First, a warning: if you haven’t been paying attention, this post could spoil certain aspects of Assassin’s Creed for you. In any case, rest assured that the ‘twist’ discussed here occurs minutes into the game, so put the pitchfork down.
And so, here we go. As you probably know if you’ve been following the development at all, the 12th Century setting of Assassin’s Creed takes place within a futuristic setting, exploring the idea of genetic memory. Expect a plethora of sequels set in various time periods (World War 2, here we come!) throughout the next couple of console generations.
As one of the early standard-bearers for this generation, Assassin’s Creed had a lot of hype behind it. And really ever since that showing at X06, when we saw an early version of the game looking and playing like most finished games at the time, it’s looked like one of those truly ‘next-gen’ games from the start. But what I liked it for more than anything was that it was doing something different in its setting. When it seems like every game is either a space marine shooter with a main character named like a Steven Seagal character or a fantasy epic, a game based on a relatively unexplored period of history was a breath of fresh air.
More like a hot blast of arid, desert air…
Maybe it’s understandable given development costs nowadays, and that coupled with a notoriously conservative industry (creatively speaking) means that working outside the comfort zone is even more of a risk, but it was the Third Crusade setting that first attracted me to the game simply because it was something that I hadn’t experienced in a game. And the overarching sci-fi elements wouldn’t bother me if they were limited to some kind of level hub or as justification for a sequel, as if they needed one.
But no. Areas between missions are truncated as the memory gets ‘skipped’; the HUD is all cool blue futurism; digital interference appears during holes in the memories. And that’s just what I saw in the first few missions. It’s like they got cold feet and considering how secretive they were about this plot element – a few public slips aside – I find it inexplicable. Sci-fi fans aren’t going to know about it and those interested by the history behind it, like me, will find it obtrusive and unnecessary .
I hope now that embargoes are up and the secret is out we might get some serious interviews on why this decision was made. I just can’t fathom it. Why would you make a game about genetic memory and keep that fact secret? Surely it’s an interesting enough concept to feature prominently. Why would you spend years showing a Prince of Persia-meets-Hitman game when most people are going to walk in and get something completely different? There’s no indication on the box that it’s anything other than an historical adventure, and thanks to the aforementioned embargoes it’s not mentioned in any of the reviews. Someone who hasn’t been following the development certainly won’t know about it.
As I said, it’s not going to impress the history buffs (because they won’t want it), and it’s not going to impress the armchair scientists (because they won’t know about it). Sci-fi games are the ones pushing the big numbers so far this gen and Ubisoft seem to be trying to tap that demographic by the back door. Ultimately, will they please no-one by trying to please everyone? We’ll have to wait for next month’s NPDs, I suppose.