The logline for the Assassin’s Creed series of games has always been, “Guy sneaks around and stabs soldiers in the neck.” The key word there would be “sneaks,” but not so much in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, the flashiest of the series, which ends the Renaissance storyline with a bang. Kills are no longer a matter of stealth, but showmanship: Protagonist Ezio Auditore tosses one of 300 (?!) bomb variations. He takes down enemies with reach-around stabs in rapid, combo-building succession. After he pickpockets enough innocent passersby, a perimeter forms around him, leaving plenty of room to strut. His hidden knife has been augmented by the flamboyant hook blade, which grapples onto high ledges and ziplines; Ezio no longer merely climbs things, he soars.
Revelations is obsessed with its shiny new toys, ditching the shadows for the spotlight, and it’s all very exciting for a while. But spotlights make for scrutiny, and after enough time with Revelations, its claustrophobia steps front and center.
It doesn’t help that the narrative is shared among three characters. Ezio is still the main neck-stabber. He’s traveled to Constantinople in 1511 to discover a powerful artifact, locked away by his predecessor Altaïr—whom you control each time a key is found, triggering a memory of the Crusades. The central conceit, as always, is that the game takes place inside the mind of Desmond Miles, a bartender from 2012 who uses a machine called the Animus (like one of those Matrix chairs) to jack into the memories of his assassin ancestors. Now he’s trapped in the Animus—full of floating monoliths and a Myst-like landscape—and must sync all these memories to awake from a coma.
The game never lacks for diversity of faces and actions. There are straight-up “kill this guy and rescue this other guy” missions, covert recovery missions, recruitment missions like in Brotherhood, bomb-making tutorial after bomb-making tutorial, and odd little tower-defense-style missions. Plus, as you locate hidden pieces of the Animus, Desmond gets to roam around its inner workings, manifested as a Portal-style empty warehouse full of geometrically unsound block structures. There’s so much to do that by the time things loop back around to the main story, it’s difficult to remember what was happening. It’s still fun to pimp out Ezio and try your hand at new kill variations (like crashing a party as a lute player, marking kills for your assassin friends by strumming a few chords). But the story has no flow; it leaps forward unexpectedly amid the clutter.
The beefed-up multiplayer mode is a breath of simplicity. Capture the flag and round-robin-style targeting missions—including a more-covert version called “Deathmatch”—couple with character leveling and custom profiles, rewarding stealth and cunning way more than story mode ever does. Revelations’ least noisy moments are its purest, and in the hot and crowded Constantinople, they feel few and far between.