So You Can Teach an Old Assassin New Tricks (Assassin’s Creed: Revelations Review)
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
“And lo, a pale horse, and he who is sitting upon him — his name is Death…” Oops, wrong Revelations. Ahem. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is set to be the final chapter of the Assassin’s Creed II storyline, depicting the now aged Master Assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze in his search for answers. This is the fourth major title in the Assassin’s Creed franchise and the third release in as many years. Though notably lacking in horses, pale or otherwise, Ezio has become one of gaming’s favourite death dealers in the action-adventure/platformer genres. But will this latest title meet expectations? Let’s find out.
The story follows the pattern of the previous games, starting right where Brotherhood left off. Desmond has slipped into a coma after being forced to stab Lucy by Juno, who is a member of the First Civilization, a technologically advanced race who was alive at the dawn of mankind. Desmond’s fellow Assassins notice some unusual brain activity and decide the best course of action is to place Neo back in the Matrix. Sorry, I meant Desmond in the Animus. This turns out to be the right thing to do, as Desmond wakes up in the central construct of the Animus, the first version’s original build. There he meets what is left of Subject 16, the last Animus user whose mind fractured under the stress of repeated use and died, with only fragments of his psyche remaining, trapped in the Animus’ base code. 16 explains that the reason his mind shattered was that he had spent too much time reliving his ancestor’s lives and his mind could no longer differentiate between the personalities, and that the exact same thing is happening to Desmond. Furthermore, Desmond’s only chance to regain consciousness and keep his mind intact is to finish reliving his ancestors’ lives so that he has no more to learn, and the Animus software can properly partition Desmond’s self from that of Ezio and Altaïr. This brings us to the meat of the story: Ezio’s final chapters.
Back in the Renaissance, Ezio has gracefully aged into his 50s, and it has been 30 years since his father and brothers were murdered, the event that led him to the Assassin Brotherhood. He has defeated the Borgias, leaving them ruined and/or dead, and has secured the Apple of Eden. All that is left is to seek answers. He decides the best place to start is at Masyaf, the ancestral home of the Assassins, where he hopes to find Altaïr’s library. Unfortunately, when he gets there, the keep is swarming with Templars and the library is locked behind an impenetrable door that requires five keys – which are hidden throughout the city of Constantinople, modern day Istanbul. However, his search is not just a fun-and-games search for ancient artifacts, it is a veritable Indiana Jones-esque adventure, as he must race against the Templars who are looking for the same keys (and in fact already have one), while aiding the local Assassins’ fight to maintain control of the city. Fun times all around.
On the whole, Revelations gives us exactly what we have come to expect from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, while bringing some new toys to the table. The game boasts a beautifully rendered, open sandbox for players to explore, with exquisite attention paid to the details of Constantinople. The city is vibrant and feels distinctly Mediterranean, from the ports and markets, to the colour palette used. You will often find yourself wanting to climb to the top of a viewpoint just to look around and see the metropolis in all its glory – and then perform a vertigo inducing Leap of Faith to a nearby hay stack or shrubbery. The scenery in the game, ranging from the most mundane grounds to the palace or gypsy camps is gorgeous and intricate.
The sounds of the city are similarly well done, with innocent bystanders and guards commenting on daily events and Ezio’s behaviour. Commentary ranges from curses and phrases shouted in the NPCs’ native tongues, to more commonplace calls from shopkeepers and other conversations that the Animus’ software translates for the player. Voice acting is realistic, with most lines in English (thank you, Animus translation software), but all done with an accent fitting the nationality of the person speaking. Even Altaïr finally has a proper non-American accent when he makes his few appearances. Music in the game is fantastic, with tracks placed to set and enhance the mood of the various missions and activities players will find themselves in throughout the game, from fast-paced fight and chase music, to slow and tense stealth music.
As for new gameplay features, many are expanded upon ideas and concepts from previous titles. For example, parkour running is still a prominent feature in the game, and the primary mode of transit for Ezio, both in the platforming sections and the regular sandbox. However, Ezio is getting older, and is not able to move about as quickly or agilely as he used to. Fortunately, not long after he arrives in Constantinople, he is introduced to the Hookblade, an attachment for his hidden blade. This allows him to use zip lines throughout the city, vary his combat, and most importantly, climb faster and smoother than ever before. The addition of a foot long hook allows Ezio to jump and climb about while using the hook mechanisms to do the heavy lifting, adding to the realism of playing an aging Assassin without taking away from his abilities, while also giving a plausible reason for him to be able to keep up with the younger members of the order.
