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Assassin's Creed: Revelations (Xbox 360) artwork

Assassin's Creed: Revelations (Xbox 360) review

"When the game ends, we’re right where we started, only now we have a general idea of where the writers will take us in the next entry. Christ, it’s like Dragon Age II all over again."

I’ve said before that a good sequel should leave me wondering where the series could possibly go next. Apparently Assassin’s Creed II left its creators wondering the same thing.

The sandbox genre is a tricky one. Assassin’s Creed presented beautifully realized historical locations and introduced the means to fluidly explore every inch of them, but failed to give us a good reason to do so. It couldn’t justify itself as an open-world game, a problem its sequels have rectified. But let’s face it: When a publisher is pushing one new entry per year, we start to take for granted what a series does well, and get all the more annoyed by the recurring flaws that haven’t been smoothed over yet.

For instance, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations gives us the ability to break into a sprint, vault over awaiting enemies using a new “hookblade” gadget, and continue running. We do this, because we’re sick of this series’ consistently clunky combat and we want to bypass it whenever we can. Instead of fixing the combat, they’ve created a shortcut around it. The game also make a huge fuss about being able to craft your own bombs to be used as distractions or outright weapons, and ingredients are arguably in more plentiful supply than money. They’re nifty devices of subterfuge, but we primarily welcome them because the straightforward stealth sucks. You can’t take cover or even crouch, the enemy AI is fidgety and unpredictable, and the game’s primary and secondary objectives often ask you to make your way through heavily-guarded areas without being detected, and restart the entire mission if you fail. Gee, make the stealth mechanics more agreeable and you have a deal. This is the same developer that set the bar for stealth with Splinter Cell almost a decade ago.

Assassin's Creed: Revelations asset

Ubisoft’s attitude seems to be that if they continue throwing in new toys and festivities (in a word, distractions) with each entry, we’ll fail to notice that the series isn’t moving in any new directions. But at this point, the Assassin’s Creed games are becoming overburdened with excess. In last year’s Brotherhood, we fought a war against the Borgias by reclaiming strongholds that were under their control. Revelations does the same thing, except now, it’s an ongoing battle. If one of your dens in Constantinople is attacked by Byzantines, you have to fight them off in a shallow tower defense mini-game that has got to be the most forced and out-of-place inclusion ever to be shoehorned into this series. You can either continue doing this, or you can keep your notoriety level down by constantly – constantly – running around the city looking for officials to kill and heralds to bribe.

In fact, we’re expected to be so enamored with the idea of taking back the land for the Assassins that Ubisoft seems to be gradually morphing this series into a city-building sim. We can still renovate shops and purchase landmarks and so forth, which serves no purpose but to earn you money, which serves no real purpose but to do more renovating, et cetera. But now, in addition to sending our Assassin trainees to complete missions in cities across Europe, we’re asked to reclaim those cities, dump money into resuscitating them, and defend them from Templar attacks as well. But this all happens off-screen through menus, so who cares? I get a message saying that Alexandria is under attack, and I’m like, okay? Why should I care about the fate of a city I‘ve never seen? How does this attack affect me? I’ll get fewer shipments of foreign bomb ingredients? Wow, that’s quite a blow. Isn’t there supposed to be a crazy conspiracy-laden sci-fi story buried beneath all of this?

Not much of one, unfortunately. Ezio (who’s got to be pushing 60 by this point) stars for the third game in a row, and his primary objective this time is to investigate the life work of one Altaďr, who finally has an appropriate Middle Eastern accent, and whose influence in this long-running quest for answers apparently extends beyond what we saw in the first game. We’re revisiting these two characters for the most arbitrary reason, too: After Brotherhood’s ending, Desmond is now trapped inside of his own subconscious, and his only way out is to complete a full synch with his subjects. To reiterate, the modern-day Desmond story is at a standstill, and the only way to get it moving again is to relive the adventures of two characters who have already more than had their time in the spotlight.

Assassin's Creed: Revelations asset

To be fair, all three stories have their strong points. Ezio’s love interest has a key role in the plot, Altaďr has finally turned into a likable, sympathetic character (Ubisoft is apparently still looking to right all of the original game’s wrongs, I see), and Desmond himself has a set of bizarre first-person platforming sequences that have him summoning geometric shapes out of thin air as he recounts his life before he was kidnapped by Templars. Revelations certainly isn’t lacking on elaboration. What it lacks is progress. When the game ends, we’re right where we started, only now we have a general idea of where the writers will take us in the next entry. Christ, it’s like Dragon Age II all over again. This is essentially the rushed placeholder that we all thought Brotherhood would be, despite the involvement of what must be nearly every development team at Ubisoft’s disposal. (I did get a kick out of the opening credits, though. “Ubisoft presents… a game by Ubisoft! And Ubisoft! And Ubisoft!”)

Revelations is still pretty fun, I guess, and if you’re still on board with this series, I don’t need to tell you why. (And if you’re new, you shouldn’t be starting here.) But the only major step forward Ubisoft takes is with the multiplayer, which took us all by surprise last year and is even better in Revelations. The basic cat-and-mouse game, divided between patiently hunting your targets and cunningly eluding your own pursuers, works as well as ever. But now, the generically titled Deathmatch mode narrows the scope of the environments and removes the target locator, which means players are no longer forced to bolt across levels like morons and break the spirit of what’s supposed to be a quietly unnerving competitive environment. Ubisoft took a good thing and made it better, and it’s Revelations’ lone indicator that these people know what a sequel should do.

Too bad the single-player couldn’t follow suit. I’ll tell you what, though – every once in a while, Ubisoft will jump out and surprise you with a spectacular set piece that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Uncharted game. Whether it’s the scripted story events that bookend the campaign or the expansive tomb-raiding bits in between, Revelations is occasionally, for five or ten minutes at a time, a rollicking adventure. Then it’s back to opening new bookstores, deciding whether my caltrop bombs should use Indian or British gunpowder, and sending my recruits to open a church in Genoa. Four years ago, a promising new IP needed to get its priorities straight; today, it’s fallen into a similar predicament.


Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (December 03, 2011)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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