Ubisoft’s got the Assassin’s Creed formula down pat now, and no mistake. A far cry from the repetitive and vacuous inception of the series, Revelations is another opportunity to see the Assassin formula at the top of its game. Finely paced, varied in its gameplay and brimming over with exciting and dramatic set-pieces, it delivers everything a fan of the series could desire.
Constantinople, the game’s main setting, is a stunningly realised vision of old Istanbul, filled, pound for pound, with a slightly more diverting set of missions than the games before it. Fire in particular seems to have become a great favourite of Ubisoft’s designers, so if Ezio’s not hosing boats down with liquid flame, he’s leaping across their burning hulls to escape the harbour, or inciting 60 people to join an incendiary riot just so they’ll help him break into an Ottoman fortress. Another memorable mission sees Ezio disguising himself as one of Brotherhood’s much-despised Italian minstrels, plucking a lute and ad-libbing songs dissing his old enemies or the non-Italian speaking Ottoman soldiers around him.
Meanwhile, recruiting and training individual Assassins, conquering towers to take back – and renovate – the city, and enclosed, Prince Of Persia-style epic set-pieces are all back, all slightly expanded or enriched in terms of scale or complexity. It would all work brilliantly, if Ubi had just stopped there.
Unfortunately, a number of other small additions have reared their heads to the point of threatening the gameplay balance Brotherhood so elegantly mastered, weighing the experience down with needless frippery, and sometimes turning gameplay from a pleasure to far more of a chore than it ever should be.
One example is the much-vaunted bomb crafting, which Ubisoft clearly intended as a neat way for the player to take full control over choosing the correct tool for any task. Unfortunately, a scant tutorial in the overcomplicated building process, coupled with a general lack of opportunities to really use them, soon sees them forgotten in favour of jumping in with a sword or hidden blade like ever before, the entire game easily conquerable without voluntarily hurling a single explosive. There’s also the thorny issue that only three types of the dozens on offer can be kept in Ezio’s bag at once, meaning an often lengthy on-foot trip to go and make more usually not feeling worth the hassle.
Meanwhile, the tower defence minigame that results from too high a wanted level feels a needless bolt-on, as do the shark-jumping first-person puzzles that serve as a backdrop to Desmond’s inner monologue on ‘Animus Island’. Playing like a bizarre cross between Tetris and Portal, they’re a strange fit, and don’t feel particularly linked – like the series’ earlier puzzle segments – to the game’s traditions of historical intrigue or conspiracy.
The playable Altaïr memories, meanwhile, that replace the Followers of Romulus side-quests from Brotherhood, now contain so many repetitive steps that getting to the goal of actually playing the character is such a grind that it’s often tempting to abandon the whole process halfway through and to go back later. Speak to a certain character, climb to a high vantage point, use Eagle Vision to spot a book, play a labyrinthine set-piece, analyse an artifact, then finally play out a memory; it’s another unnecessary addition of rigmarole that seems to unbalance Brotherhood’s more direct approach for no reason other than ‘added value’ tinkering.
This might all be sounding like an unduly negative eight out of ten by now (yes, we know you’ve checked), but here’s the rub: everything that worked in Brotherhood is still here, and everything you don’t like can be easily ignored, or broken up between the more immediately fun stuff. Carrying out all Revelations’ tasks in measured tones rather than piling straight through the story is just as enjoyable an experience as it ever was.
And if the game’s structure is slightly sullied by needless complexity, Revelations still wins the day in terms of the series’ strongest feature – its atmosphere. Constantinople’s streets, medinas and squares are filled with bustling, colourful people. The time in history – that of an internal struggle in the Ottoman empire while the fallen Byzantines sit brooding on the sidelines – paints an atmosphere of upheaval that tells an infectiously enjoyable story. And the collection of characters on this stage is as charming, human, and cheekily historically accurate – as Ubisoft deftly fills in the gaps Wikipedia leaves – as ever before.
There’s young Prince Suleiman, perpetually concerned 17-year-old heir to the Ottoman throne who’s caught between a power struggle between his uncle and father, a wisdom beyond his years and bumfluff on his top lip the only indicators he’ll one day go on to pick up the title ‘The Magnificent’. Ezio develops a fondness towards the teenager suggesting a longing for a son of his own. Yusuf Tazim, meanwhile, leads the Constantinople Assassins and is effectively Ezio’s Turkish equivalent, jibing the Italian in his attempts to comprehend this foreign place in a way reminiscent of Omar Sharif and Peter O’ Toole’s caustically developing friendship in Lawrence Of Arabia.
Ezio himself has an engaging gravitas befitting his age and wisdom. Plodding inevitably towards the end of his tale, his stoic demeanour betrays signs of tiring of a life filled with questions, eager to discover his real purpose and enjoy some kind of retirement. Backed up by the key – and poignant – stages of Altair’s life told in flashback, there isn’t a dramatic moment out of place.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations, then, is a pick-and-mix of successes and failures. At its core, though, it’s just as accomplished a game as Brotherhood before it. All that’s required is to dig below the surface layer of frivolous pseudo-innovations to discover yet another classic Creed, and a top quality conclusion to an excellent story arc.