Last week, I looked at why Final Fantasy really grinds my gears. This week, I’m going for a more positive spin and look at a series that I love. So grab your hidden blades and flip up your peaked hoods, because it’s time for a leap of faith into the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Let me paint a little picture for you. It’s early 2007. I’m a precocious young scamp (of fifteen) playing on the Wii. My friend shows me some grainy footage on YouTube of a game that as far as I could tell involved riding a horse real fast and then bumping into a lot of people in a crowd. Personally, I wasn’t that interested. I had a Wii. I was COOL.
Over the next couple of years, I was aware of Assassin’s Creed going on in the background. I watched a few friends leap off tall buildings into hay. I observed the hype for AC2 at E3 2009. Over this time, I’d moved on from the Wii and acquired an Xbox 360. In a strange twist of fate, the very friend who had first shown me the video gave me his copy of the original Assassin’s Creed as a birthday gift (the tight-fisted cheapskate).
I did nothing for a while. I had other games to play. Then, one fateful night when the stars aligned and there was nothing good on TV, I decided to give Assassin’s Creed a spin. I discovered a wonderful world of conspiracy, parkour, but most important, assassination. I spent hours in each of the cities, helping out the troubled citizens and gathering as much info on my next target. Traversing the cities felt truly free, and that’s honestly always been the strongest part of the AC franchise.
The feeling of roaming around a city is a core part of the gameplay. It’s how you head from mission to mission, yes. But you also begin to learn the city. You start to recognise landmarks. The streets become your second home. It uses the oldest trick in the book to pull you in: familiarity. Throughout all the games, they’ve improved on this feeling, creating even more lively cities that actually feel real. People have discussions on streets corners whilst merchants pedal their wares. Heralds gasp as you drop down from a rooftop and dash off through a crowd. Bards… bards are just annoying.
Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the plot of the Assassin’s Creed games. What started off as a historical tale of redemption with some odd sci-fi elements, rapidly evolved into a deep conspiracy spanning timelines and even species. I know a lot of people were put off by the plot twist at the end of AC2, but I welcomed it. Yes, it’s a little daft, but no dafter than, say, Russia invading America to start World War Three.
In fact, one of my favourite things about Assassin’s Creed as a franchise is the sheer scale of the story. Some games get mobile tie ins. Some games get novelizations. Assassin’s Creed has comics, novels, Facebook games, films, animations, mobile spin-offs and even an encyclopaedia. The series’ sheer scope is difficult to measure.
I’ve previously said that the Animus is one of the best ever framing devices in a game, for not only does it provide a perfectly good explanation of the HUD and health bar, but also gives the developers a massive array of settings and time periods to choose from. First we had the Holy Land. Then we had the Renaissance. Now we’re off to the American Revolution. Before these games, there were very few that had even veered towards these settings. We might be coming up to the end of the current trilogy with AC3 on the horizon, but don’t think that it’s the end of the road just yet. Ubisoft plan to continue the universe after the Desmond storyline is complete. We may just see Feudal Japan and Victorian England yet.
It boils down to this; The Assassin’s Creed games are fantastic. They weave a good story throughout history, with compelling gameplay mechanics. Sure, the series has a few bum notes (I would rather eat my own iPod than have to play Altair’s Chronicles again) but overall the series is absolutely stellar. Sure, Revelations might not be quite as good as AC2 and Brotherhood. But Assassin’s Creed 3 looks set to take us to a new continent, a new character, and what could possibly be the best game of 2012.
Eddie Johnston writes about games because it’s a close second to playing them. You can find more of his words at his blog or , if that’s your sort of thing.