Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Genre: Stealth Action
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 11/15/11

Two years ago, we were introduced to Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassin’s Creed 2, in a game that neatly followed the events of his life as he grew into a man and gave us both a more interesting protagonist and a more interesting game than the preceding title offered. Now, two years later, we’re still wrapping up the events of Ezio and Altair’s lives with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations for whatever reason, and while last year’s title, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, was a fine enough expansion of the concept, three games in three years seems to be stretching things a bit. Ubisoft has certainly managed to create a solid engine for the series, and the two prior games were certainly interesting enough, but the fear that comes to mind here is that as the series progresses, the player isn’t getting any sort of change when the games are being pumped out in an assembly line fashion. Well, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations does nothing to assuage that fear in the least; while the plot is a nice wrap-up of the storylines of Ezio and Altair, the core gameplay is largely unchanged, the new minor mechanics that have been added to the game are amusing, if insubstantial, and the new major mechanics that have been added to the game are, frankly, all bad. The end result is a game that should really have been an excellent ending to an excellent story instead as a game that’s basically spinning its wheels, looking to collect a little more cash based on its name instead of being something truly worthwhile.

Once again, we pick up the plot where we left off: Desmond is stuck in the Animus after a painful sequence of events involving The Apple, and he’s left to once again delve into the memories of his ancestors to resolve the problem, but this time the problem isn’t with the Assassins, it’s with him. All of the screwing around in the Animus has left him a bit messed up, to the point where his mind is being regarded by the Animus as corrupted data, and it falls to Desmond to resolve the tales of Ezio and Altair in hopes of salvaging his memory. He’s not alone, of course, and while he lacks the benefit of his Assassin allies outside of the Animus, he finds himself with assistance from an unlikely source: Subject Sixteen. Meanwhile, Ezio has traveled to Constantinople, the home of Altair, in hopes of unraveling the mysteries of his ancestor and the Apple by raiding Altair’s vault, only to find that the Templars are one step ahead of him and have no intentions of making this task easy for him. As plotlines go, that of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is pretty good, as it fully resolves the storylines of Altair and Ezio in a way that is both satisfying and concrete, giving fans of the characters the sort of resolution they would desire in a positive, if not always pleasant, way. Further, the additional fleshing out of Desmond’s back story and the resolution of the Subject Sixteen plot points are also well written, as both characters finally get the chance to be more than just victims of their circumstances and develop into actual people, within the confines of the plot. That said, the plot lacks a strong villain, as none of the opposition you face really has the personality to carry their end of the plot and most of the villains are basically destroyed within a chapter or two of their introduction, but this is forgivable in the sense that the plot is more about bringing closure to Ezio and Altair, not the enemies they face.

Graphically, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is using the same engine as its predecessors, and while the game still looks good two years later, it’s beginning to show its age. The game is still an artistic masterpiece, thanks in large part to the authentic feeling recreation of Constantinople and the interesting character and environmental designs, and Ezio and the plot-important characters are generally well rendered and animated. The generic townsfolk are somewhat less impressive, however, largely because they’re basically too similar to those who have come before and not a lot of effort seems to have been invested in them, and the underground areas you’re tasked to investigate often look interchangeable with those from prior games. Aurally, there’s really nothing bad to be said about the game aside from the complaint of repeated voice work for generic townsfolk, as the game is a strong example of excellent audio design. The voice work is well cast, featuring various great performances for the different characters you play as and meet, each of which sound reasonably authentic and believable. The music, as always for these games, is very epic and powerful, providing a strong aural backdrop for your escapades and confrontations, and giving the game a strong feel that helps make the experience feel complete. The sound effects are also quite good, with steel on steel/skin combat sounding strong as always, and more powerful effects such as exploding bombs and artillery in some stages also sound great and add well to the experience overall.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations plays more or less identically to the other games in the series, so if you’ve played those you can slip right into this game without a problem. If you’re new to the games, however, as I’ve noted previously, the game can best be described as one part Grand Theft Auto, one part Tomb Raider, one part Tenchu and one part Ninja Gaiden, though at this point you can just say “It’s Batman: Arkham City“ and that works too. Ezio is controlled with the left stick while the right stick moves the camera, and the various face buttons allow him to interact with the environment, attack and jump around. Holding down the right trigger allows Ezio to run instead of walk, which is his default movement speed, while holding down the left trigger locks on to whatever Ezio is looking at. Ezio can climb any surface with sufficient hand and footholds built into it, be they cracks, grooves, ledges or other such things in addition to walking around the city. Rather than making the climbing and jumping mechanics colossally complicated, however, Assassin’s Creed 2 simply asks you to hold down the right trigger and A at the same time, which allows Ezio to free-run. In this state, he’ll basically try to move through whatever is in his way at the moment, by jumping to the next available platform (if one exists), scaling the obstacle before him (if it’s possible), or otherwise attempting to bypass whatever’s in his way at the moment. This dramatically simplifies movement, as you can simply aim Ezio in the direction you want him to go without having to manage multiple buttons to properly direct his movements; simply hold the buttons and Ezio will take care of the hard parts. This doesn’t actually make the jumping puzzles any easier, mind you, as figuring out how to get to a location can be fairly taxing, but by removing the need to fight with the controls, the experience ends up a lot more fluid as a result.

