Wii U, I look just like Buddy Holly
Assassin’s Creed, you’ve let yourself go. What have you become?
You used to hold the promise of the next-gen. Remember your trailer from long ago, which showcased gameplay elements impossible during the days of the PS2?
Identify your target, make a surgical strike on your own terms, and then disappear. Be an assassin. An assassin in an open world, with all the moves of the Prince of Persia. This footage from 2006 got me very excited, an excitement I held for four years until I finally got to play your first, glorious entry.
Assassin’s Creed was beautiful. Sure, it was repetitive, essentially giving me the same objective nine times, but the parameters were fundamentally sound, and faithful to the trailer. Depending on the approach I chose to take, no assassination was the same. Altaïr was the ultimate badass, and the epitome of the perfect killer. He was a blank enough slate to let me project myself onto him as the player character, but had ample motivation for his work as a member of an order that may or may not have been fighting for the right thing.
The setting was astounding as well. Assassin’s Creed was set during the tail end of the Crusades, and centered around the historic cities Damascus, Acre, and Jerusalem. As a young man raised in the absolutely true teachings of good ol’ Christianity, visiting these places I had only read about, seeing them so lushly populated, and traversing them in such a spectacular manner, made this first game an awesome (the old meaning of awesome, mind) trip through time and space. The 1100s “Holy Land” was a living environment, with each city distinctly different from the last, and gave the game much of the character so devoid in Altaïr. It didn’t take itself too seriously, either.
Assassin’s Creed II took my concept of virtual tourism and multiplied it exponentially. Renaissance Italy was, for the most part, faithfully recreated, and new protagonist Ezio parkoured his way through Florence and Venice. Residences were multiple stories high, and iconic landmarks such as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Torre dell’Orologio, and the Campanile di San Marco could be climbed and leapt off of, providing me with a colorful playground in more ways than one— shocked citizens would often shout Italian profanities, teaching me stronzo and cazzo and merda, like a more exciting Rosetta Stone.
Speaking of more exciting: oh, Ezio. You were the polar opposite of the uptight Altaïr. With your stereotypical Romance suavity, I saw you romp around Florence, making impossible jumps, scoring impossible lays. Even as tragedy befell you, your devotion to your mission was tempered by your charm, making the forty-year journey through Assassin’s Creed II one that I shouldered gamely.
The ludicrous Desmond metanarrative was tolerable back then as well. Virtually nothing was known about the mythology of the Assassins and Templars, so piecing together the myriad factors in this timeless war in the “real” world was an exciting prospect. After the soporific “read emails and walk around the office” Desmond bits in the first game, seeking out virtual clues in the various buildings to find out the Dan Brown-style “Truth” was compelling in a pop trash way.
Then you became a yearly series, like some Call of Duty or NBA Live, milking Ezio’s popularity for all it was worth. Admittedly, Brotherhood was fantastic follow-up, starring an aging Ezio, now the leader of his order, as he recruited new members across Rome. Leonardo da Vinci, an integral character in Assassin’s Creed II, made his return as Ezio’s oldest and most enduring (brotherly) love. It didn’t matter too much that this was only an incremental upgrade over the previous game, because it had Rome and parachutes. What other games let you dive off the Coliseum and the Pantheon?
The sheen wore off for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. A third game starring Ezio, who by now was so old that he needed bombs to conduct his killin’ work, making him less a ninja and more a period Rambo? That a 55-year-old was even more agile than the youthful man in the previous games was stretching the fiction a little. The new tower defense mechanic was both dull and unneeded—who plays Assassin’s Creed for their Plants vs. Zombies fix? Still, I got to visit the beautiful Istanbul and hang with Prince Suleiman, the fresh setting and architecture a welcome departure from the well-worn Italy.
Despite your innumerable flaws, I loved you, Assassin’s Creed. This piece was originally planned for Quality Control, our series on our guiltiest pleasures in gaming, because I stood by you even as you strayed further and further away from your original promise. Until Assassin’s Creed III came along and removed all of the pleasure, leaving only the guilt and regret.
What a piece of shit Assassin’s Creed III is. The two things that made the last few games fun—a likeable protagonist and an engaging setting—are completely absent here. Whereas all of the last settings were bastions of culture, this latest entry takes me to… ‘Murica. Who gives a fuck about Colonial America, with its two-story architecture and endless swathes of empty space, ensuring that freeruns are all but impossible? The game could have been used as a window into Native American life, what with its use of a half-Mohawk, half-British main character, but nope: the heritage of Connor Kenway is all but ignored as he becomes a gopher for the American rebels, inexplicably finding himself a key participant in events like Paul Revere’s ride, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and all major battles of the Revolutionary War. Oh, and he also forgives George Washington for the massacre of his people, for some reason.
Gone is the cohesion of different game elements working together to form a unified, seamless whole. You’ve gotten fat and bloated, Assassin’s Creed. Connor can hunt wild animals, order his recruits around, and micromanage his estate, things I had no interest in doing, mostly because I had no reason to do so. Even the openness of the assassinations is compromised— the freedom in missions is crippled completely by “optional objectives” that give big black marks when not followed, ensuring the game’s linearity. The nonsensical story, even by Assassin’s Creed standards, doesn’t help.
You’ve become unrecognizable— overweight, overwrought, self-righteous, self-indulgent— a far cry from the elegance that I fell in love with. I wash my hands of you, Assassin’s Creed.
Wait, what? Your next game stars a pirate who is also a ninja? I take it all back. Take me back.