What’s that, “More Ezio!” I hear you cry? Yessir, we’re on our third game starring our favourite Florentine vagabond-turned-Master Assassin, but this time we’re definitely in the endgame. And perhaps, just like our hero, we’re all getting a little bit tired.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])
Released Nov 2011 | Developed / Published: Ubisoft
It’s all gone a bit pear-shaped for Desmond. Events at the end of Brotherhood have caused his mind to fracture and his consciousness is now stored in the Animus. He’s informed that he has too many lives clashing in his head; he needs to resolve the loaded memories of Altair, Ezio, and his own in order to knit his mind back together and wake up. If it all sounds like overly complex sci-fi guff, well that’s because it is. Look, there needed to be some reason as to why there’s another game about Ezio because God forbid there be a 2-year gap between Assassin’s Creed releases.
In a move sure to please those weary of them, there’s not really much to the modern-day sections to speak of in Revelations. As Desmond wanders the island that serves as his mental prison in the Animus we hear little interactions between established characters Shaun and Rebecca, giving them some much needed depth to their personalities beyond snarky twat and tech wizard respectively. We’re also introduced to Desmond’s father, William, the current head of the Assassins and the impression is less than positive; a bit of family drama seems promised for the next entry. Regardless, the island on which Desmond is trapped serves primarily as a hub between sessions of reliving Ezio’s memories.
Now in his 50s, Ezio travels to Masyaf, the ancient citadel of Assassins in the first game. Deep beneath it he discovers a library sealed by Altair; his search for the keys that open it leads him to Constantinople. It is a city a war in which the remnants of the Byzantine Templars and the rising Ottoman Empire vie for control while a ragtag array of Assassins scurry about trying to survive.
Ezio cuts a far more jaded and cynical figure in his old age. While he readily helps his Levantine brothers, the ways in which he is drafted by Prince Suleiman into aiding the Ottomans against their common Byzantine enemy clearly annoy him and he appears to have very little patience for political machinations, focused as he is on finding the keys to Altair’s library. This is also apparent in the far more vicious and sadistic combat animations that see him rip and jerk enemies around with malicious abandon.
He does have a softer side though. A recurring sidequest centres around Ezio’s burgeoning relationship with Sofia, a bookseller in the city; Ezio hunts out old books for her that happen to be related to the Assassins, which is essentially the game’s premise for introducing the big platforming centrepieces that are analogous to II’s tombs. In some ways they feel more cinematic than ever, with huge and varied places to explore; both they and the way Ezio’s relationships develop with both Sofia and characters like Yusuf are certainly enjoyable and are some of the few features I like about Revelations.
Most gameplay mechanics return from Brotherhood, though with a few changes here and there. Regions of the city must still be claimed from the Templars by killing Captains and burning their towers and once cleared Ezio can pay to open up shops in the district. However, opening shops now carries a penalty in that it makes you more notorious – quite why this change was made I have no idea because it’s a strictly worse thing, necessitating more busywork to lower your notoriety meter.
Additionally, new Assassins can still be recruited by rescuing citizens in distress. The Assassin management minigame works much the same as before except now fully promoted Assassins can be sent on special assignments or made captains of their own hideouts in the city.
The one new mechanic introduced is a baffling tower defence minigame (Ubisoft being always on the pulse of the latest trends in gaming). If your notoriety gets too high, Templars will mount an attack against your hideouts, forcing you to play the minigame. I personally deeply despise tower defence and I dislike its inclusion here; weirdly though, if you assign an Assassin to a tower, it stops it from being attacked, so it’s a reward not to play the tower defence stuff! I’m not complaining about not having to do more of it, but it’s a strange move to include a fully developed mechanic and then encourage the player to never have to play it outside of the tutorial.
Somehow it feels worse to play than Brotherhood and even the aging II. Ezio feels less responsive than before, and constantly struggles to understand what you want him to climb up. On top of that, it is definitely buggier; it feels like both Ezio and many of the NPCs snag on the scenery, I’ve had alerts about locating targets pop up constantly despite not being in a target-locating mission or state, and I experienced at least one hard crash that knackered my Xbox. Sometimes the game mechanics simply don’t work – I’ve had distractions that fail to work and random detections that result in instant game overs. Far more than the other games I have had to deal with physics glitches, sound desyncs, visual fuckups, and violently ragdolling corpses.
Also it’s a really insignificantly petty thing but I really hate the map in this game; it’s been changed to be a sort of satellite map thing and it looks confusing and messy and I struggle to follow it at times.
