This review contains spoilers for both this game, and previous entries in the series. You have been warned.
Are you sick of Ezio Auditore yet? I know I am, which is why Assassin’s Creed Revelations is a good game, because it marks the end of the italian batman-wannabe’ incredibly drawn out story, which means that at long last we might finally be getting to something important. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved each and every Assassin’s Creed offering (well okay, I didn’t love that one on the PSP), but the formula isn’t changing, it’s the same game year after year with embellishments rather than anything truly new. There are, for instance, only three real new game mechanics in this year’s offering- The hookblade, Den Defense, and bombs.
You know how an Assassin’s Creed game works by now, you play as an Assassin, a member of an ancient order sword to protect freedom and liberty (sounds somewhat oxymoronic, doesn’t it?), and once more you’re playing as Ezio Auditore, who is now in his late fifties, but hardly shows it. In fact, the events of this game are probably the most physically demanding we’ve seen and he handles them with the strength and speed and reflexes of a twenty year old. Except, we’re not really Ezio. We’re playing as Desmond, the bland modern-day assassin who’s only defining quality is that he’s yet another in a long line of ‘everyman’ characters voiced by Nolan North (Nathan Drake from Uncharted). Desmond’s mind is trapped inside a failsafe room in the animus, which is the Assassin’s magical device for allowing you to relive the lives of your genetic ancestors. Confused yet? So is everybody else.
Desmond is in a coma after the events of the last game, where he was possessed by one of ‘those came before’, a mysterious race who, unsurprisingly, came before- and created- humans. During his possession, the ancient Juno, now remembered only as an old god, forces Desmond to stab (and kill) his cardboard cut-out love interest Lucy. Revelations promised to explain what that was about. In fact, it’s barely mentioned, and only in passing that Lucy has already been buried, and that frankly the few remaining assassins have bigger things to worry about right now. Although just what those things are aren’t explained either.
In fact, we don’t really learn anything new, and in fact the game simply raises further questions. The ‘Da Vinci’ disappearance DLC for Brotherhood ended with a set of co-ordinates, which lead to a massive cave opening in Upstate New York, this is where the assassins are taking Desmonds comatose body. The mysterious ‘Bill’ who appeared turns out to be Desmonds dad, William Miles, voiced by John de Lancie, who is just about the only person who gives an interesting performance, because, hey- it’s John de Lancie. The only real revelation is that the Apple of Eden, a massively powerful artifact made by those who came before, which has appeared throughout the series, is a different one to the one found and used by Ezio over the last three games. Yes, there are more than one, except, well, we already knew that. There was about four throughout the various backstories, how is that a revelation? Of course, all this is beside the point, since the Templars have that spare one anyway, since it’s the one being used as part of their master plan to brainwash planet Earth.
And that’s just the meta-plot, none of which makes sense and all of which takes up around literally 5 minutes of the game. Maybe less. The real plot is the final chapters of Ezio Auditore and Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad. It gets to the point of Inception-aping weirdness that you’re playing as Desmond in a coma, reliving the life of Ezio, who is himself tracking down golden disc things that allow him to relive the life of Altair- this is sort of the point, though, to find a ‘nexus’ point shared by all three protagonists, and it’s one of the few things that work quite well. Ezio has gone on a pilgrimage to Masayaf, the original base of the Assassin’s, in Syria, to seek wisdom. He finds the place littered with Templars, trying to break into Alitair’s Library, which is said to hold a superweapon (it does, the first Apple of Eden). In order to get into the library, Ezio must travel to Constantinople and track down the five ‘keys’ which both unlock the library and unlock the past memories of Altair. In doing so, Ezio gets one of his hidden blades snapped, and joins the Constantinople chapter of the Assassins, run by a cheerful fellow called Yusuf, who gives Ezio his new hookblade.
The hookblade, imaginatively named, is “both a hook and a blade”, and allows for more complex grabs in combat, faster climbing when the mechanic actually wants to work, and the use of ziplines, which are more or less useless. Bomb crafting is quite deep and is more useful if you can get your head around it, for example you can create sticky bombs that will stay on the back of a guard, detonate after five seconds and leave a cloud of poison gas in his wake, or you can make a caltrop bomb with scatters spiky things all the ground behind you as you run, causing pursuers to fall and hurt themselves, or even a bomb that scatters gold coins everywhere, causing the locals of Constantinople to descend like hungry pigeons and provide cover for you. The third and final new game mechanic though is where things fall down somewhat- Den defense.
Constantinople is split into several large areas, each controlled by a Templar den. You infiltrate the den, track down the Captain, kill him, and then light a flare of the dens tower to signal that it now belong to you. With each new den you can recruit and train more assassins, just as in Brotherhood, except now you need to train them to level 15, ‘master assassin’, at which point, that person is capable of looking after the den for you. Until you’ve done that, however, the dens are all vulnerable to Templar attack. This generally means running across half the map, having to kill a bunch of guys just to get the near the den, and then you can begin the ‘den defense’ minigame. It’s basically glorified ‘castle defense’, where you have to put down archers, barricades, riflemen and so on to protect your den from oncoming waves of Templars. The only problem is that this is so tedious, difficult and broken that is simply easier and quicker to let them capture the den, and then just find and kill the den captain again.
In short, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations doesn’t do much of anything to change the formula of the last 2 games. While it has some interesting twists, it doesn’t reveal much at all, and generally just creates more questions than answers. It is however another solid, well designed, well put together game, and Constantinople is as gorgeous and different as Rome was to Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is very much more of the same, and feels very much as though it exists only to pile on hype for, and set up, Assassin’s Creed 3, due out next year.