If you’re thinking of playing Assassin’s Creed: Revelations without indulging in any of the previous games in the series, don’t. This fourth iteration of Ubisoft’s open-world action-adventure ties up the existing story arc in typically in-depth fashion, and the existence of the Animus – which allows Desmond to view and control genetic memories and warp into the past – will only serve to baffle and confuse those not familiar in Assassin’s lore. In fact, it’s likely to perplex anyone who doesn’t happen to be a die-hard fan of the series, or a grade-A history boffin with an obsessive interest in the Middle Ages and sci-fi novels.
Revelations has a multi-faceted plotline that switches between characters and explains the storyline of Ezio Auditore da Firenze once and for all, while delving deeper into the past of Desmond, and taking the opportunity to deviate into Altair’s past. We discover more about the First People, who that mystery man was at the end of Brotherhood, and other ‘revelations,’ and though it’s easy to get lost in the plethora of dialogue if you’re not a die-hard fan, the narrative does answer a lot of the questions fans will want to know, while leaving the gamer with a tantalising hint of the new direction for the series.
As far as gameplay’s concerned, it’s largely business as usual as you take control of the acrobatic Ezio in a series of swash-buckling quests, stealthy assassination attempts and assaults on enemy strongholds. Deviating from the main missions with dozens of side-quests, recruiting assassins and producing income that can be spent on customisation and the purchase of businesses, provides many ways to idle away extra game hours, while scouring the rooftop terraces and side streets for collectibles will keep completionists joyfully entertained.
Unsurprisingly, Revelations mimics the series’ signature open-world gameplay – for the most part – meaning the city can be traversed like a free-running ninja with a series of jumps, grabs and huge leaps of faith. Since the first game in 2007, Ubisoft has refined the control scheme substantially and it presents itself here as the smoothest and most intuitive way that we’ve ever been able to move around a city.
Swinging from pole to pole and chaining together jumps still requires timing and acute awareness of the environment, but animation is slick and when a few moves link fluidly together there’s nothing quite like dancing across the rooftops with the light-footedness of Dick Van Dyke, moving serenely on the way to the next objective.
Ubisoft has created yet another incredible sandbox environment. The representation of Constantinople in 1511 AD is nothing short of stunning as it spans across four bustling, multi-tiered districts that are brimming with character and detail. Authentic architecture of the time and iconic structures dominate the skyline, while the atmosphere on the streets is amplified impressively by a blend of natural sounds and string-based orchestral music. Ladders, poles and window ledges once again lead to rooftops and many recognisable sights, such as tall towers, bales of hay – great for hiding dead bodies – and terrace hide-outs complete what is largely a familiar, though no less impressive, set-up to previous games.
The major new feature added by Ubisoft, enabling traversing of the city in a new way, is the hook blade, which is essentially an extension of Ezio’s arm. Not only can the stealthy assassin flick out his blade from under his sleeve and stab an enemy in the blink of an eye, but he can now attempt near-impossible jumps across the rooftops and latch onto the side of a building at the very last second. Though it’s not the most exciting of new additions, the blade adds a new dynamic to movement, making it faster and more enthralling to get from ‘A’ to ‘B.’ Essentially, the hook blade encourages gambling on long jumps, something that wouldn’t always happen in past games.
In fact, movement across the city now is a far cry from the slow-paced climbing actions and measured jumps that we carried out in the first game of the series. The return of the merchandise lift, which shoots you up to the rooftops, is now outshone by the introduction of zip-lines that provide a speedy way of getting across town. As well as being able to move between objectives at a faster pace now, zip-lines also provide more tactical freedom in combat as Ezio drops down on enemies from above to take them out quickly and silently.
One of the greatest things about the evolution of the Assassin’s Creed series is how the developer has honed the combat system over the years. Creeping around, stabbing people in the back, or executing edge-of-the-roof takedowns are as satisfying as ever, but Revelations really shines when the protagonist is face-to-face with multiple aggressors, using a combination of parries, blows, grabs, dodges and counter-attacks to take them down. Topped off with some gloriously violent finishing animations, there’s always the temptation to ditch stealth completely and take on half-a-dozen guards for the thrill of it.
Evidently, it does feel like Ubisoft has pushed the series in a slightly new direction to encourage players to break out of that stealthy assassin mode more often and cause more carnage, or be more adventurous. As a result, this is the most diverse Assassin’s Creed yet, furnishing the player with more choices in combat, which includes access to an insane number of bombs. The bomb-crafting mechanic allows you to combine ingredients to create grenades that suit a particular play-style, whether that be stealthy or aggressive, and it’s good fun experimenting to see how enemies react.
Ubisoft also attempts to freshen up the old formula by adding a few new twists, the biggest of which turns out to be a real disappointment. A very basic tower-defence game, which involves spending points on choosing units to see off the threat of attacking soldiers, feels more suited to PC gaming. And it’s totally out of place and poorly executed. Similarly, the bizarre platforming sequences with Desmond, which take place in a weird abstract world, aren’t particularly entertaining but at least provide further insight into the war between the Assassins and the Templars. Altair’s scripted sequences, on the other hand, though quite short, are well-produced and provide a nice deviation from Ezio’s plotline.
So, overall, it’s not actually the new stuff that makes Assassin’s Creed: Revelations an entertaining new chapter in the series, but it’s all those features that we’ve become accustomed to since its inception. Strong level design, great AI, visceral combat, high production values and fluent open-world gameplay all once again prove to be its biggest strengths.
Away from the campaign, the multiplayer has been vastly improved. As well as new locations and characters there are story-orientated quests that serve to feed those hooked on Assassin’s Creed lore, and some new game modes, including Capture The Flag. The best new addition is Deathmatch, which turns out to be an exciting cat-and-mouse game of death and trickery as you attempt to blend in with the locals while searching for targets, all the time while others do the same.
Though familiarity often breeds contempt among videogame critics bored of samey sequels and the regurgitation of old mechanics, it’s not always a bad thing. As the fourth game in the long-running series (not including numerous spin-offs) Assassin’s Creed: Revelations comes complete with its familiar sandbox environment, tired-looking protagonists and up-close-and-personal sword fights, yet – ignoring some of the bizarre new additions – it’s still wildly entertaining, despite the gameplay being, mostly, predictable.