The game’s pace is also all wrong. It takes until Sequence 5 (of 8) for any hint of an actual villain to appear and the game seems to content to waddle around doing sodding nothing until then. Thankfully it’s actually quite a short game so you can blaze through the story missions in a relatively brief space of time.
One of the key features on display here, and perhaps one of the biggest draws for Revelations, is the fact that it isn’t just Ezio’s story. While our aged Florentine Assassin is our playable character for the main portion of the game, each of the Masyaf keys he finds begins a flashback to Altair’s life. These short little missions give a tiny bit of insight into major events of Altair’s life post-Assassin’s Creed as he works to unlock the secrets of the Apple of Eden and rebuild the Brotherhood. Though these sections are often devoid of any substantial gameplay, because these vignettes are concerned with developing Altair’s character they wind up being some of the stronger segments of the game.
The same cannot be said of Desmond. Aside from the fact that random bits of extremely plot-important details about him come up in offhand conversation, he also suffers from the way his backstory is explored. On the Animus Island are portals to a set of levels that delve into his past, but rather than resembling any previously seen type of gameplay we are instead treated to first-person puzzle platforming levels! Desmond, here a disembodied voice (perhaps his finest version), trudges through blocky levels that visually represent parts of his life by way of summoning magic blocks to walk on and avoid instant-death traps.
These levels are incredibly buggy. They suffer from extended black-screen load times that look like the game has crashed, and I’ve also had levels where Desmond just won’t move at all, requiring a hard reset. Desmond seems to be remarkably unresponsive, particularly where jumping is concerned, and often visual cues do not match what you are told they do – if an area is in a glowing white aura, the block summoning should be fine but I have had numerous examples where instead it does not allow me to place blocks.
The DLC, The Lost Archive, is more of this but now from the perspective of Subject 16, Desmond’s precursor in the Animus. It continues to be shit, and has the added mark against it of providing extremely important plot and character details in an optional DLC that costs the best part of a tenner, which is a business decision I have such disdain for that were I to vocalise it it would most be a series of strangled swearwords punctuated by violent angry screaming. Don’t play it, and don’t bother with the Desmond bits in Revelations; nothing interesting is revealed about his utterly torpid life.
There is at least one thing in Revelations that I think is genuinely fantastic. The vocal tracks in the soundtrack are ethereal, haunting, gorgeous pieces of music that conjure an eerily tragic atmosphere that feels perfect for punctuating this finale in Ezio’s adventures.
The theme of the game, exquisitely composed by Lorne Balfe and Jesper Kyd, tells us right from the start what kind of ending awaits us. The combination of melancholic, wordless vocals and the gritty, fuzzily produced electronic music matches brilliantly to the glitching jankiness as the Animus slowly deteriorates over the game and Desmond gets closer to either knitting his mind back together or risk it falling apart entirely. This theme is apparent throughout the entire soundtrack especially as you explore the city. From Welcome to Konstantiniyye, played as Ezio takes his first steps into Constantinople, to Byzantium and Istanbul the soundtrack captures not just the feel of the game but also the vibrant clash of cultures that the city represents. There is such an emotive weight that bears down upon the player, impressing upon them the sheer sense of ending that this game is desperate to convey.
Other tracks are just as striking. The riff in No Mistakes that leads into sweeping orchestration over distorted, reverb-soaked drums is excellent, and a couple of tracks (such as On the Attack) give me Metal Gear Solid vibes before it swings off to find its own identity. We Talk Together gives Altair a taste of the same misery that suffuses Ezio’s soundtrack, and I’m a sucker for the grand brass and strings of An Unsubtle Approach. I love the way the game lulls you in when it all comes to a head with You Have Earned Your Rest before smacking you with the heaviest brass strikes the soundtrack has to offer before the genuine finale of Passing The Torch, which channels the feel of the end of The Lord of the Rings to me personally.
At its end, Revelations suddenly allows itself the most poignant moment the series has yet had. For one brief, glorious mission the game’s writers flex their muscles and pull at the heartstrings of the player like never before; though Ezio’s journey has been lengthy and culminated in a game that I dislike, perhaps my time with the trilogy was all worth it.
3/7 – MEDIOCRE. A game that makes you go, “Well, it’s alright…” but it’s a kind of drawn-out, unsure, and reluctant decision? These are those games. Might just be worth playing if you can get it on the cheap.