Assassin’s Creed: The Great Slow Burn

With the third Assassin’s Creed game having been all up in the news – with box art releases, plot releases, location releases, and more – I felt it might be fun to reminisce over my experiences of playing the second game in the series. The game is obviously outdated at this point, having already been followed by no less than two spinoff titles, but if the opening hours of Assassin’s Creed II are any indication for how the third will go, I don’t think I have much to be excited for.

When it comes to recent videogame protagonists, the most common design trope seems to be “stoic guy wearing a hood.” The Assassin’s Creed series has always been particularly guilty of this, as have many of its midseries contemporaries, such as Darksiders, Dante’s Inferno, and Prototype. It could even be argued that the wholly obscuring Hazmat suit worn by the main character of the Dead Space series is really just a hood that fits over the entire body, and that someone who doesn’t speak at all for an entire bloody game is either mute, or awfully stoic.

Enter Ezio, the Italian protagonist of Assassin’s Creed II. While certainly guilty of being a hood-wearer in the manner of his predecessor, Ezio could hardly be described as “stoic.” Unlike his forebearers, all of whom were apparently dead set on having the emotive output of a stone wall, he vividly runs the full gamut of human emotions, and thus comes that much closer to being what is normally meant by the word “character.”

Gamers were apparently at last ready to experience such a heady concept, as evidenced by the fact that Assassin’s Creed II has sold more than nine million copies. I wanted to see for myself if character design standards in the industry had so changed, so I gave the latest Assassin / Templar scuffle the old college try. I’d not played the first game in the series, but was at least passingly familiar with its concept and story. As I began Assassin’s Creed II, I quickly noticed that I was playing not as the character on the box, but as Desmond Miles, whose own story serves as the frame tale for the entire series.

“This isn’t quite what I bargained for,” I thought to myself, “but I’ll give the game some time to get started.”

Fifteen minutes later, I noted a peculiar lack of assassination for a game that claimed to be about assassins. I was amazed when I finally got to assume the role of Ezio… as a baby. And then a teenager. And then I was running errands as that teenager. At this point, the only thing serving to convince me that I was playing Assassin’s Creed II was the fact that the box said it was, in fact, Assassin’s Creed II, and even then I had to question whether or not the right game had actually been inside that box. I performed such death-defying stunts as helping the noble Florentine fetch the mail, and began to imagine what my daring escapade of going to the fruit market would sound like in the history books. Would anything galvanize the plot and spirit me away from whatever aristocratic version of American Gothic I was apparently trapped inside?

As luck would have it, yes. The sobering betrayal and execution of Ezio’s family soon took place, and I found myself ecstatic at the prospect. Pitiable though it may have been, I was grateful to have any narrative at all. Ezio’s wise, old family friends were kind enough to direct him to his father’s top-secret assassination contingency chest.

Of course, what should be in the chest but a set of hooded robes? It was at this point that my gravest fears were made manifest. Would Ezio, the charming, debonair gentleman of the last fifteen minutes, become his contemporaries? To be fair, seeing his family cut down before him probably made him more than a little hardhearted, so I can’t really fault him for becoming stoic at this point. At least Ezio, unlike his contemporaries, is not stoic by design. The “Assassin’s Robes,” as the game terms them, are another issue.

Now, I began to wonder if the so-called Assassin’s Creed II would be gracious enough to allow me to start doing things that might make my character better fit the description of “assassin,” or at the very least, push it away from “errand boy.” Imagine my surprise when the game deigned to grant me a weapon. Given how few people had actually died in a game about assassins, at this point I was expecting Ezio would dramatically turn the sword away, stating “The Assassin’s Creed… is not to kill at all!

So deprived of videogame bloodlust was I, that for the last half hour, I had been pushing people off of rooftops for want of actually killing something. I even tried to see if I could make Ezio assassinate himselfI was genuinely surprised when, at long last, a message reading “New Assassination Mission” blinked across the screen. The layers of irony still haven’t fully set in. I couldn’t believe I had actually received an assassination mission, and I was playing a game called Assassin’s Creed II.

Why did it take so damn long?

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