for abusing the same tire mission types. I was sorely disappointed.

So, it was with trepidation that I approached Revelations. It promised to end the saga of Ezio Auditore, bring some closure to the tale of Altair, and give you a whole new region to play through. It also added bomb crafting, a tower defense mini-game, and a new assassin blade. I was hopeful, but not convinced.

So, does Revelations bring the series back to glory, or is it time for Ubisoft to cut their losses and just get to AC3 already?

Story

The setup for this game is a lot less sinister than in previous titles. Ezio Auditore, now 52, discovers a note from his father that details a library under the ancient Assassin headquarters in Masyaf. Series scholars will recognize this as the home base of Altair from the first game. Ezio uncovers a Templar plot to break into the library via the acquisition of five keys, one of which they already have. Queue Ezio heading off to the city of Constantinople, where all of the keys have been hidden. Along the way he meets the local Assassins, finds a love interest, and gets to relive memories of the aforementioned Altair.

The story is initially split into two sections. One details Ezio’s search for the keys, while the other involves him aiding in the defense against Templar insurgents. Inevitably, these two storylines meet in the expected fashion, but the ride is much more interesting than the one you find in Brotherhood. For starters, it serves as a fitting epilogue to both Ezio and Altair, rather than a rehash of Assassin’s Creed II’s plot. Also, since Ezio took off for Constantinople on his own accord, none of the old crew is around, allowing Ezio to interact with a whole new cast of characters. The only callback to the Italy gang is Ezio writing to his sister, which serves as a recap/introduction to each chapter.

Overall, I found it pretty enjoyable. The ending conclusion is lead up to nicely, and the elder, more statesman-like Ezio serves as a nice contrast to the reckless teenager of old. The inclusion of Altair’s memories, which could have felt tacked on, make sense.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what’s going on with Desmond, the man reliving all of these memories through the Animus, I’ll fill you in. After the events of Brotherhood, he’s trapped in a coma and on the verge of going completely batty because all of the ancestral memories are fighting to take over his brain. Oddly enough, the only way to fix this is to relive the memories that Ezio wants to show him and hope for the best. There is some side content you can explore that finally details his origins, but you have to find a bunch of collectables to access it. The end does set up Assassin’s Creed III though, which comes as no surprise.

Beyond story mode, you can once again take the fight online in a suite of multiplayer modes. The setup is an Abstergo facility testing it’s Templar cronies through use of the Animus. All of the classic modes, are here, from deathmatch to capture the flag. It works as most modern shooters do in all regards, apart from the gameplay. You gain experience for each match, earn perks for killstreaks, and unlock new items with which you can upgrade your character. A helpful tutorial eases you in, and the mode is alright apart from the typical balancing issues that you get from games like this. The more you play, the more goodies you get, and beginners are quickly squashed. Nothing new here.

Graphics

The AC engine is definitely showing it’s age, but the art style is still so solid, and there is enough attention to detail to leave the visual experience a positive one.

One of my biggest issues were eyes. In particular, there were many scenes where Ezio’s eyes glowed yellow under his hood, making him look like Emperor Palpatine. It was downright creepy, and it made me think he was hypnotizing the poor girl with his Jedi-like powers. I suppose it might be better than the dull lifeless eyes that so many games have, but by a slight margin at best.

The performance takes a hit often as well. More than a few times, everything will freeze for a moment while the game tries to catch up, or you’ll be treated to some not so nice pop in. The framerate can also take a hit during hectic moments. This is nothing new to the series, and it’s better off than the other games. However, the problem still remains, which is disappointing.

Like I said, the art style is still a sight to behold. Bringing back sixteenth century Constantinople was a wise choice, as it plays nicely against the Italian setting of the past couple of games. There are also some pretty great set piece moments involving a city inside of a large cave, a snow covered mountain, and a fleet of burning ships.

So, while technical issues pop their ugly head from time to time, the visual experience is still quite solid thanks to a fantastic sense of style and attention to detail. Oh yeah, and the animations are still epic. Ubisoft Montreal does them better than anyone else, and this game is no exception.

