Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the second “sequel” to Assassin’s Creed II. Only 12 months after the release of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, the release of Revelations will undoubtedly draw criticisms of Ubisoft milking a cash cow as fans eagerly await the promised, true sequel in next year’s Assassin’s Creed 3. I’ll admit that thought crossed my mind but I found Revelations to be a fun experience that tells a superb story.
This is my first foray into the Assassin’s Creed universe. Doing this review was even a little bit intimidating given three games worth of pretty heavy narrative have been released before Revelations. I’m not going to get into a detailed plot analysis with this review. Fans of the series will know it well. The narrative in the Assassin’s Creed series is terribly deep, complex, and really, really good. While it appears to be set in medieval times there’s a distinct sci-fi flavour. Revelations picks up with the protagonist Desmond Miles (voiced by none other than Nolan North) coming to in a device called the Animus. Placed in the Animus to protect his fragmented mind, Desmond must experience the memories of his ancestors in order to acquire the information needed to bring his mind back into sync. These memories are played through the eyes of Ezio Auditore and Altair, familiar faces to those that have played the previous Assassin’s Creed games.
While the element of stealth and the ability to scale buildings are intact from previous games, Revelations adds a few new elements to the gameplay to keep things fresh. The first is something called Den Defense. Much like how you can capture Templar strongholds throughout the city, this tower defense style mini-game has the Templars trying to re-capture dens you’ve taken from them. You must use a set of resources, based on the morale of your troops, to fend them off. I’m not a big strategy/resources game guy but I found these mini-games to be a fun little diversion and something fans of the series should appreciate. Another new element in Revelations is the ability to play as Desmond from a first person perspective as he attempts to escape from the coma that he is in in the real world. This can best be described as a platforming element of the game. It’s an interesting but harsh departure from the aesthetic of the rest of the game.
As a fan of games like Splinter Cell and Infamous, I found the stealth, combat, and parkour elements of Revelations relatively basic. I actually found myself trying to over play the game a lot of the time. I constantly found myself overthinking situations which required stealth. While some of the kill animations and moves are cool to see, combat amounts to an exercise in button mashing. Finally, scaling buildings and structures doesn’t feel as smooth or as intuitive as it does in a game such as Infamous or even Crackdown. Being a fan of those games I instinctively tried to climb everything all the time. The parkour elements of the game definitely have their moments though provided you time your movements and button presses just right; you do get a sense of elegance quickly moving from one rooftop to another via ziplines and lamp posts that feels great.
Those criticisms aside, it really comes down to the story which really makes up the bulk of my enjoyment with Revelations. There are other games that do stealth and combat better, and there are other games that have a better parkour / climb anything game play mechanic. The real star of the show here is the narrative. It feels like a really cool mix of Inception and the Matrix, heck maybe even a bit of Michael Crichton’s Timeline. Be warned, there’s quite a bit of backstory here. If you’re jumping in to this series for the first time I would strongly advise reading up on the plot of the games previous to Revelations as the game’s introduction gives you only the bare minimum to get started playing.
I don’t get online nearly as much as I’d like these days so my time was spent mostly with the single player portion of the game. Revelations provides several multi-player modes to enjoy online, provided you enter a UPlay code. For those looking for a different experience outside of the deluge of holiday shooters, the online play in Assassin’s Creed is a nice change of pace. While there are a few new modes this year, the online play is similar to what was offered previously in Brotherhood. The focus in Revelations is largely on the story which, if you haven’t already noticed, I’m a big fan of.
Taking advantage of the storage capacity of the PS3’s Blu-ray disc, Ubisoft has packaged in the original Assassin’s Creed game on the on Blu-ray disc. This is a great touch and adds nice value, especially for players like myself that are new to the series. I will definitely be playing through the original in early 2012 when the deluge of holiday titles subsides. If you’re trying to decide between purchasing the PS3 or Xbox 360 version, this could be the reason to go PS3.
Honestly, I expected more visually from Revelations. It’s a pretty high profile title and as I’ve remarked in other reviews that Ubisoft usually serves up a high quality presentation package. I’m not saying this is a bad looking game but there’s a lack of attention to detail and polish here that otherwise mars what could be a really great looking game. The environments capture the feel of a medieval city well. The architecture is wonderful and there’s plenty of NPC activity on the streets which really makes the areas you play in feel truly alive. When you’re perched on top of a building the game presents a terrific sense of scale as you look out upon the city vistas.
The character models that look good during gameplay suffer from some stiffness during the cut scenes, which I found to affect how well emotion was conveyed. I also noticed a fair degree of stutter in the game’s framerate and even some screen tearing. I found this most frequent during cut scenes but it was also evident during gameplay. This isn’t a make-or-break issue but it was frequent enough to warrant noting.
Does Nolan North, the voice of Desmond, have the market cornered on voice acting leads for video games or something? I just can’t shake the comparison to Uncharted’s Nathan Drake during cut scenes. I guess this is as much of a compliment as anything else. I think Uncharted’s voice acting is the benchmark for all games and the voice acting in Revelations is terrific. The many accents and inflection used in each of the voices really reflects this. What I said about the visuals lacking in the area of conveying emotion earlier is more than made up for here. The accompanying musical score is dramatic and appropriate which really helps to create a sense of atmosphere along with some very good environmental sounds. Hearing citizens go about their day to day business adds a lot of life and believability. As for the sound effects, you’ll find them very solid. From putting a blade into someone’s back to flying through the air using the ingenious, and Di Vinci designed, parachute. All in all I don’t think anyone will complain about the total sound package here.
In summary, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations deserves high marks for its original and inventive story. Not content to be purely a one-genre game, Revelations mixes in a number of elements to keep the gameplay fresh throughout. The visual presentation looks a little dated, and could use a freshening, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying a deep and engaging narrative. There’s extra value here with online multiplayer options and the PS3 version includes the entire first Assassin’s Creed on the Blu-Ray disc. Sure, it appears that Ubisoft wants to bring yearly updates to this series, but fans can rest assured this is a good experience which should satisfy their need for more Assassin’s Creed. This is definitely a universe that I’m going to explore more after the holiday glut of games.