What if the sequel to the best, most ambitious game of last year came out and was surprisingly unambitious, content to merely replicate everything its predecessor did without really pushing anything forward? Would you be okay with that? Because your answer will determine whether or not Assassin's Creed: Revelations is for you.
Personally, I think you should just skip it. If you've never played an Assassin's Creed game before, this is easily the worst starting point, a confusing mess of convoluted plot details and intricate gameplay systems. And if you have been keeping up with Desmond and the rest of the Assassins, you'd be better off giving yourself a break from the series and coming back next year, eager for Assassin's Creed III.
That's the problem with making Assassin's Creed a yearly franchise — it's just not a style of game that can support that kind of release schedule. If you've stood on a rooftop above a guard and pressed the button to jump down and assassinate him once, you've done it a thousand times. You need an extended break between games for that to feel fresh again because it's exactly the same every single time you do it.
The difference between Assassin's Creed and a game like Call of Duty that's also on a yearly cycle is that, in Call of Duty, you're doing the same style of actions, but you're not doing the exact same actions. In Modern Warfare 3, sure, there's a guided stealth level, just like in previous Modern Warfare games, but at least it's a different guided stealth level.
In Revelations, however, you'll be doing many of the exact same actions you did in Brotherhood: you will buy shops to revitalize the city's economy; you will recruit Assassins and send them on missions throughout Europe; you will climb tall buildings and synchronize to reveal parts of the map; you will assassinate witnesses and bribe heralds to reduce your notoriety; you will hunt Templar captains and light the influential towers they once protected. You did all of those things in Brotherhood, and they have not changed in Revelations.
Without a doubt, that staleness is Revelations' biggest problem. There's just nothing that feels dramatically new here. Ezio has a hookblade now, and yeah, it's pretty cool, but it's not enough. Brotherhood introduced Assassin recruits, an innovative multiplayer mode, a faster combat system, challenge rooms, and so much more. It felt appreciably different from (and better than) Assassin's Creed II. Revelations, on the other hand, introduces the hookblade, a tower-defense minigame, bomb crafting, and... that's it, really.
How significant are those additions? Not very. The hookblade is fun, letting you climb faster, use ziplines and roll over enemies in your way, but it's definitely not a game-changer. The tower-defense minigame is an annoying chore that pops up every once in a while on your map, nagging you to recapture a Templar tower you took over earlier. It's mindless, requiring you to spend "morale points" to place different units of Assassins and barricades on a road that waves of Templars will march down. Fail and the Templars regain control over that tower. I found the easier solution to be to ignore contested towers altogether and continue playing the game as though they didn't exist at all.
And bomb crafting? I did it once, for the tutorial, then never did it again. The idea here is that you can use ingredients you find around the world to craft custom bombs that complement your play style, but given the number of tools Ezio already has at his disposal — hidden blades, Assassin recruits, poison darts, a gun, a crossbow, parachutes, throwing knives, courtesans, mercenaries, coins, etc. — I never once felt like I needed to go craft a custom bomb to tackle a situation.
In fact, what bombs made me realize is what the series needs most: focus.
Think back to the first Assassin's Creed and ignore the godawful mission structure for a moment. What tools did Altaïr have at his disposal? His speed, his sword, his hidden blade, his dagger and his throwing knives. That was it. There was real incentive to be calculating and cunning — Altaïr couldn't get caught and slaughter 15 guards in the blink of an eye like Ezio can. And once you'd assassinated your main target, your only option became to run. You were forced to work within those limitations, creating some of the most exhilarating moments in the series.
Revelations has none of that. As Altaïr, you'd often get backed into a corner, forced to claw your way out like a frightened, wild animal. You felt real tension and danger. Ezio, on the other hand, is always calm. He's so capable that it's practically impossible to get cornered, but even if you do, you definitely won't feel scared — you'll be too busy running through a list of all the easy ways for Ezio to take control of the situation.
Ezio is a walking cloud of death. He points his fingers at men and they die. He has aged, yes, but he has aged too gracefully. Revelations had the opportunity to bring back a little of the fear that drove players through the first game by introducing limitations on Ezio's abilities, but he is as spry and agile as ever, if not more so. There is nothing he can't do, and that's boring.
But Revelations' problems don't stop there. As a game that promised answers, claiming that "the intrigue of secrets has passed," it completely fails.
The premise here is that Ezio is on the hunt for five keys in Constantinople that will open an underground library in Masyaf to uncover Altaïr's final secrets. If that sounds lackluster to you, it's because it is. By the very nature of that premise, nothing truly exciting can happen until the final moments of the game. And sure enough, nothing truly exciting happens until the final moments of the game, but even then, if you've already beaten Assassin's Creed II, you already know the grand revelation.
What Revelations does do, though, is some hardcore retconning of Altaïr's story. Not only has Ubisoft completely changed his face, voice and personality from the first game, but his story doesn't really match up with what was supposed to happen to him after the first game, either. As well, it introduces a pretty serious plot hole near the beginning of the game that never gets resolved.
Instead of providing real answers, Revelations introduces baffling questions of its own.
Through and through, Revelations just feels like there was less passion behind it, less vision. It barely inches the franchise's story along, despite promising to take leaps forward. The presentation is noticeably worse than past games, filled with ugly faces, glitches and an inconsistent frame rate. And with the exception of the hookblade, the few new gameplay additions fall flat.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations is not a bad game. Pretty much anything great about Brotherhood is still great here. But if you've already played Brotherhood, Revelations has nothing new to offer. Instead, take a year off and come back fresh for Assassin's Creed III.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360, PCTweet