Audio

The voice acting is up to the usual quality. Any game that can do an Italian accent without the whole thing turning into some sort of Mario spoof earns points in my eyes. But this game also tosses in Middle Eastern accents as well. I’d have to say it did a pretty bang up job, but that is to be expected. Even Nolan North as Desmond seemed better than usual this time around. However, that might simply be because there was less of him.

The soundtrack is also quite good, with plenty of ambient tunes that stay in the background and help set the mood. The music never overpowers the action, but rather compliments it in a satisfying way. None of these songs are ones that you’ll get stuck in your head, but they fit the game like a glove. The Middle Eastern tinge to the music is a great touch as well.

The sound effects are the same as usual, which is to say, another strong point. From the hidden blade claiming another life to the thunk of the crossbow, each sound is on the money.

I really can’t find a chink in the game’s aural armor. As per usual, it is one of the strongest features of the game. (Although the new voice for Altair may throw some off.)

Gameplay

Let’s start with what’s the same.

The traversal mechanics are pretty much untouched, although a couple of things have been added. (More on that later.) You can climb pretty much any building via running and holding down the x button. This allows you to move freely over rooftops, outcroppings, and pretty much anything you can get a hold of. However, running through crowds is ill advised, as bumping into people throws you for a loop. It works well in fast chases, but can be a touch imprecise at the worst moments. This is true for every game in the series.

Combat has yet to evolve, although it still finds ways to get easier. Counter kills are you best friend, and they are easy to do time and again. The killstreak mechanic from Brotherhood returns, allowing you to get instant kills by merely flicking the stick in the general direction of an enemy. You can start these anytime after you get a kill. Basically, a whole force of enemies can be taken down in a matter of seconds, even the tougher ones that are supposed to give you a hassle. For an action game, the combat is very underwhelming.

Missions types are a lot more varied this time around. You won’t spend half of the time tailing targets or chasing them down. These are still there, but they don’t dominate the experience. One level has you impersonating a minstrel, which was all kinds of cool. Basically, you’d distract guests with songs of Ezio’s victims while another Assassin worked to take down a target. Another mission has you racing through a cave at high speed while a gunmen try to take you down from a boat. Yet another has your parasailing, believe it or not. However, many missions at the beginning are a tutorial for the new stuff. It can kind of derail the story a bit, but the game pulls it off without too many problems.

Like in Brotherhood, you can recruit citizens and turn them into Assassin’s in training. Most of them are recruited by saving them from guards, but this game wisely adds several mission types to the fray as well. You’ll compete with a pickpocket, brawl with a boastful pugilist, and other such things. It does well to break up the monotony of adding to your crew. Once you have a few cronies, you can call them into battle, have them assassinate targets on your screen, or send them on missions to earn money and experience. Leveling them is extremely basic, as you can only upgrade armor and weapons via increasing a rank. However, there is some new to the formula. When a recruit reaches level ten, you can assign them to become a master of one of your towers. (You liberate these from Templars.) Then, you can go on a mission with them to share your knowledge. This allows them to level further and eventually reach the top rank. When this happens, your towers are safe from attack. So, this feature has seen some fleshing out, and is much more enjoyable than in Brotherhood.

Now that I’ve gotten the old stuff out of the way, I want to get to the new features that Revelations brings to the table.

The first is bomb crafting. Pretty much from the get go, you start finding bits and pieces in treasure chests and via looting of enemy corpses. Early on, you’re shown how to take these ingredients and use them to create various bombs. You have three main types. These are tactical, distraction, and ballistic. The tactical bombs are used to evoke certain reactions. For example, if you fill a bomb with lambs blood, you can throw it to make an enemy think he’s been injured. Distraction bombs are where you’ll find smoke bombs and cherry bombs. These are used to hide your presence or get the guards to move to where you want them. The ballistic bombs do the damage, either via shrapnel or poison. You can use various shells to make new creations. You have have bombs that explode on impact, stick to a target, or even lay them down as mines. There are three different gun powders you can use to set the size of the explosion too. These tools are invariable and the game really wants you to use them. Bomb crafting stations are everywhere, as are black merchants ready with ingredients. The game even includes the ability to test your bombs before you commit to making them.

