One feature we've always liked about the Assassin’s Creed games are their recreations of old cities, making a welcome change from the grey skyscrapers and asphalt roads of most games.
Constantinople doesn’t disappoint. Packed with winding alleys and busy bazaars, the city boasts a lively personality, and looks great too. With the sun shining it takes on a warm terracotta glow, with fruit stalls and colourful saris adding to the warm palette. Lovely as it is, though, you’re unlikely to take in much of it beyond the rooftops where you’ll spend most of your time.
Traversing Constantinople’s skyline is a genuine pleasure. The holding-two-buttons approach works better when going horizontally, and directional choice remains solely with the player. A new feature Revelations introduces early on is the hookblade, intended to aid climbing and free-running. From pre-release chatter we were expecting it to add more fluidity to Ezio’s abilities, like Batman’s new grapnel gun and glide moves in Arkham City.
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Sadly, however, it adds little to the overall experience, as all it really does it slightly extend Ezio’s reach and enable him to slide down ziplines. A couple of moves use it during combat, but ultimately it feels like a wasted opportunity to improve how Ezio traverses the city. The same feels true of some other additions too, especially in Desmond's sections of the game; gamified bomb-crafting and tower-defense minigames add little to the overall experience and feel like features for features' sake.
Desmond’s sections are usually pretty boring, but Revelations breaks that trend by introducing first-person puzzling, which looks and plays like a Dali and Escher inspired Portal-lite. It's lacking compared to Valve’s masterpiece, but it works well as an aside to the main game, and for the first time the gameplay potential of the reality-bending Animus is put to good use.
Bomb-crafting is also well implemented, requiring you to gather ingredients and make your own creations. There's a chance to get creative with 300 different combinations, but while the game provides new options to distract, confuse or destroy enemies, it’s hardly game changing. Also, there’s a purity to stealthily hunting people from rooftops, picking them off one by one, and this is lost when bombs are brought into the mix.
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As in Brotherhood, districts of the city can be seized from the Templars, but this time around the ousted knights will try to reclaim them. This initiates a tower defense mini-game with Ezio perched upon a rooftop positioning assassins. Waves of Templars must be repelled to remain in control, with a variety of assassins at Ezio’s disposal.
It’s great that Ubisoft wants to add depth and variety to the franchise, but tower defense games, property acquisition and sending people on missions using a Football Manager-lite interface are veering away from the core appeal of the series; being a badass assassin.
The combat system has seen no big changes apart from the aforementioned bombs and hookblade. As with the climbing, this is an area we hoped would be improved, but you still just need to mash the attack button with the occasional counter in order to survive fights.
Revelations does add extra features to the series’ existing template of great environments, atmosphere and visual flair propping up weak gameplay mechanics, which helps offset the effect of diminishing returns. Players who didn’t mind the limited platforming and simple combat of the previous games will likely come back for more. However, we're hoping for a more radical overhaul and refocusing of the series by the time the next instalment arrives