Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (PS3)

Title: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (7.8 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Extras: 3D Compatible
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 Disc version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 243 of the podcast.

The Assassin’s Creed games are only four years old – if they feel older it’s because for the last two years they’ve been dropping in annually since the successful release of 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II. With Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Ubisoft is closing (one can only hope) the story arc of their most beloved enforcer – Ezio Auditore da Forenze. Is the new game a healthy addition to the Assassin’s Creed dynasty? Or does it push the series further toward becoming the next Dynasty Warriors?

When Patrice Desilets left the Assassin’s Creed franchise, his baby, I was worried. Being a big fan of the original game and its sequel I didn’t hold out much hope that the new Ezio-heavy spin-offs of the series would be anything more than a way for Ubisoft to peel a few hundred million more off of fans of the franchise.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, though it did have some welcome additions like the ability to recruit your own assassins and a creative online component, seemed to confirm my initial worries. The game borrowed from other popular titles, (the Desmond portions of the game felt a bit too Uncharted) dumbed down the combat, (what’s this follow-up one hit kill crap?) and forced players down narrow corridors brightly lit with waypoint positions.

Casual gaming was the trend of the period, and still might be, but I didn’t expect it to creep into the Assassin’s Creed series like it did.

Though Brotherhood was a huge success, as no doubt Assassin’s Creed: Revelations will be as well, it felt like we were getting away from the core of the first two games. Assassin’s Creed was built on an elegant concept. Players were forced to gather intel, hunt down targets, and then blend in and adapt to any situation they might stumble into. If the chance to kill a target presented itself, and the kill looked clean, then it was time to act, and act efficiently, brutally, and without an ounce of mercy. And once the deed was done and all hell broke loose? Then the decision came down to fight… or flight. One being just as fun as the other.

Brotherhood sort of shrugged off those values and resolved itself to being a much more action/set-piece title. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, depending on what stance you’re going to take as far as the direction of this series is concerned, has unfortunately followed in its precursor’s footsteps. They’ve added some new toys, prettied-up the aesthetics, and have introduced some brand new game mechanics (borrowed from much older games) and packaged it under the Assassin’s Creed brand just in time (again) for the holiday shopping season. Not that this isn’t a great game.

Some of the things I didn’t like about Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood were fixed, even nixed, in Revelations. Since the events of Brotherhood (SPOILER ALERT!!) left Desmond in a coma we don’t spend too much time monkeying around in his world this time around. Desmond’s been left in Animus limbo when Revelations begins. There are Desmond cut-scenes, (and we get a bit more insight into “Subject 16”) but they’re far less prevalent than in any other Assassin’s Creed game. Desmond’s main purpose in Revelations is to regain consciousness. To do that he needs to finish the final memories of Altair and Ezio… so that’s where we spend the lion’s share of our time in this game.

Revelations ditches horses and horseback riding/combat as well. Players will no longer feel like English cavalry stampeding through city streets and marketplaces, trampling over citizens and couriers as if they were rebellious Scotsmen. It was nice having a steed to gallop across the map when time was critical – but I didn’t miss horses at all during my initial playthrough of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

The landscape doesn’t pine for them, and anyway, the addition of the “hook-blade” makes traveling on foot just as fun as it may have been on hoof. In that respect Revelations rediscovers its roots. Half the fun of the original games was traversing the terrain the developers had created. Altair’s world – and later Ezio’s – was a city-sized jungle-gym. If Altair had had his progeny’s hook blade I’m thinking a lot of us fans probably would have never left Acre. We’ might still be there today, hooking at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

I should probably rephrase that…

The hook-blade makes climbing and zip-lining across rooftops a cinch. During an escape it can be used to hook and roll over opponents coming at you head-on – killing their momentum while increasing Ezio’s. In combat it works as a hay-hook. Ezio can drive the blade into the ribs of any combatant, lift him off the ground, and then body-slam him into unconscious nirvana at his feet. The move’s basically a new parry, but a satisfying one.

The first hour of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – the training hour – takes place in a much better location than the training level of Brotherhood, and features one of the most visually striking environments of the series. Ubisoft wasn’t kidding about returning to Altair’s old haunting grounds – the opening of Revelations exemplifies it.

Fans that missed the fortress, and mountainside villa, of the assassin stronghold Masyaf might get a bit sentimental during the training, and Altair portions, of the campaign. We hauled ourselves up and down this mountain fifty times during the original title and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations asks us to make the trip a few times more. The path might feel a bit beaten at this point in the franchise, but Masyaf will still feel like home to most fans. It certainly did to this one.

The final map in Ezio’s journey, the “underworld” located in a massive cave system infested with Byzantine Templars, is one of most original, most provocative locations of the series. It may not have the scale of what we’re used to in these games, but it certainly has its own grandeur. I only wish I could have spent more time here, running missions along its cat-walks and precipices. As it stands 90% of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations takes place in Constantinople. The rest of the game is relegated to underground chambers, oily cisterns, island monasteries, and the caverns of the “underworld.”

Not that Constantinople isn’t enough map for any sandbox game – on the contrary, this city is expansive. Different boroughs harbor different economies and classes and different building conditions. One area may have gardens and ornate mosques, another might be a docking port full of ships and sailors hauling cargo, another will be a ghetto full of bats, beggars, and fire-breathing gypsies. (you choose which one of these pests you might have the strongest aversion to) Minarets jut up from the landscape like Apollo rockets, covered markets take up entire city blocks, and alleyways are littered with hidden nooks and overhead foot-bridges.

Constantinople is a place to get lost in.