Further, as in the prior games, Ezio can kick in Eagle Vision when you hold down the Y button, which essentially renders the world in a semi-digital blue hue, allowing you to focus on objects of importance. Enemies and allies will be highlighted in obvious colors, allowing you to identify them easily, and hidden markers and glyphs will pop up in this mode, allowing you to hunt them down. Now, the Subject 16 puzzles from the prior games have been excised, but in their stead Ezio can now use his Eagle Vision to scout for the hiding places of various books around the country from vantage points that are helpfully marked as scouting points on your map. You’ll move the target over possible hiding places until you find the right one, at which point you can move in and collect the book. Difficult, these are not, but it’s something different if nothing else. The synchronization elements from prior games also make a return, as once again, Ezio, being a stranger in a strange land, doesn’t simply know the layout of the various locations around him, so at first, any area you walk around in will be obscured by digital noise. To clear up the noise and see the map, you’ll have to Synchronize with the environment, which is accomplished by climbing to the top of specific tall objects and pressing Y. Ezio then proceeds to look around the environment, complete with a nifty circular pan of the area, and then the map is updated with what Ezio has seen. In the beginning, this simply outlines the city streets and facilities one can find along them, but as things progress, you’ll be able to see treasures and other collectibles with this simple action, making it vital to Synchronize with the area whenever you’re presented with the option to do so.

Of course, the game isn’t all puzzle solving and climbing around, and sooner or later Ezio will be expected to live up to his role as an assassin in some form or fashion. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, as is standard, offers you the option of engaging in battle with either your bare fists (yeah, right), the wrist-mounted assassin blade, a melee weapon of some sort, or projectiles, depending on your needs at the moment. You can switch between your equipped weapon by holding the right bumper and selecting your choice from the radial menu that appears, allowing you to change weapons on the fly as needed, as each one has different positives and negatives in battle. Pressing X allows you to attack enemies, either with attack combos, thrown items, or when approaching an unsuspecting enemy with the assassin blade, by shoving the blade into their sensitive bits from numerous different positions. Indeed, assassination is a significant part of the game, and fortunately, you can do it in numerous ways, whether from behind, from the front, while hanging from a ledge (complete with throwing the victim off the ledge), while leaping from an obstacle and other fun and exciting ways. Ezio has five choices of weapon type to employ in battle, depending on his needs: his fists (again, yeah, right) are good for non-lethal actions and allow him to disarm enemies; the assassin blades allow for one-shot kill counters, but are weak in combat; the small weapons are fast but weak; the larger swords and hammers are stronger but slower; and ammunition-based weapons, like throwing knives, bombs, crossbows and his trusty wrist gun have their own practical uses, but aren’t always useful. Ezio can also dodge, parry, counter and taunt enemies in battle, depending on your needs at the moment, and the mechanics of battle are generally well-developed and work appropriately.

As with the prior games featuring Ezio, many of the other previously existing elements make a return as well, including the expanded mission variety that can see you assassinating targets, spying on enemies or even torching an entire bay full of ships (yep), so you’ll have some solid and interesting options for things to do. Sadly, Leonardo’s awesome missions don’t make a comeback, but there are other options, of course. Ezio still collects cash for his successful endeavors that allow him to buy new gear and upgrades, and he can also reinvest his money into the city to reopen closed shops, allowing you more locations to shop at (as well as discounts) in addition to a cut of the profits that pours in every twenty minutes. You can also recruit other Assassins from around town, as in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and level them up by using them to assist you or to take territory in surrounding areas. The countryside is also strewn with collectibles to find, as you’d figure, and most of the obvious mechanics one would expect, such as the ability to fast travel via the sewer system and such, are included as expected. In fact, Ezio even starts out with most of the awesome toys he acquired in the prior game available to him from the start, allowing you to pick up literally where you left off without having to pull a Metroid and find everything again, even if his gear is weak.