The hookblade is another new invention. This replaces the dagger on your right arm and is used in both traversal and combat. When moving, you can go down zip lines with the blade, or use it to reach higher areas. It also extends your reach when jumping, allowing you to grab holds you couldn’t before, or make long jumps in certain areas. In battle, it serves as a normal blade, but you can perform what’s called a “hook and run” in which you utilize the hookblade to launch yourself over an enemy. This is great for when you’re running away and need to get past someone. The design is a bit silly, but in terms of how it affects gameplay, it is a positive.

One addition that falls flat on its face is the tower defense mini game. After you’ve captured a den, the Templars will attempt to take it back at some point. In order to keep your claim, you need to play a little tower defense. This involves setting up Assassin’s, putting up barricades, and managing your resources to make sure the enemy doesn’t get through. The problem is that the controls aren’t ideal, neither is the behind the shoulder camera that can only be moved back and forth. A top down perspective is key for TD games, and this game suffers for the lack of one. It’s also horribly easy once you give up going for a related trophy. You can use cannon fire to obliterate huge numbers at once, Ezio can fire his own gun, and you can loot bodies for extra resources. Enemies do fight back and even kill your troops, but once you get the hang of things, that won’t matter. What does matter is that the game is very bad about letting you know that your boys are dying. Never once did I enjoy this feature. It always felt like a chore. The fact that the game decided to make me run through seven or eight of these one after the other didn’t help at all.

The final change comes in the form of some of the controls. With the addition of the bombs, the traditional weapon wheel became a bit crowded. So, they moved things around. Besides the crossbow, all projectile weapons have been moved to the triangle button, while the melee remain on the square. This allows for much more freedom when in combat, and cuts down a lot of back and forth. All triangle did before was activate eagle vision, which has been smartly reassigned to a click of the left analog stick. It took a bit of getting used to, but the change was one for the better.

Overall, this is pretty much the same Assassin’s Creed we’ve gotten used to. The combat is still underwhelming, little has been done to the traversal mechanics, and all of the changes from Brotherhood found their way in this well. Of the new in this game, most of it is an improvement. The bombs add to your tactical capabilities, the new button layout streamlines a lot of the back and forth, and the recruitment feature has been fleshed out a bit. The formula still has plenty of flaws, but still manages to make a compelling gameplay experience. It doesn’t hurt that there aren’t very many comparable titles out there.

Replayability

The main story isn’t overly long, but like every game since II, Revelations has plenty of stuff to keep you sidetracked so that the hours add up pretty quickly. Beyond story missions, you can work on recruiting, capture new dens, experiment with new bombs, tackle missions with your fellow Assassins, hunt for collectables, purchase upgrades, unlock new shops and landmarks, etc. There is a lot to work through here, and it can eat up time. Even with a tunnel system designed to cut down on travel time, you’ll spend a lot of time even moving from place to place.

All of the side content is beneficial as well. Your recruits can be used during missions, finding the main collectables unlocks content for Desmond, capturing dens reduce the number of enemies milling around the city, etc. At the very least, you can simply work on making money and upgrading Ezio’s gear. It’s the kind of game where you can spend hours playing without moving the story forward.

Then you have the multiplayer. If you end up enjoying it, there is a lot to offer here. You are constantly earning new upgrades, perks, and customization items. In addition, there are several modes to try, meaning you can find a favorite or mix things up.

So, though the main story is probably only going to last you one play through, that session will almost definitely be extended to the point where the game gives you plenty of play for the dollar. You can easily get upwards of thirty hours before you’re done.

Balance

This is perhaps the game’s biggest weakness. It is simply too easy.

For starters, the economy is even more unbalanced than usual. As long as you loot your enemies, you’ll almost never have to restock on supplies such as knives, poison, or medicine. This saves you a lot of money, which allows you to purchase upgrades more quickly. I bought medicine once in the entire game, and that was only when I stopped looting for an extended period of time. You’ll also never have to worry about bomb ingredients unless you throw the things like candy from parade float.

