The Animus is gaming's greatest get-out clause. Invisible walls, erratic NPC behaviour, narrative inconsistencies and technical snafus can all be explained away by the fact that you're merely experiencing a (mostly) sophisticated virtual reality simulation. If guards are attacking you despite your notoriety being zero, well, that's just a bit of dodgy Animus programming. And if Niccoló Polo is refusing to follow you because he's busy hovering above a rock? Glitch in the Animus. Pedestrians merging into Ezio during a dialogue sequence? Animus.
Yet it can't excuse everything. Assassin's Creed Revelations has been developed by six studios across three continents - and in a little over twelve months. It shows. Revelations' fractured campaign doesn't suffer from a lack of ideas, but the new inclusions either fail to add anything meaningful, or, in some cases, actively detract from the experience. You can't really blame Ubisoft for not trying here; there are plenty of new additions to deflect the common accusations hurled at yearly updates. You can, however, criticise the way in which these concepts have been integrated.
Revelations is, of course, the third game starring Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and while the official line will no doubt claim otherwise, it's clear it wasn't ever meant to be this way. But Ezio's popularity demanded his story be expanded, even if the main thread of the plot is now in a holding pattern, circling slowly, waiting for the go-ahead to descend.
So, with Ezio's tale still to be resolved, it means Desmond, the guy we're supposed to care about, spends the entire game unconscious, his mind having taken him to a blue-green world of floating monoliths and glowing lights. With a beach and a body of water gently lapping at the shore, this peaceful idyll is not a bad place for a coma destination - at least until it's interrupted by someone whose identity I probably shouldn't reveal. Either way, it's merely a conduit for Desmond to once again don the simulated pauldrons and virtual vambraces of our ageing Italian stallion, who's now in Turkey and fighting Templars and Byzantines, presumably because the developers fancied a change of scenery.
From the outset, you notice something's different about Ezio, and I'm not just talking about his craggier-than-a-cliff-face character model and grizzly beard. There was always flamboyance about his kills as a younger man; while the series has never shied away from the brutality of the creed's methods, here was a man who seemed to enjoy his work. There are still flourishes here - at times Ubi seems to forget that Ezio is well into his fifties - but there's a cold savagery to the violence at times. It's instantly obvious in the opening battle, when our hero jabs his sword upwards through a guard's skull, then spins the head around horribly. Gorehounds will delight in the nastier kills, from throat-slashing to slow motion eviscerations, but it's not a change that sat particularly well with me.
Nor is it the only curious change. Ezio might be out of Italy, and with it his usual variety of roles as assassin, mentor, landlord, and recruitment officer now feel like a burden. In former games these elements felt optional, repaying your time investment by making life easier, either by affording you regular back-up in difficult encounters, or swelling your bank balance to make the most powerful weapons and armour affordable. In Revelations your tasks feel more like busywork, as purchasing buildings automatically increases your notoriety. To reduce the threat of constant street violence, you'll need to bribe heralds or kill Templar messengers, or try to capture a Templar den. When you do so, you'll need to position a Level 10 Master Assassin to make your ownership permanent, otherwise the Templars will contest the den you took from them. At which point Assassin's Creed goes all tower-defence on us.