Similar to Brotherhood, Revelations has a focus on the recruitment of new Assassins. This time though, there is a far more personal touch, as several of the recruits have individual backstories, rather than all being random strangers in need of help in the street. Recruits still gain experience by being called upon by Ezio in combat, or by being sent on missions to other cities. However, in Revelations, these missions aren’t just for money or experience, but are part of a mini game where the Assassins vie for control of cities with the Templars. The more successful missions your recruits complete, the stronger the Assassin presence in that locale becomes, until you can take control from the Templars.
Also, the level cap for apprentices has been raised from ten to fifteen, allowing the player to train their recruits to become Master Assassins, who are then capable of managing their own guild Dens. For an apprentice to reach the level of Master, they must complete a personal quest while accompanied by Ezio. Furthermore, the presence of a Master in an Assassin Dens renders it immune from Templar attacks (which are often a result of Ezio’s behaviour). Act too conspicuously and Ezio’s wanted meter fills, and once full, the Templars may place one of your Master-less Dens under siege, which can only be lifted by a tower defence style mini game.
Other new features include grenade crafting, which Ezio performs at work tables hidden throughout the city, using the ingredients he finds in chests and other containers. There are now three types of grenades that Ezio has access to, rather than just the simple smoke bombs. First are the Lethal grenades, which can explode or release poison gas. Then we have the Tactical bombs, which can release concealing smoke, or lamb’s blood to make enemies think they are wounded, or skunk oil to drive them away. Finally, there are Diversion grenades, which can make loud noises or spray a region with pyrite coins to attract civilians. All of the explosives have a variety of deployment methods, ranging from tripwires and sticky mines to impact detonation and fuse detonators. Needless to say, these explosives give Ezio an unprecedented degree of flexibility when approaching a target, on top of all his gear and tricks from the previous games.
Finally, hidden throughout the city are lost data fragments that help Desmond piece his mind back together. Once you find enough fragments you get access to an interesting, albeit kind of whiny, backstory segment for Desmond. They end up being very interesting first person platforming sections in the heart of the Animus, which replace the Subject 16 puzzles from the previous two titles. These are fun, and challenging, and give an interesting view of how the Assassin’s live while hiding from Abstergo, the modern Templar Order. This of course would be much more engaging if Desmond were a little less of a whiner. But I guess it is also nice to have an imperfect protagonist every now and then – even if his flaw is whininess.
Unfortunately, the game is not without its small hiccups. None of the glitches are game-breaking, or downright bad, just a couple of minor glitches that take away from the immersive quality of the game, sometimes hilariously so. Once I performed a zip line assassination, only to have my victim’s lifeless body shoot away from me like a rag-doll launched from a catapult. Another time, when I was trying to build a kill streak, Ezio jumped up a two-story building to swat at a rifleman before falling back to ground level. Both those glitches have thus far only occurred once, but both were a little weird and kind of funny in a ridiculous sort of way. Sometimes the background is not perfectly flush with the floor, so you end up with characters standing or lying through the floor. So again, nothing horrible, just a few glitches that, when noticed, take away from the immersion.
However, the single player story is not all that Revelations has to offer. After the success of the multiplayer in Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations brings a bigger, more streamlined experience. The core of the multiplayer is the same: hunt down your target(s) and kill them in the stealthiest way possible, while evading your own pursuer(s). Nonetheless, there are some different features and new game modes to have fun with. The first thing you will notice is that the character models are far more customizable than before, with extra appearance options, such as new weapons and outfit add-ons, that can be unlocked through levelling and in-game purchases with Abstergo points, which are awarded in play sessions. You also start with far more abilities right off the bat than before.
New game modes introduced in Revelations include Deathmatch, Artifact Assault, Corruption, and Escort. In Deathmatch, you are given a small play area in which you hunt your target with nothing except a portrait of them that lights up as they enter visual range. To offset this added difficulty, none of the NPCs will appear as the playable character models that are in use. This is similar to Wanted Mode from Brotherhood, which makes a re-appearance, where you have a larger play area and a compass to guide you to your target. In Escort, one team tries to protect a VIP from the other team, whereas Artifact Assault is a capture the flag style team mode. Then, there’s the Corruption Mode, which has a corrupted player hunting and killing everyone else until the corruption is passed on, while the others try to evade and survive. All of the Modes, returning and new, have potential for hundreds of hours of enjoyment hunting down and murdering either your friends or random strangers online.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is exactly what you would want from an Assassin’s Creed title. All of the features that made the previous games awesome are back with some new twists that feel fresh. If you liked the previous instalments, then you will love Revelations. If you were not fond of the previous games, then you probably won’t be excited for this one. However, when you take the visually amazing, sprawling sandbox of a city that we have been given to play with, and mix it with the thoroughly developed characters and storylines that players have come to expect from the franchise, you end up with a spectacular new game. Ubisoft has managed to deliver a riveting final chapter to Ezio’s story. The game is just about everything we could have asked for.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations gets a 4.75/5.00
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