So what’s new? Well, to start, early on Ezio gets a hookblade, allowing him to scale walls and such with less difficulty (as it increases his climbing range) as well as slide down ziplines for new kill options and travel abilities. You’ll also learn how to craft bombs fairly early, which can be done at crafting stations near pigeon coops. You can choose the casing type, explosive catalyst and effect based on three types of bombs, for combat and support needs, so you can make a smokescreen to allow you to eliminate enemies, of a flashbang to distract them, or psychologically damaging blood bombs, among the more common “boom kills the bad guy” sorts of options. Additionally, your Assassin recruits no longer exist as faceless nobodies; instead, recruitment missions can be more involved, and leveling them up beyond Level 10 now requires two missions; one to place them into a liberated den, and one to max them out at this den. Placing Assassins at dens is vital for survival, however, as pissing off the Templars can end up with a den being invaded, allowing the Templars to take it back via a Tower Defense mini-game where Ezio calls and places troops to fight the Templars off. Success means you keep the den, failure means you have to kill the Templar captain occupying it, again, to take it back, and since taking dens draws notoriety, it’s a vicious cycle. Additionally, dropping notoriety is harder this time around; pulling down posters no longer is an option, leaving you only able to bribe heralds or kill officials, which are both worth less in this game and can be more time consuming than simply ripping down wanted posters was in the prior game.

Of course, not EVERYTHING is about Ezio, as Desmond goes through a big change as well this time around. While you’ll first find yourself playing as Desmond on Animus Island, there’s not a lot to do here. Instead, you’ll go to the island mostly so you can jump into Desmond’s memories in hopes of putting them back together, so that his mind can be suitably repaired while he’s in the Animus. These are first person sequences where you’ll have to maneuver around digitally messed up, changing areas while placing blocks to create pathways to new parts of the area until you find the exit. Altair also returns, as we play through several sequences detailing his later life and times, and while none of these sequences are excessively challenging (save one), they break up the pace acceptably and fill in the void of the character’s life nicely. The multiplayer is also back from the prior game, and while the core concept (you’re a member of Abstergo fighting other members of Abstergo in VR training) is the same, the mode has expanded a bit. You can customize your characters a bit more, play in new modes and arenas, and unlock all sorts of data files that fill in bits of the storyline, giving the more than just a new coat of paint. The game is still focused on assassinating other players in solo or team based modes, of course, and still allows you to customize your perks as you grow in levels, so fans should be able to jump in with little issue.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations can be cleared out in anywhere from eight to twenty hours, depending on if you just blow through the campaign or stop to actually perform all the side missions and collect everything available to you. Aside from earning the various Achievements for blowing through the game and performing the odd side foolery, there’s limited reason to go back to the campaign once you’re done with it, for the same reasons one expects, as there’s not much to do with the campaign once it’s over, though you can clear the game out one hundred percent once the storyline is done if you wish, at least. UPlay makes its return, allowing you to unlock goodies for single and multiplayer if you wish, and while you’ll basically clear out most of the UPlay points just by clearing the campaign, it’s still a nice effort to add content to the experience. The multiplayer component is also something to come back to, and there a solid amount of modes to play around with and enhancements to unlock and fool around with, giving the game some lasting appeal once the campaign is over with. The Signature Edition offered to early adopters also offers some additional content that will likely be offered as DLC down the line, and more DLC is likely to appear for the game if the prior games in the series are any indication, giving the game some additional lasting appeal. The bottom line is that, as one would expect, there’s enough content to the game to make it a worthwhile investment if you’re a fan of the series, and while you’d be better off looking into the prior games if you’re coming in new, if only to understand the backstory, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations offers plenty of pure content for both fans and newcomers alike to enjoy.

Which is probably a good thing, because the game is otherwise the weakest in the series. First off, the game carries over the exact same flaws from its predecessors, meaning that the enemy AI is still a little spotty, the game is still quite easy (at times, moreso than its predecessors even), the controls are still spotty during freerunning, and the game brings back the wonderfully annoying “Collect X hidden collectibles” requirement if you want to see all of the Desmond missions that was thankfully excised from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. As such, fans who have been hoping that someday the consistent franchise issues that follow every release would be fixed won’t see that fix with this game. Beyond that, however, almost every piece of new content added to the game is terrible, and the elements excised from the game are painfully noticeable by their absence. The tower defense minigame you have to play to defend your Assassin Towers is horrid at the best of times and often feels unbalanced and poorly implemented, leaving you feeling as if you should actively be aiming to max out your Assassins as soon as possible to never have to deal with them again. The Desmond sequences feel like a low-rent Portal and control poorly, aren’t interesting in design, and feel tacked on at best. The bomb elements and the hookblade are fine, if largely unremarkable, and they don’t add enough to the game to make it interesting, especially given that the game loses awesome elements like the Subject Sixteen puzzles and the Leonardo missions from the prior game that were a lot of fun.