It’s a rat’s maze filled with soldiers, thieves, harlots, mercenaries, and hired killers of all allegiances. The city has two warring factions patrolling the streets, the royal guard and the Templars. If you get caught between the two parties it’s best to sit back and watch the battle – they like each other about as much as they like you, which isn’t much at all really.

The “rebuild” system is back from the last two games. Players can purchase banks, bookshops, blacksmiths, and clothing shops. The more you rebuild, the more money that rolls in every twenty minutes. It’s an easy system to understand, Donald Trump’s been running the same strategy since 1971.

The original Assassin’s Creed got us acquainted with the hidden blade. The second game gave players poison, hidden pistols, and smoke bombs to play around with. Brotherhood brought us extra assassins to heed our beck and call. Revelations gives us….?

Hand grenades.

Hand grenades, and a really scrubby tower-defense component. The grenade system is deep, and certainly most of the treasures you find in this campaign contain grenades parts and powders – Ubisoft isn’t being subtle about what they’d like to see you using to distract, deter, or maim and murder this time around. But grenades sort of remove us from the realm of what originally made this series something other than another Metal Gear clone.

Altair, and later, Ezio, were murder artistes. The selling point of the series, at least for this fan, was in the execution. The ability to stay hidden in plain sight. The ability to inch toward a target till the kill moment was palpable. Grenades…? Don’t really fit here. They’re fun to use, and they make a ton of noise, but this isn’t that game. Or at least, it wasn’t that game back when Patrice Desilets was driving the bus.

As for the tower defense mechanic? It’s not broken. It’s not terrible. It’s just something else to do in a game that might already have too much in it to do. It certainly makes a terrific argument that Assassin’s Creed as a franchise is having an identity crisis.

Sorry to break your hearts fans, but there are precious few (and I do mean “few”) assassination missions during the entire ten hour run of this new game. Ubisoft even removed the ability to run your own assassination contracts from the map. You can build hundreds of hand grenades made out of shrapnel, sulfur, lamb’s blood, and caltrops, you can even command riflemen from rooftops to stop Templar invaders from besieging one of your dens, the one thing you can’t do in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is hunt down and assassinate a target for money. You might run across the occasional Templar noble to kill, but the only pay-off is a group of armed guards chasing you down for your actions.

If I can harp on one single element that has plagued this series since its conception…? Bugs. The bloody, gawdamned bugs. Angelo Ruggiero’s house wasn’t as buggy as this, even in 84′. (it’s a mob thing) I’ve seen enemy soldiers spawn (spawn’s being polite, these guys popped into existence like single celled organisms) all around me after I killed one of their sentries.

I’ve seen people, ordinary fishmongers and citizens of Constantinople, stuck in walls and floors. (funny unintentional side-effect to this bug, if you kill these would-be teleportation artists they deflate and scream through the air like punctured balloons) I’ve had guards suddenly attack me for no reason. And I’ve called in my assassins to take out a group of enemies, only to see them wandering around someplace else, sometimes even standing, board-straight, staring off into la-la land.

It’s been four years Ubisoft, can we at least start tackling the bug problem? Call Orkin: 1-866-949-6043. See if they can help point you guys in the right direction.

The Assassin’s Creed games, at least the console versions of Assassin’s Creed games, have always set a high mark for graphics. Ubisoft must have been working on the lighting engine during the last twelve months, they certainly weren’t working on the bug problem. The streets of Constantinople are dusty.

Sunlight filters in through cracks in walls and ceilings. Caverns look damp and dank. Lightning paints a brief, powerful picture on the landscape when it strikes. Ezio’s had a make-over since we last saw him. He’s old and bearded. His hair and his robes are gray – which gives him the aura of an old wolf. It’s a good look for the old Italian noble.

The latter “underworld” level is outstanding. The ambiance is something like the torchlit caverns and pantheons under Pankot Palace in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, minus the heart plucking parties.

Looks like they’ve been working on the sound design during Summer vacation as well. The city sounds alive, just as it has since Altair’s first trials. What Ubisoft did do was beef up the brutality in the soundscape. When Ezio drops onto an unsuspecting sentry, when he hooks someone by the short-ribs and plants them into the ground, the accompanying sound is tooth-shattering. It sounds like God driving a spike though the Earth. Prepare to smile big would-be assassinators – there is an audible reward for your hard work this time around.

The voice-acting’s terrific. Star Trek fans will know John de Lancie’s voice the first time they hear it here. The sound design is one of the few places this Assassin’s Creed separates itself from its forebears.

I missed the opportunity to play this last Thursday when Ubisoft hosted an online game for media to play for review purposes.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a great game, I just don’t know if it’s a great Assassin’s Creed game. Everything you like about Assassin’s Creed is here: combat, navigation, ultra-tangled-storyline, environment, graphics, sound, all wrapped in a pretty little bow. The baffling lack of assassination missions make me believe that the series is heading toward an identity crisis, as it is over-saturation.

If Ubisoft Montreal is a pimp, (let’s call him Monty) then Ezio’s been Monty’s top-bitch for the last two years running. But Ezio’s getting old now. There are gaps in his fishnets, lines on his face, his lipstick’s gone sour, even his crabs are starting to get crabs.

It’s hard for us tricks (squares call them “Johns”) to drive up the track every year around this time and see Ezio standing there alone, shivering, strung-out and tired, sucking the protein out of cigarette butts for breakfast…. Ezio needs his retirement Monty. Give the bitch a break. Sure he’s made you mo’ money than any ho’ before him. But it’s time to turn someone else out. So take a few years off and rethink this relationship before it burns itself out.

Remember what Eidos (call him “Eddy) did to Lara Croft? Poor girl could barely walk or brush her teeth after Eddy got through with her…


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