Ezio and Altair return, but both have seen better days.
Revelations begins 20 years after the events of Brotherhood with Ezio looking for Altair's library in Masayaf. He's soon captured and escapes his attempted hanging execution. He then flees on a boat headed to the Turkish city of Constantinople, also known as Istanbul. Upon arriving, he meets the branch head of the Assassin's Guild Yusuf Tazim. Immediately, recruitment begins to strengthen the Brotherhood and repel back the Templar occupancy of the land. He's also set his eyes on a beautiful young woman by the name of Sophia whose scholarly abilities assist him in his search for Altair's five Masayaf keys to the library. Later in the story, he'll meet a soon to be sultan named Suleiman and will help him with a power struggle within the family. An assassin's work is never done.
The core gameplay of Assassin's Creed: Revelations has not veered far from Assassin's Creed 2. You're still climbing up giant towers to synchronize the map, running across rooftops to lose your pursuers, scouring the city for treasure chests and of course using your hidden blade to kill discreetly. Ezio's got a new toy, the hook blade, that makes scaling vertical surfaces easier, allows him to catch ledges just out of reach, performing long jumps by swinging straight off hanging lamps, and also lets him speed down a zip line for quick maneuvering through the city. There's also a new bomb crafting mechanic that lets Ezio make lethal, tactical and diversionary bombs, such as poison, smoke and cherry bombs. Unfortunately, this seems more like a gimmick than anything, as there's too many kinds of bombs to be made and not enough genuine situations to use them in.
Sending off your assassins to do missions in order to level up has returned, this time called Mediterranean Defense, and it carries with it more importance. You wrest control of cities from Templars and this in turn supplements your income, bomb making materials and experience earned per game day for your assassins. You can also assign assassins to be stationed in cities to raise the maximum amount of control you can have over them. In addition, you can assign assassins to dens once they hit level 10 and seven of these assassins you can interact and carry out training missions with. Once they hit level 15, they'll lock down their respective dens making it impossible for Templars to reclaim. This makes them seem more tangible, not just an icon that you're scuttling off to the next mission.
Unfortunately, this is a never ending tug of war, and if you don't frequently check in with your assassins, you'll find yourself having to reclaim cities again and again. It causes too many trips back to assassin dens and ruins the flow of the game. Also, the city of Rhodes in Mediterranean Defense isn't even accessible to you until you play the associated multiplayer maps. Not everyone is into multiplayer and some don't have the ability to connect online, leaving an unclaimed city as a permanent blotch on an otherwise completely controlled country.
There are seven Templar dens that can be captured and converted into assassin dens the same way you reclaimed Borgia towers in Brotherhood. When approaching a Templar den, you enter a restricted area, locate the captain with your Eagle Vision and kill him, climb the tower and light the signal fire. Once you have a den, keeping it under your control is an exercise in tediousness. Actions that didn't earn you notoriety, such as renovating shops and buildings and recruiting assassins, now raises your Templar Awareness. The reason for this is that the game wants the Templars to try to take back their dens via a minigame called Den Defense. This is the game's first major problem.
Den Defense has you placing units on rooftops and barriers in the middle of the street to prevent wave after wave of guards from invading your den. The system is clunky and the minigame is just uninteresting. The whole concept simply goes against the grain of what the Assassin's Creed games are; it just doesn't fit. The story only requires you to do one Den Defense, but because you're gaining Templar Awareness so frequently from restoring and recruiting, you'll find yourself bribing heralds and killing officials to bring it down far more often than you'd like.
Another odd design choice is Desmond Miles' memory sequences. These virtual reality puzzles are done in the first-person, and since they don't allow you to see your feet, it makes platform jumping a bit precarious. You have this odd ability to materialize straight beams or ramps to reach one area to the next, all the while listening to Desmond's inner monologues about his growing up as an assassin in training. These moments can be somewhat clever, but unfortunately, they just don't feel like they belong in an Assassin's Creed game. Desmond Miles really doesn't receive his due screen time in Revelations, considering Brotherhood gave him far more, and the storyline of past games are all building up for Miles' own chapter. When you return as Desmond, you're stuck on a little desolate island in the Animus with nothing to do but listen to your friends' voices from the outside.
