Developers: Ubisoft Montreal (with help from five other Ubisoft studios)
Watching the opening credits to Assassin's Creed: Revelations served to scare me just a little. The initial ten minutes is pure Matrix-sequel gibberish and an utterly uninspiring introduction to Ezio's swansong and then, once you hit the credits, you're treated to a reel of studio after studio popping up to reveal just how fragmented the development actually was. For me as a reviewer, it instantly made me look out for bits that didn't quite line up, whether I wanted it to or not. As a huge fan of the series, we gave Brotherhood top marks, it's fair to say that I was pretty worried.
Thankfully that doesn't last very long at all, as you're plunged into Renaissance Constantinople/Istanbul, a city divided into factions - Assassins vs. Templars, Ottomans squaring up to Byzantines, all sprinkled with a dash of royal scheming. Once again Revelations proves that Ezio is a far more interesting protagonist than Desmond, whose own first-person sections almost ruin what serves to be an enjoyable, if fragmented, romp through the gateway to the east.
Things kick off with Desmond trapped in the Animus having finally gone insane from chasing ancestral memories through his DNA. All of the voices in his head have mushed together and, as a helpful chap known as Subject 16 explains, Desmond must complete his journey through the lives of Altair and Ezio, learning all he can from them so they have nothing more to offer, in order to separate them out from his own consciousness.
No it doesn't make a huge amount of sense, but then this series has never exactly been big on narrative simplicity.
What is important, though, is that all of this gives us an excuse to dive back into Ezio and Altair's boots. The former has travelled east in search of Altair's tomes of knowledge, hidden below the Assassins' HQ at Masyaf and protected by five keys. Much of your time in Constantinople will be spent searching for these keys, with most of the areas that house them proving reminiscent of the tombs from previous games. There are more scripted sequences to be found in this title then previously, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Chasing a boatful of Templars through underground caverns is a particular highlight, especially when it's punctuated by Uncharted-style climbing gaffs and slippages. Ezio's luck with loose ledges isn't quite as bad as Nathan Drake's, but it's clear that Ubisoft Montreal have taken a leaf out of Naughty Dog's guide to perilous parkour.
On top of the hunt for the Masyaf keys, Ezio also has to make sure that the city he's now operating out of doesn't suddenly erupt into violent civil war. Working with the young Prince Sulieman, already showing himself to be the bright and intelligent who will grow up to become one of the greatest Sultans of all time, Ezio sets about thwarting the treacherous machinations of the Byzantines, who've gone and shacked up with the Templars for help. There's a good amount of political intrigue, lots of secretive stalking to be done, plenty of stealthy fun to be had.
Brotherhood added in some welcome new features but it didn't exactly shake much up in terms of gameplay, and Revelations follows suit in this regard. Instead of Borgia towers, Constantinople has Templar dens. The procedure for taking control of the city's seven district is pretty identical to before: infiltrate the restricted zone, locate the Templar captain, brutally murder him and then climb the watchtower and light a signal fire. Once again, taking over parts of the city unlocks shops and tourist attraction for restoration and renovation, and doing so will increase your income. Assassin dens replace those of the Templars, and from here you can once more set about educating set upon citizens in the way of the Assassins.The hiring and training of Assassins returns in an expanded form - now you can send your minions into the Mediterranean, with the levels now capped at 15. Hit level 10 and Master training will begin with a little side mission after you've assigned your pupil to a den to protect. Hit level 15 and the second half of that side mission will usher in 'Master' status and render the den under your pupil's protection impervious to future Templar attack.
Oh yes, that's right. Templars can take areas back.
Your notoriety is a bit trickier to remove in this game; there are no wanted posters and heralds and officials remove 25% less than they did before. Worse still, max the gauge out and further nefarious activities bring the Templars knocking at one of your dens. Instead of sneaking in, killing the commanding officers and scattering the Templars in a stealthy sting operation, you wait for them to come to you and engage in a spot of...erm...tower defence.
Ezio perches atop a roof, surveying the street below him. At one end stands the impressive Assassin Den, at the other a rabble of Templars. Over the course of the next minutes our silver fox of an Assassin dispatches lieutenants to adjacent rooftops and calls upon crossbowmen, riflemen and brawlers to do their duty. Barricades stuffed with Greek fire and slow but steady cannons slow the Templar advance. Then a siege engine turns up and ruins everything. Ideally Ezio wants to be busting chops at ground level, skilled swordsman that he is. But no, he's rooted to the spot, occasionally gunning the odd Templar down with his tiny hand cannon. He can't even use those bombs he's been crafting.
Den Defence is an annoying little excursion in an otherwise liberty-stuffed experience, but it's rendered truly superfluous by the simple fact that if you happen to lose, the freshly-installed Templar captain is normally not far away, and resetting the balance is a simple formality. You'll find yourself training up your Assassins intensively, just so you never have to engage in this sorry excuse for a diversion again. It's not helped when the enemy has access to bombers and you don't, especially when the map is peppered with crafting stations and black market dealers.