Note: [All opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of GamerXChange]
So as this console generation draws to a close (we are literally 24 hours away from the opening charge, led by Sony) and we head into an uneasy next-gen, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at some of the games and franchises that have shaped this gen. So with the tease today that we may see the first next-gen entry, I decided to start with a series of games that I had dabbled with but never really experienced: Assassin’s Creed.
A brief aside, the format for this (and hopefully future) retrospective will be some thoughts on every game in the series individually, before a quick wrapping up of the franchise and some hopes for the future. Also, I have played all of these in the last two months. That’s the rule, I play, then I write.
Even briefer aside: MASSIVE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT!
Assassin’s Creed (Ubisoft, 2007 PS3, Xbox 360)
So, Assassin’s Creed. It was a brave idea, for the simple fact Ubisoft spent much of the previous generation (PS2, GameCube and Xbox), resting on the laurels of a little game called Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. So the announcement that they were to shift focus to a new series of games, which while not set back as far in time (The Crusades of the 1100’s vs. PoP’s 618BC), visually they would seem similar. But we don’t need background on the game. Anyway Assassin’s Creed feels less like a game sometimes and more a like a proof of concept. As if Ubisoft had all these ideas, but needed to see if they’d stick with the public first. Luckily Assassin’s Creed, for the most part, works. The free running across rooftops is inspired, keeping a sense of physicality while never shifting into Crackdown levels of superhuman… ness.
Also working for it was the idea of interacting with some of history’s A-listers, though how much joy you get from having an argument settled by Richard the Lionheart depends on how big a history nerd you are. While the game can seem clichéd in parts (using the age-old trope of letting you prologue with full power, then taking it all away for the majority), I always wondered how they took away techniques, such a fighting moves and climbing abilities. It was only on this second play-through I noticed that it was down to equipment, the ability to climb-leap given back by way of a chainmail glove. It’s details like this that make the world and these people believable. However, believable doesn’t always mean fun. take for example, the beggar women. They run at you demanding food or money (sometimes in a weird sub English accent, though in saying that, the only person with a regional accent is the bad guy, as always) and just keep hounding you. Usually into the path of more beggars. Who then push you into a guard, starting a fight. See also the “lunatics” let loose after you assassinate the head of the hospital. In a game where hiding and sneaking are paramount to gameplay, a guy flanked by a bunch of shouty women getting shoved into guards is gonna draw attention, naturally.
Also introduced is Desmond Miles, a guy in the present day who has been kidnapped by a group representing the Templars, who is descended from the main character Altair. They scour his memories looking for the location of a Piece of Eden, a relic which would let them control the world. This I never got, as throughout the latter games in the series it is shown they pretty much have monopoly of everything from food to medicine, and a reach all the way up to the top position in the world. Making a power play for a mind controlling orb would surely only serve to reveal them to a far wider audience, thus possibly breaking their influence. Anyway, after much dancing about and stabbing of vague historical icons, plus a third act reveal that shock horror, the father figure/mentor was the bad guy (again), Desmond finds that the previous inhabitant of his cell decided to smear the walls in his blood with a bunch of stuff about 21/12/12. Game ends, happy times. Not a bad game (and I enjoyed Duke Nukem Forever, because I hate myself apparently), couldn’t see a sequel in the future. Oh how wrong I was.
Assassin’s Creed 2 (Ubisoft, 2009 PS3, Xbox 360)
Sequel time! Isn’t it always. Anyway, while the first game mined the pretty much never used in games time period of The Crusades, Assassin’s Creed 2 used the even less mined time period of the Renaissance. and with a new setting comes a new protagonist: Ezio Auditore de Firenze, or my favourite character of the generation. The whole game just seemed to have some sort of spark the was missing from its predecessor. Maybe its the fact that Ezio had some form of personality, maybe it was the setting, the ability to free run across buildings which are still standing today definitely adds something, especially if you’ve been to these places (which I have not). It also seems a lot cleaner, the free running and general combat seem a lot tighter, almost like the first game was a rehearsal for this game.
