Assassin’s Creed is a series that has found itself going from strength to strength in the gaming community, and is fast becoming one of the standout titles of the current console generation. Since the first game, the series’ popularity has just gone through the roof, Spin-off games, tie in novel series, a ton of really cool fan films, cameos in other games. The series has come a long way.
So what makes this series so popular exactly? And why is the news of Assassin’s Creed III some of the hottest news to be leaked and then eventually announced. Well, while I don’t have an animus to look back at this series past, I’ve played them all in the last 12 months, so I’m sure I don’t need a genetic memory machine to take a look at the history of Assassin’s Creed.
Obviously, I’m going to go into spoilers within this articles describing the events that happen at the end of each of these games in the series, so readers beware.
The very first thing we see when playing this game is an assurance from the creators that the game was a made by a team of multicultural and open minded individuals. So essentially, they’re covering their asses right off the bat.
Assassin’s Creed’s story is a little more complex than it initially seemed, it is a tale within a tale. Throughout nearly every title in the series, our main hero isn’t any of the assassins posing on the box covers, it’s an unassuming Nolan North character called Desmond Miles.
Desmond is a bartender who grew up in the middle of nowhere amongst people who called themselves assassins. Tired of living by strict rules with what he sees and a bunch of strange hippys, he runs away to New York. However, while Desmond may be our main character he acts more as a conduit through the events of the game take place, allowing the player a new perspective on events.
When early details about the game were announced to the public, there was a fair bit of confusion over the game, developers insisted that there was no time travel within the game and yet promotional materials showed characters both in a contemporary setting as well as during the 12th century. It was understandable that Ubisoft allowed this confusion to go on as the answer to these questions was eventually revealed to be their unique story telling method.
The game opens with Desmond being held in a facility, knowing nothing more than the player at that point. We learn that he is being held by a medical corporation called the Abstergo Corporation , they want to use a machine of cutting edge technology to search Desmond’s genetic memory, forcing Desmond to relive the lives of his long dead ancestors.
While modern theories about genetic memory boil down to certain animals knowing how to hunt, or where to go to breed, the animus implies that the data is there to the point where a person can travel back and literally become their ancestor, to see events with perfect clarity. This leads to some interesting little quirks of the game, players don’t have a life bar per say, but Desmond can become desynchronised with his ancestor if he falls out of line with the actual events of the past.
This is how Assassin’s Creed tells its stories, not through a traditional story arc, but through the medium of Desmond. We are essentially playing a game as Desmond who is playing a game as his ancestor. Apart from this dump of plot, we spend very little time in the shoes of Desmond and much more of the game time playing as his ancestor from the 12th century; Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad.
Abstergo have Desmond plugged into the animus because they want to find the location of some ancient artefact, but Desmond is unable to access that portion of his genetic memory until he lives so much of Altaïr’s to become more synchronised with him. Within the Animus, Altaïr is our hero, a talented by arrogant young assassin who is almost immediately shown punished for a major miscalculation on his part during a mission and is busted down to beginner status.
The main point of these two stories at this point in the game are to establish the ancient war between the Assassins and their evil counterparts; the Templars. While their all out war was very public back during the crusades, it is also showing that the two are still at war in modern day, except in much different forms. Altaïr is punished for losing the ‘piece of Eden’ an artefact that the Templars seem determined to get their hands back on. Altaïr is told he must regain his previous rank by going out and performing ‘grunt work’ in order to reclaim his lost glory.
So finally we get to the gameplay, which is really what keeps the series going. While the story and visuals range from pretty good to stunning, it is the solid gameplay that has kept me, at least, coming back for more. Assassin’s Creed can be described as a sandbox game. It takes place in three major cities as well as a large mountainous region which works to connect all the cities.
A big factor in keeping interest in sandbox games such as this is if the method of travelling around the world is fun, considering that is what many players will spent most of their time in the game doing. While travel between the cities can be rather dull, spending several boring minutes of riding around on horseback while guards get angry at you for literally no reason, movement around the cities is fun and can be split into two different methods.
The game calls them high and low profile, travelling in either has both benefits and drawbacks, but knowing when to use which is the key to success. While in high profile, players can run, climb and jump around, usually along the rooftops. However this, while faster, draws a lot of attention to the player, and in certain situations and missions, this is the last thing you want to do.
Hiding in low profile is slower, but allows the player to hide in plain sight amongst the crowds that pack the streets. In spite of Altaïr’s rather conspicuous style of dress, many guards will lose sight of him if he ducks into a crowd of casually sits on a bench while the guards run by you.
Most of the time the game dissuades you from combat and quite often running is the much preferable alternative to fighting when you become outnumbered. However, when you are forced into a fight, combat is a rather satisfying experience. It is kept relatively simple, but still has a number of factors players can choose to employ to mix it up a little. Upon learning the counter ability though most fights turn into a blood bath, it being an instant kill in many cases.
