I love the Assassin’s Creed series. It’s one of my favorites of this generation of consoles. I even have a slight man-crush on Ezio Auditore, who I have lovingly come to know as Captain McStabby. Knowing that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations would be his last ride left me with a bittersweet feeling, yet also a deep appreciation that Ubisoft Montreal was able to present a character that we could be with from a wild boy to a wise mentor of other plucky young assassins. It offered sense of completion few games could offer.
When Brotherhood came around, I did everything possible in that game. At the time, I did not realize that doing so was a mistake.
Revelations is a great game — as long as you haven’t already spent too much time with the series. The story is compelling and entertaining, and the missions are inventive and fun. The side quests, however, are a different story, as they are exactly the same as the previous game. In fact, Revelations is identical to Brotherhood in numerous ways, so much so that it is hard to really be totally immersed in it if you (like me) obsessively played the previous games.
There is more than enough to make this game worth playing, but it is also hard to shake the feeling that some of the design was lazy. Constantinople is beautiful, but it isn’t that different from Rome. The Brotherhood returns, but the leveling system is mostly the same as before.
Still, Ubisoft knew it had a winner with the series, and for good reason. There are plenty of nagging flaws that return in Revelations, but the good far outweighs the bad — just as it did in the last game, the game before that, and the game before that.
The last ride of Captain McStabby
If you have not played the previous Assassin’s Creed games, then this is not the game for you. Even putting aside the cliffhanger ending that left Desmond comatose, and even though Ezio’s story is mostly standalone, AC:R is a conclusion on multiple levels. Not only is it the last ride of a now aged Ezio, it also offers an epilogue to the original protagonist Altair, all while pushing the series in a new direction.
Revelations is somewhat more character driven than the previous games. Ezio is still not the guy you want to insult or steal his girlfriend, but he is also more reflective in his age. It’s rare that we see a character progress to the degree we have seen Ezio, and Revelations makes a fitting finale for him.
But before Ezio can hang up his hidden blade, he has one more major objective to complete. At the age of 52, Ezio sets out to reclaim the library of his ancestor Altair, located in the now Templar-occupied Masyaf. But before Ezio can give the Templars a what for with his steel, he needs to collect five keys hidden in Constantinople.
As he searches for the keys with the help of a beautiful Venetian ex-pat, Ezio is drawn into the politics of the Ottoman Empire, as he befriends a man kissed by destiny, who will grow up to be known as Suleiman the Magnificent — assuming they can stop the influence of the Templars.
As Ezio discovers each key, he also relives a moment from the life of Altair, spanning decades. It is an epilogue for the character, and while these moments are brief, they are engrossing. And what would an Assassin’s Creed be without Desmond, who also returns, albeit a tad brain damaged. Beyond a few interludes with him, you can also collect fragments in the game to unlock five moments from his past, which finally shed some light on the character.
The story is where this game will hook you. The gameplay is the same as ever, for better or worse, but the characters have been with us for several years now, and seeing Ezio wrestle with his attraction for a woman he knows he will only put in danger is compelling. It works partly because of the storytelling, but also because it is hard not to feel a connection with Ezio after so many hours spent controlling him. Mixing in the surprising incidents of Altair’s life, and the story alone is enough to keep you pushing towards the conclusion. Plus the story-driven missions are by far the most original use of the gameplay, and each one is original. The same is not true for the side quests.
The gameplay in AC:R is identical to the other games in the series, and the Anvil Engine (with help in the particle physics department from the Havok Engine) is beginning to show its age. The city looks amazing, but it is very similar to Rome. There are a few other notable (and in one occasion jaw-dropping) locations in the game, but the vast majority of the time will be spent wandering through Constantinople. Beyond original look, the city is nearly identical to Rome, and not just in design.
Spread throughout Constantinople are Templar-controlled areas that you need to bring down by killing the captain and torching the tower in order to recruit assassins, and buy shops and landmarks, exactly as you did in Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood also returns, but with a more choices — sort of.
As with Brotherhood, you first recruit your assassin — although instead of just saving them, you now need to complete a mission. Once you have the assassin, you can send them out on missions in what is basically a stat-based mini game. You choose a European city, find a mission, then assign it to them. They return with money and experience. If they are in town, you can use them as a special attack. Beyond that, they are mostly unchanged.
