Assassin’s Creed was one of the first games I became really hyped about. When the first trailer of a hooded assassin dealing justice before a medieval mob was released I was bitten by the hype hound and felt giddy as a child on Christmas Eve. Five years, five games, and four protagonists (including Desmond) later, the story that began in 2007 has finally come to a close. As a dedicated fan, who bought the special edition of each game, and who, just a few hours ago, beat the first Assassin’s Creed for the first time in several years, I decided to take a look back at what was one of the most original, high profile and successful games of this generation.
Assassin’s Creed (2007)
As one of the first new series to hit current gen consoles, Assassin’s Creed gathered significant attention with its excellent trailers and promise of letting players explore time periods not seen in games before. This attention was soon cranked up to a level of hype that no game could realistically live up to and therefore, upon release the game received good but not great reviews. Poor combat and repetitive game play stopped the game from achieving its full potential.
However, despite its short comings Assassin’s Creed still broke new ground by paving the way with an ambitious story, beautiful graphics and intuitive free running elements. It’s fair to say that in gaming, the story often gets sidelined in favour of good game play which is perhaps an acceptable sacrifice if the game play is good, but too often in gaming, the story is almost non existent. With its fantastic visuals and innovative game play the Assassin’s Creed franchise could have got away with skimping on the story but Ubisoft put it first and in doing so showed a care for their franchise not often seen in gaming these days. The story revolves around a man in the present day called Desmond who belonged to an order of assassins who have long been at war with the Templars, who in turn, seek to control earth’s population by using an ancient artefact called the Apple of Eden which is capable of controlling people’s minds. Using a futuristic machine called the Animus, Desmond is able to re-live his assassin ancestor’s lives, in order to halt the Templar plans and avert the 2012 apocalypse. To spare any spoilers, I won’t detail Desmond’s story any further!
A story though, is nothing without a setting, and by God did Ubisoft nail the setting. It’s 1191AD, the Third Crusade is in full swing, you’re an Assassin caught in the middle of it, with all of the Holy Land at your disposal. As if one city isn’t enough, Ubisoft gave us not only Jerusalem but also Damascus and Acre to play around in, as well as a small Assassin fortress and the wilderness in between to explore. What really brought these environments to life was Ubisoft’s attention to detail. Jerusalem, Damascus and Acre all feel like living, breathing cities, each with their own personality. At the time of the game, both Jerusalem and Damascus are under the control of the Saracen forces, and have a distinct Eastern feel about them, from the language the pedestrians speak, to their architecture. Acre on the other hand has been recently taken by Christian forces and as a result, the city is war torn with fallen corpses rotting at its gates and destroyed buildings to be found inside. Rather than speaking in Arabic, the guards will talk in either English, French or German and the Christian cross can be seen atop many buildings. The developers should be praised for taking such care over the environments and indeed for taking the risk of setting a game during such a rough period of history between East and West. No doubt they knew the game would be under much scrutiny due to the current troubles between the West and the Middle East.
As I said earlier however, Assassin’s Creed did have its short comings. Each time you are given a target to assassinate you have to complete the same set of goals every time. Beat up target A, eavesdrop on target B and pickpocket target C, rinse and repeat. Safe to say that this grows somewhat monotonous after a while and leaves a lot of gamers feeling restricted, which somewhat undermines the sandbox aspect of the game.
The combat is also lacking in depth. Repeating the same counter move over and over will kill just about every enemy in one hit, so it’s easier just to dispatch enemies who discover you, rather than have a thrilling chase through the city. So all in all Assassin’s Creed was an enjoyable, but flawed game that was ultimately it’s own worst enemy, hyping itself too much. If Assassin’s Creed 2 didn’t deliver there was a chance this franchise would get axed…
Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009)
If Assassin’s Creed was the gaming equivalent of The Godfather (which it wasn’t), then Assassin’s Creed 2 was The Godfather 2 of the franchise. Not only did it transport us into a brand new period of history with a new protagonist, it improved on every flaw in Assassin’s Creed and then some. Not only is Assassin’s Creed 2 the best Assassin’s Creed game, it’s also one of the best sandbox games ever and in my opinion one of the best games of this gen.
No one was expecting Assassin’s Creed 2 to be such a huge improvement on the first game. Sure we expected fewer repetitive missions and maybe a little tweaking on the combat front, but this infinitely better product pleasantly surprised us all. Not only was the game-play improved, but critics responded well to the Italian Renaissance setting and the new protagonist, ladies man, Ezio Auditore.