Also, the multiplayer is still wonky at this point, as it doesn’t really encourage the player to take advantage of the unique mechanics the game allows, so you’ll see players running around like a crazy person, attracting attention to themselves and making a mess of things, and winning matches by doing so, which seems counter productive and doesn’t leave a good impression. Even when the matches come together perfectly and feel appropriate to the product, many of the modes simply aren’t exciting to play or well structured at this point, and more tuning is needed. It also seems silly that Ubisoft chose to use a one-time use code for the multiplayer here to prevent players from accessing it if they buy the game used without paying to do so, because it’s honestly not worth the financial investment and isn’t really a motivator to buy the game new. The fact that the developers also consider the multiplayer to be a big part of the experience, to the extent that several Achievements and even a Uplay point marker are tied to it, is also somewhat unfortunate, as, well, the mode still isn’t at a point where it should have all of that attention paid to it. Also, while the new additions to the Assassin recruitment element are welcome, and the missions add personality to the game, the fact that the game straight unlocks the best gear available to the player for doing these missions is a bit unbalanced, as you can literally complete most of these missions less than halfway through the campaign, thus making an easy game even easier. Now, the point could be argued that you aren’t supposed to do this, but should allow your Assassins to mature naturally over the course of the game, but as a counterpoint, you will not want to play the Tower Defense minigame ever again, so you will end up maxing out your Assassins as soon as possible, and thus, being disgustingly overpowered for much of the game.

If you’re a big fan of the series, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is going to be an easy game to enjoy, as it’s the same game as its predecessors in many ways and allows for some strong closure for Ezio and Altair, but anyone hoping for some advancement in the game will be disappointed, as it’s essentially the same game at best, and a disappointment at worst. The plot expands Desmond as a character and nicely ties up the lives of Ezio and Altair, giving fans the closure they’d been hoping for, and the game still looks solid and sounds excellent, as one might expect. The gameplay carries over well from the prior games, allowing fans to jump right in without being oppressive for new players, and there are new additions to the game mechanically to keep the game from feeling too much like its predecessors. With a strong amount of single player and multiplayer content, as well as Achievements, UPlay events and likely DLC add-ons coming, if nothing else, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is certainly packed, all in all, and justifies its asking price based solely on content alone for the gamer who desires this above all else. However, the game still has spotty AI at times, is still on the easy side, and still has mechanical issues when freerunning, but also brings back the “collect X items to unlock this story content” annoyance from Assassin’s Creed 2. Further, many of the new elements, such as the Tower Defense minigame and the Desmond sequences, are poorly executed and unenjoyable, the additions that are fun are unremarkable and don’t make up for the awesome elements that are missing, the multiplayer is unexciting more often than not, and the Assassin missions could use some balancing. As a resolution piece for the main story, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations succeeds in a way that should appease fans of the franchise, but as a game, it’s fine, but repeats too much, adds too little, and fumbles its additions too often to be easily recommended as a result.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE


Short Attention Span Summary:
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is basically a game for the fans, both because it wraps up everything from the last three games in a way they’ll appreciate, and because it’s largely inaccessible to anyone but them thanks to some unfortunate design choices. The story expands on Desmond’s backstory and finishes the tales of Ezio and Altair well enough, and the game looks nice and sounds excellent all in all. The gameplay is largely unchanged, so fans should be able to jump right in, and newcomers (if there are any) should be able to pick it up easily enough. The game takes the core concepts and expands on them with some mild additions and new game modes, and there’s a lot of pure content across the single and multiplayer modes to justify the game’s asking price, if nothing else. However, the game carries over issues from its predecessors, such as occasionally spotty AI, lack of difficulty, mechanical issues when freerunning at points, and a return of the “collect stuff to unlock plot” element from Assassin’s Creed 2 that was annoying then and is no less so now. Additionally, some new elements, such as the Tower Defense minigame and the Desmond memory sequences, are implemented poorly and annoying, the mechanical additions that are okay aren’t exciting and don’t add much to the game, the multiplayer is only rarely exciting and is often bland at best and frustrating at worst, and the Assassin missions could use work. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a solid farewell of two strong characters and, because of that, is fine enough for fans, but it really shows that the series needs a break and some fresh ideas before it completely burns out, and with Assassin’s Creed 3 coming in 2012… that break may come too late.



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2 responses to “Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. […] more: Review: Assassin's Creed: Revelations (Microsoft Xbox 360) – diehard gamefan Tags: assassin, auditore, creed, diehard-gamefan, events, firenze, his-life, life, […]

  2. Misha Avatar

    I’m prepared to believe that AC3 will see Desmond back at Assassin HQ, plugged into the prototype Animus 3.0, developed by the Assassins specifically for Desmond (and so it will be all shiny and full of fixes).

    If you look at how Eidos spread the Deus Ex development around their international programming teams, I can very much imagine that Ubisoft had another group overhauling the game engine while their Montreal branch produced the AC2 Trilogy.

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