While the game doesn’t straight out say it, Assassin’s Creed is split into levels, each one culminating in a set piece assassination mission. Each missions starts with Altaïr speaking with his master, then travelling down a mountain and taking a horse through the mountains towards the city in which his target resides. Now this is where the game starts to fall down in places, the build-up to the actual assassinations is the most time intensive part of the game, and it also becomes the more boring.
If players go though the missions with the intention of fully synchronising their characters they have to spend a good few hours on the build up to each assassination by preparing and gathering information. This is done by playing mini-games such as eavesdropping, pick pocketing or tailing targets. While only two of these are necessary to continue the game, completionists and achievement hunters will be in for a long slog between the ‘good’ parts of the game.
The assassination mission finales themselves are always the best parts of the game, often challenging the player to find a way to their target in hostile territory without raising an alarm. There is a sense of smug satisfaction in taking your target down completely unawares and not having to cut your way through a dozen guards just to get to him. However, there are only about nine of these in the entire game and players must spend a lot of time repeating the same process to get to them.
After Altaïr has left a long trail of Templar blood in his wake and regained he lost glory he also goes through some kind of character change, although you wouldn’t know it. Altaïr isn’t the most charismatic of heroes, we get a sense of his personality from how the people around him react to him rather than through his own actions and words. His face remains mostly obscured throughout the entire game as he never removes his hood and tone of voice remains rather monotone throughout the game.
Altaïr’s change of heart only comes about after he takes the time to hear his victims last words and comes to realise that the people he had been killing really only wanted to do the right thing. This makes the assassin start to doubt his master and eventually make a full character turn.
Assassin’s Creed ended with something more of a whimper than a bang, Altaïr’s story culminates in his confrontation with his old master and the revelation that the Piece of Eden that everyone was after gave the holder god like abilities. This was really climactic and suspenseful.
By this point though, players that got bogged down in fully synchronising their assassinations will probably have spent around 5% of their play time in the Desmond parts of the story, and it could be easy to forget that he even existed. Thus, after Altaïr’s final battle, Desmond is ejected from the Animus and is told that his purpose as been fulfilled.
Kicked back into his room, Desmond is shown to have gained an ability previously only known by Altaïr. This results in some kind of confusing revelation that would leave many a player scratching their heads when the ending credits abruptly pop up. This is the first sense the players get of the overall plot of the series and its final goal. People who were smart enough to pick out the secret message plastered all over Desmond’s wall were able to decipher they all had one thing in common; the coming apocalypse.
Assassin’s Creed is by no means a perfect game. While there are portions that can be considered dull, types of players who do actually enjoy roaming around a sandbox city will find themselves with a ton of enjoyment in simply jumping from rooftop to rooftop and outrunning angry guards in something I’d call the GTA factor. The game’s visuals are amazing and there is rarely a point where the game looks bad.
If I had to make a list of this games pros and cons I suppose they would be thus.
What did this game do to establish the series and what was taken forward and what was dropped by the wayside.
Assassin’s Creed, as far as the other games in the series are concerned, fills the purpose of introducing it’s audience to the war between the Templars and the Assassins, it also introduces us to Desmond and gives us reason to fear Abstergo for holding him captaive. The game introduces many important points that are expanded upon in later games such as the Animus’s ‘bleeding effect’, the pieces of Eden and the mysterious final warning seen by Desmond in the game’s ending.
This game seems to be testing the waters, showing off what it can do while also seeing what it can get away with. While it is very much digging the foundations for the coming series, it also does stand on it’s own as a game. While not the perfect game, it does more right than it does wrong and what it does do right is mighty impressive to boot.
There were two other games to come out between this and the game’s sequel which further established Altaïr’s character, both appearing as handheld exclusives. Assassin’s Creed: Altaïr’s Chronicles on the Nintendo DS and Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines on the PSP. Altaïr’s Chronicles was a prequel to the series and shows Altaïr as a young assassin gaining his skills and rank for the first time, it’s very much a puzzle platformer, sales imply that not many people who enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed bothered to pick this one up, and in the end it didn’t seem to serve any purpose to further the story.
Bloodlines, on the other hand, did serve to continue the story from the first Assassin’s Creed as it picks up where the last one dropped off and mainly tells the story of Altaïr travelling to Cyprus to discover the future plans of the Templars. It is in this game he also meets his future wife, a character that does in fact show up in later games of the series.
Thanks to the limited capabilities of the PSP, there are far less people wandering the streets and thus blending and hiding from guards is more difficult. This game is a fully fledged Assassin’s Creed game on a smaller console, while the plot is essentially filler to the main story seen throughout the main series it is something more for fans to get their hands on.
Desmond actually doesn’t figure in either of these games, meaning that they take place fully in Altaïr’s time and don’t use the Animus as a method of storytelling and rather as a design choice.
This retrospective was originally one big article, but seeing as I’m only part way into writing about the next era of games and It’s already over 3000 words long, I think I’ll split it into multiple parts. So keep your peepers peeling for the next part in which I discuss the changes made for Assassin’s Creed II
You must be logged in to post a comment.