Your fellow Assassins make things much easier as well. You get them early in the game, and you’ll find that they quickly become almost as adept as you at dispatching enemies. When you call in an assist, they’ll instantly take down a couple of enemies, and then join the fray. I’ve seen them chain kills together perfectly with guns and smoke bomb, allowing me to ignore some fights all together. Even if I chose to battle, the killstreak system is so easily manipulated that I could clear the board in a matter of seconds. Enemies pose no risk to you.

A lot of the big set piece moments take it one stop further. More than one of them give you an endless wave of minions to call in, allowing you to casually walk through an army. The Altair levels often give you an unfair advantage as well, such as infinite throwing knives or the apple of Eden itself. Thematically, the levels are cool, but they offer no challenge.

When it comes down to it, the only time you’ll lose is when you screw up the platforming sections. This involves making an ill aimed jump, or getting yourself spotted during sneaking segments. This is the easiest game in the series, to a fault.

Originality

Well this is the fourth game in the series (at least on consoles), and the framework is still pretty much the same. Any changes have been minor improvements that don’t shake up the foundation, but rather build upon it or maybe patch a crack or two. While they do add, they don’t count towards originality. After all, it’s not like we haven’t seen zip lines and weapon crafting in games before.

Then again, does anyone really want to fundamentally change the way things are done in this game? Sure, the economy needs fixing and a few control issues could use some work, but the concept is still great. In that regard, a high originality score for Revelations could signal a death knell.

Addictiveness

This game has a way of going about things that can be surprisingly addictive. It is very easy to convince yourself that since one story mission bleeds so easily into the next, that taking a break between them would be a crime. Likewise, when you take down one Templar den, you might as well get the one that’s nearby as well. It’s like a domino effect of time lost.

Generally, speaking, I played this game until I beat a couple of story chapters, then I took a break. The breaks were usually for food, watching The Deadliest Catch on Netflix, or sleep. I blew through this game in a few days, which isn’t something I do for everything.

If you’re a fan of the series, or a fan of action games in general, you probably won’t be able to put this game down for long.

Appeal Factor

For series fans, this is a must own. It intertwines the stories of Altair, Ezio, and Desmond in a believable way, brings a worthy conclusion to the former two, and sets up the journey for the latter. In just about every regard, this is what Brotherhood should have been, and the series doesn’t seem like ti would be complete without it. You’ll hate defending the towers, but you’ll love the rest.

For anyone else, the game is a tougher sell. This isn’t a series that is good to jump into without foreknowledge. There isn’t much explaining as to who’s who or what’s what in this game. You won’t know what a Templar is, and you won’t understand why they just can’t get along with the Assassins. This is the third game starring Ezio, after all. You should really start at the beginning.

Miscellaneous

For starters, the PS3 version of the game comes with a free copy of the original Assassin’s Creed. There have been no updates, and you have to install it to your drive, but that’s a pretty sweet deal. It can serve as a refresher course as to who Altair is, or simply introduce the game to those who might have jumped on the series later. Either way, it’s a cool entry.

It should be noted that in order to play the online portion of the game, you’ll need an online pass. New copies come with this, but used or rented copies do not. There is some good news though. A three day trial is offered at no cost, which should give players enough time to decide if the mode is important enough to warrant the expenditure.

Forgive me. I forgot to mention how the Desmond memory sequences play out. These are, oddly enough, first person platforming sections where you need to work your way through a series of obstacles. It is in stark contrast to the rest of the game and isn’t terribly exciting, but it’s nice that they’re trying something new.

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Enjoyable
Audio: Great
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Very Poor
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary


Assassin’s Creed Revelations is a definite step up from Brotherhood, and fans of the series will likely eat it up like birthday cake. It does have some issues though. The old problems have yet to be resolved, the Tower Defense game is a chore, and it is the easiest game in the series yet. Still, the game is solid overall and worth playing for anyone looking for a time sink or a solid action adventure game. Let’s just hope that Assassin’s Creed III can finally meet the potential that the series has always had.

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