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Surprisingly few Revelations

[Assassin's Creed: Revelations Review - Xbox 360 - 7.5/10]

The fourth installment in the Assassin's Creed franchise is here, and for the first time in the series, it feels like a step back from its predecessors. Much like comparing poor Desmond Miles to the charismatic Ezio Auditore, it seems that "Those Who Came before"  being superior is becoming a theme. For a game calling itself Revelations, it has the audacity to offer very few by the time it ends.

In a day and age where we're seeing some big franchises put out big sequels (Gears of War, Battlefield, and Modern Warfare all put out their "3s" this year) we're seeing more and more criticism of games being rehashed, repackaged, and resold. Capcom is simply re-releasing all its fighting games with HD remakes or character packs. Battlefield 3 was criticized for being too much like Modern Warfare's campaigns, while Modern Warfare 3 was criticized as being little more than a $60 map pack for MW2. Revelations, in suit, feels like a large DLC to Brotherhood, rather than its own creature.

The basics are all there - the free movement parkour across huge, gorgeously detailed environments, the combat, the building up and utilization of your assassin dens. And it's a good thing too, since the things that made the previous games great are the only things keeping this installment from feeling mediocre.

Ezio now has the use of an Ottoman hookblade, allowing him to perform new maneuvers, such as sliding from ziplines places conveniently between rooftops, or vaulting over an enemy instead of fighting them. However, these add very little to the gameplay when compared to previous games.

Bomb crafting has been added, allowing Ezio both lethal or non-lethal options. You can use a splinter bomb to kill a group of four guards, a bomb of gold coins to attract a crowd to draw attention away from yourself, or a smoke bomb to make your escape if confronted. Unfortunately, the crafting is limited to certain craft tables, and with a limit of 3 bombs from each category (for a total of 9) their use is somewhat limited. Worse, unlike the capacity upgrades for throwing knives of poison vials, the bomb capacity upgrade must be unlocked by completing challenges.

The worst addition to Revelations is the "tower defense" game that plays out when Templars try to take back an Assassin Den. Like Brotherhood's Borgia Towers, there are towers you need to reclaim in order to unlock nearby shops for renovation. However, if your notoriety level gets too high, Templars will try to retake the den. You'll play out a scene where Ezio commands troops from a rooftop, assigning units to hold other rooftops and attack Templars as they advance in the street below. The cumbersome controls sometimes make it hard to pinpoint where you want to place troops, and with no way to pause the game and almost no break in between waves, it sometimes becomes an exercise in frustration.

Thankfully, by lowering your notoriety level, you can avoid this, and by leveling up an Assassin to Master and assigning them to a den, you can prevent any further attacks on that location. It seems like a silly thing to spend time developing to put into a game, only to make it so easy (and desirable) for players to avoid altogether.

As far as gameplay and plot, it fits into the mold of the previous two games, focusing mostly on the continuing exploits of Ezio, at the expense of Altair and Desmond. There are a handful of Altair missions you play through, but having now played through three games mostly as Ezio, any time spent revisiting Altair's life feels brief and incomplete by comparison. Desmond has a few missions as well, but they are limited to platforming levels inside the Animus and used only to tell his backstory.

Although it is satisfying to see Ezio's story reach its end, the game does little to further the overall story of the Assassins' continuing struggles to save mankind, or expand Desmond's (and the player's) understanding of the First Civilization. Of the entire series, the ending to Revelations seems to actually reveal the least. Very dissappointing, but at least Ubisoft (hopefully) has the time to properly tie everything together with the next game. I can't help but wonder if the apparent focus on expanding multiplayer at the expense of a solid ending is the tamperings of EA, or if Ubisoft finally dropped the ball with this one.

*******

SPOILERS

*******

As stated above, the game promised to reveal much, but leaves most of the big questions unanswered. You finally meet Subject 16 face to face, but learn almost nothing about him. You witness the destruction of the First Civilization, but it explains nothing of what came afterwards. The game ends with Ezio discovering Altair's Apple of Eden, and communicating with Desmond, even though the Assassins in present day are in possession of Ezio's artifact and not Altair's. And when Desmond finally awakens, he simply says "I know what needs to be done" as the Vault opens, and then the credits roll.

One thing I loved about the previous games was seeing how the experiences of the Animus moved along Desmond's story. Developing the Eagle Vision by the end of the first game, where you get to see messages left by 16, or the way Ezio's stories bring the Assassins to the Colliseum to discover the artifact, all felt very satisfying. But here, nothing has an impact on the present day - the artifact is in the Assassins' possesion, and the location of the Vault is apparently known (although apparently never explained unless you purchasd Brotherhood's DLC.) Desmond's backstory offers little other than a chance to admit "I ran away from home and then I regretted it." All he has to do in the present day is wake up and say something cryptic before the credits roll.

I expected at least something in place of the the glyphs from the previous games. The explanation of Adam and Eve at the end of ACII was more mindblowing than the actual actual ending cinematic. Here, collecting all 100 Animus Fragments only boosts your gamerscore. There may be more revealed in some upcoming DLC, but unlike Alan Wake's Episodic content or GoW's extra chapters, where the DLC felt like an addition to a finished product, here it feels like we didn't get a complete story.

With December 2012 being referred to in the games, it's likely that the next installment may be the last. Even if Revelations served as a bridge to that next chapter, it felt like unsatisfying filler compared to the previous games in the series.

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