As a special treat in our review, check out the above video Complex Magazine put together featuring Rakim, the famous MC that blew you away in the 80s and keeps it real in the current day, and our own Video Games editor, Tina Amini.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release: November 15, 2011 (Nov. 29 for PC)
Four sandbox games in five years must be some kind of record. It obviously calls into question the level of quality a game publisher/developer can maintain with that kind of intense turnaround. Yet considering what Assassin's Creed has proven, who are we to question this kind output?
It's no secret that fans have been clamoring for a new chapter in a new time period, yet with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Ubisoft has given Ezio Auditore a fitting send off before he starts collecting social security. And as if gathering for one last family photo, Ezio concludes his journey with both help from his descendant Desmond and ancestor Altair.
The complications that arose at the end of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has sent the series’ modern day protagonist, Desmond Miles into the Animus' literal Safe Mode. It's a digital purgatory in a way as he's unable to get back to his body. He quickly learns that there's some unfinished business with both the memories of Ezio and Altair which he needs to visit before the Animus can reconnect him to the real world.
The bulk of this exercise comprises of one of Ezio’s final chapter as a playable character, where he travels to Constantinople in search of keys that would open a door in Altair’s former base in Masyaf, a door that could potentially lead to answers Ezio has been spending a lifetime searching for. In our review that continues in the following pages, you can learn more about this final chapter.
Each subsequent Assassins Creed hasn't improved upon the preview installment's sandbox gameplay mechanics so much as each one has added more and more ways to deal with a given situation. In Assassins Creed Revelations, it's not a question about what should you do but more of what would you like to do. Indeed, Ezio's abilities and tricks has expanded so much since his playboy days that it would be worth your while to break from the main narrative and goals early on and gain practice and knowledge of Revelations' new features.
Welcoming Ezio to Constantinople is Yusef, a fellow assassin who quickly gets him up to date on the state of affairs of the city and the drama involving the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and the Templars. He also introduces Ezio to the benefits of the hookblade, an item that is the closest the series has ever had to a Swiss Army knife. It makes it a worthy melee combat replacement to Ezio's hidden blades. More importantly, these take great advantage of the level design of Constantinople. These extend Ezio's reach to help him make slightly longer jumps as well as making him a swifter climber.
The countless rooftop ropes throughout the city work well with the hook portion of the the hookblade, acting as a zipline. Should there be any unfortunate targets along your zipline path, you can perform an air assassination by jumping off the zipline prematurely. This underscores the game’s expansive controls scheme, the depth of which might feel daunting for those used to the simplicity of Grand Theft Auto but certainly rewarding for fans who have followed the Assassin’s Creed series from day one. In Revelations’ defense, many of these moves are optional, but they do help greatly in progressing through the game should one take the time to learn these new abilities.
It does seem fitting that a game set in a city that is considered the preeminent gateway to Asia would also introduce bomb crafting to Assassin's Creed. Pardon the pun, but this addition to Ezio's arsenal is no throwaway feature. Call it the series' form of alchemy, where Ezio can learn new recipes and ways to use these bombs effectively. Each bomb type serves one of three purposes: distract, obscure or injure. You can learn about as many as a dozen bombs in the game’s opening hours, from bombs that disperses caltrops to rudimentary grenades to creative explosives that shower nearby NPC with gold.
Much like some of the game's other features, no extensive time in bomb crafting is needed to beat the game. Yet for the Assassin's Creed completionists, the game gives you a lot of incentives to become a bomb making master. Every act imaginable in Revelations has a challenge whether it's in calling X assassins to discretely take out Templars or using the hookblade X times in a specific way. Yet unlike many games that merely feature challenges as an extension of trophies/achievements, the ones in this game actually have practical rewards, like discounts on goods or more effective assassins in your brotherhood.
In liberating Rome from the Borgia, Ezio systematically took over districts throughout the city by assassinating Borgia captains. Revelations builds upon this idea further with great success replacing the Borgia with Templars in this Ottoman setting. Once again, Ezio can liberate small areas by taking out the respective district's captain. Yet there's an added level of complexity as a greater effort is needed to keep this territory.
The power struggle between the Assassins and the Templars also plays out in the series' newly added tower defense mode. With Ezio overseeing these sieges from a rooftop, he places barricades in the path of the invading Templars and assigns units to spots along the sides of the path or behind the barricades.
