Thursday, October 22, 2015

An Assassin’s Creed Retrospective, Part II: The United States of Assassination

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, releasing tomorrow, October 23, 2015, is the latest in Ubisoft’s series about men in white robes committing atrocities in the name of the greater good (kind of like Christianity or Col. Sanders).

Syndicate promises to be the biggest and the best, or at least the buggiest, Assassin’s Creed yet. However, it owes much of its splendor to its long line of predecessors.

Last time, we met and promptly hated Altiar, the grandfather of the Assassin’s Creed cash cow; fell in love with Renaissance Italy; and enjoyed another fun-but familiar outing with prettyboy civilian turned prettyboy assassin Ezio Auditore.

And now, after a quick stop in the Middle East – or is it Europe? – we’re off to the land of baseball, apple pie, and petty lawsuits.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Release Date: 11/2011. Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC

Ezio’s finale takes him to Istanbul, known at the time as Constantinople. (Even old New York was once New Amsterdam, I suppose. Why they changed it, I can’t say.) After Brotherhood’s copy ‘n’ paste presentation, this change of locale is not only welcome, but wise: Another romp through Italy would almost certainly have had players crying foul.

The series’ already impressive visuals get a noticeable upgrade here. Constantinople looks wonderfully realistic, though eerily reminiscent of the first Assassin’s Creed, and Ezio’s character model is more detailed as well. As the storyline focuses on his final years, he’s been suitably aged, complete with badass grey beard.

Almost everything has been improved over previous titles, but sadly, Revelations suffers from series fatigue. We’ve been here and done all of this before, and by now, Ezio’s welcome as the protagonist is nearly worn out. About the only thing new is a claw that helps Ezio climb. There’s also a lot of emphasis on the overcomplicated bomb building mechanic, but there’s little reason to tinker with it. Bombs are best left ignored, or better yet, just sell the collected components for a tidy profit.

Revelations isn’t a bad game, but it’s a far cry from the excellence of Ezio’s game of origin, Assassin’s Creed II. If this hadn’t been called Assassin’s Creed, it would have gotten lukewarm reviews, been reduced to $20 within six months of release, and faded into obscurity.

Assassin’s Creed III. Release Date: 10/2012. Available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii U

Welcome to Revolutionary War America, where legendary heroes battle for independence from the tyrannical Englishmen while simultaneously owning slaves and pushing Native Americans off their sacred lands.

Although we see a lot George Washington, Samuel Adams, and even Ben Franklin, the plight of the Native Americans is a major focus of Assassin’s Creed III. But instead of taking on the role of assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton (which translated, means “Man with Unpronounceable Name”), we are first treated to six unbearably linear hours with his asshole father, Haytham Kenway. Though it wasn’t nearly as mentally scarring as the first Assassin’s Creed game, I was terminally bored until Ratonhnhaké:ton’s new adopted dad renamed him Connor and gave him a sweet pair of stabbies.

When the game finally opened up, I was treated to one of the most enjoyable settings ever to grace the Assassin’s Creed universe. Connor causes havoc in places I’ve actually set foot in like Boston, and even my home state, New York. Not only that, but the player gets to relive historic events like the Boston Tea Party and the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Having a basic knowledge of American history really brought this game to life for me.

The game looks awesome too. Snow shimmers, near-PS4 quality lighting effects make for awesome sunsets, and I could almost imagine myself sailing over the lively oceans.

Speaking of sailing, Assassin’s Creed III introduces seafaring missions that are fun, but entirely disjoined from the main action. Naval combat would become the focus of the next numbered game in the series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. But here in its infancy, it’s little more than an entertaining diversion.

Finally, ACIII wraps up the story of Desmond Miles, whom I’ve been avoiding up to this point because he’s a twit. You see, Desmond has been reliving all of these assassin adventures via a computer that can read his ancestor’s DNA. You know, because memories are in DNA, not your freaking brain. Anyway, Desmond and his forgettable team always have some silly reason to look back in the past, like trying to find some artifact no player cares about.

Desmond sections love to pop up just when the main storyline is getting interesting, grinding the fun to a halt so our favorite bartender-turned-assassin can climb some walls or read a work email. Apparently the world is ending because an ancient race of jerks something something, but seriously, it’s so mind-numbing and out-of-place I hardly cared. Five games after his introduction, Desmond is FINALLY given a pair of blades and sent into battle, but at that point, it was too little, too stupid. Then he touches a cosmic nightlight and evaporates.

Uh, spoiler alert.

But despite Desmond and six hours of initial blasé, Assassin’s Creed III is one of the most memorable entries in the series.

Assassin’s Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington. Release Date: Episode 1 - 2/2013; Episode 2 – 3/2013; Episode 3 – 4/2013. Available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii U

Played back-to-back as a single experience, The Tyranny of King Washington packs enough content – about 10 hours – to be considered its own game. It’s fun overall, but at nearly $30 total for all three parts, it’s difficult to recommend to all but the most dedicated of assassins.

The Tyranny of King Washington takes place in an alternate timeline where Connor Kenway, ACIII protagonist and snappy dresser, never took up the Assassin cause. But all is not well, for Connor’s mother has brought the wrath of the evil George Washington, now King of America, on their small Native American village.

From locales to combat, about 90 percent of this game is recycled from Assassin’s Creed III. But oddly for an Assassin’s title, the storyline is one of its greatest strengths. Seeing a world where the iconic George Washington has gone mad with power, albeit for an eye-rolling reason, is reason enough to finish this title.

But the real stars of the show are the new animal powers, which allow the player inhuman stealth, mobility, and strength at the cost of Connor’s life gauge. Though almost too supernatural for even an Assassin’s Creed title, they add a whole new dimension to the aging AC formula. You’ve still got repetitive side missions and disappointing collectables around every corner, but with a more focused narrative and less fat than a traditional Creed title, it’s less noticeable.

Also you turn into f**king bear. Sweet.


Tune in next time for a detour though New Orleans before taking to the high seas.

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