Review / Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Xbox 360)

You can’t update Assassin’s Creed like you can FIFA or Madden. Unfortunately there isn’t a year of real-life transfers and buyouts between Creeds to warrant an annual release, and just adding a player impact system to the game won’t cut it. And yet, with a six-team strong development force behind it, this is the third time we’ve seen Ezio since meeting him two years ago.

It’s no surprise, then, that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations doesn’t reflect the kind of expansion we’ve seen in other sequels this year, or that of the transition from the original game to its sequel. It sticks to familiar ground and offers up new gadgets and gizmos over new systems and modes – refinement over revolution. But anyone that still feels the satisfaction of sinking a blade into a Templar’s neck will find the best entry in the franchise yet.

Though it may not bear the 3 on the end of its title, Revelations brings a sense of closure to this part of the franchise. An aged Ezio Auditore takes centre stage, though the protagonist of the original Assassin’s Creed, Altaïr makes a comeback too. With each characters’ arcs ultimately just being relieved by present-day descendant Desmond, there’s really a sense of bringing the franchise full circle with this latest entry.

Ezio’s continued struggle against the evil Templars lays the foundations of the game, bringing the assassin to the ancient city of Constantinople (which we’ve come to know as Istanbul). He may be far from his Italian homeland, but he’s soon right at home scrambling over rooftops and disappearing into crowds.

If a new playground for familiar fun is all you’re looking for, then you’ll find plenty of love in Revelations. The vast map is populated with all the same distractions and quests you’ve come to expect. At its heart, the gameplay is still a varied bag of assassinations, platforming, time trials, stealth sections, combat and just about every other objective type in the book.

There are plenty of new tricks for Ezio to stuff up his sleeve, though the game reveals them a little too politely. Opening missions are focused on introducing you to the new bells and whistles like bomb crafting, but feel as if they’re sheepishly offering a parsley on plate rather than the real meat of the game. Your familiarity with certain gadgets and the game’s open nature betray the urge to try out these new treats.

 

The introduction of the hookblade is the first significant game changer. This second wrist attachment allows Ezio to grab ledges slightly out of reach, swing directly off of lamps for longer jumps, and zip-line down ropes for faster traversal. Its use usually requires a mid-air button press that detracts from the ‘hold two buttons and go’ free-running and injects a greater sense of player control over the system.

Further improvements and additions make themselves known over time. A tower defense minigame to protect hideouts provides an amusing distraction to the standard formula, and the aforementioned bomb crafting eventually becomes essential to distracting and eliminating packs of guards.

The most noteworthy and surprisingly welcome change is the short, sharp, story-focused Altaïr segments that punctuate the end of most chapters. As Ezio gazes into the past of the iconic character the series delivers the most engaging story it’s told yet.

 

Despite the fixes, some areas of the game could still do with a bit of tweaking. Combat has never been Creed’s aspect, and the same rings true here, especially after being reminded by Rocksteady how it should feel. Fights are a sluggish affair that usually involve waiting for one enemy to attack at a time and then either countering or dodging then swiping back. The rather gruesome kill animations do little to inject any life into the system, which will hopefully get a reworking next year.

Free-running still has a bit of stiffness to it too, thanks to Ezio’s dependency on auto-jump. Ubisoft could perhaps benefit from taking a page out of Infamous 2’s book here, and give the next assassin free reign over his environment.

Ultimately Revelations is an improvement on a game that we already knew was a lot of fun to play. On one hand, there’s another 20 hours worth of some of the best gameplay the series has churned out here, but when I reviewed Assassin’s Creed II two years back I praised it for being more than just a “we have a flamethrower” sequel. Revelations however, is exactly that.

The single-player definitely shows the same hint of weariness that Ezio himself displays in his old age. Every double wrist-blade kill, every haystack hidden in has a jarring sense of “been there, done that” to it.

Its story bids farewell to the two assassins we’ve had the pleasure of playing in the series thus far, and in that respect I hope it’s also saying goodbye to a formula that will have outstayed its welcome even more so next time around.

But, hey, for a year’s work, Ubisoft deserves more than a pat on the back. Graphically, the game is stunning, both from an artistic and technical viewpoint. Constantinople is the series’ most beautiful setting; its market’s bustling with life and the landmarks seething with detailed, sharp textures. Clambering up to a viewpoint to access more of the map still serves as some of the game’s highlights, often bestowing a light-headed feel as the camera swoops out over the area.

There’s still a fresh sense to the series’ multiplayer too, which makes its second appearance here. Creed is one of those franchises that doesn’t necessarily need a multiplayer component, but it ends up benefiting from the unusual twists that require FPS levels of commitment as opposed to something to keep you from heading back to the dashboard/XMB.It’s light-hearted fun, rather than fooling itself thinking it’ll compete with the big guns.

The cat and mouse theme that most of the modes are based around puts an uneasy feeling on matches. While you stalk your prey, you never know just how far away someone is doing the same to you. Keeping your wits about you is essential, as the crowd-blending murderer you’ve learnt to become in single-player is flipped on its head and you’re checking the streets with hope of catching the opposition red-handed.

But by Ubisoft’s own admission, Assassin’s is a single-player franchise at heart, and this is (wisely) more of a fun distraction than the next form of online addiction.

Revelations is a solid package all-round then; worthy of the franchise name and plenty of bang for the buck. It delivers the series’ best campaign, filled with everything you expect. But that’s also its main downfall – it really is just everything you’d expect. Its chases and executions still hold a thrill not found in any other series in gaming, but they remain the exact same thrills we’ve had for four games now. If next year is indeed to be the year of Assassin’s Creed III then let’s hope that Ubisoft somehow finds the time to give the game a hint of something new.

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