It also really rammed history down your throat. Famous people from history you collide with include: Rodrigo Borgia, Caterina Sforza, the Pazzi family, and Niccolo Machiavelli. Oh, and all your equipment is built by Leonardo Da Vinci. No biggie. Anyway, Assassin’s Creed 2 is an example of a good sequel, it feels bigger yet tighter. Like the mistakes of the first game were taken on board, and actually rectified, which is rare these days. However, they just substituted beggar women for wandering minstrels. Still as irritating, but at they left when you hid somewhere. Or shoved them. Shoving is good. Anyway, brief story run: family killed in conspiracy, Ezio takes up Assassin mantle, stabs his way across the 15th Century, uncovers Templar plot makes Rodrigo Borgia very nervous, and finds Minerva, someone from god knows how far back in time, who basically says “you’re all effed and here’s why.” Desmond spends most of the game in the company of other Assassins, until the Templars find where they are at the end of the game and he’s reveals to them being Ezio effectively game him a Matrix “I know kung Fu?” moment. Anyway, Assassin’s Creed 2 is very good.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (Ubisoft, 2010 PS3, Xbox 360)
Brotherhood feels more like a step sideways from Assassin’s Creed 2 than it does a full on sequel. It takes ideas started in 2 and builds upon them, which while it makes for a stronger game, it almost feels like some of it could have been built into the end of 2. Brotherhood however does add one new major component to the mix and that is multiplayer. Best mode is free for all, naturally, find a guy and stab him without anyone else realising. However, this does somewhat fall apart when everyone is dressed up like evil Satan clowns, subtlety goes out the window. Still fun though. Single player wise, not much different from 2. Some new ways of getting around, a new city (Rome, for those of you who haven’t played it) and some redressing of older features. What Brotherhood does introduce, however, ironically enough is the idea of the Brotherhood.
Ezio assists citizens in need, who then pledge themselves to the cause, allowing you to call on them during battle, or when you don’t quite fancy stabbing that guy yourself. To get these missions you have to ignite Borgia towers. Walk into a Templar influenced area, kill the man in charge, climb up a tower and set it on fire. It also introduces the idea of guild quests, or sending a guy to another place to do stuff, and he levels up in recompense. Truth be told I found this incredibly dull, and didn’t really fancy not having the opportunity to call the boys when things went Costa Rica. However, this idea of the meta game isn’t going away. In Desmond news, Stuff happens, you find the apple, then you stab your supposed nearly love interest (played by Veronica Mars) on account of the fact she’s a secret Templar. Plot twist ahoy. Brotherhood is a good game, but its similarities to 2 almost hold it back. But what comes next is something else entirely…
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Ubisoft, 2011 PS3, Xbox 360)
Revelations is probably my favourite of the series. It takes the pattern laid out in the previous games and brings them to their natural final points. The biggest change is probably the new setting, Constantinople/Istanbul. The range of new architecture and city layout makes for some interesting chase sequences, smaller side streets and new roof shapes (as yes, this is a thing to consider when you have half the city watch breathing down your neck during an escape) definitely lending themselves to some new and interesting escape tactics, most of which involve flee to water, as apparently during the 1500s you’re the only man who can swim. Also introduced is the hookblade, allowing you to almost grapple up walls, at the very least climb much faster than without it. There’s also some stuff about evading guys by rolling over them, but it’s so much easier to either turn in another direction, or hit him with something sharp and pointy. With the hookblade, however, comes ziplines, which pretty much revolutionise how you move around. Running and jumping take so long, just zipline to victory, it’s fun, easy and definitely something that needs to return one day.
Guild quests are back, didn’t really touch them, again, not a fan of the meta game involved. Plus you don’t really need to level them, they hold their own at the most basic level. Borgia tower sequences are back, under a new name, though most of the commanders run as soon as you even look at them hiding in the nearest guard hut, making all your work for naught while you get shot to death. Story wise, it involves a much older Ezio finding the secret library of Masyaf, where Altair supposedly hid the Apple of Eden. You play as Altair again throughout the game, and seeing these sequences, including the last moments of his life made me reconsider the character. I now find him to be much more favourable than I did after just his game. Of course compared to what comes next, Altair might as well be a Samuel L. Jackson character. In Desmondia, Desmond is in a coma after his stabby stabby action at the end of Brotherhood, and is trapped in the animus black room, basically the blue screen of death. He is on the verge of deletion for most of the game, until then end when all his memories and his lack of personality all de merge, and he’s now the super Desmond, saviour of the known world. He also has some horrible first person platform puzzle sequences, like Portal with magic platforms, which were largely terrible, save for one moment in one where it simulates a nice tranquil stream, which was lovely.
