I was frustrated by the unrealized potential of the first Assassin's Creed, but the improvements Ubisoft made in the sequels have made it one my favorite series in recent years. The latest installment, Assassin's Creed Revelations closes the chapter on Ezio and Altair and offers a more refined version of the gameplay I've come to love. Unfortunately, it also tips the scales in terms of distracting mini-games, an overabundance of gadgets, and an abandonment of one of the series' main characters. Still, as long as I can jump from roof to roof and stab people in the neck, I'm generally happy.
Ezio's exploration of the towering architecture and fractious politics of 16th Century Constantinople allows for some amazing gameplay. At any moment you'll be slipping in and out of the crowds as you use a poison dart to take out a corrupt city official walking down the street, or scrambling along the city's rooftops to avoid patrols of heavily armored Janissaries, or delving deep into cavernous tombs to recover a mystical and ancient treasure. It's endlessly fascinating, both in terms of the unique gameplay it offers and the rich historical context it presents for it all, which is as authentic as anything we usually see in today videogames.
With a few notable exceptions, the movement controls are even more intuitive this time around. Yes, I still bounce back from walls from time to time and, yes, I still get frustrated every time I can't climb up on a structure because I happen to be one inch off to the right or left, but, in general, moving around the city is fantastic. The addition of a secondary combat weapon also adds variety to combat without ever making Revelations feel like a fighting game. Instead, having that second weapon is more about the tactical choices you make before you go into battle than about your reflexes during the actual fight. Do you equip a gun or throwing knife to take down enemies at range? Or do you bring along an extra dagger in case you find yourself pressing the flesh?
For all that it does so right, Revelations also serves up some puzzling elements, some of which are downright frustrating. The hookblade is the first new toy you'll get. It basically extends your reach a few extra inches, which makes scaling towers a bit easier and allows you to spin past civilians blocking your way. The trouble is that you have to trigger it, which adds one more worry to navigating the city. I mean, do you ever want to fall to your death, or bump into a shopkeeper while running away from angry guards? That this isn't an automatic part of high profile movement means you sometimes end up thinking more about the controls than about where you want to go.
The same problem exists with the bombs. While it's nice to have bombs as a way of managing encounters, having to craft different kinds of bombs and then switch among them in the midst of the action means you spend more time managing the interface than managing the actual fight. And invariably, I'll have made the wrong type for whatever situation I find myself in at a given moment. About halfway through the game, I discovered I could be much more effective if I just stopped worrying about the bombs altogether. In fact, the looting of bomb components is even more ridiculous than the looting game from the previous Assassin's Creed. This time around you're finding lamb's blood in rooftop chests and scrounging pocketfuls of coal from Janissaries. Even if it makes sense from a gameplay perspective, which it doesn't, it still breaks the reality of the game to have most of the citizens of Constantinople walking around with bomb components in their pockets.
The distractions continue in a pair of intertwined mini-games. While I generally like the concept of sending your assassins out in missions across Europe, doing so felt more like managing a sports team than leading a league of trained killers-for-hire. It's great to have competent allies spring forth when you're suddenly up against it in the city, but having to spend so much time moving them around from Athens to Madrid just felt tedious. On top of that, there's not much challenge in these modes. With just a couple of hours to spare, I managed to take over every single city in Europe without ever losing a single mission. The trouble is that you have to participate in this mini-game if you want to avoid the second, more tedious tower defense mode the game throws at you.