I think the problem with “Sasso Creedo” at this point – one of several, I mean – is that it’s getting a little bit too keen to show off its research. It’s the same problem Michael Crichton books have. You can tell he researches the bollocks off the science part of his science fiction but he always feels the need to show his work. There’s always that one bit where Character A says “Someone just mentioned string theory. What is string theory?” And then Character B says “I’m glad you asked me that!”, pulls a fucking projector screen down, and the lecture goes on for six pages. He had diagrams in some of them.
As far as I remember the most historically significant thing Altair did in Assassin’s Creed was bump fists with Richard the Lionheart at one point. By comparison, Connor seems to have been an active participant in every slightly well-known event in the war of independence. He joins in the Boston Tea Party, rides along with Paul Revere, happens to be in the room when the Declaration of Independence was signed (I guess in case anyone wanted him to run down to the shops for some nibbles), and this is what draws the Magic School Bus comparison in my mind.
But then I asked myself, “Wait, didn’t Assassin’s Creed 2 have a similar approach, with Ezio rubbing shoulders with Leonardo da Vinci, the Medicis, the Borgias and the rest of the Renaissance crew?” And maybe I didn’t complain then because the individual events of the Italian Renaissance aren’t so well known as those of colonial America now that American culture dominates the world? Perhaps. But I think mainly I didn’t complain because Assassin’s Creed 2 had a much more interesting setting with a lot more interesting history behind it.
I feel as an international company, Ubisoft should have realized that no-one besides Americans cares about American history (pre-WW1, maybe), because it’s boring. Alright, perhaps that’s unfair. People were killed and I’m sure it was all jolly exciting for the people directly involved in it, but was it really the most interesting thing going on at this point in time? I remember saying in this very column that the French Revolution was the next obvious pivot point in world history. Because that was where it was at, man. The peasants vs. the aristos. Heads getting chopped off. The tearing down of conventions that have existed for centuries. Lots of lovely classical architecture to jump around on.
The problem with the American War for Independence is that it’s one of those things that is only interesting or significant in retrospect. There was indeed a scrap or two, but at the time it was mainly politics, complaining about taxes and big pieces of paper being signed, all going on in some relatively recently-built colonies with very few massive elaborate cathedrals. They ended when one side went “Sod it, there’s way too much going on back home for us to care about this anymore. Do what you fucking like. Peace out.” And meanwhile, in France, Robespierre’s organising his severed heads into neat piles and the Bastille is on fire and why aren’t we fucking looking at that? That place where the heads are coming off?
You know what, I’ll throw American history a bone here. The Civil War would have made for a much more interesting setting than the War of Independence. Enough time has passed that some cooler buildings have been built, war’s getting industrialized as technology marches on, and there’s a much clearer asshole / less of an asshole dividing line. You know, since one side is fighting for the right to keep human beings as slaves and might as well all be wearing Darth Vader helmets. Don’t you think that’s a much more natural background for the ongoing peace through control / peace through freedom dispute that the Assassins and the Templars are all about? By contrast, Connor brutally stabbing hundreds of people to death for being on the wrong side of the slightly blurry British colonists versus British crown taxation dispute just makes him look like the biggest monster around.
Actually, let’s shift subject slightly to the bigger Assassin’s Creed plot, the millennia-spanning invisible war between two secret societies, the Assassins and the Templars. I think the ideological difference between them deserves closer examination. I think there’s a good reason why this conflict has been drawn out for pretty much all of recorded history with neither side gaining a permanent upper hand. I think it’s because they’re both fucking stupid.
The Templars believe in keeping everyone oppressed under the heel of tyranny and the Assassins believe in setting everyone free to do whatever they like. Or at least, that’s how the Assassin’s marketing department swings it. The Templar’s marketing department, meanwhile, prefer to word it thus: the Templars believe in peace and security throughout the world, while the Assassins are all terrorists who just want to tear down the system and leave everything in chaos and horror. The thing is, though, neither marketing department is exaggerating. Both sides are wilfully blind to the inherent flaws of their preferred system. The Assassins are supposed to be the good guys so occasionally they get introspective and brood over the righteousness of their cause, but then they run out and stab a whole bunch of people to death in pursuit of this cause they’re not entirely sure about.
There’s even a bit of dialogue in AC3 where Connor mentions being asked what the Assassins Order are going to do after they “win”, and not being entirely sure how to answer. You don’t know? This order has existed for thousands of fucking years and you don’t know? No-one’s ever sat down and worked this out? Somewhere in some secret Assassin temple behind a labyrinth of sophisticated traps there’s a manifesto engraved in stone reading “SEARCH ME, JUST WING IT”? Well, let me fill in this little blank for you, Connor. What will happen is that you will set everyone free and yell “Do whatever you like!” and then five seconds later someone will commit a crime. And then you will have to do something to punish the guy who committed a crime, and eventually will have to create some kind of organized force to dole out punishment to people who committed crimes and then – oh no! This isn’t glorious anarchy, is it, this is back to being boring old order again. Maybe there was room to negotiate with the Templars after all.
History has shown that tyranny doesn’t work out in the long run. But it has also shown that what equally doesn’t work are political systems based around the assumption that human beings won’t act like selfish dickheads. The ideal situation is for neither the Assassins nor the Templars to be in control, but constantly struggling and yanking each other back the moment any footing is gained. I think I’ve figured out where this series has to go from here. There’s a third secret society that has also existed for millennia whose job is to keep things in the middle. They help out the Assassins when the Templars are in control and help out the Templars when the Assassins are in control (generally the period immediately after an Assassin’s Creed game). We could call them Team Sensible. Sensible Creed. Hit me up, Ubisoft, I’ll write you a treatment.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.