Not that Revelations doesn't try to mix up the pace; far from it. Like in Brotherhood, you can recruit assassins and send them off on contracts to such cities as Barcelona and Athens. This menu-based minigame works much as it did before, but there are two key improvements that make recruitment much more interesting now. Firstly, the contracts have been given context in the form of a strategic minigame. Completing contracts increases assassin influence and diminishes Templar presence. Your goal is to earn and retain control of those cities, which lends meaning to what used to be abstract busywork without real consequence. Secondly, once an assassin reaches a high enough level, you can assign him or her as a leader of a faction den. Doing so opens up new missions in which you accompany recruits as they tail targets and attempt assassinations. Your newest brothers typically fail their missions on the first attempt but rise above such adversity later on. Before, you knew Ezio was a mentor because you were told he was. Now, you actually feel like you're making a difference.
Ezio reflects on his past triumphs. Those were the days, weren't they?
It's natural that developer Ubisoft Montreal would want to expand the previous game's mechanics, which felt like they belonged because they were pertinent to the story, and to Ezio's leadership role. On the other hand, it's hard to know what to make of the brand-new addition of tower defense to the mix. The Templars take over for Brotherhood's Borgias, controlling key areas and forcing you to kill their commander so that you can light a signal fire and purchase nearby shops. But the Templars can regain control if you don't take the time to assassinate key figures or bribe heralds. (This new twist on the notoriety concept doesn't require you to rip wanted posters off walls.) To preserve control, you participate in a tower defense battle in which you place assassins on the rooftops above a single, short alley and destroy the waves of soldiers that stampede in.
You do all this from a single vantage point, earning morale (the minigame's currency) as Templars fall, and using it to place blockades and assassins. Not only does the whole thing seem out of place, but it isn't enjoyable on its own terms. It's nice that you can shoot marauders from above as your fellow assassins take aim with bows or leap onto their targets from rooftops. But your limited view is confining, and the gameplay is too simple to lead to a rewarding victory. To make things even less fun, the camera occasionally zooms in for a close-up of a falling enemy or brother. This cinematic touch was probably meant to add excitement to this unexciting process, but it's just aggravating. All it does is disrupt the flow.
When defending your stronghold, barriers are just as important as archers.
As an infomercial host might say: "But wait--there's more!" Now you can craft bombs out of ingredients that you find in chests and earn for completing contracts. It's a simple process; you just go to a crafting station, select the right ingredients, and voila: bombs. The bombs might spew poison into the air or simply explode as a good bomb should. They're nice toys to have but unnecessary because combat isn't so difficult that you're forced to pull them out of your trick bag. That doesn't mean that combat hasn't seen some changes, and to be fair, it is more challenging than before. Much of that new challenge comes from gunners squirreled away in tiny shelters, where they are out of your blade's reach. Getting shot strips away a good deal of health and knocks you back, though you should always have plenty of health packs if you regularly loot bodies. Nonetheless, it's annoying to be shot by a pair of unseen snipers, especially if you're already engaged. At least you have your own ranged weapons (gun, crossbow, knives, bombs) and can destroy gunners once you find them.
So you get more use out of your gun than before, but battles still focus on swordplay. There's still a nice ebb and flow to the action, which is made more brutal by new, frequent kill animations. You take up arms as both Ezio and Altair, and while Altair doesn't have that many moves at his disposal, his sections are much more linear. You won't do much free-form climbing as the Crusades-era hero; rather, these missions are focused much more on narrative. It's a nostaligic joy to return to Musyaf and see how it has changed in the years since Altair's original adventures. Besides, the change in scenery is welcome. Previous games let you gallop around on horseback outside of city walls. Constantinople doesn't offer much in the way of wide-open spaces, and in fact, there are no horses to ride there. But Ezio does make a detour late in the game, though the change in scenery is accompanied by a decline in free-form parkour.
You might miss horses, but at least there are boats--not to mention, a quick travel option.
Brotherhood introduced an unusual multiplayer component to the series, and it returns in Revelations. There are new characters with new special abilities, maps, modes, and other changes, but the core mechanics remain the same. In many cases, you are assigned a target and must identify him as he slinks through the crowds, trying to remain unseen. The map gives you only a rough idea of the target's location, so you need to keep your senses keen. Of course, you also need to refrain from giving yourself away to your assigned assassin, slinking through crowds and standing near identical crowd members. Some new modes take a different tack. In Deathmatch, the proximity radar is gone, as are the clones that make it easier to stay hidden. That mode is entertaining but simple, and it doesn't result in the kind of tension boasted in other modes. The new Artifact Assault mode produces tension, albeit of a different kind. This capture-the-flag variant gives you more chances to sprint at top speeds as you deliver the enemy's flag to your home base, hoping to escape a hotfooted pursuer.
As enjoyable as Revelations' multiplayer modes are, it's the single-player adventure that elicits the strongest reactions. The enhanced acrobatics make the simple act of moving from one place to the next an enormous delight. The improved recruitment mechanics communicate that there are, in fact, high stakes in this underground war between Templars and assassins. Not everything that's new represents an improvement, however. First-person puzzling and tower defense are bewildering, unenjoyable additions to a game that didn't need them. On the bright side, the game usually sticks to what it does best. And what Revelations does best is to set you free in a magnificent city, where you skyrocket across the rooftops, letting the gorgeous sights and evocative music transport you to another life and another century.