Assassin’s Creed 3 (Ubisoft, 2012 Ps3, Xbox 360, WiiU)
This game is largely terrible. It hurts me to say that, as after all the previous games (despite what my largely snarky attitude up there would attest) I was really looking forward to this. new engine with much better graphics, a new setting (revolutionary war America, one of the more interesting periods of history) and a new character, a Native American called Connor, criminally under represented in gaming. Unfortunately, he was boring as all Hell. Written with no personality (save for two moments with a tomahawk and a wooden building post), he just runs his way through history being utterly dull. You’d don’t even get to play as him for the first six or so hours, playing as a man called Haytham Kenway. Who was actually a lot of fun. British, so very sarcastic and dry in his humour, he arrives in the colonies looking for a bunch of guys to form what you think is an Assassin brotherhood over there, until a last minute reveal makes him actually a Templar. He’s also Connor’s father. See, now that got me interested. Shame the rest of the game was so dull. It almost went back to the first game again, like this was a test for the new engine. Ziplines and hookblades were gone, replaced by the ability to move through trees. Fun enough, and worked well with the character, but trees don’t grow as uniform as roofs are built, so you couldn’t always find a tree path to get you where you need to go. So I ran on the floor for most of it. Just as fast, less infuriating.
Most of the supporting cast were interesting enough. Achilles, current head of a weakened Assassin’s guild. Charles Lee, a good old-fashioned boo hiss bad guy (the fact he’s British and has a moustache definitely helps here), and George Washington, who is painted as being somewhat ineffectual as a leader, and more of a right place right time kind of guy. Taking part in some big important history definitely helps and 3 delivers on this. You are actually present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and also at the Battle of Bunker Hill, standing during the famous “whites of their eyes” speech, which never fails to elicit goosebumps. Also, naval battles! Captain a boat! Fight other ships and act like a bit of a brigand! Ship to ship combat is fun, and boarding a rival boat and carving your way across a boat crew is hyper fun.
Shame free running isn’t. The skill and tactics that were almost necessary for rooftop escapes in previous games is gone in favour of holding the button and pressing up on the stick, Connor does most of the heavy lifting. It takes away the skill which takes away the fun. Which, when free running is one of the integral parts of gameplay, messing it up could have proven fatal. Assassin’s Creed 3 also brings to a close the story of Desmond Miles. In Desmond’s tale, you find the great temple of Those Who Came Before and after turning on the power and some familial reconciliation, Those Who Came Before appear before you, squabble a bit, say if Desmond saves the world he will be a messiah, before his teachings are twisted into that of hate(bit like all religion is I think what they were going for), or he can free the dark one, the world won’t end yet humanity will have to survive this god. He touches an orb, frees the god and dies. That’s it. Bit terrible, but it is what it is, leads on to a new present day character in the future, with new memories to explore I imagine.
Assassin’s Creed 3 has the guild quest again, but also adds the Homestead missions. By doing these quests you get craftsmen and artisans to come live on your land, and you can get them to build you things. This ties into the newly added hunting mechanic, allowing you to trap and snare beasts. The trading mini game is supremely dull, and hunting is easy enough, if you run fast enough you can sneak up on some of the more skittish creatures while the more aggressive beasties will directly attack you. The only thing of consequence from hunting/crafting is twin pistol holsters, everything else is just fluff. It is one of the few things the game gets right, and if refined and streamlined, could be a fun addition to future entries.
Assassin’s Creed has given us some of the more inspired and interesting scenarios this gen, as while so many games go to the future or stay in the present, so few chose to mine our history. And everything up to 3 fells like one cohesive story, those of Desmond and his ancestors intertwined. It’s only with Assassin’s Creed 3 it all falls apart. See, every playable character (Desmond, Altair and Ezio) all have a scar in the same place on their face. Connor doesn’t have this, and while it’s a small detail, it’s things like that which are glaringly obvious. To be honest, Desmond’s story should have ended with Ezio’s at the end of Revelations, and a new character brought in with Connor. As it stands now, my favourite is Revelations without a shadow of a doubt, it feels like the coming together of three games worth of progress to make a cohesive whole. My least favourite is 3. It was just a such a massive let down after all the hype and promise they built up.
As for the future, the three setting Ubisoft have repeatedly said no chance to are Ancient Egypt, Ancient China and Feudal Japan. Unfortunately, three of the most commonly fan requested scenarios are Ancient Egypt, Ancient China and Feudal Japan. Early rumour suggests the next game will be called Assassin’s Creed: Black Flags and will be set in the time of pirates. Makes sense, the naval battles were fairly well received in 3 and it would certainly be different to Revolutionary America. But I guess we shall see on February 27th.
Where do you want to see them take the series next? Completely disagree with my opinion? Want to throw vile abuse at me? Sound off in the comments people!