When Nothing is True, Encyclopedias are Permitted
I’m a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed (AC) franchise, which I believe to be the true spiritual successor to the Prince of Persia games, despite fully knowing these are not great games. They are competent, good games. It’s like watching GoldenEye: it’s a competent and pleasurable Bond movie but a little dispensable. After playing an AC game, I always have the impression that Ubisoft have located all the right components and pieces, but the assembly is still a bit off. I’m confident a great game is possible merely by using these already supplied pieces.
I also have the impression I’m one of the few that liked ACI better than the technically superior ACII. Assassin’s Creed II has some awesome new features, like the free-running challenges (hey, Ubi, make a free running game based with the same engine and I’ll buy your game no questions asked!), the new weapons and the indoor segments. On the other hand, the story was much tighter in the original game. Assassin’s Creed II is simply too full of those moments that suspends your disbelief (and I’m not referring to the ending here): the almost gratuitous appearance of Machiavelli, how Shaun simply â€˜forgets’ that Borgia eventually becomes Pope Alexander VI, the lack of reason behind both Templar’s conspiracies, the revelation that – OMG, SPOILER!- everyone that ever helped you in the game is also an Assassin, etc. Gone are also the subtleties of the original game: from the tale of Altair, a fanatic that apparently starts his quest to redeem himself for his own arrogance – although the clan he is redeeming himself to is built in similar I’m right and you are wrong so why should I listen to you? type of egotism – but that slowly makes him realize he is exactly like the enemy he is facing; the only difference being that the enemy is nowhere near as naÃ¯ve as he is. Also gone is the whole discussion about free-will and the inherent contradictions of assassinating people who exert their own free-will in an attempt to extinguish the difference of thought of others. Instead, everything is reduced to a trivial revenge plot in Assassin’s Creed II.
Still, I really like both games. There is one aspect in particular feature love that is greatly improved in Assassin’s Creed II: the database. In the end, I suppose that’s the reason I like the franchise so damn much: I just love history.
When I was in my first school, we didn’t have a proper History class until the 4th grade. Before that, there was a class called General Sciences that was a mixture of Geography, History, Physics and Chemistry, but never really got in-depth into any particular subject. I was thrilled! Back then, I thought the history class was a class about …well, stories! Just like the great castles stories I imagined while playing Lego, I thought that class was about the details of the Napoleon’s invasions or how the Romans lived their daily lives. It was a pretty disappointing moment when I finally realized that history class was more focused on the paradigm shifts of society than knowing the details of Robespierre’s death.
Too bad there wasn’t Wikipedia or Assassin’s Creed back then. I’m usually so involved in Renaissance Florence after a play session that the first thing I do afterwards is to match the fiction created by Ubisoft with the reality presented by Wikipedia. I remember playing ACII with a friend and commenting that was incredible how long it took for videogame to finally start offering their own descriptions of historical events. In the previous console generation, if I were told there would be a game that would try to represent with fidelity the Piazza della Signoria, I would simply dismiss it as mere simulation game, possibly built to be used in class and tourism sites.
Assassin’s Creed II was one of the few games that my father took pleasure in watching. This is a man so averse to the classical idea of gaming that the only time I remember him playing something not casual a la WiiSports or Tetris, was when Super Mario 64 came out. It was the second stage (the floating mountain). He snatched the controller of my hands while I was playing. Let me see what this whole fuss is about, he says. Mario then spins in circles for a good while, throw some punches randomly (isn’t it weird how Mario favored punches in that game?) and then proceeds to run to the edge of the stage, thus falling to his death. That was it. The only game he plays after that was WiiSports’ Golf. And now, there he was, watching Ezio disbands the Pazzi Conspiracy while scolding me for scrolling down the database entries too fast for him to read.
I wonder the dangers that would arise had Ubisoft added Wiki links to the Assassin’s Creed II database. I would probably still be playing that game then. Databases can be quite addictive. I wonder when we will finally see a database that is supported by an in-game browser allowing you to reach Wikipedia. This would be beneficial for both the site, which frequently does its best to make us feel guilty for never donating enough, and the developer, whose game will last longer without requiring any grinding effort of the player, nor special development costs. It beats mindlessly searching for Triforce pieces in my book.
I better not start giving ideas, though. Or else we are likely to see a The Wikipedia Game coming out for the Nintendo DS. Special appearances from Dr. Kawashima’s head itself included. The idea of Nintendo charging $15 for the ability to scream “quote missing!” at the right paragraph and then be awarded with points and the knowledge that your WikiAge is 52 is quite repulsive.