Assassin’s Creed is starting to feel a lot like Madden NFL in a weird way. The crunchy toast of the play mechanics and user experience have been unchanged for several years now, while various marmalade-y experiments have been slathered on top of it and then scraped off in disgust or retained for next year’s bite. Revelations has pretty much everything you liked about Brotherhood in abundance, and probably has all the stuff you didn’t like lurking about as well. The stuff that’s unique to this entry is all awkward at best and sort of crap at its worst, and Revelations exudes the desperate musk of a franchise trying to justify too many releases too close together by piling on features for the sake of features.
The core flow of the game is identical: Ezio is running around a giant city, performing assassinations, stalkings, and thefts to advance the plot. Parallel to this, he is taking over the city neighborhood by neighborhood in order to make its guards friendlier and to get its shopkeepers to pay him regular rent and sell him supplies. Parallel to this he is recruiting a small army of assassin trainees to pick off distant targets, back him up in combat, and to run various errands around the Mediterranean to earn yet more money, supplies, and experience.
This year’s additions are: a hook for sliding along rooftop ziplines that are just a little too sparsely provided to really add a lot to the game; a drudgerous tower defense mini-game that fires up every time Ezio fails to manage his notoriety around Constantinople; an extensive array of grenades that get stuffed away with the rest of Ezio’s redundant arsenal somewhere under his flowy Master Assassin’s robes while you spend the whole game using the Hidden Blade; a rather Spartan first-person platforming puzzle game that gives more backstory on Ezio’s modern-day puppeteer, Desmond; and tweaks to the Mediterranean quest game that allow cities to pay tributes of money and supplies to Ezio if he keeps his apprentices busy there instead of using them to help with his day-to-day assassining back in town. Horses, a feature since the first game, are completely absent from Revelations.
Don’t get the impression that Revelations is a bad game. It includes what boils down to a reasonably faithful re-rendition of Brotherhood with a new story hung on its bones. It’s still fun to run around the rooftops calling your apprentices to take out inconvenient guards, and it’s still a thrill to leap down from a third story beam and smash a guard into the turf, redundantly shivving him with Ezio’s wrist blade on the way down. This year’s Templar Lair platforming challenges are renamed Sofia Memories, after the bookselling love interest who leads Ezio to them, and they are faster, bigger, and generally more cinematic in scope than previously. Leveling apprentices, as well as the new story missions for recruiting and training your first few, gives Ezio’s somewhat faceless Assassin Brotherhood a badly-needed shot of personality now that his own Masters – colorful types like Uncle Mario and Il Volpe – have exited the series.
The takeaway really is that AC:Rev isn’t bigger or better than Brotherhood in any meaningful ways. Its additions are scattershot and mostly lack conviction, and the rest is as good as what came before. If you liked that and want more of the same, with the lots of Ezio but not whole lot about what’s happening to Desmond et al, it’s worth playing. Ubisoft can get away with heaving one more Creed trip out the door without significant changes by claiming that the Ezio games are all of a trilogy that bear a continuity both of story and mechanics, but if they phone in the same old thing again for Assassin’s Creed III I’ll be pretty turned off.