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Assassin’s Creed. Gaming’s Historical Epic?

September 23, 2012

 

Face it, there are a lot of movies out there that gain the title of ‘historical epic’. Usually they are epic in scope and fantastically well-made and engrossing, however the average run time for such a movie is between 2 1/2 to 3 hours long. Some movies such as Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator push this limit, especially when considering the extended cuts.

What about games? Can you think of any other game than Assassin’s Creed that deserves to be stamped with the historical epic title? What’s more, you get a lot more than three hour’s worth of gameplay.

All the installments to date involve a large span of time and dig deep into a history long forgotten. Okay, Assassin’s Creed plays with the facts and is not meant to reflect real history, but don’t worry, I won’t go into the merits and downfalls of UbiSoft’s loose translation of history.

My point is that Assassin’s Creed as a franchise deserves the mantle of gaming’s historical epic. It already spans history from the 11th century to the 16th century, following protagonists over timespans so rarely seen in gaming.

You follow the rise, fall and return of Altair, as he sets in motion a wave of ripples throughout history. He starts by bringing down the Templar plot to enslave the Holy Land with a mysterious artifact, known only as the Piece of Eden. Altair learns that the Piece of Eden can give great knowledge – but also great power – over humans, making them subservient to the wielder. Altair leaves his clues across time knowingly trying to guide an ancestor who is determined to follow his footsteps and save the world from the Templars, as well as from other forces. He leaves his trail all the way to his grave.

Marco Polo and his brother establish an Italian arm of assassins as the sect is destroyed in the Holy Land. Many years later, a vibrant young man, full of life, simply enjoying his time in sunny Firenze has his life torn apart because of a cause his father has kept secret from him. So starts the journey of Ezio Auditore de Firenze, a man who would learn that our view of the world is more false than anyone could possibly imagine. He would grow to be a powerful assassin, at first using his talents to avenge his father, but later to groom and nurture the assassins in the city of Rome and Constantinople.

Playing as Ezio, we learn from the moment of his birth to some 51 years later, when Ezio, as a old, tired warrior, opens the door to Altair’s Vault to see the once great figure of Altair sitting proudly, though now merely dust and shadow.

The history and scope of the series is fantastic. The timespan of over 300 years between the first two installments gives the story an amazing sense of depth and time having gone past. The places and people you meet, mere history by the second game, but they are calling out to you, influencing the events of characters 300 years in the future, and this is utterly outstanding from a writing point of view. However, it’s the feel of the games that give it such a mention of being more than just history. It feels like you are uncovering a grand conspiracy and a truth long forgotten, all the way through both Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2.

 

UbiSoft end the games with a bang that always leaves you with questions. You start trying to piece it together in your head, as if you could also reach out and realise that UbiSoft may actually be right. You want and need more clues and you backtrack as if reading a historical text, trying to find that one little snippet of information that would bring you clarity.

I have felt let down by Brotherhood and Revelations. The endings, although good and left me wanting more, just felt like they were waiting for the next installment to relieve the next jaw-dropping revelation.

Assassin’s Creed 2 remains one of my favourite adventure games to date, but I think we should call it a historical epic. It immerses you in the feel, the sounds and atmosphere of a history you could never experience, and you follow an entire life of two individuals!

Maybe the games have their share of problems and I’m by no means saying they are perfect, but I wish more games had the ambition to immerse you in a tale so long and do it leaving you wanting more.

I can’t wait for Assassin’s Creed 3, it looks bloody marvellous. I’m still not excited about the period of history we will be exploring. I would have preferred another European installment or one that had you jumping all over the world, but I am sure UbiSoft will do a fine job and make me eat my words.

Assassin’s Creed 3 is out October 31st. Everyone better have their tomahawks ready!

Image Link: About.com, GameSpy

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sam Roberts permalink*
    September 23, 2012 2:05 pm

    I’m with you, Ben. As a series, I’ve never felt quite so immersed in historical epochs as the Assassin’s Creed games. Countless times I’ve found myself looking up snippets of info, just to find out if it was truly something that existed or a little bit of poetic license on the part of Ubisoft. 80% of the time they wre spot on, so it just shows how much loving research has gone into making them not only historically accurate, but historically interesting!

    I’ll also point everyone to Assassin’s Creed Embers, a short CGI film from Ubisoft (or at least one of their satellites) that details the final years of Ezio. Well worth a watch if you can find it.

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