#443: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Saying goodbye to Ezio — and Altaïr, too.
Initial release: 2011
Platforms: XBox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is, more than anything else, about legacy. The third and final entry in the Ezio Auditore trilogy, it’s a game that’s deeply rooted in its own franchise’s history, and that of the men who these early entries in the Assassin’s Creed franchise revolve around: Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and their descendant Desmond Miles.
After two games’ worth of tooling around Renaissance Italy, Ezio is an older man now, his thick beard peppered with grey; but he’s got enough in him for one last adventure, this time to the Ottoman Empire to tool around in Istanbul (also known as Constantinople.) He — and the Templars — are looking for five keys that will allow him into the library that Altaïr built beneath Masyaf; the bad news is that the Templars have one already, but the good news is that the Assassins of the 12th century made the rest really hard to find.
As he tries to track down the keys, he also embeds himself with the Ottoman Assassins, who revere him as their leader while also teaching him a few of their local tricks, such as replacing one of the wrist-blades with a hook that can be used for all kinds of stunts. While helping them out, he finds himself getting wrapped up in the political machinations of the Ottoman Empire, doing favors for a sympathetic Prince Suleiman in the midst of a war between the Prince’s father and uncle for the Sultan’s throne. But all that is just window dressing for a story about legacy, about what Altaïr did after the events of Assassin’s Creed I, and what he left behind.
In the background is Desmond, the modern-day descendant, who’s finally coming into his own as an Assassin, but has big shoes to fill — both his father’s, and that of his predecessor in Abstergo’s experiments, Subject 16, who uploaded his mind into the system before his death and thus gets to spend some quality time with Desmond in a strange nowhere-zone, the Black Room, a surreal lonely island dominated by floating black monoliths. It’s essentially an old testing environment for early versions of the Animus, and it reminds me of nothing so much as the beach scene from William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.
Istanbul is a beautiful town, but it’s also cramped, full of narrow passages and dark alleys. There’s an ongoing turf war between the Byzantine Templars, seeking to reclaim what was lost in 1453’s fall of Constantinople, and the Janissaries who patrol the city; the former is hostile to you, the latter just wants you to stay off the rooftops, and both will get into fights with each other on sight.
Revelations isn’t really much of a revelation in terms of gameplay; it continues the iterative approach from the previous game, making improvements and small expansions on concepts here and there. Most of the mechanics that were introduced in the first two games, such as buying up property and building an Assassins guild, return for Revelations; but it’s worth noting that horse-riding is conspicuously absent in the narrow streets of Istanbul. The biggest change is the hook, which allows for slightly more daring stunts, while also making tackling or vaulting over someone a lot smoother — you can knock them down and stay on your feet. You’re also given the opportunity to craft a number of different kinds of bombs, mixing and matching ingredients to make everything from grenades to simple smoke bombs to tripwires that launch clouds of poison gas.
The notoriety meter has been given a new twist: not only does it increase when you cause chaos around town, it also increases when you buy property or open shops. When it maxes out, it makes the various Assassin dens you set up around the city vulnerable to attack; defending a den launches a sort of tower defense game in which you must place assassins and defenses against several waves of enemies, and each unit placed costs morale, which builds as Templars are killed.
Speaking of Assassins, the system where you send them around to other cities to do stuff while you’re busy in the main game returns, but with a twist: you can actually reclaim cities from Templar control, but you also have to be able to hold it! When you take control of a city you’ll have to continually send your people on missions to make sure your control doesn’t drop to 0%. I’ve never been able to get Assassin control of a city up to 50%, and I suspect that’s the actual limit. I don’t really know how I feel about the system; unlike the old system, the game expects you to continually check in on your captured cities, which feels disruptive.
But these small changes don’t really take away from the overall feel of the game; the Near East setting, the return of bedraggled NPCs harassing you for money, the sense that you’re walking in Altaïr’s footsteps — all of it feels like a callback to the first game, aided by Ezio actually reliving some of Altaïr’s memories (memories within memories — this franchise is something else!)
One weird thing about this game is something called Desmond’s Journey; it’s a series of first-person puzzle games with an aesthetic not unlike Portal that retells, in curiously stylized fashion, Desmond’s story from his childhood to his life in New York City before being captured by Abstergo. It’s a very different kind of gameplay, and while tackling it is optional, it makes for a nice change of pace.
Ultimately, while Revelations isn’t a huge update from its predecessor, it’s worth playing just to finish the story of Assassin’s Creed’s most popular protagonist (who admittedly feels a bit played out at this point), and finally get some closure with Altaïr. It’s a bittersweet ending, but one well earned.