In a sense, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations perfectly represents the best and worst elements of the “annual update” model Ubisoft apply to the franchise. On the plus side, we’re treated to yet another high-quality instalment of the Ezio/Altair chronicles, and the producers have again delivered a huge and deep experience that overshadows most other action/adventure games in almost every department. But on the negative side, despite being given a new playground to explore, the rules remain largely the same, and fans hungry for an evolution to the series may come away feeling dissatisfied. Taken purely on its own merits however, Revelations is a quality instalment and represents a wholly satisfying experience for die-hard fans and newcomers alike.
Revelations directly follows on from Brotherhood, continuing the satisfying story of Ezio, Altair and Desmond, and concluding the formers’ with satisfying aplomb. Engaging the player in fictional storyline is something very few developers get right – and in many cases, don’t bother trying to get right – but Ubisoft have excelled for a fourth consecutive time, with Revelation’s story being the most well-paced and thoughtful of the series so far.
But as the first AC showed - no matter how good a story is, if the gameplay isn’t right, the whole package falls over. Purely from a control perspective, the engine Ubisoft have created remains one of the most admirable in gaming. It’s not due to laziness on Ubisoft’s part that the mechanics and technical elements of the AC franchise have stayed the same since the desperately flawed but ambitious first instalment. The pure quality of the engine is why Ubisoft have- rightly and justifiably- seen fit to release an instalment each year since the sequel, and gamers have reaped the rewards.
Navigating through the game’s main city of Istanbul is a complete and utter joy. Despite being incredibly easy, jumping across rooftops and climbing walls never gets boring and always feels satisfying. This is the ace up the game’s sleeve – whilst the combat is varied and functional, it never feels as natural (I still can’t select the person I want to kill!) or looks as beautiful as floating gracefully across the city. It is obvious that much of the character movement is taken from the previous game engines. Climbing and acrobatics remain mostly the same both in form and controls, but in my opinion the free-running is a facet of the game which has never required much development. The runs, swings and drops are intuitive as ever. Needless to say you will find yourself off mission on more than one occasion just to reach the top of a tall tower and check out the view.
Gameplay-wise, Ubisoft have inserted some distinctive new additions, with mixed results. On the positive side, the training up of your own assassins – one of my favourite features of Brotherhood - has been fleshed out, and hours can be spent working on this element as you become master of a group of deadly Turkish assassins. The biggest addition is the bomb-creation – a surprisingly deep feature that allows Ezio to mix and match components to create inventive bombs. Whilst sceptical when I first came across this option, once I delved into it became one of the game’s strongest expansions.
For all the good that was achieved with the training and the bombs however, comes a couple of missteps. The sure-to-become-infamous tower defence game inexplicably added to the mix does nothing but break up the experience. Clearly looking to inject something fresh for the sake of freshness, Ubisoft have Ezio set up defences of strongholds in Istanbul, with an over-simplified, clumsy and unforgivably avoidable minigame that detracts from the experience as a whole.
Even though the fighting element is not as strong as the free-running and climbing aspects, creative animations prevent the frequent fighting of generic foes becoming to monotonous. Familiar evasion and parry techniques from the previous games are back again and the same enemy selection system is used, which focuses you on single combatants when in hand-to-hand combat. A positive from the enemy selection system is the ability to react to the enemy’s movements and time counters and dodges resulting in skilful battles, but the downside is the confusion it can cause when facing multiple enemies. Attempting to select a different attacker mid-fight often results in humourous entanglement, as the change of selection is far from instinctive. The more you use the system the more acquainted you will become, but even when fully familiar mis-selection will still occur.
Although the story and pacing is the strongest in the series’ history, it’s not without its faults. The game is at its best when it engrosses the player in Ezio and Altair’s story and environment; getting drawn back into that of Desmond (who is now trapped in a stereotypical ‘limbo’ doing nothing but minecraft-esque minigames) again detracts from the experience, but is mercifully skippable. For me, the sci-fi element of the franchise has never been quite right– I would personally prefer a story entirely based in the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. But I accept this is just a personal preference, and this doesn’t affect the gameplay in any meaningful way.
A special mention should go to the multiplayer, which too has been fleshed out, but again whilst entertaining never feels as good as it perhaps should be. On paper, whizzing around a giant city assassinating people sounds like the perfect game, but much like GTA4’s open-city warfare, it never really delivers on the initial promise. Still, it’s a nice feature which has its fanbase, and is good to see Ubisoft paying it the attention it deserves.
Negatives aside, Revelations is another quality entry in one of this generation’s best franchises. The fact that they have come as yearly updates is simply something gamers should be thankful for, as Revelations is a feast of a game, offering much more than practically all other games in the genre. Keen followers of the story will not be left dissatisfied with how it concludes, and for many that will no-doubt justify the purchase.