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Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – The Review

With its standard cocktail of revolutionary gameplay, intricate story telling, historical discipline and political subterfuge, Assassin’s Creed returns. It has only been a couple of years since Brotherhood, the previous title, concluded (*storyline wise anyway, these games were released no more than one year apart) and Ezio Auditore da Firenze has spent that time on a conquest to rediscover the teachings of his famed ancestor, the legendary Altair. The turmoil and conflict that has been strewn throughout Ezio’s life looks to have taken its toll. But rather than douse his spirit, Ezio is more determined and impassioned than ever. The start of the game sees Ezio arrive at Masyaf, the original home of the prestigious Order of Assassins, where Altair catapulted this ancient creed into greatness. Its walls hide a fabled library said to contain unprecedented knowledge and powerful secrets. However, Masyaf is not deserted, the Templars (the franchise’s core antagonists) are already there and have discovered Altair’s library. Though there is one final hurdle, a mighty door that resists any attempt to be broken. The only way one can access the library is with the 5 Masyaf Keys. The quest for these keys take Ezio to the affluent city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) where he hopes to uncover these hidden keys, learn more about this ancient creed, and to finally understand both Altair’s and his own destiny.

The jump from the first game to Assassin’s Creed II was astonishing. This time, much like in Brotherhood, Ubisoft Montreal takes into account what had previously worked well and what obviously didn’t and, rather than adding a wealth of new features, Revelations is an exercise in refinement. In many aspects the developers took an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach, nevertheless Revelations has enough subtle differences to distinguish it from previous games. They have taken away a few things and have added a few others in equal measure, but at the very heart of it, this game remains true to the Assassin’s Creed series and offers a fitting conclusion to the stories of Ezio and Altair.

Just before you get to step into the shoes of Ezio, there is a short prologue that vaguely covers the story so far and sets up Desmond’s story arc, as is the norm. In case you’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed title before, I won’t spoil it and describe who Desmond actually is. The concept of this story arc is quite an interesting one, although in itself it has very little depth and it is safe to say you will only spend a very small fraction of your time outside of the animus. What’s more, the cliffhanger of the previous title was part of Desmond’s storyline and the conclusion of this is far from satisfying as your questions are answered passingly. When playing as Desmond there is a puzzle mini game available that walks you through his back story through narration but it seems like a very odd addition. You play it in first-person mode with the ability to jump or to place two types of ramps and your goal is to solve a sequence of platforming “puzzles” that are unlocked by collecting animus data fragments (the Revelations equivalent to feathers) while playing as Ezio. Personally, I’m not too fussed with it and my only motivation to play the mini game is the fact that there is an achievement after each level…. then again that’s my motivation for most things. 😉

There may be a few people out there who are planning to play Revelations just to see how Desmond is getting on. Although, its more likely you want to once again (or for the first time) sheath the hidden blade, don that iconic hood and run across some 16th century rooftops, well you’re in luck!

Ezio has just arrived in Constantinople, greeted by a fellow Assassin. Word has already gotten out about what happened at Masyaf and so Ezio has caused quite a stir. You are immediately welcomed into the city’s Assassins Guild as a veteran and a mentor. You are given all your abilities straight off the bat, which of course is natural considering Ezio has already established himself as a connoisseur of the art. There is no need to jump through hoops in tutorial missions (though tutorials are available but as an aside rather than integrated into the story), Ezio is a learned Assassin and indeed one of the greatest- as are you- and this is fully appreciated and works to reinforce Ezio’s character. The game plays much as it did before with the ability to switch from a low profile mode, where you blend less conspicuously with the crowd, to a high-profile mode or “Assassin Mode” (it’s not actually called that but that’s basically what it is) which allows you to sprint, attack and free run. Of course free running is one of the key aspects of the game, and it has slightly been altered to make it feel much faster. From the word go you are given a new hookblade, a re-design of the hidden blade. It now comes with a slight addition which allows you to catch slightly higher ledges, jump a little further and take advantage of the cities many zip lines that allow you to navigate the rooftops with unparalleled ease (the archeologists should discover them any day now). The setting of Constantinople offers itself as a prime free-running haven. Gone are the vast open plains in previous games, large suburban areas are exactly where Ezio’s abilities come into their own. Ubisoft have also chosen to remove horses. They appear in the game but are at no point rideable. The horse riding mechanics have always seemed a little clunky and would be entirely unnecessary as you are no longer required to travel large distances between cities, so in my opinion this is a good thing. There is also a new feature that allows you to craft bombs. From choosing the shell to selecting the debris, it seems on the face of it to be quite a complex system but is easy enough to get the hang of. This is a nice little feature and if your style of play permits the heavy use of the bombs, you will get to know the system intimately as it gives you an added level of customisation that contributes directly to how you approach gameplay. The combat itself is very much the same as before in the way that you can string combats together, plus your final kill is performed in slow-motion which is a very cool touch :). Of course the free running areas make a return and are where you will recover the 5 Masyaf Keys. There are also secret locations that can go entirely unnoticed unless you overtly choose to look for them. Oh, and the loading times seem to be far more bearable in most cases this time around! 😀

