Instead of analyzing one game for my game analysis, I would like to analyze five: the Assassin’s Creed series. I believe that each of the games are important in the context of each other and I would like to examine how the games have grown in both content and game play since the release of the first Assassin’s Creed.
The first game in the Assassin’s Creed series was very linear and predictable. It’s biggest asset almost has nothing to do with the game play itself, as the driving force in the game is the actual backstory. It takes place in the Middle East during the crusades. Altair, the character who the gamer controls, bounces between Masyaf, Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus, dodging guards and crusaders as he makes his way around the map.
At first, the games seems to be a simple, the Assassin’s are good and the Templars are bad. Altair earns his weapons back after losing them due to a reckless decision that nearly killed another Assassin and as he completes more missions he learns more and more about the war between the Assassin’s and Templars. Also the more he learns the less things seem to add up. The game retells the history of the era a little bit differently than it has been recorded in our history books, an observation that the present time character Desmond makes.
The game conveys that although both the Assassins and the Templars kill and kill in the name of the same objective (freedom) they kill very differently. With each important assassination, there is a cut scene in which the victim explains their role in the greater context and then Altair says a prayer for the lost life. This is some conveyed through all the Assassin’s Creed games, that life is precious and Assassins resort to murder only as a last ditch effort in preserving the order of the world. Further the game encourages the player to think about the way they were taught history and to pick up on the slight nuances that are different in the real world and the virtual world. It isn’t just the cut scenes that help the game designers convey this, but also the player’s interactions with normal civilians and Altair’s quest throughout the game to prevent those in positions of power to abuse that power, whether it be guards or drug lords.
The next three games in the series, Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations are the games that made the series popular. These games are much more complex and longer than the first game but maintain the same strong story line. All three games tell the story of Ezio, a native of Florence in the late 15th century. Ezio’s father and two brothers are killed by corrupt officials who are Templars and thus sets off his quest for revenge. The storyline in this game is much deeper and more complex then the first and features more historical figures like Leonardo Di Vinci. The Templars do less killing in this game and more dictating, but the premise is similar to the last game. In their continual last ditch efforts to prevent the Templars from creating freedom by expunging freewill, the Assassins murder their way through the Templar ranks. Each death is meaningful though, and Ezio learns that killing is not an enjoyable act, even though he thirsts for revenge in the beginning of the game.
Despite the similarity between the Assassin’s Creed games and games like Grand Theft Auto, large wide open games where the player is free to do basically whatever they want and draw as much attention to themselves as they want, the games actually sit in different genre’s. Both are role playing games in the third person, but Grand Theft Auto is a game that promotes violence and criminal activity as a way of life. The characters pride themselves on their control of the criminal underworld and the tough guy mentality.
Although I often bragged to myself as being the most badass killer in the city while playing Assassin’s Creed and took on hordes of guards at once and prevailed, the game itself is inherently different. If you use your character to kill civilians, or animals, you desynchronize, the games version of death. While story lines in both GTA and AC take liberties with historical accounts, the Assassin’s Creed games have a deeper meaning. While the first game provokes the player to look deeper into history, the second, third and fourth provoke the player to look closer at high profile historical figures, like the pope. Assassin’s Creed 3 forces the player to come face-to-face with an almost dead culture (Native Americans) and humanizes them. AC3 also doesn’t shy away from the issue of race. In a time that was obviously very tumultuous racially (i.e. Native Americans being driven from their homes, pre civil war America and the revolutionary war) the game does not make some out to be heroes and the others to be villains all in all. Every character has apparent flaws and presents these flaws in a way that most mediums cannot. Connor, the main character who is half white and half native american, is not as straight cut as the last two Assassins were. Connor is a loose cannon in the beginning of the game. The player does not play as adult Connor for a few hours of game play and it takes even longer still for Connor’s character to reach the level of maturity attained by Altair and Ezio. Similarly, where training was easily acquired for the two original characters, Connor has to pester his mentor, the african american Achilles.
Although Achilles character grows on you, he is in many ways a grumpy old black man. The game does not avoid the issue of his race, as a young Connor has to go shopping for materials in Achilles stead because he is lighter skinned (and actually half white). Achilles grows as a character and grows nicely into the mentor role he is given, and stands up to Connor on more than one occasion. He never lets Connor forget that he is the reason he has become an Assasin.
The white characters in the game are portrayed in a variety of ways. The Templars are essentially seen as evil and, being british, spend most of the game either trying to buy native land or attempting to quell the revolution. Most of the revolutionaries are portrayed as smug, and although they align with Connor, it is clear Connor doesn’t trust them because he believes they will attempt to drive his people away as soon as they get rid of the British. And there are a few white people that are Connor trusts.
What is interesting about the Assassin’s Creed series is that that games themselves are the mediums the designers make a point with. Viewed in a vacuum, most of the individual events of the games mean nothing, but when viewed as a finished product, and even more so as a series, the games tell the story of oppressors and the oppressed and through the player’s interactions with both groups it is the game teaches us about our own past with a slightly altered version of it.