I still love this game series.
I’ve been plowing through this game over the last week and made a considerable amount of progress towards completion. I’m almost a little disappointed that I’ve done so much in so short of time because it’ll soon be over and I’ll have to wait a whole twelve months to play more.
On the other hand, nearly everything I’ve done has been awesome, so I can’t been that upset over it.
The game follows tightly in the mold of the previous installment, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. Our hero is Ezio Auditore, he’s traversing a largely contained city that is rife with things to do and is simply gorgeous to look at. I thought Rome was beautiful, but Constantinople is stunning. I almost feel more worldly playing this game series. The texture of a period city, filled with highly detailed people and interactions, excellent voice acting, and animations is simply beyond anything else being delivered in gaming today. It’s silly to hold something like L.A. Noire’s period Los Angeles, or Red Dead Redemption’s wild west up against the city of Constantinople circa 1500. I can’t believe nobody else is doing something like this. The results are extraordinary.
It’s beyond a backdrop as well. There are some nice set pieces set up in this game and last night I played possibly the most exciting chase sequence I’ve ever played in a video game. Period. It was so well orchestrated that I knew halfway through it that I would remember it for some time.
It takes place beneath the city in some cavernous underground rivers that ancient Assassins had set up scaffolding in. A group of Templars are escaping down the river and Ezio needs to give chase through these centuries old wooden pathways that are crumbling with his ever step. The chase is nearly 6 minutes long of constant running forward over treacherous terrain. But the game designers were clever. Since this chase occurs at the midpoint of the game, there are lot of visual cues the player has already become accustomed to and the chase uses them strategically to subtly guide the player down the right path.
The result is an event that is very tightly scripted and yet is not a cutscene. It’s a chase where the player must do a LOT of work to keep pace with the Templars but there are no quick-time-events. There are no signs at all of the game holding your hand through the event, actually, and yet I went through it on my first try looking like an action hero doing so. Brilliant. I want to do it again just thinking about it, but then the magic would be lost. It really is incredible and I hope other people realize how much work had to go into a scene like that. Ubisoft is doing some of the most well designed games right now.
So we’ve talked visuals, we’ve talked gameplay, of course, there is the story. (Some spoilers ahead!) This is Assassin’s Creed, after all, the story is paramount. And so far I’ve been very pleased. There has always been an effort to thematically link what’s going on in the Ancestor’s life with what the current day Assassins are trying to accomplish. But, honestly, the narrative end of Desmond’s life has always been a little… sparse to say the least. Not this time. Given the shocking ending of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, this game has placed a much greater focus on Desmond and what he’s going through in the future.
Apparently, the ending of the previous game splintered Desmond’s mind a bit and the Animus is struggling to keep it together. The illusive Subject 16 appears before him and tells him that he needs to wrap up his memories from his ancestors so that the Animus can sort them out and separate them from Desmond’s consciousness. He only has as long as his body is alive, however, and if he fails, he’ll be trapped as a ghost in the machine, like Subject 16 has become.
So Desmond’s goal is to reassert his identity, which plays out in some intriguing sequences where he reflects on his upbringing and the events that eventually led him to flee the Assassins prior to Abstergo kidnapping him and placing him in the Animus 1.0 back in the first game. His side of the story (compared to Ezio’s) is still very short, but at least it gives us much more meat to chew on compared to prior versions.
Oh, also, there is an Assassin in the future named William who we’ve never seen but is clearly being voiced by John de Lancie. So, I don’t imagine he’s going to be a minor character.
But back in Ezio’s life, we find him as an old man, and is being constantly assaulted by reminders that he’s past his prime. It mirrors Desmond’s journey because Ezio is also reflecting on his life, and the life of Altair, and seeing the triumphs and tragedies from a new perspective. He marvels at the Assassin’s guild in Constantinople, filled with young men and women ready to change the world. He also looks back on Altair’s life and how the guild fell apart beneath him.
He also looks at Altair’s family and pursuant pride and heartbreak. He wonders how he missed all that. Which brings to the fore a question that has been looming since the start of Brotherhood. We know how the genetic memory works in this game series, which means the only way that Desmond can have the memories of Ezio that he has is because he has not yet sired the child that will carry on his bloodline to the present. And thus, the game gives us Sophia, who I’m pretty certain will be the mother of the child that leads to Desmond.
Anyway, I don’t want this to turn into a review, so I just end now by saying this game has really impressed me so far, and I really question the people who are saying the AC formula is getting tired. An excellent story paired with brilliant level design just speaks volumes of a studio that knows what it’s doing and how to do it right. We couldn’t ask for more from this excellent series.