Ezio

The two management systems make a welcomed return. Namely the ability to: restore the city’s economy by buying shops such as Blacksmiths and Bookstores; and to control a brotherhood of Assassins. The former increases the city’s income which for some reason goes straight to your bank account (not that you should complain) as well as giving you access to a certain shop in several places across the city. This is by no means entirely necessary, but it is a nice feature that was brought across from Brotherhood which offers another dimension to the gameplay. One thing that doesn’t seem fair to me is the fact that when you restore a shop, Templars become more aware of your presence and so are more prone to attack you. This seems like an incentive not to restore Constantinople, on the other hand it avoids the whole process becoming passive. There are two forms of enemies in the game, the Templars and the guards of Constantinople, the Byzantines. You’ll find that these groups are not too fond of each other and in the midst of combat while the latter may aid you against the Templars, once finished they will level their blade at you. The inclusion of the sub-conflict is good but it can feel confused at times as you don’t necessarily know who is on your side and who isn’t. The Brotherhood control feature has now been improved. Recruited Assassins can be called upon in combat and can greatly swing your chances of victory in your favour. Before you can recruit an Assassin, you must first quell Templar control in a certain area. This will involve seeking out and removing the Templar Captain and then lighting a Signal Fire (like burning down a Templar tower in Brotherhood). Once this has been done, you will be given a Den in that area. In these Dens you can send your Brotherhood on missions across the Mediterranean, check out Guild objectives and craft bombs. Also, before a level 10 Assassin can become a master Assassin, he must first be assigned as leader of one of these Dens, this will involve going on a short mission. However, these Dens act as beacons and are therefore vulnerable for attack. When Templars are fully aware of your presence, you are on thin ice. One more display of your ‘Assassin-ness’ will provoke an attack on one of your Dens, cue the Den Defense! This is a take on the tower defence genre. From the rooftops, Ezio can place barricades and Assassins along a short path with the intention of halting the progress of waves of Templars. Credit must be given to Ubisoft for giving this feature a go, and some people may appreciate the reprieve from the usual pace of play, though others may loathe it and fortunately it is avoidable by either lowering Templar awareness of your activity or training a Den leader until they become a Master Assassin. I, however, am undecided.

