Assassin's Creed: Revelations tears me up inside a bit. So many of my emotions were toyed with throughout my time with the game that, by the end, I honestly couldn't tell if I loved it or hated it. I admit that I love the Assassin's Creed series and have since before it was cool (I thoroughly enjoyed the first game in spite of its many flaws), and I confess that I'm more than happy with an annual release as long as a game is good. Brotherhood was a great example of this; it came out only a year after Assassin's Creed II and still managed to be very good on all fronts. So what happened with Revelations?
One of the greatest complaints about annual release schedules in the game industry is that it's almost impossible to make a game in such a short amount of time without suffering from stagnancy, glitches, or a lack of content. While Assassin's Creed: Revelations manages to give you more than your money's worth in content, it is a rather significant disappointment on the other two fronts. The game is a glitchy mess and the new content is not only useless, but sometimes an annoying distraction from the rest of the game. Ubisoft, we need to talk. I understand that tower defense is kind of a big deal right now, but you really shouldn't force that kind of gameplay mechanic to a game like Assassin's Creed; it really breaks up the experience.
That's the biggest change to the game this time around, a rather frustrating tower defense mini-game. Instead of Borgia towers, this time around you have to take down the Templar dens. The twist is that, even after you've taken out their leader and gained their territory, they can take it back. While you're gallivanting about Constantinople, killing Templars and flirting with locals, you may get a message telling you that one of your dens is contested. You then have to walk all the way across town to get to that den, where you command your own assassins to protect your den against the attacking Templars. You have a bunch of different assassin types that you can put on the rooftops around you and you can also put up defensive barriers with cannons and flamethrowers on the ground. It sounds good on the surface but in practice it's a mess. The controls are clunky, the camera is unwieldy, and it's persistently frustrating since the last wave is pretty damn close to impossible to protect against without a perfectly assembled team. It's not fun, and the complete disconnect from the rest of the gameplay is disconcerting, especially since I could easily walk down there and kill every last Templar myself with a better success rate.
The part that bothered me the most is that without fail it always seemed to be that the Templar den farthest away from me was the one that was contested, meaning it took forever to get there for fear of losing my territory. This was made worse by the fact that there were no horses to get you there so you had to run. Sure there are sewers to quick-teleport you around town this time around - same as in Brotherhood - but I had completely forgotten about them because they were never once mentioned in-game. While the tower defense segments were boring and frankly annoying, at least you can take some bit of solace in knowing that, if you lose, you can basically walk right back in and take back the territory. By the end of the game, I was doing all I could (bribing heralds) to keep the amount of tower defense interruptions to a minimum, or I'd let them win on purpose just so I could kill their leader and get back to the real game.
There are a few other additions to gameplay as well, but really nothing significant. This time around you get a hook blade, which allows you to slide down zip-lines and jump higher when climbing buildings. This was little more than aesthetic since I rarely used the zip-lines and most of the building-climbing action was practically identical to the previous iterations. The other addition is the ability to create and use bombs. You get three types of bomb: Offensive, tactical, and diversionary; they're all actually useful in their own right but almost impossible to use mid-fight, meaning that they never get used, so the various ingredients you get along the way pile up fast. This is disheartening because instead of large sums of money, the primary loot you get when finding treasure chests or looting enemies are bomb ingredients.
Other than that, the game is basically the same as II and Brotherhood. You're still climbing buildings and enjoying some pretty intense free-running; the combat is the same, save for some really gnarly kill animations that you get thanks to the hook-blade; and the property management is identical to Brotherhood rather than II. Basically it's more of the same, which can certainly be a problem if you're looking for innovation. Thing is, I don't mind more of the same as long as it's more of the same quality material, or if the story is good. Sadly, the game is full of persistent issues, so that ruins what could have been an enjoyable experience.
First and foremost, I found the controls to be broken, which is weird since I felt the controls were really good in the previous titles. Climbing buildings seems like a total crap-shoot most of the time, where you'll press the stick in the direction you need to go, and he won't move, or you'll try to jump up and instead jump away from the building, falling to your death. Combat was broken as well, since more enemies have guns this time around and when you need to take that guy with the rifle out before he headshots you, Ezio still insists on lunging towards the insignificant guys with the pocket knives. I never had these issues in previous games, so I know it's not my own fault. I died plenty of times at the hands of the poor controls, and that alone almost makes the game too frustrating to enjoy.