It always feels like you have a chance as prevailing; it's just a matter of multitasking well enough to have effective units in the field. The selection of troops are well-suited to this kind of gameplay, with archers, riflemen, and air assassins to choose from, all of whom have their strengths and weaknesses. Ezio's usefulness beyond placing units extends to the ability to shoot enemies and call in a cannon airstrike.
One of my favorite features of last year's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was the ability to enlist noble citizens to join your ranks. This returns in Revelations where you're once again able to send out assassins throughout the Mediterranean to liberate those regions from Templar influence. Whoever isn't off on a mission are readily available to help Ezio with his own goals in Constantinople, mostly to help clear out rooftop Templars or help you even the odds during a sword fight.
What has always sold me on Ezio's arc in the series are the linear exploration sections which have been designed as a change of pace from the sandbox gameplay. In Assassin's Creed II it was the engrossing platforming in the churches. In Brotherhood it was the Romulus Lairs. Revelations finds Ezio exploring the underground depths of Constantinople as he races against the Templars in finding the Masyaf keys.
It's a spoiler in itself to delve into how these sections play out, but I can at least say that there's variety to look forward to, not to mention platforming sections that would make Nathan Drake blush.
Ubisoft couldn't rely on recycling architectural assets en masse like they did by staying in Italy in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. So it's all the more impressive that they managed to craft a living sandbox city of Constantinople with only a year since the last game. I can't vouch for the authenticity, but there are enough domed buildings, intricate rugs and colorful fashions to convey to the player that we're not in Italy anymore. Harlots have been replaced by gypsies and Romans have been replaced by Ottomans and Byzanines.
For what the Assassin's Creed games lack in size of their open worlds, they've always made up greatly in detail. And when you're dealing with the aforementioned intricacies of Ottoman designs and motifs, it's hard to imagine Ubisoft skimping on detail. There many other subtle touches worth appreciating from the character animation to the dirt that comes off the rope as Ezio traverses along ziplines. It also feels like Ubisoft managed to increase the NPC count while keeping the game's framerate at a respectable 30 fps.
Rounding off Revelation's presentation is of course the music, once again featuring the talents of Jesper Kyd and series collaborator Lorne Balfe. The two superbly switch musical gears in adapting to the new setting with compositions that would certainly feel out of place in Italy. The music selection features the unsurprising mix of mood music your hear while roaming the city to more dramatic themes such as when you're engaged in den defense.
All the compositions fit Revelations well, although there wasn't any piece that stood out for me in the same way that 'Venice Rooftops' did in the last two games, a track that has since become Ezio’s unofficial theme for the fans.
As if the intertwined strands of Desmond Miles' DNA seem to tighten with every Assassin's Creed, so too do we get great a greater sense of cohesion between him, Ezio and Altair. This point comes across right when Desmond goes into his first Ezio memory, where find our Renaissance assassin exploring Altair's Syrian base, Masyaf. There's also an Inception-like appeal in how Ezio himself uses a primitive version of the Animus to dive into the playable memories of Altair. Not since the first Assassin's Creed has one been able to take so much control the famous Syrian.
You can easily tell that Ubisoft was eager to improve upon the multiplayer component from Brotherhood, and they do so by offering user profile customization and expanding the selection of MP modes beyond the standard deathmatch. It can still be easy to experience amusing moments of "daisy chain dog piling" where the hunter, upon killng his prey, is immediately killed by the assassin who was seeking him out. This once again highlights the minor shortcomings of multiplayer in this series, but this is made up for by the addition different gameplay formats like Capture The Flag and modes themed on treasure hunting.
The initial start up of the game's story mode makes no bones about what an undertaking this project was, as the opening lists off the numerous Ubisoft studios that had a hand in making Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Yet its the end result that counts and what the game pulls off is both a satisfying end to Ezio’s story arc and a compelling transition to the next chapter in the series. Ezio’s visit to Constantinople showcases the most detailed Assassin’s Creed to date and makes for a much needed change after two games set in Renaissance Italy.
The tighter intertwined narrative off all three related assassins further expands the series' mythology, and it is this attention to the franchise’s lore that has always set the series apart from other sandbox games.