Then there is multiplayer. This is basically an intense game of Cat-and-Mouse. You play as a Templar Assassin and you are given a contract which requires you to find another Templar (another player) and assassinate him. . The mode has several little nuances that allow the overall formula to work, and work well. To begin with a contract has also been taken out on you so while your prime objective should be to locate and remove your target, you must always remain vigilant and watch your periphery for you assailant. This means to not draw attention to yourself, and this is achieved by taking advantage of the fact the map is populated by civilians, NPCs. You’ll find that there will many civilians that are identical to your target which means when it comes down to it you’ll need to pay close attention to anyone who is acting out of character. Your attacker will have the same problem which is why it is a good idea to stay close to those who look like you, if you are lucky the assailant will target someone else that looks like you and lose their contract. If not only to protect you from another player, it is wise to keep a low profile when approaching your target. The game offers bonuses for assassinations committed while incognito plus if your actions are too erratic, your target will be alerted at which point they will run. As the chaser you must catch up to your target at all costs, as the chasee you must shake off your enemy by taking advantage of quick escapes such as doors to block the enemies path and roof pullies (not sure of their actual name) to throw you onto the rooftops. There are also the trademark haystacks dotted around the map in which you can hide until your chaser loses you. This is a very innovative multiplayer mode and offers a perfect blend of satisfaction in victory and humiliation in defeat with a feverish intensity throughout. There are several game modes such as the vanilla mode as described above as well as “Capture the chest” and a couple of others that see you work as a team. Those who played the previous multiplayer installment will notice a couple of differences. For starters there is more of a stress on story, using it to fuel progression along with the usual levelling system; characters are a lot more customisable; and there are much improved matchmaking load times, which had previous plagued multiplayer. Plus there are new modes, including Deathmatch. This mode removes the in-game compass which gives you your targets general location on the map. Instead you are only alerted when the player is in your line of sight which increases the need to pay close attention. Assassin’s Creed multiplayer is a very unique experience and offers a sense of tension that so many other multiplayers crave. If you were a fan of Brotherhood’s multiplayer then you can look forward to a much more fine-tuned version in Revelations.

I feel I’ve neglected discussion of the story. Convention dictates I should do this at the start but Revelations’ lasting impression will come from the story itself and I wish to echo this in my review. As aforementioned, this is the conclusion of Ezio and Altair’s narrative. The game segways into Altair’s timeline through the 5 Masyaf keys which allow Ezio to relive key moments in Altair’s life (at least those that do not appear in the first game). This will take you from just before the final events of the first game through the rest of Altair’s life. I never realised how much more of Altair’s story needed to be told after ACI, though clearly Ubisoft had. Altair’s storyline isn’t merely a post production addition, there is a gradual convergence between Ezio and Altair’s storylines. Constantinople does have its own story arc (rooted in the main story arc) which drives the game itself and involves a love interest and defines the many assassination missions that you’ll go on but this is in the shadow of what this game is really about. Ezio was thrusted into the world of the Assassins when he was a teenager, a heritage which, until his father’s murder, was unbeknownst to him. From that point on he has found himself at the centre of a rivalry that had transcended the centuries. At the heart of this rivalry was an artifact, a remnant of those that had come before, a weapon of unimaginable power. He was part of something so march larger than himself, a secret conflict with world-wide implications. But Ezio chose not to shy away and went on a life defining quest to win a battle in a far-reaching war that had gone entirely under the radar. Altair and Ezio are kindred spirits, intrinsically intertwined in belief, wisdom, ability and destiny. Assassin’s Creed manages to seamlessly weave an intriguing fiction through rich history complemented by a beautiful musical score. On a side note, not enough can be said about the lengths Ubisoft clearly went to for historical accuracy, both in terms of real historical events and attention to detail in the architecture, whether that be in a 15th century Italy or 16th century Constantinople. Revelations is Ezio’s swan song and the closing scenes truly reflect how far he has come and is a testimony to Ubisoft Montreal’s masterful storytelling. Regardless of your views on the core story, the real story here is in the character development of Ezio and Altair. Their journeys are legends in their own right, and to craft this in a video game is no mean feat. The very end of the game itself is incredible, as we have come to expect from Assassin’s Creed, but it is the ending of the characters we have come to know and love that will come to be the most poignant.

Take your time on this game, there is a lot of story here and a very realistic atmosphere in Ubisoft’s recreation of Constantinople. Revelations is light on the new features, but I feel that’s the way it should be. This game is the culmination in both the storyline of its two key protagonists and 3 games worth of experience and it reflects all that comes before rather than revolutionising it. It wouldn’t make sense to celebrate Ezio and Altair in a game that felt entirely different to those that made them who they are.

A fitting end to an epic legacy.

Thanks for reading 🙂

DM

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