But that's not all! In addition to the poor controls and gameplay features, the game is also a technical mess. I can handle visual glitches, instances where textures refuse to load, animations go berserk, or character models disappear and reappear before your eyes (of which there are plenty), but the problem is when the game itself breaks and you have to reset or abort your current mission. There were over a half dozen times I had to restart my game because Ezio got stuck in a wall, or the tower defense game refused to continue due to one of the assassins being caught on a polygon, or falling through a pillar into the nether-world. I realize this game is classified as a sandbox, and I understand that when you have that much content to go through it's hard to make sure everything works flawlessly, but Brotherhood didn't have any of these issues and it had the same time constraints, so there's no excuse for this. I'm sorry, but I have a hard time forgiving a game that's so fundamentally broken that I can barely play it without fear of it breaking. Luckily I was unable to recreate any of the game-freezing bugs, so I don't think they're too persistent; I'm under the impression that I'm the unlucky minority.
But enough with the bad parts of the game, I hate being negative.
Like previous games in the series, Revelations packs a ton of content. In addition to the story, which on its own lasts 10-12 hours, there's literally hundreds of things to keep you busy, including treasures to find, property to acquire, data fragments to collect, and side missions to do - just like in previous games. I didn't even come close to getting all the content and I easily spent more than 30 hours with the game's single player campaign alone. There's also an updated multiplayer mode, which is still really unique and interesting, but I can't really see it having any sort of longevity. I played a few dozen matches and I really have no need or desire to ever play it again. It was a great experience, but I've got stuff to do. I am also not a fan of the fact that you need to sign up for an online pass to play the vs mode, but this is neither the time nor place to rant about online passes.
Though to be honest, I think the thing that I like most about Assassin's Creed is the story. Yeah, the combat is usually satisfying and free-running is better in this series than any other, but I keep returning to the series to see more about this deep and involving plot that has been woven across generations and eras. It's not the kind of story for everyone, in fact it's so religiously motivated that the game has to put a disclaimer at the beginning assuring people that it was created by a team of developers of varying religions and faiths, but I like it! While I'm not going to spoil the story for the previous games, I will tell you that this time around we're seeing a nice end to the stories of both Ezio and Altair. It's nice to see both of them in their later years, and how they reflect on their lives, since they were both such important figures to the assassins. It's also kind of mind-bending to see Desmond looking back into Ezio's life as Ezio is looking back to Altair's life to discover the secrets of the Apple of Eden. It's all really trippy, but it makes for a glorious epilogue to the stories of two legends in the world's canon.
But the problem is that they're just that: epilogues. We've already seen both protagonists during the important, interesting times of their lives, we spent entire games exploring those periods. We've seen Altair learn the truth about the Creed, and the nature of the Apple. We've seen Ezio rise to the challenge of his family and unite the Brotherhood. Now all we have to do is watch as they live out the winters of their lives; hell, even the NPC's have to remind you how old you are from time to time. While the story was wonderfully told and surprisingly touching, there's no denying that the plot could have been handled just fine without having to inflate the game to be 30 hours long through the use of side quests. The parts of the game where you take control of Altair were remarkably linear, and I truly think the whole game would have been better that way, since it was such a simple and concise plot to work through.
In addition to witnessing the ends of the lives of Ezio and Altair, you're also fighting to de-fragment Desmond's mind, which cropped up after the events at the end of Brotherhood. Basically, Desmond is in a coma, only kept alive in the animus, where he has to not only unlock the secrets of Ezio and Altair, but also fix himself by finding those pieces of fragmented data that I mentioned earlier. The more of them you collect, the more of Desmond's past can be unlocked. Few games are able to tell a story very well, hell, most games are content to tell you the princess is in another castle, but the Assassin's Creed series offers the kind of depth that reminds you that games can tell stories too, and sometimes they're really, REALLY good. You just have to pay attention, there's a lot to go through.
Doubly so since the game's production values (save the glitches) are top notch. The world that Ubisoft has concocted is easily one of the most beautiful, living worlds I've seen in a game, bar none. I think the one thing that impressed me most was when I was running past a graveyard, and I saw a couple hugging each other, crying into each other over the loss of their son. It wasn't part of the mission I was doing, I didn't even have to go through that graveyard to get to my destination, yet I saw a surprisingly human experience in this digital world and that image has stuck with me to the end of my time with Ezio. I'm also remarkably impressed with the character and costume design! I know game award shows don't give prizes in the category of “best dressed”, but if they did, the Assassin's Creed series would win every year. No other game comes close to the fidelity and authenticity of the costume design here.
I also think that the audio in this series has remained top notch. The score is really well done and authentic sounding, and the voice acting is pretty damn good, too. Every nick, grunt, or shing of a blade going through a Templar's chest really gives the game an audible kick, and few games are able to do it this well. I'd go into more depth about it, but you try describing the Star Wars theme, it's better heard than described, trust me.
Regardless of the plot and production values, I have a hard time recommending Assassin's Creed: Revelations. I want to, because I'm a massive fan of the series, but the persistent glitches and annoying tower defense minigame really ruined my ability to enjoy it. Wait until it's on sale, by then they should have a patch to fix it and you'll be getting it cheap, so it's a win for everyone. Until then, feel free to explore Skyrim, I hear it's pretty good!