While last year's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood expanded fantastically upon the formula of Assassin's Creed II, it notably dropped the ball in regards to story. At the time, it felt very much like a middle chapter; one that would pave the way for another fully-fledged entry that would explain exactly what the hell happened at the end of ACII, and what that really means for the whole of the franchise.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations may promise disclosure in its title, but it sadly fails to deliver a truly meaningful push forward for the franchise. Instead, it comes off as a victory lap: one more go-round for these heroes before exploring new territory. That's fine in theory -- and certainly, the stellar core play mechanics are back in full force -- but Ezio's final quest lacks excitement and intrigue, sending the valiant Assassin off with too little fanfare.
The core of the Assassin's Creed experience remains very much intact, and while Ezio's quest takes him to Constantinople -- a more vibrantly coloured location than we've seen in the past -- the open-world affair feels comfortably familiar from the start. Revelations builds upon the enhanced gameplay of Brotherhood with various additions, notably the hookblade, which lets Ezio scale buildings more quickly, clear larger gaps by swinging from hanging planters, speedily travel via zipline, and even pass through standing enemies with takedown flips.
Creating and using bombs also adds a new tactical element to the game, but not every addition is as appreciated; a flaccid tower defence mini-game feels like a waste of time. Still, the net result is positive, and even without the changes, the open playground of an Assassin's Creed world is always a joy to romp around, whether you're collecting items, completing quests, or just witnessing the breadth and beauty of the surroundings. And though I miss having country trails to ride horses on, 16th century Constantinople doesn't disappoint as the latest series location.
But as the third entry in as many years, Revelations pounds home the realization that the familiar open-world approach lacks punch without a thrilling storyline to keep things intriguing -- and this is the stodgiest tale to date. Ezio remains as nimble as ever despite his advancing age, but the quest trudges along through dull political manoeuvres that feel wastefully inane at this point in his tale. And even when he strikes up a personal connection with someone -- a refreshing change for the violent warrior -- it feels like we're getting the Cliff's Notes version, minus much of the character development.
It took several hours of adhering to the quest before the game started delivering exciting moments, but even then, they're surprisingly few and far between. The scripted platform segments tied into the collection of the Masyaf Keys are a delight, as is the fiery docks mission shown at E3, but a few rousing scenarios don't make for a fulfilling campaign. Luckily, the Altair flashback missions are uniformly more interesting than Ezio's own adventures, despite their brevity, and the optional Desmond's Journey puzzle stages -- which feel cut from a similar cloth as Portal, despite different play mechanics -- are refreshingly well-scripted, and offer some insight on the modern-day descendent.
The campaign thankfully picks up in the third act, when the stories of both Ezio and Altair are further intertwined before being put to rest, but distressingly, the finale doesn't serve up the kind of concrete conclusions I expected. Instead, the main "revelation" is what's next for the franchise, which is well and good -- and admittedly, a lot more intriguing than the dozen-plus hours that preceded that vision -- but it comes off as a hollow reward. Revelations is merely another middle chapter; a bridge to the next experience that you can't skip, lest you want even more dangling narrative threads.
Curiously, Revelations is also the least refined entry in the trilogy spawned by Assassin's Creed II, with a wide array of visual bugs on display -- like an NPC facing the wrong way during a cut-scene, or a trio of bystanders leaning at a gravity-defying angle. Elsewhere, I restarted an entire mission due to an objective that wouldn't activate, and watched another one halt while an ally and enemy stood side-by-side for several seconds. Open-world games often have odd quirks, but they're more apparent here than in past series entries.
Despite the solo frustrations, the multiplayer end shines with smart revisions and additions that transform the last game's value-add into a mode that stands on its own as a strong play experience. The new Deathmatch mode removes the radar and player copies from the map, delivering more intimate stealth skirmishes in confined spaces, while the team-based Artifact Assault is a raucous battle to grab (or protect) each team's respective item on either side of the environment. They're established multiplayer game types, but as filtered through the unique strategic lens of Assassin's Creed, they take on a new tenor -- and as with the rest of the multiplayer, the result is a tense and satisfying affair.
Much as I enjoyed the emboldened multiplayer, the single-player side of Revelations is too scattershot to stand with its predecessors. The exciting moments come late and sparingly in the campaign, and the most memorable sequences don't even star Ezio, whose parting adventure pales in comparison to the last two. At its core, this is the Assassin's Creed we've grown to love in recent years, and it still serves as a pretty good time sink -- plus, it's a necessary bridge to next year's already-announced follow-up. But obligation shouldn't be the primary reason to play something, and sadly, that's too often the case in this humdrum campaign.