You can read this review in full in our print edition.
Our Christmas 2011 issue, which is on sale November 22, will include an examination of how Ubisoft manages to maintain its schedule of yearly updates to the series, and at what cost.
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Assassin’s Creed is a series that draws much of its temperament from the character of its protagonist. Under Altaïr, the game was grimy and obsessive, an adventure that felt like mild flagellation as a 12th-century killer pursued targets through a landscape of medieval squalor. With Ezio Auditore in charge, however, Ubisoft’s open worlds have been transformed by a knockabout lead bringing a touch of renaissance roguishness to proceedings. Vengeance and backstabbing aside, it’s all a bit of a lark to Ezio. There are plots to foil and Templars to silence, but there are also maidens to seduce, and gadgets to test. Revelations’ final confrontation wouldn’t be out of place in one of the stupider Bond films, but it almost works. The Italian’s charm is irresistible.
As leading men go, Ezio’s the equivalent of a well-travelled and slightly tipsy dinner host: voluble, rangy and devoted to ensuring everyone’s enjoying themselves. Three games in, though, it’s clear he’s also easily distracted. In the Auditore years, Assassin’s Creed’s narrative has travelled sideways as much as forwards, while the world, which players once complained there was nothing to do in, has expanded greedily, its streets filled with innocents to recruit and bookshops to visit. It’s mean-spirited to complain about so much content, particularly in a game where the setting is more important than the plot, but is it always the right content? If anything, being an assassin is in danger of getting lost among all the other trades – international spyrunner, say, or property developer. Assassin’s Creed’s ancillary systems tend to be thin in execution: levelling up guild members and banking blacksmith profits is rewarding rather than genuinely entertaining, and with a shift to Constantinople, Revelations only adds to the distractions.
Like most of AC’s cities, Constantinople is huge and hard to learn your way around in the flesh. It’s built for speed of traversal rather than tourism, and while it’s a delight to scramble over, its monuments struggle to arrange themselves tidily in your mind, leaving you to navigate, as usual, by the clutter of icons on the mini-map. These include a new den-defending minigame that’s Desktop Tower Defense by way of the 16th century, but it’s cleverer than it is engrossing, hampered by mundane units and an awkward view. More importantly, it’s another aside in a series that already has plenty; another diversion that obscures rather than enhances.
Elsewhere, Revelations is defined by the slightest of incremental improvements. Bomb crafting is smartly implemented as you pick recipes and gather ingredients, and there’s an amusing sense that Ezio’s behaving as a perky barman rather than a master killer. It’s hardly game-changing, though, even if it does give you new options – distract, confuse, destroy – during combat and stealth. The Hookblade, meanwhile, introduces a little complexity to the traversal, allowing you to leap higher and farther and even slide on ziplines. It speeds up both movement and fighting, but it’s another minor embellishment; it’s still the animation that makes AC sing, conveying a majestic blend of agility and effort while you sit back and hold down a few buttons.