This game is a bit of a conundrum to me. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the Assassin's Creed franchise. Heck, I even liked the first one. No action game before it had felt so...free. The ability to look at the world around you and not only admire its beauty, but to be simultaneously mapping out paths to treck over, under, and across this world was an experience unlike any I'd had in gaming before. The series of course came to power with Assassin's Creed 2, with the introduction of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a character who has quickly become one of my favorite in all of the history of gaming. There are few characters whom you can control in the history of gaming where you essentially follow that person's entire life, and I give credit to Ubisoft for crafting a character and a world so interesting that, at least to me, is powerful enough to be the sole reason I push forward in a game. Or three games. But Revelations, while a game I will absolutely reccomend to ANY fan of the franchise, feels the odd one out of this Auditore Trillogy. It's like the final roar of an old lion - It is still a thing to be respected, but it has lost some of its power.
Now in the third chapter of Ezio's life, Assassin's Creed: Revelations should be the best game in the trillogy. It should be the perfected sum of all of what Ubisoft has learned in making the series. But instead of being a coherent, fluid gaming experience like Brotherhood was, Revelations feels at times quite disjointed. The story of the game is fine, a sort of sewing up of loose ends for Ezio as he finishes the work that his Father never had the opportunity to. This causes him to chase after the final clues left by Altair, and at times view the world through his ancestor's eyes, which make for some of the more interesting sections of the game. It is strange to see Ezio's motives not driven forward with a sense of revenge for once, but it allows a whole new world to be viewed through his eyes. This world is Istanbul, or Constantinople, and the story found within is both very foreign and yet completes a full circle. Ezio finds himself suddenly witness to a familial quarrel for the title of Sultan, and will soon be a very important player in how the next Sultan will come to power. This core story, however interesting, is so different from the rest of the franchise that it can't help but make this game feel like a side story. A very good one, sure, but a side story nonetheless.
The core gameplay is what I suppose we can call "Classic Assassin's Creed" by now. Fighting enemies feels just about the same as it was in Brotherhood for Ezio, so it works well. Platforming and climbing are better than ever with the addition of the Hookblade, which adds brand new types of interactions to the world. However, there are some quite random gameplay sections that have been added to the game that really, just don't belong. There are also some new gameplay mechanics that are fantastic, so I'll start with those. Cheif amongst them is the new grenade crafting mechanic, where you are given the ability to make nine grenades in groups of three - lethal, tactical, and diversion. Each of these groups then has different explosive power and multiple options to choose from. For example, my lethal grenade is a poison bomb that creates an invisible death cloud over a large area. My tactical has smaller explosion, but it spreads lambs blood to freak people out into thinking they are injured. There are so many different ways to mix and match grenade options that it is fun just to try them out on their own.
Also interesting is the much more in-depth meta game involved with training your fellow Assassins. Sending your trainees out into the larger world plays out as a struggle for power between the Order and the Templars for the great cities of the Meditteranian. Winning over power of these cities increases your income, and you even get refils of many grenade items periodically depending on what level of control you have of what city. For example, my Assassins are in full control of Jerusalem, Rhodes and a few other cities, and this nets me some extra income and virtually endless grenade supplies. It is a completely optional side quest, but can greatly aid you throughout the game, especially considering that carelessly calling your Assassins into battle without proper training can swiftly end in their death, and requiring you to find a new candidate to train.
I'd like to quickly give credit where credit is due and say that Jesper Kyd has created some of my favorite gaming music ever throughout the Assassin's Creed franchise, and his work here in Revelations hold the banner up well. While the soundtrack isn't quite as instantly memorable as some of his previous works, it is a great mix of the familiar and foreign, a constant reminder that Ezio is a player in a foreign land. It blends in well with the surroundings, as it always had, and adds to the overall character of Constantinople itself. I can't imagine playing this franchise without a different style of music, and was kind of afraid Revelations might take things down a bad path, but luckily my fears were misplaced.
While there is plenty of great gameplay to be had, Revelations added in some outright horrible new sections to the franchise. The bad comes in with two new "modes" of the game that are, really, just attempts at knock offs of other far better games. Each section of Constantinople is controlled by a den - do too many crimes, and your den will be attacked. You then enter "Den Defense Mode", a tower defense game mode where waves of enemies come through an alleyway, and your archers and riflemen shoot them as they go by. It isnt even a very good tower defense game - if you dont have a perfect setup near the end of it, a mega-enemy comes by and you wont be able to kill it in time to win. Second of these sections are strange "Memory Recovery" modes meant to fill in a bunch of Desmond's backstory, which is really the only reason Desmond is in the game. These sections, though, are FPS platformer sections where you can randomly place floating geometric shapes in the air and walk on them. It's like they were trying an otherworldly Portal where you just build bridges. These sections control HORRIBLY, and really take a lot out of the game.
In fact, let me point out one thing about Desmond's sections of the game. There is a very small hub world in which he inhabits called Animus Island, where one other character resides. I wont name names, but he has assisted in guiding Desmond with a silent hand throughout the franchise. His character model, though, is one of the strangest I have seen in some time. He may be meant to look a bit crazy, sure, but his facial expressions ended up looking like someone in the middle of a sneeze mixed with that split second wince someone has right before they take a hit to the groin. His role seems to have very little purpose in the game until very late, but he and this utterly random FPS esque mode adds more ammo to the Anti-Desmond camp who see his story as bogging down the franchise as a whole, and this time I can't really argue with that.
What really stings, though, is that these Desmond sections kind of take the place of what was my absolute favorite thing about this franchise - Glyph Hunting. There are no glyphs to look for anymore. These puzzles and the alternate-history story they told were some of the best parts of the franchise. Without them, the entire game feels like it is already missing one of the main pillars on which it stands. Sure, theres collecting a specific set of ten items for a superior set of armor, but the challenge of getting this game's "legendary armor" is nothing in comparason to what labors were needed to get, say, the Armor of Altair from AC2. Much of the sense of exploration that makes this series so fantastic has been lost, perhaps a sad casualty of pushing this game's development through so many different Ubisoft studios at a single time.
The best thing that I can say about Revelations is that it is the Assassin's Creed universe seen through an interesting lens. Constantiople gives the player a completely new, thriving city to travel and discover, and while perhaps not quite as interesting as Rome, it has a charm and pulse all its own. Traversing this world is as interesting as ever, especially with the new Hookblade, but Revelations is not the game it could have been. Don't misinterpret this as me hating on the game, as I actually really liked Revelations, but that is also because I am a huge fan of the AC franchise as a whole. If you aren't a big fan like I am, there is going to be very little to convince you to get this game. Revelations is a game I can easily reccomend for the fans, as the story of Ezio as well as its convergence with that of Altair are an intriguing backdrop. It is more of the same fun gameplay the franchise is known for, just weighed down by a, sadly, sizeable list of poor design choices. It is a good game, but nothing near the game that I feel it could have been, and a pretty strong candidate for a new poster boy against annual releases.