Ruminations: The Assassin’s Creed Code

So I’m all caught up: I finished Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (AC:R) recently, so I know what’s going on. Time to ruminate. SPOILERS follow.

More Foundations Than Revelations

That's a low cut dress.

Our word for today is ‘décolletage’.

… well, almost. In contrast to a number of other people, I enjoyed Revelations. It wasn’t very revelatory, but it did some great things with the characters.

  • Like giving Altair a character. In AC the man is as bland as dry toast; by the end of AC:R he has a purpose, a tragic history and a noble ending.
  • AC:R also ends the story for Ezio, who we started with in ACII in his pre-Assassin days to the end of AC:R where he retires with a redhead half his age who’s cleavage the camera just can’t help peering down. (AC:R does have Sofia Sortar as the brains behind the narrative, which is a nice change to the normal role of women in video games.) Both Ezio and Altair seem to end their lives in a peaceful way – resquiescat in pace indeed.
  • Desmond gets to continue being the idiot people have to explain things to and while the exploration of his life story is awful (first person platforming for the lose) it does provide a bit more understanding about why he’s so naïve.
  • I agree that den defences sucked very, very hard though.

The Trilateral Commission Taught Me Not To Believe in Conspiracy Theories

When discussing AC’s narrative, you can’t avoid the confusing layers that make up an AC title.

  • There’s Desmond, the framing device – a runaway from an Assassin compound who didn’t believe the conspiracy until he was abducted by an all-powerful multi-national company who plans to use him to uncover magic artifacts by making him replay the past lives / relive the memories of his Assassin forebears through the use of a sophisticated high tech (yet highly portable) brain scanner.
  • Then there’s the AC characters themselves, which to date have been Altair (AC, AC:R) and Ezio (ACII, AC: Brotherhood, AC: R) who are the lives Desmond is reliving. They have their own things going on.
  • Then then there’s the modern-day meta-narrative of conflict between the Assassins (Assassins) and the Templar (international conglomerate Abstergo) that the Assassins appear to be losing comprehensively. This story line is filled with one alt-history conspiracy theory piled on top of another.
  • Then then then there’s the historic meta-narrative that reveals how alien beings trying to prevent the destruction of a world came to Earth (after they failed, if I’m understanding AC:R correctly), bringing humans with them, which humankind then started worshipping as gods. These aliens are the source of a number of religions (Roman gods and the Christian god, as people of the time created stories about them). They are the creators of the Apples of Eden that Altair and Ezio have sought, while also being behind the narrative that makes Desmond super-important because he’s going to save Earth from the same kind of destruction that destroyed the other world. I think.

Many years ago I’d pick up the odd edition of New Dawn, an “alternate news” magazine. I did so mainly for laughs, given the mix of conspiracy theory, alternate treatments, ‘truth’-behind-the-news and alien-related stories that filled its pages. I’d have thought that interdimensional aliens would have better things to do than build cities in South America to house Nazis, but New Dawn was the kind of magazine that would tell you different.

It seems to me that in order to develop the background story for AC, someone bought a dozen of these magazines, put them in a blender, added a bottle of absinthe, hit frappe and then made the AC writing team do shots of the result.

It's Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix

“Please, explain the absolute basics of this world to me like I’m a child. And then do it again, because I won’t understand the first time.”

The within-game narratives, if you can accept that memories aren’t genetically coded (and if they were, Altair would have a genetic link to millions of people, so it wouldn’t be hard at all for Abstergo to find people to relive his life) are generally okay. Desmond plays a Neo-level idiot so that the audience can have things explained to them. Altair and Ezio are given objective-based missions that bring them into contact with historical figures and / or events.

At the heart of these events is a struggle between the Assassins – secretive figures who stab a lot of people with hidden blades in order to preserve our freedom – versus the Templar – a powerful group with military and political muscle that aim to control everyone’s lives. It’s very much black and white. Despite you (as an Assassin) murdering a few hundred people each game, often because they are wearing a guard uniform and are in the way, the Templars are always the bad guys. The AC world would be a lot more interesting if some more shades of grey, so that the Templar’s view of “a tightly controlled and safe society under our rule” was given equal footing to the Assassin’s “nothing is true, everything is permitted, especially if you run a secret murder society” ideology.

It's a glowing woman in odd armour. Yes, one of those.

Yet another high tech alien matriarch who can’t just tell you what you need to know, but instead likes to draw it out by being all vague and mysterious.

But the alien stuff? Rock Paper Shotgun said that it is the Desmond parts that grate, but it is the alien meta-narrative that drives me insane. These aliens, who take the form of ancient gods / are the foundation for a number of our god myths have some big plans for Desmond, which they let him know by apparently interacting with his ancestors hundreds of years ago but never being clear about what’s going on (as aliens tend to do in these kind of narratives).

Previously these aliens tried and failed to save their world and are now trying to save ours. Or something. It’s all very vague and I’m sure that should UbiSoft ever get around to actually creating an ending to the Assassin’s Creed series, the final conclusion will be very disappointing.

I’m not sure how training someone in parkour and stabbing people will save the world, but obviously these aliens know better than I do.

Coming To America

AC has been an interesting series in a number of ways, with one of those being how it has stayed out of the US (conspiracy theories aside). All the action has taken place in Europe and the Middle East and hasn’t directly involved an American character in the action – yes, Desmond is American, but he’s very much a secondary character in his games, with the focus on Altair (Syrian) or Ezio (Italian). This changes with Assassin’s Creed III when Native American Ratohnhaké:ton aka Connor Kenway will take centre stage.

Connor Kenway posing in front of the US flag. Like Native Americans tend to do.

There’s no more patriotic act for a US citizen than axing an Englishman in the head while it’s snowing.

Which really moves things into more conventional territory, where an American is the hero character. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly makes the series more typical, especially as he’ll inevitably slaughter his way through a variety of stock British accents. It’s also pretty unlikely that UbiSoft is going to play fast and lose with historical figures like George Washington or Ben Franklin.

More of the Same

I’m interested to see where the series goes, but to be honest its core mechanic is starting to feel a bit too repetitive with each new title. The bombs out of AC:R were a nice touch – and please god no more tower defence mini-games! – but being an Assassin is all about the hidden blade kills, which has been the same for the last 4 core games.

So if things hold true, it’s not just Assassin’s Creed 3 we’ll have to wrap up the story, but its DLC, then Assassin’s Creed: Founding Fathers Kick Ass and its DLC, followed by Assassin’s Creed: Ben Franklin’s Revenge and yet more DLC that the gameplay of AC will have to support. And then there will possibly be something like Assassin’s Creed: It’s Desmond’s Turn.

That’s if anyone still cares by then.

As I said before, given all those plot lines at different levels, I’m not sure that the AC will be able to tie everything together in a satisfactory way by that point. There are too many balls in the air to keep juggling them. The obvious ending is Desmond saving the world, defeating Abstergo / the Templars while reclaiming both his freedom and the freedom of all humanity to make their own decisions (unless Desmond stabs them first). But that’s a pretty dull conclusion.

Still it’s probably better than Desmond just waking up in a church, surrounded by all the people he’s met / inserted knives into.

One thought on “Ruminations: The Assassin’s Creed Code

  1. Pingback: The Unplayed Gaming List – December 2013 | Vicarious Existence

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