Assassin’s Creed 2 saw Desmond use a new and improved Animus to re-live the memories of another ancestor. The game starts literally from Ezio’s birth and gives us a great story telling us how he went from a young, carefree, arrogant youth to a wise, formidable assassin. The first hour or so of the game focused around the rich and noble Auditore family, concentrating on our hero Ezio, as he spends his days racing his brother up tall buildings, getting into fist fights with the sons of rival families and using his climbing abilities to sneak into his girlfriend’s room without her father catching him. On paper this might all seem a bit dull, after all, we’re playing Assassin’s Creed in order to assassinate people in a badass manner. However this slower pace really pays off and you find yourself not only more immersed in the game’s story but also genuinely caring, not only about Ezio, but also his friends and family who, thanks to the slower pace, are fully fleshed out. This isn’t to say the first hour is dull by any means, in fact, after being plunged into a vast open world it’s actually nice to be able to explore and have fun without the weight of the world on your shoulders.
The story goes up a notch after tragedy befalls the Auditore family and Ezio is forced to don the Assassin’s robe and take on the Templars, not only in order to avenge his family, but to save the world from the Templar’s ever increasing power. To help him along the way Ezio is guided by his assassin uncle Mario and his genius friend, the one and only Leonardo Da Vinci. That’s right, you have Da Vinci on your side making weapons and gadgets for Ezio’s use. You even get to try out the famous flying machine!
The story and gameplay aren’t the only things going for Assassin’s Creed 2. The settings are also staggering. You have three massive cities to explore, Venice, Florence, Forli and a small mansion located in the town of Monteriggioni in Tuscany which serves as your base. The mansion starts off as little more than a ruin, but using the new economy system implemented, you can restore it to its former glory. Each location is painstakingly recreated to look authentic, and notable landmarks such as St Mark’s Square are all fully explorable. A year or so after the games release I travelled to Venice and can safely say that the game really does capture the feel and atmosphere of that unique city. The other cities are all equally well developed and the landscape of the beautiful Tuscany country side is quite simply gorgeous. Assassin’s Creed 2 was such a hit, Ubisoft opted to extend Ezio’s story for another two games…
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010)
Following the critical acclaim of Assassin’s Creed 2, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. The story picked up where AC2 left off and told the story of Ezio’s struggle to free the city of Rome from the grip of the real life – and it could be said – the original mafia, the Borgia family, who have secretly sided with the Templars. Brotherhood also implemented several new features such as the ability to recruit and train new assassins who could be called upon to aid you in battle and, for the first time, multiplayer.
At the start of Brotherhood, Ezio’s mansion in Monteriggioni is besieged by an army lead by Cesare Borgia. After seeing his home destroyed and losing a close ally, Ezio travels to Rome to seek revenge, but discovers that the Templars and the Borgias have the city of Rome in an iron grip. This sets the stage for players to destabilise the Borgia’s influence and restore Rome to it’s former glory.
Although Rome is the only city you can explore, it is far bigger than any previously seen in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and is once again painstakingly recreated to give a grand sense of authenticity. Landmarks such as the Coliseum and the Aquaducts are all present for exploration, and fast travelling around the city is achieved by exploring the underground tunnels. Combat is also improved and now Ezio is capable of wielding weapons whilst on horse back. Horse riding in general is improved and you can now ride through the city.
Another new feature is the ability to recruit and train assassins to help you on your quest. After saving a citizen from being harassed by a Templar, you can recruit him to your cause and train him by sending him off to various places around the globe in order to complete a mission for the Assassin’s guild and spread their influence. By successfully completing the mission the recruit would gain XP until he eventually becomes a powerful Master Assassin. Assassins can then be used to aid Ezio in a variety of ways. A discreet whistle or flick of the wrist from Ezio and a flurry of arrows will quickly dispatch a group of guards. If Ezio finds himself outnumbered in a fight he can call upon his allies to come to his aid. Assassins can also be used to create distractions and give Ezio a chance to reach his target unhindered.
As I mentioned earlier, multiplayer made its first appearance in Brotherhood. It would be fair to say that fans and critics alike were somewhat apprehensive at the idea of multiplayer. After all, there’s quite a difference between a shooter like Call of Duty and a slower, more strategic game like Assassin’s Creed. Much to everyone’s surprise Ubisoft delivered a multiplayer experience that not only stood up on its own but also created a multiplayer unlike any other around. The player would have to assassinate another player whilst they themselves were being hunted by someone else. The trick is to try and blend in with the crowd whilst you hunt your target, running around will only make it easier for your opponent to spot you. If the player isn’t stealthy enough then the target will flee and an epic chase will ensue with one player trying escape whilst the other tries to get close enough for a kill. There are a few different game modes based around this concept, and safe to say, there were some incredibly tense moments as you approached your target, as well as some adrenaline inducing chases as you pursued your opponent. All in all Brotherhood received universal acclaim and Assassin’s Creed became one of the stand out franchises of the current gen. It’s no surprise then that Ubisoft elected to release one more game to wrap up Ezio’s story, before we moved to another time period…