Assassin's Creed: Revelations boils down to one line of thought: is it worth buying if it's almost the same game you played before?
The story is new, of course. Desmond is unconscious after the events of Brotherhood. We know from the last game that he's in transport to…somewhere. In Revelations, Desmond is dropped onto an island inside the Animus program. He's met by #16 (if you haven't played the games, then you shouldn't know who that is) and shown that he needs to explore his ancestors' memories even further in order to stay completely sane.
That exploration brings Desmond into Ezio's body. Ezio heads to Constantinople after stumbling upon a Templar plot in Masyaf, the home of Assassins during Altair's time. Altair, of course, is the hero from the original game. Ezio finds Altair's library, but learns that it is locked by the five missing Masyaf keys hidden in Constantinople. Our Italian hero heads to the big city and proceeds to fight against a twisted Templar and Byzantine regime in order to find the keys.
Now, here's where Altair comes into the picture even more… each time Ezio finds a key, a memory sequence is initiated that places Ezio in Altair's boots. You'll play Altair as he ages and deals with the Apple of Eden, the crazy artifact that's been central to this game. Everything comes together when you find the fifth key, and Desmond simultaneously learns about Ezio who is learning about Altair.
So, yes, the whole thing is very Inception-like as you'll play someone playing someone else who is playing someone else. And if it sounds confusing here, wait until you see it in action. A large problem with this franchise, as far as I'm concerned, is that the details are often blurred by a line of confusion. That continues here. While you'll be able to assemble the plot points in a straightforward fashion, the details that pertain to the massive arc of the franchise are often obscured by way too much vague namedropping and awkwardly assembled cutscenes.
That especially goes for the final moments of the game. This is Revelations, so the obvious mantra going into the experience is that all will be revealed. In a way, it is. But, in true LOST fashion, everything that's revealed by the time this game concludes only opens up an even more massive series of questions. The whole thing plays like a teaser for the next installment.
And that's where things turn sour for franchise fans… in terms of weight on the big picture in Assassin's Creed, Revelations really only presents about 10 or 15 minutes worth of new and important information. For fans that want to watch the big story unravel, this game will almost feel like filler. It's something Ubisoft did to stretch the series out far enough to make it a yearly release.
Because of that, and because of the game's mechanics, you'll often wonder if this "new" experience is really "new" at all.
What's new beyond the story? Not much. Constantinople is a new locale, but it feels exactly like every other major city in the franchise. At least with Rome, players were able to see the Renaissance come to life in fireworks and colorful fairs. In Constantinople, everything feels like the exact same set of muted colors put on repeat.
However, Ubisoft remains true to the nature of the location in time. There are lots of historical and cultural nods that connect Constantinople to its place in time and geographic placement. That adds to the realistic feel of the city itself. There's also a bustling city here, as has become a staple for Assassin's Creed, so it is at least fun to explore.
There's also a new element of bomb crafting. Ezio adds bombs to his arsenal because of their availability in Constantinople. You'll canvas the city and find tons of ingredients to make custom bombs. The bombs themselves can be used as killers, distractions or tactical advantages. You'll be able to hit enemies with shrapnel, blind them in smoke or drive them mad with lamb's blood. It works as a new element, but you'll often question its necessity on major missions.
Much like the Borgia Towers in Brotherhood, Ezio will find Templar Dens to infiltrate and convert to Assassin control. Once he does, players will have a new place to call home. However, if Ezio becomes too notorious (something that builds amongst Templar when you do bad things in front of them), armies will attack these new strongholds.
Now, what ensues when this happens is actually really awkward. Rather than hopping into the den and fighting waves of Templar as Ezio, Ezio himself commands the Assassin defenses. That happens by way of over-the-shoulder magic as Ezio is placed on one roof and given the ability to tactically distribute units along a path. It's a tower defense game, seriously, and it's very strange. I actually worked to avoid the mechanic because it's boring and awkwardly designed. You can't control the camera beyond simply panning back and forth between Ezio, the Templar units are not interesting, the rewards are few and the action is so dissimilar from the overall experience that it just feels bizarre.
Ezio also earns a new tool for climbing, combat and travel: a deployable hook. The hook helps Ezio get to higher climbing spots, it works to span bigger gaps and, in the image at the head of this review, it lets you zipline to other rooftops. It plays just fine, but, like the bombs, was not a necessary addition.
As for Ezio and Altair's play, just about everything else is exactly the same. Rooftop guards are still annoying, Ezio still climbs fluidly, crowds still react in largely the same fashion and the projectile weapons are still sort of a pain.
The best returner from Brotherhood is the ability to build, basically, an Assassin posse. You'll find troubled citizens and bring them into your army throughout the campaign. When times get tough, press the left bumper and watch them fly in from all angles and murder your opponents. The mission system for these Assassins, as well as their upgrade schemes, is the same as before.
Finally with the campaign, I did personally experience a few annoying glitches. Whole ships in the water would disappear when I was around them, objective-oriented NPCs would be invisible and there were times when the whole world wouldn't load. These things either corrected themselves eventually, or required a game restart. What's scary is that this game autosaves, so it's not like I could revert back to an old save slot. Thankfully, things never got that bad.
I know I'm only covering it in passing before I bring this lengthy review to a close, but the multiplayer component of the Assassin's Creed experience is one that I've never really put much stock into. Not to take away from the unique nature of the gameplay in the mode, as it honestly is unique, but the weight of this franchise's experience sits in the campaign. The multiplayer section feels like a simple sideshow when compared to the actual game itself.
Which, I suppose, makes me want to praise Ubisoft even more. The focus in Assassin's Creed: Revelations sits on the campaign, not the competitive multiplayer….where it belongs! Yes, there's more customization in this game. There's even a line of plot within the multiplayer section that makes it more enjoyable than before. But, and I admit that I'm writing as a novice who constantly gets slaughtered in the multiplayer experience, this portion plays almost exactly like it did in Brotherhood. Those that love the multiplayer enough to be yelling at me about the differences will, in my opinion, continue to love it here.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations feels like a copy of Brotherhood. The areas it improves upon are minor, the gameplay additions like bomb crafting and tower defense feel a little forced and the storyline plays out like one big tease for the next chapter. There are times when you'll likely feel as if you've done all of this stuff way too often, and that's probably because you have.
However, it is still an enjoyable experience that will likely satiate franchise fans. While it doesn't bring anything new and exhilarating to the table, it does play exactly like the best game in the series, Brotherhood. Ubisoft has elected to make this series a yearly release, it's too bad the game's mechanics will remain largely unchanged because of that.
As a final thought for those considering this as a purchase, Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a familiar experience. If you're okay with a game that seems like a reproduction of last year's model, then you will enjoy what's offered here. However, if you're looking for Ezio and Altair to step up their incredible talents to include game-dynamic-changing moments, that won't happen.
Ezio does, however, become a signing Italian minstrel at one point in the game. That alone makes this worth considering.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline was sent a review copy of Assassin's Creed: Revelations a few days after the game's launch. We played through the campaign once, dove back in to finish synchronizing viewpoints and upgrading assassins. We spent just shy of four hours in the multiplayer component. We even watched the exceptionally long credits, after which nothing happens…