I don’t write much about playing videogames, but I really should because it’s an activity often criticized as the definition of frivolous. Current cultural hierarchy still dictates that playing a video game is a bigger waste of time than reading a book. Which is frankly, prejudicial and wrong.
Really, there are so many terrible, books out there that took less time, effort, and talent to create than many video games.
Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the “Assassin’s Creed” series, it is a gaming experience that satisfies the urge to live in another time, but as a much cooler person, and without all the unpleasant diseases and smells!
In this case, you’re an assassin in a secret society of assassins whose origins date back to the time of the Crusades. But you’re not REALLY that person; you’re someone who is allowed to re-live parts of that assassin’s life through the technology of a mysterious company called Abstergo.
Yeah. I don’t get it either.
In fact, the storylines are all makeshift, the acting is strictly “meh” to “meeeeeh”, and the characters suffer from the video game malady of dead, dead eyes. There is really no satisfying character development in any of the games.
Despite all this, they are hugely enjoyable! Throughout the series, you parkour your way through ancient Jerusalem, Renaissance Italy, colonial America, pirate towns, and revolutionary Paris. These venerable locations are transformed into gigantic jungle gyms, where you can climb, jump, and swing with reckless abandon.
As someone who loves both travel and has terrible real life coordination, it’s a crazy fun, vicarious living, experience. Ubisoft has done great work with their environments, and the settings are beautiful. They have paid special attention to accuracy around famous monuments, making it extra fun if you’ve been to any of these places in real life. While playing the game set in Rome, I was able to walk around and say “well, the Forum should be right about there…” because I gone to Rome a few months earlier. It was amazing, and felt like virtual time travel.
You can also indulge in your inner, bratty, eight year old, because your bad behavior is only minimally upsetting to the AI driven witnesses. Sure, once in awhile, a villager disapproves of your recklessness and a guard will protest more aggressively. But the AI settings of the characters are lower than the IQ of that paste eating kid you knew in kindergarten, so outwitting them only requires jumping into one of the many conveniently located haystacks and shallow wells that speckle the environment.
(Haystacks are the invisibility cloaks of the Assassin’s Creed universe; not effective if someone actually watches you when you start using it, but practically foolproof otherwise.)
While some might complain that the AI should be better that so everyone around you isn’t so stupid, I’ll argue that this is part of the appeal. Not only do you have superhero skills, but you are, by default, the smartest person in history! You and only you can skillfully navigate around a box or out of a corner, with 75-90% accuracy.
The stickiness of the controls means that for the remaining percentage, you will find yourself inadvertently running up a wall or jumping into the abyss. But this is a video game: fatality is just a temporary inconvenience for you and anyone else in the game that you might accidentally kill.
I’ve spent so many hours, over the last few years, playing these games, and I always look forward to the next one, despite all their noted shortcomings. I was really looking forward to the most recent one, “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” which takes place in Paris, one of my favorite cities in real life.
Unfortunately this iteration of the series was released with so many bugs, that it’s become its own “thing.” So it seems wise to hold off on buying it until those issues are addressed. However, I can’t wait to play it when they are, because the screenshots that aren’t all messed up, look gorgeous.
And who hasn’t dreamt of having their Quasimodo moment of scrambling up Notre Dame, and shouting “SANCTUARY!”
…just me? Ok.
*Something that is never said in the games, but seems like it should have been.