Believe it or not, a staggering 11 Assassin’s Creed titles have been released in the last eight years, on PlayStation consoles alone. With so many games in the series, it’s little wonder that some are better than others. I thought it would be fun to chronicle my experience with the series so far (for better or worse), as well as share my thoughts on the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s start at the beginning.
The original Assassin’s Creed released in November 2007, and its alternative take on history was mostly praised. However, this positive reception came with a couple of caveats. Firstly, the repetitive and, at times, even boring gameplay; and secondly, the elephant in the room of every AC title since – the seemingly pointless modern-day sections (‘Who the hell is this Desmond dude? I want to get back to stabbing people!’). Consequently, I really struggled to get into the game, and was also put off by Syrian-born Altaïr’s American accent; I know this was explained in-game, but it was still ridiculous, especially because other characters somehow had appropriate voices.
Therefore, like a lot of people, my first proper experience of an AC game was with Assassin’s Creed II, which released to critical acclaim almost exactly two years after the original. This was the title that really put the franchise on the gaming map, fixing a lot of its predecessor’s flaws (like getting the accents right!), and offering players the chance to explore a beautiful recreation of Renaissance Italy.
Much of the game’s success can be attributed to its likeable protagonist, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who had a much more amiable personality than the mostly stoic Altaïr. It should have come as no surprise, then, that Ezio would go on to star in the next two AC games, Brotherhood and Revelations, as the series adopted an annual release schedule. This continues to be a hotly debated decision, as it is difficult to genuinely innovate when an IP isn’t given sufficient time to breathe; fans didn’t want it to become stagnant, like certain other yearly franchises I could mention.
However, initially it appeared that Ubisoft’s annual strategy could work. Although it was essentially just more of the same, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood could possibly be my favourite game in the series. Seeing the city of Rome evolve over the course of the game was awesome, and it really felt like Ubisoft Montreal had finally got to grips with the PS3’s bespoke hardware.
Brotherhood also introduced the series’ inventive online multiplayer, which I mistakenly dismissed at first (I’m predominantly a single-player gamer), but ended up loving once I actually tried it for myself. The tension of stalking other players, knowing that they could also be stalking you, was utterly thrilling, and was a great twist on the franchise’s stealth gameplay. The formula proved popular, and became a staple feature for the next three main-entry AC games.
With Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, the cracks truly started to show, and people began to seriously question the future of the series. It was a decent enough game, but its attempts at innovation (RTS-lite missions and first-person sections for Desmond) were far from game changers. Personally, I still enjoyed it, but I was definitely looking forward to something completely new for the next AC game.
Unfortunately, that’s not what I got. Despite an extremely positive critical reception (I still have no idea how that happened), Assassin’s Creed III is by far my least favourite game in the series; and by ‘least favourite’, I actually mean ‘most hated’. It would take an entire article to talk about everything I disliked, but the salient points are the boring story (Connor’s lack of personality is the main crux) and an abundance of glitches (disappearing NPCs, missing lip-syncing etc.). Just thinking about this game makes me lose the will to live, so I’d better rapidly move on.
Although Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation on PS Vita was by no means the first handheld AC game (for example, PSP title AC: Bloodlines was released alongside ACII in 2009), it was the first to translate the full AC experience to the smaller screen. It was an admirable – if not essential – attempt, and was certainly a lot better than the main ACIII (did I mention I’m not a fan of that game?). Liberation is also notable as the first title in the series to feature a female main character, Aveline de Grandpré.
After my horrible time with ACIII, I was almost ready to completely give up on the series, but then Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was announced. If ACIII had a silver lining, it was the game’s sea-faring combat, so by basing ACIV around this concept, Ubisoft instantly had my attention. When I finally got my hands on the game (I held out for the PS4 version), I wasn’t disappointed.
After a short introductory sequence, you’re free to explore the Caribbean Sea at your leisure, while protagonist Edward Kenway learned a lot from the Ezio Auditore school of charisma. Plus, for the first time in Assassin’s Creed history, even the modern-day missions were pretty fun. In short, ACIV was everything ACIII wasn’t. I know not everyone enjoyed the game’s pirate theme and naval combat, but I couldn’t get enough of it. In fact, it’s a shame last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Rogue was released on PS3 instead of PS4, as I suspect I would have enjoyed it more than Unity.
Looking back, it’s pretty funny that one of mechanics in the original AC involved finding ‘glitches in the Animus’, given the bug-ridden state many future AC games would launch in. However, Assassin’s Creed: Unity took things to a whole new level, as it essentially wasn’t finished in time. Did that stop Ubisoft from releasing it? Hell, no; they have to keep up with the annual release schedule, after all.
With its sluggish frame rate, numerous graphical glitches, and problems with the new online co-op mode, Unity became the laughing stock of the internet. As a side note, it was also strange to hear Parisians speak with plummy English accents. Ironically, most of the cast was in fact from Canada, some of whom clearly struggled to mask their naturally French-sounding voices; it was like Heavy Rain all over again! Several patches and a free expansion later, Unity is undeniably a much better game these days, but the damage was already done. Although sales were seemingly unaffected, a big gesture will be needed before Ubisoft can even hope to restore faith in the series.
To that end, though it’s far from perfect, what I like about Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is that it’s genuinely trying something new for the series. Fair enough, changing from a 3D perspective to 2D isn’t the most original transformation ever, but it immediately makes the title feel different to the previous eight years’ worth of AC games. Although the gameplay isn’t as refined as fellow 2D stealth game, Mark of the Ninja, I’ve still enjoyed my time with it so far. Fingers crossed the next two Chronicles games (India and Russia) can build upon China’s promising foundation, rather than simply being the same game but set in different locations.
And that brings me to the recently announced Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Despite myself, I can’t help but feel cautiously excited about it. The Victorian era is a period of history I have always been interested in, so I can’t wait to explore Ubisoft’s take on 19th century London. Although I admit that the gameplay shown so far hasn’t exactly been revolutionary, the addition of driveable carriages could potentially be brilliant. The various improvements to the franchise’s combat also have me feeling optimistic, as it hasn’t previously changed much in the last eight years.
After the shambles of AC: Unity, Ubisoft needs Syndicate to be functioning perfectly at launch, to avoid irreparable damage to the brand. To that end, the publisher has already announced that the game will not include online multiplayer (for the first time since 2009’s ACII), allowing its developer, Ubisoft Quebec, to plough all its resources into creating the best single-player experience possible. I guess we’ll have to wait until October 23rd to find out whether this decision will pay off.