Since the original Assassin’s Creed released back in 2007, there have been five main sequels on consoles, and a number of spin-offs on handhelds. That means the franchise has averaged more than one game a year since it began. Some installments have been great, some not so much. Assassin’s Creed started to fall into that whole ‘Call of Duty’ pattern of release, in which the next game in the series was guaranteed before anyone had a chance to play the current one. But Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood were both excellent sequels, so why not keep pumping them out if the quality stays consistent? Well, the streak was bound to break sooner or later. In 2011, Revelations showed that the constant stream of releases was unsustainable.

Assassin’s Creed has managed to have three different protagonists thus far; Altair (from the original Assassin’s Creed), Desmond Miles (who functioned as the player’s window into the present day), and Ezio (who puts the other two boring characters to shame with how charming and bad-ass he is). Revelations is a story of these three familiar heroes, and how their fates all intertwine. In the brief glimpses we get of Altair, he’s not that much more interesting than he was the first time around and neither is Desmond. At least Ezio still has massive swagger, even in his old age. For Creed fans, it’s a treat seeing the entire franchise weaved together, like a greatest hits album from a band past its prime, except that you only really care about the lead singer.

In every greatest hits album, there are usually one or two new songs that the artist throws in as an added bonus. In the same way, Revelations adds just enough to set it apart from its predecessors. The biggest example of this is the grappling hook. While it may sound superfluous, but for a game mostly built around climbing and running, it fundamentally changes the game. It’s actually pretty wild how drastically the grappling hook improves the fluidity of climbing. I can remember trying to scale tall towers in previous Creed games, only to get stuck about halfway up because Altair or Ezio refused to reach that extra few inches to the next indent in the wall. Usually, I would just throw myself off the building as an act of frustrated suicide.

Now, that’s an irritation of the past. Ezio scales walls like Spider-man, flinging himself up to the tops in seconds. The Assassins in Constantinople were even nice enough to set up zip-lines for you to quickly travel from one building to the next using your grapple-hook. Those Assassins really want you to get the most out of that fancy new device of yours! They’re very accommodating hosts.

Bombs are the other tweak to the Creed formula. Before, technology in the 16th century really only afforded smoke bombs. Now, there are bombs for literally every situation. Stink bombs to confuse guards, cherry bombs to lure guards into traps, tripwires to blow the legs off of guards, etc. The number of situations you can get yourself into and out of with bombs is almost comical. The problem is that bombs can be abused a little too frequently. They’re basically a get out of jail free card. Group of soldiers blocking an entrance? Bombs. Botch an assassination and have an army of guards chasing you? Bombs. Too lazy to put meticulous planning into a stealth mission? Bombs, bombs, and more bombs. There are lots of explosions. It’s like the Michael Bay version of Assassin’s Creed.

Speaking of which, I’m not a believer that bigger is always better, but the third and final chapter of a trilogy really should cap things off on a memorable note. The problem is, Ubisoft already went so big with Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, that there wasn’t anywhere higher for Ezio to climb. Constantinople doesn’t have as many stand-out landmarks as Rome, the assassination targets aren’t as notable, most of the gameplay additions are just variations on what had been done before, and so on. Did we really need a whole new installment just to add a grappling hook and some new bombs? This whole story probably could have been told in an expansion pack, one that quickly and neatly wrapped Ezio and Altair’s story into one and gave them both a proper send-off. As it stands, Revelations is stretched too thin and is largely bereft of content that can genuinely be called ‘new.’

Except the tower defense mini-game. Yeah, you read me right. A tower defense mini-game is in Assassin’s Creed. It’s as weird as it sounds, but not as terrible as it might seem. It’s totally optional outside of one mission near the beginning of the game, but every time the Templars become too suspicious of your actions (like if you’re constantly throwing guards off of roof-tops), then they will start attacking one of your Assassin’s hideouts. You set up Assassin units on roof-tops as Templar soldiers filter through the streets like rats in a maze, trying to ultimately infiltrate your base. The more soldiers you kill, the more points you earn to upgrade your units, set up obstacles to slow the enemy’s progress etc. Basically, if you have played any tower defense game before, you’ll be a pro at this. It’s not a bad addition, just really random, and a little bare-bones to be considered a game-changer.