The biggest issue with Revelations is that, with the exception of a few notable missions, all of the quests are identical to quests you have done before. You’ll get into races, follow people around, and stab the odd sucker. After three previous games (well, two, since AC 1′s missions were fairly limited), the shine is wearing off. You can help mercenaries if you like, or save a Romani (this game’s courtesans), but it is nothing new. The only real change is the assassination contracts, which have been replaced by master assassin missions. They play out the same, but you have a minion along for the ride.
The combat system also returns mostly unchanged. There is now an instant kill combo, and a few enemies are tougher, but it is the same, much-maligned system as ever. When surrounded, it is usually easier just to run, but if you fight it is typically just holding block and waiting for a counter.
The parkour free running also remains mostly the same, for good and bad. Sometimes you will fly through the city, like a slick-dressed bird with a knife. Other times you will try to jump up, but instead jump off the wall to your death. Same old.
There are a few new tricks that Ezio can use. He now has a hook and can use bombs. Hooray!
The hook is a good addition, but a minor one. You can use it in combat to disarm, or you can use it to jump higher than normal. The city is designed with this in mind though, so it ends up feeling like the previous games anyway.
The bombs are a tool that can be used mostly as a distraction rather than a weapon, although you can stun enemies. You collect pieces throughout the city — just as you did in Brotherhood with the merchant’s quests — and you build them at various workbenches.
While the bombs aren’t really all that necessary, they can make your life easier, and create new options. You can throw one to explode and distract guards, set one on a timed fuse to explode and shoot coins to frenzy a crowd, or — a personal fave — throw a blood bomb at enemies and make them think they may have been wounded as you sneak by. There are a lot of options.
The other slightly significant addition is the tower defense mini-game that occurs when you cause too much trouble and the Templars attack an assassins’ guild located throughout the city. You start with a few defensive tools and a limited number of points, then assign people and defenses on a street. As waves of enemies come after you, you add more troops, barricades etc. If you win, you get a respite and more defensive options. If you fail, the Templars take the area and you have to kill the captain and burn the tower again.
While these games are an interesting distraction, they are also insanely frustrating at times. They are optional, but you ignore them at your own peril and there is a Catch-22 at times. The defenses begin when you commit one too many crimes against the Templars — which is inevitable no matter what you do.
To begin the defense, you must get to the guild door undetected. To get there, you will almost always need to fight your way in, which in turn raises your Templar awareness. More than once while trying to get to the defense mission, I inadvertently caused another defense mission at a different location.
It is annoying and something that most will do because they have to, rather than want to.
The multiplayer from Brotherhood also returns with a handful of new game modes, and as you level up you will gain access to information that actually helps to fill in some of the details about the modern Templars and their Abstergo Corporation. This alone makes the multiplayer worth playing. The ten multiplayer modes, the customizable characters and the five new maps paired with four from Brotherhood also help.
Two particular highlights are a new capture-the-flag mode, and the changes to deathmatch (which take away your compass in favor of a line-of-sight gauge), which both make for an interesting diversion.
But as with the previous multiplayer, the online side is likely going to get a lot of love the first few weeks, then be forgotten about. The gameplay needs to be tightened up a bit, as even the best players will occasionally be at the mercy of an awkward wall climb or a mistimed jump. It’s inevitable. For a small group of hardcore fans, there might be a small cult following around this game’s multiplayer, but most will try it and move on after getting their money’s worth.
Still, it is fun and a refreshing change of pace from most online multiplayer modes. It’s worth a look — even if most will try it and forget it.
(As a side note, on the Xbox, the multiplayer occasionally, but consistently froze while loading the multiplayer. Hopefully this is a pre-launch bug that can be easily fixed, but there were large periods where the multiplayer was inaccessible.)
Ubisoft Montreal (with help from the other Ubisoft offices) knows how to tell a story. They also know that the foundation laid in the original Assassin’s Creed was a winner, and so it remains in full use now. Putting aside the story, AC:R is a slight step back for the series. Not counting the tower defense or the bombs and hook, there is nothing new at all in the game, and the few things you may think are new are actually old pieces with a new look. The story missions help with that though.
It is a testament to the property that it can still entertain, and seeing Ezio off is worth the price, but those that will suffer most are the ones that loved Brotherhood and spent the time to do everything they could. Unless you really, really loved the side quests, having to do them all over again with very little variation can quickly grow frustrating.
Fans of the series should rush out to buy Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Even despite the been-there-done-that vibe you will quickly get, you will soon find yourself once again drawn into the world of our favorite assassin as we look forward to the future of the franchise, and bid a fond farewell to Captain McStabby.