A Hit, But No Revelation
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Ezio's back and this time he's a silver fox, scarred and somewhat wearied by years of rooftop antics. Unfortunately, with Revelations, the Assassin's Creed series also seems to be showing some signs of age and it's the player who may begin to weary of the whole affair.
The latest in Ezio's adventures takes us to Turkey and the sprawling hubbub of Constantinople. Once again, the city is beautifully realized, from the towering mosques and Moorish gardens, through to the souks, spice markets and winding back alleys of the shabbier parts of town.
As you wander the streets of the city, there are more overheard conversations from NPCs. Guards gossip about women and brawling, while simple townsfolk discuss family problems. And it all adds to the atmosphere-laden experience you've come to expect from Ubisoft's series. However, I yearn for my horse and a bit of open country road to gallop down. It would appear that Constantinople has no outskirts, so we're confined to the city walls without a horse.
Revelations begins where Brotherhood left off and Desmond has been sidelined, due to popular demand. Our modern day hero is in a coma and now only exists in the Animus, where he discovers that his mind has fragmented and he must finish the stories of both Ezio and Altair to regain his own psyche and return to his body. And so we enter Ezio's world, as he travels to Constantinople during the Ottoman Empire. Ezio hooks up with the local assassins and joins their cause to fight the templars in yet another power struggle.
As this game is a farewell to Ezio, Altair and Desmond, Ubisoft has seen fit to throw everything at us but the kitchen sink and it fails on almost every level.
Revelations should actually be called Assassin's Creed: Distractions because there are so many things to do other than follow the tissue-thin plot. One of the new distractions thrown our way is bomb crafting.
In previous games, the cities were littered with treasure chests that tinkled to alert you to their presence. These boxes no longer contain trinkets, coinage and weapons, instead we are treated to a cornucopia of shells and gun powders with which to build bombs. There are also crafting stations, which allow you to create bombs to kill or distract foes.
It's easy enough to get by without bombs, but the dev team really, really wants you to make bombs. When traversing the city, Ezio is practically tripping over twinkly chests whispering, "wanna make a bomb?" Forget loot such as weapons, amour or dye for you clothes - all you get in Revelations is stuff for bombs.
So I relented and found that, as always, smoke bombs are useful for quick kills and escapes and poisons are useful to dispense with guards.
All that Glitters
Much like the bombs, Ubisoft has thrown another almost useful, but not really feature our way, in the shape of the grapple hook. This is the latest tool in Ezio's arsenal. Unfortunately, all the hook does is make an annoying noise when he climbs, extend his reach ever so slightly and allow Ezio to zipline down wires. Ziplining is fun and does make traveling quicker, but it's a less than startling addition.
It's a Mini Adventure
Of all the things that Revelations foists upon us, the Den Defense sections have to be the worst. The city is divided into sectors and as in Brotherhood you have to defeat a Templar captain to win the area, allowing you to upgrade its shops and earn cash. This time around, dens that have been won can be recaptured, flinging you into a tiresome RTS.
Ezio is rooted to the spot on a rooftop and has to deploy assassins to defend the HQ, as waves of foes march down the road. This mini-game is nothing more than another distraction that stalls the narrative and dilutes the gameplay. It's completely unnecessary and its only saving grace is that if you train your assassins up to level 10, dens can no longer be attacked and you can get on with playing the main game.
Losing the Plot
With a blink-and-you'll-miss-it story, the bewildering number of mini-games and other distractions means it's easy to lose the plot in Revelations. I've spent many minutes peering at the tiny, useless map, trying to decipher the even smaller symbols, of which there are many, to determine where I should go next.
Upgrading shops seems to serve no real purpose any more, unlike Brotherhood, where it opened up new paintings to buy for your home or new amour and weapons. In Revelations there's hardly any point in earning cash because you don't really need to buy anything. The only reason to upgrade shops is to ensure there is always a bank and a doctor nearby.
With a group of assassins to call on, there's not much need for upgrading faction houses any more either, although, I do quite like walking around town with a group of Romany dancing girls.
When you do manage to get back to the story, Ezio discovers that Altair left five keys dotted around the city and you must recover them to open a mysterious door. Each key opens an Altair memory, which you play without all of Ezio's new moves and gadgets.
The search for each key takes you beneath the city and these sections form the highlights of the game. They offer the best tomb raiding set pieces of the Assassin's Creed series. Ezio has to leap gorges and traverse rickety rope bridges, over raging rivers, as well as scaling beautiful buildings and swinging from lanterns. Gone are the annoying timed puzzles, which are replaced with more cinematic leaps and bounds. It's at these points that you remember why Assassin's Creeds keeps us coming back for more.
Desmond also gets some time in the spotlight. This side quest sees you enter a first-person puzzle, which consists of stark, moving blocks and is reminiscent of a combination of Myst and Echochrome. You must traverse the blocks to reach buttons that unlock Desmond's lost memories and allows him on to the next puzzle. It's an interesting way to fill in the character's back story and the rooms do have an eerie, abstract quality, compared to the fairly bland Altair sections, but ultimately, you just want to get back to Ezio.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations isn't a bad game, but it is a step back from the joy that Brotherhood provided. It's a shame to see the enigmatic Ezio go out on such a lackluster story, but, in spite of it all, he manages to retain his charm throughout. The real pity of this game is that the core gameplay has been eroded and obscured by pointless activities. Ubisoft needs to get back to the heart of Assassin's Creed if it's to win us back for the inevitable next installment.
Chella is GiN's UK-based product tester. A self-confessed Cornish pasty addict, Chella is never happier than when she's slacking off to play a five-gem game. : firstname.lastname@example.org.