As mentioned earlier, you play as Desmond, and not just in the capacity that you walk around in the present day listening in on people’s conversations like in past Creed games. During the Desmond sections, you play in first person as a formless entity. You can spawn two different kinds of platforms from thin air, kind of like the two portals from Portal. One platform is a straight line and the other is a ramp. With these simple mechanics, you have to navigate your way through strange labyrinths that seem to be locked memories within Desmond’s consciousness. Platforms shift around, areas will limit where you can place the blocks, and the blocks will disappear after a certain amount of time. While the puzzles increase in complexity, they never really evolve past that two block frame of mind. These sections never amount to anything substantial outside of some kooky visuals. Desmond narrates his past as you’re playing, and there is some insight to be found, but it’s mostly just vague exposition. Maybe I needed to take more LSD to fully appreciate these parts.

So you’re recalling your past as Desmond through puzzle-solving, entangled in a civil war while looking for ancient artifacts known as Masyaf Keys as Ezio, and watching Altair’s bloody path to lead the Assassin Order through quick action sequences. There’s a whole lot to do… So where’s the ‘Assassin’ part? That’s the weird thing; the emphasis seems to have shifted away from where the series started. Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer this diversification of gameplay over the ‘gather information on target, stalk target, kill target, repeat ad nauseam’ method employed by the first Assassin’s Creed. It’s just that Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood managed to stay true to what the series was about while adding new ways to explore that central conceit. Revelations gets too carried away with the details, as if trying to distract you from the fact that it really doesn’t have anything to say or show at its core.

The original Assassin’s Creed bit off more than it could chew, but at least there was some real ambition behind that project (can’t believe I’m referencing the original game as a positive example, but here we are). Revelations too often feels like a sequel to a summer blockbuster that was created solely for the purpose of making money—a stop-gap until the next one arrived. There’s a sincere lack of creativity or passion behind the whole affair. Maybe that’s not being fair, but that’s how it feels: A series going through the motions. Maybe Ubisoft was saving its energy for Assassin’s Creed III. Yeah, that’s got to be it.

This doesn’t mean that Revelations is without some quality moments. The inspired climbing section inside the Galata Tower is chaotic and awe-inspiring. The momentum required to complete it reminded me of the rush I felt in Mirror’s Edge when that game was at its best (especially if you choose to race against the clock to get a full synchronization bonus like I did, because I’m good at video games). The game also has its fair share of comedy when it isn’t taking itself overly seriously. One of my personal favorite missions involved Ezio dressing up like a minstrel at a party in order to identify targets for his assassin friends to kill. Yes, he sings. His songs are amazing. You’ll never look at the Italian Assassin the same way again.

Of course, Ezio is the leader of the assassins, and with that title comes some heavy responsibilities. But at least they’re fun responsibilities! Training up assassins you recruit and helping them take down their own targets is as close as the game gets to a co-op mode, and it’s fun to sit back a little and watch them do the work. As an old dog, you might even pick up a trick or two from your young apprentices. The game does a good job at making you feel like the head of a secret organization, managing other cities under your influence from afar while assisting friendly units on the ground. It’s one element of the game that doesn’t feel extraneous or pointless like some of the others.

But for all its bells and whistles, Revelations is at its best when it simply presents the player with clever opportunities to complete objectives in ways that promote freedom and careful thinking (or just using more bombs). When you line up a kill perfectly and pull it off without raising a single alarm, you feel the power of a true assassin. Then you scurry up a building and parachute away like some cheesy Bond movie set in the 16th century. Consistently hilarious.

There’s nothing wrong with Revelations, other than being a forgettable entry in a series that should have probably taken a break that year. It’s a solid game. The climbing is solid, the missions are solid, there’s a wealth of side-content to explore, and so on. It’s hard to find a fault in any of that. This is an Assassin’s Creed game that plays it by the books, right down to every Templar twist and Creed conspiracy. If only it wasn’t so safe. I haven’t touched this franchise in a few years, and I still felt the fatigue. Maybe I’m not the only one that needs to hang up the blades for a while. 

Final Score – 6/10

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