Assassin's Creed Revelations is a game of two halves: excellent campaign and terrible side missions.
Cons: Other additions are not so great; Painfully slow start; Most things outside of the main quest get tedious fast
Note: This review is only concerned with the single player side of the game. Due to the online pass system, I was unable to try the online portion. If it's like Brotherhood, it's probably a fine, light diversion, though I can't say for certain.
Assassin's Creed Revelations brings up an interesting question about reviewing open-world games: how much should a game be docked for optional content? It's perfectly possible (and certainly not uncommon) for a game to have a great main quest, but boring side missions. The content is optional, so no one HAS to play it, but should the content even exist?
I ask this question as I am playing Assassin's Creed's take on tower defense. With the third yearly Assassin's Creed entry, Ubisoft has taken measures to incorporate new features, attempting to avoid the pitfall of series stagnation seen in other yearly titles. Unfortunately, most of these additions are not particularly good. There's the aforementioned tower defense game, that feels out of place and fairly tedious, some clunky first-person platforming sections as Desmond (which aren't entirely terrible, but feel unnecessary), and the lagely pointless bomb crafting. These are in addition to the tedious recruitment missions and property acquisitions from Brotherhood.
There's a lot to do in Revelations, which is impressive for a game that came out only a year after its predecessor. However, most of it is just not interesting. There are some side missions highlighting the platforming and stealth aspects that the series does best, but with each entry, the extra content is becoming more and more increasingly shallow and/or out of place. Ultimately I found myself completely ignoring side content, running from mission to mission, since the vast majority of the content was so tedious.
This worked out well though, because the main story content is by far the best part of the game…eventually. To explain: the game takes far too long to get going. While I don't believe the series should just throw players headfirst into the full game, it shouldn't take multiple hours for all the features to be introduced, and thus unlocked, one. At. A. Time. It's condescending, especially after two similar games, and Ubisoft didn't even bother trying to hide the fact that you're playing a tutorial.
With that out of the way, the game really picks up somewhere between a third and a half of the way through. At this point the game stops holding your hand, wasting your time explaining side missions that you will soon ignore, and lets you get around to sneaking and platforming as planned. Here, the game shines, with the smooth controls once again allowing for effortless traversal of the city. Sneaking is generally pretty easy, since you are given practically a million options (blend into the crowd, buy Romani escorts to conceal you, distract guards with a bomb or money, etc.), and penalty is usually minimal (just beat enemies at easy comat), but it's hard to deny the satisfaction of completing a mission completely undetected; even better when the game rewards it as an optional secondary objective.
While most of the core missions involve sneaking of some sort (tailing an enemy, invading a restricted zone, assassinating someone in public undetected), frequently you will also enter underground areas where platforming takes the center stage. These play similarly to optional tombs in the past two games, and once again compose some of the best parts of the game. One area is a race against the clock puzzle, while another is a simply breathtaking vista that is a joy to traverse, and another is a tightly choreographed chase scene. The scripting in the game in general is better, making some, already fun, missions even more enjoyable. All in all, the campaign on its own eventually becomes about as good as anything the series has done, rivaling Assassin's Creed II in all areas except story.
The story itself isn't bad per se: you play as Ezio as he attempts to uncover the secrets of Altaïr's life and help prevent an oncoming war in Constantinople. Along the way, he begins falling in love, Desmond deals with his unraveling mind, and Altaïr attempts to restore honor to the creed. Sure the writing can be a little stiff, the Desmond portions are largely ignored, and the series is still caught up in its own sci-fi twists, but the Ezio and Altaïr portions manage to be interesting, and fairly human nonetheless. I wouldn't call it better than Assassin's Creed II, but the story is still way better than the snooze-fests in 1 or Brotherhood, and for once it ends with a largely solid conclusion.
At its best, Revelations is a superb campaign: tightly scripted, well-paced, and a joy to experience. At its worst Revelations boasts a slow beginning and unnecessary fat around the edges. If you've played Assassin's Creed II already and want more, you should be plenty fine with Revelations-it's the best entry in the series otherwise. However it's far from the best showing of the series, and everyone else is still pointed to Assassin's Creed II first. Again.