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Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Graphics: 9
Gameplay: 8.2
Sound: 8.8
Control: 8.4
Replay Value: 8.9
Rating: 8.5

Behind Uncharted, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed is my favorite new franchise of the generation. The beautiful combination of expansive open-world environments, general freedom, and the flowing free-running mechanic that works extremely well has always kept me in my chair. And while the latest entry is just as addictive, just as technically accomplished, and just as fulfilling, there are some odd drawbacks. And they bug me.

The graphics are a high point again, as the developers give us a gorgeously depicted 15th-century Constantinople. The coloring is better than it has been in recent installments and once again, that incomparable atmosphere (tons of active, realistic civilians, breathtaking architecture, etc.) is a huge highlight. Animations remain fluid and appealing and while the cut-scenes still aren’t supremely appointed or orchestrated, the gameplay visuals excel. There are a few small hitches but that’s okay.

We receive great audio, too, although I remain partial to the Italian accents from Brotherhood. Also, I have to say that while past iterations featured large, capable casts of actors, I wasn’t overly thrilled with a few of the performances in Revelations. Even so, that sweeping orchestral soundtrack is excellent and augments the on-screen action, and the effects – while a tad muddled in some especially hectic situations – add life and metaphorical color to both combat and platforming.

Let’s start with the story because this is Ezio’s third and final(?) story, and we can’t forget about Desmond, the actual behind-the-scenes protagonist who has now become a full-fledged assassin. Desmond is a prisoner inside the Animus this time around and he is guided by a relatively faceless Subject 16. The team from Brotherhood is gone and although they played minor roles, I found myself missing them. And as for exploring Desmond’s entrenched memories, well…

It’s a new mechanic Ubisoft has introduced, and we should appreciate the feature because a lot of people have said, “oh, Revelations is just a rehash.” Well, not really. There are actually quite a few new features. The only problem is that not all of them work as well as the core gameplay. For instance, in Desmond’s memories, you enter a first-person view and solve mini-puzzles by creating pathways. It’s not only a little boring, it’s also irritating when environmental factors mess with your solution.

Get More:, Assassin's Creed: Revelations - Story Recap Trailer, PC Games, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Of course, running around with Desmond was never a big part of the series, and it isn’t here, either. It’s a little more prevalent (which I find unfortunate due to the aforementioned issues), but at least we spend the majority of our play time with Ezio and his ancestor, Altair. If you recall, Altair was the main character in the original Assassin’s Creed. The progression of the story link between Ezio and Altair is satisfying and even surprising at times, but I can’t give high marks to the overall story arc.

In truth, I never really did. It’s all about the gameplay and atmosphere in AC; it always has been. As I said concerning the graphics, this is yet another amazing environment that is endlessly entertaining and engrossing. The best part is that exploring this immersive landscape is just awesome: not only has the free-running platforming mechanic returned, but now Ezio has access to a hook, which he uses to slide along ziplines. He can even use the multi-purpose hook as a weapon, and it will stop you from falling if you’re quick. The parachute is another great safety device.

Platforming, combat, and exploration are all the best they’ve been in the series. That’s saying something. And in fact, if they had simply left well enough alone, I would’ve been more inclined to give Revelations the coveted 9+ score. It’s rare that I will actually dock a game for trying something new, but it seems like most anything new in this game is either mediocre or just plain bland. One of the most annoying new features is the tower defense, which reminds me of past Saints Row titles.

Like in Brotherhood, you can gain control over an area by eliminating the enemy influence (in last year’s game, it was the oppressive Borgia). In the new entry, it’s the Templars and at first, it’s similar: if you take down the commander of that section of the map, it frees up and you can open shops and stuff. But this time, the Templars can actually take back their lost territory. If you’re not super vigilant and assassinating certain people or bribing heralds, they’re comin’ back, which interrupts your adventure. See, when they come back, you have to do a tower defense battle.

This strategy element puts you almost out of the action; you use Morale like money and place blockades and groups of assassins in beneficial positions. All you can do is shoot from above and watch as the combat unfolds. The view doesn’t change, any victory seems a little hollow, and in general, it’s just a silly addition in my eyes. This is an example of a feature that could’ve added a lot to the overall presentation, but ends up being a vexing distraction. Thankfully, though, the rest of the game is the epitome of assassin goodness.

Get More:, Assassin's Creed: Revelations - Launch Trailer, PC Games, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

I still love how the combat works, the counterkills have never been more satisfying, and the missions are nicely paced and there’s plenty of variety. There appears to be more brutality involved, too, which adds flair to every battle. Ezio has most of the bad-ass maneuvers and he also does most of the exploring. Altair’s sections aren’t as big and they often don’t ask too much from him; such scenarios mostly exist for the sake of the narrative, which is fine. This actually offers an appreciated change of pace and fleshes out the story.

You can once again recruit assassins and send them out to handle contracts but Ubisoft has added a few embellishments. This time, completing a contract actually has a positive impact on assassin influence in the city in which he does his job. Instead of just sending your cronies out on random excursions, it feels like you’re doing something. That contract has a purpose. And as before, assassins become more skilled over time and you can rely on them to complete challenging tasks.

As for the multiplayer, it isn’t much different from Brotherhood. There are new characters and maps and a few new modes, along with the mainstays like Deathmatch. One of the new modes, Artifact Assault, is a lot like Capture the Flag so it’s not exactly innovative, although I’m sure multiplayer fans will enjoy the new option. In general, this remains a single-player experience at heart and for the most part, it delivers. You can create a ton of different bombs (which I didn’t use that much, but there’s nothing wrong with the crafting process), and enemies seem more challenging at times.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a great game. It just stumbles when it tries to implement strangely conceived new features that don’t quite work. This includes Desmond’s memory traversal (‘snore’) and tower defense, which is just unnecessary. Even the bombs felt unnecessary to me. But beneath it all lies the same stellar foundation that has allowed past installments to become beloved adventures in the eyes of millions. The world is amazingly designed and beautiful to behold, the animations are superb, and the combat and platforming is just grand.

Sometimes, though, new doesn’t always mean “good.” Especially if the “new” isn’t fully realized.

The Good: Wonderful, immersive new world. Great soundtrack. All action elements remain supremely well implemented. Brotherhood enhancement is an added feature that works. Dedicated fans will appreciate the story completion. Still addictive.

The Bad: New elements don’t strike the right chord. Just don’t care about Desmond. Could’ve done more with Altair. Multiplayer hasn’t changed much.

The Ugly: “Nice try, but that new gameplay piece isn’t cutting the mustard.”

11/17/2011   Ben Dutka