Wednesday, October 21, 2015

An Assassin’s Creed Retrospective, Part I: From Frustrating to Fantastic

I was pretty late to the Assassin’s Creed party (where, were it a real shindig, everyone would be embarrassed that they wore the same color).  I’m not sure how I missed one of the bestselling franchises of the last console generation: it’s arguably the biggest yearly game series outside of Call of Duty and Madden. I guess I was too busy with classics like Lair and Duke Nukem Forever: Balls of Steel Edition to notice.

My first experience with the warriors in white was at the end of 2014 when I played through the fourth AC installment, Black Flag, on Xbox One. Capt. Kenway’s questionable adventure on the high – and probably drunk – seas lured me into the world of secret bloodshed, vast conspiracy, and infuriating climbing controls. Over the last year I’ve done a good job catching up.

And now I love to stab almost as much as David Rosen.

On the eve of Ubisoft’s latest yearly cash grab release, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, I find myself reminiscing about Ghosts of Stab-mas past. (For those wondering Stab-mas was pretty much every Saturday night for the last few months.) So without further padding, here’s the beginning of a multipart Assassin’s Creed retrospective that none of you asked for, but are still miraculously reading.

Also it’s Back to the Future Day, so TIME TRAVEL and 88 MILES PER HOUR and MARTY and all that jazz.

Assassin’s Creed. Release Date: 11/2007. Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC

Imagine Grand Theft Auto. Now take away everything fun and pay a homeless person to beat you, repeatedly and repeatedly, about the face and neck. That’s the first Assassin’s Creed in a nutshell. I seriously have no idea how there was a sequel after this cosmic train wreck.

My first thought on booting AC1 up was how good it looked, even nearly a decade after it hit store shelves. But the more I played, the more its flaws started chipping away at my enjoyment. Repetitive, pointless missions flood the original AC landscape, and instead of being able to skip them like in future installments of the series, the player is forced to slog through.

Meanwhile, the slightest deviation from what the game wants you to do sends an endless stream of bloodthirsty soldiers your way and you’re forced to kill them all by mashing the attack button. I often had upwards of 20 bodies littered around me just because I brushed up against on guard on my way to yet another pointless mission.

The story is like watching paint dry in the dark, and the main charter, Altiar, is a total asshole.

No video game has made me as hostile, as irrationally enraged as this war crime disguised as interactive entertainment. But aside from the PTSD, this game is great! And by great, I mean one of the worst 100 video games I’ve ever played. Thank God I didn’t start the series with this game, or this would have been an awfully short retrospective.

Assassin’s Creed II. Release Date: 11/2009. Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and MAC

Perhaps unwisely, I loaded up Assassin’s Creed II only moments after finishing the first game. But what could have ended in me taking my own leap of faith in front of a beer truck turned out to be a delightful romp through Renaissance Italy.

I knew in the first five minutes that Assassin’s Creed II was the polar opposite of its older, soul-crushing brother. Everything I hated about the original Assassin’s Creed, everything that made me what to slap Ubisoft in their firehoses (or lady schlongs), one and all, was gone forever.

Taking up the mantle of assassin this time around is Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a carefree young man whose family is clichéd to death. Frankly, it’s been done. But it’s not the story that kept me coming back to Assassin’s Creed II, it was the high-flying, back-stabbing gameplay. Climbing and jumping control was improved, most objectives felt like they mattered, and the most boring side quests were entirely optional.

Also, you can punch the living snot out of townspeople all you want, tossing their bodies in the ocean or, better yet, hiding them in haystacks for a trophy/achievement. I’m not sure how a face-punching, day walking psychopath somehow went unrecorded by Italian history, but I’m sure this game is entirely accurate in his portrayal.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Release Date: 11/2010. Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and MAC

Brotherhood marks the transition of Assassin’s Creed into a yearly release schedule, and boy does it show. Recycling locations, weapons, fighting styles, and even the main character of ACII, Brotherhood plays more like an expansion pack than its own title.

I’m fine with that. I consider Assassin’s Creed II one of the best 100 games of all time, so getting more of it was welcome.

I’d love to say more about the plot, but it’s so convoluted and inconsequential that it’s not worth talking about. Just know that Ezio’s charm keeps the player interested, if only to see how he grows as an assassin and as a person.

Thankfully, Ubisoft realized that they couldn’t just give players the same game yet again, and the next entry in the series takes Ezio to the Middle East to close out his three-game story arc.


In the next part of this retrospective, I’ll cover Ezio’s last chapter and the series’ expedition to North America.  

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