This seems to be an ongoing trend with the game: introducing very little, taking out quite a lot. Constantinople is one of the smaller cities of the franchise, and unfortunately, it's the only significant one you'll spend time in. As a result, the developers no longer felt the need for horses, which is a shame because it was fun to ride around on them in previous games. Revelations isn't a very long game and if you spend your time traipsing about the city looking for chests while leveling up your assassins, it becomes a very boring one. There's hardly the variety of missions be it story-based or secondary as the previous two games, and the cast of characters is very low. Also if you enjoyed looking for hidden symbols to solve Aspergo puzzles, you'll be disappointed as there's none to be found.
Glitches abound in Revelations, much more so than any other Assassin's Creed before it. They range from the peculiar to barrels being stuck in midair or guards falling through the floor and becoming trapped; to the frustrating such as target-locking simply not working or enemies detecting you through solid walls; to game-breaking such as falling from a botched air assassination and forever lying on the ground with no other way out but to restart the game. Glitches also occur during very critical climbing segments; Ezio jumping the opposite way off a ledge when you gave no input to do so is something you don't want to have happen. Revelations is a prime example of what happens when you rush your game.
So what does Assassin's Creed: Revelations do well? Just as with the previous two games, there are hidden tombs throughout the city. They are well designed and varied. Some will have Ezio moving as quietly as he can to take out guards for gate keys while others will just be Ezio and the giant puzzles. Even though the game calls them puzzles, they are pretty straightforward. Some dungeons will have exciting set pieces that has Ezio narrowly escaping deathly hazards. Sadly, one of these dungeons, Vlad's Pireson, is only available as exclusive content from GameStop so if you want to play it, you'll have to wait and hope it becomes available as DLC.
As with most games with an online component, Revelation's multiplayer requires an online passport. New games will receive this code, but if you buy a used game with a code already redeemed, you'll need to purchase one for 10 dollars. Multiplayer is just as fun as it was in Brotherhood, using a bevy of tactics to hunt your prey and lose your pursuers. New modes have been introduced such as Artifact Assault, which is akin to Capture the Flag, and Escort, which has you protecting VIPs. All these modes are team-based, so the lone wolves won't really enjoy them much.
The visuals of Revelations hasn't seen much improvement over the past two titles. Still, they are quite impressive boasting some highly detailed textures on both characters and environments. The dusty and earth-based colors and the overall level design of the city, however, make the game less attractive to the eye than the more beautiful scenery of Italy-based locations. Motion capturing provides for the same excellent level of quality in the game's animations, but a massive amount of clipping, collision detection issues and glitches constantly interrupt the game's immersion. When running around stabbing your hidden blade into everyone's necks, don't forget to take a second or two to look up and appreciate the game's beautiful dawn and nighttime skies.
The Assassin's Creed series has never had an issue with audio, and this is a department where Revelations does not fail in the slightest. The signature sound effect of Ezio's hidden blade protracting is instantly recognizable, and the thunderous report from the hidden gun is still scary. The hook blade produces a nice echo effect in buildings and caverns, and the clash of metal weapons sound spot on. The soundtrack features era-appropriate music that helps uphold something the series has always done well: atmosphere. It also knows exactly when to pick up at just the right moment to drive up the tension. Roger Craig Smith once again expertly voices Ezio Auditore de Firenze, but Altair's original voice has been replaced by Cas Avnar. This was done to give Altair a more authentic sounding Middle Eastern accent, but the result ends up sounding too similar to Ezio.
A deft assassin is all about putting his best foot forward. Unfortunately for Ezio, he doesn't always know which foot that is. The core gameplay of hunting down targets and using your assassins when things get thick still works, but the game's muddled with so many bad design decisions. Den Defense isn't fun, and you'll want to spend countless hours leveling up your assassins to lock your dens so you never have to encounter it again. Desmond's memory segments are so poorly designed, you just want to bang your head into a door. Glitches manage to ruin missions that are going silky smooth, and the climbing mechanic is becoming a squeaking wheel that's never getting any oil. Perhaps it's the combination of the game originally being designed as a 3DS project and the rush of getting it out for the holiday season that has produced such a disappointing sequel. Still, Revelations is the closing chapter of Ezio's saga and provides insight into Altair's life after the events of the first game, so fans will definitely want to play this one to see how it all fits.