The Assassin’s Creed series is six games in with a seventh (Rogue) and eighth (Unity) coming out this year. Though they have their problems, I’ve always been fond of the Assassin’s Creed games. The overarching stories of each one are a bit basic and the frame narrative could be done away with entirely, but the characters and their personal narratives have always resonated with me, and I’ve always found ideological disputes, in narratives, to be engaging. The series revolves around a hidden conflict between the Assassins and the Templars, two rival, global powers operating behind the scenes of everyday reality. As with most ideological differences in literature, both parties have the same goal but they clash on the appropriate method for achieving that goal. Both the Assassins and the Templars want to bring peace to the world. The Assassins want to achieve this by giving everyone freedom and the Templars want to create a world order to force peace. The two factions do whatever is necessary to encourage or enforce these ideas. The Templars want order and the Assassins want freedom. And nowhere is this freedom encapsulated better than in the mechanics of the first Assassin’s Creed game.
For Every Action…
The focus of the game is hunting down and assassinating nine targets, but the bulk of the action is in the way Altair traverses the world. The game takes place in four cities and the kingdom, which connects the cities, and each area is expansive. The kingdom is vast and mostly open, with a few settlements and encampments dotting the countryside and the cities are full and lively, with tall buildings and labyrinthine road systems. To navigate these landscapes, the assassins rely on their free-running and climbing skills to sprint down the roads and climb buildings. However, the careful assassin must keep the guards in mind because one wrong step will attract their attention.
The game’s mechanics give the player the freedom to navigate the world however they see fit, but they also add a risk to that freedom. If any guard sees you running, jumping, and climbing, they will attack you and try to kill you, because you are standing out from the crowd. The Templars have such a tight hold over the unknowing public and those who rule them, that they can spot an assassin merely by looking for anyone who operates outside of what has been deemed socially acceptable. There is no written law against sprinting through the streets but none of the normal people do, so outliers stand out. This is especially true in the outer kingdom, where the guards are ever vigilant.
In the cities, the assassins can get away with much more than they can outside. Every time the player approaches a group of guards they have to make a choice. Run through (likely on a horse) and attract attention or blend in. One of the commands at the player’s disposal is the blend button. This command would be removed from later games but blending really helped highlight the control of the Templars. When the player holds down the blend button, Altair, bows his head and walks
…There is Reaction
In addition to the guards, the common people will react to Altair’s actions, as well. They run when they witness an assassination or a fight. Some will offer thanks if you rescue them and offer assistance in the form of scholars, to hide among, and vigilantes, to block pursuing guards. They also watch with mixed feelings as they watch the assassin freely travel the world. When I play Assassin’s Creed, I often ponder over the many things the people say, as I run, jump, and climb, and how that characterizes the world around Altair.
Many of the citizens who populate the kingdom are naïve and curious while others are cynical and resigned. As Altair scales up a building, the onlookers from the ground have many varied reactions. Some say things like “why is he doing that?” or “what’s in his head?” because the order to their lives makes the Assassin’s actions mysterious and alien. They cannot imagine the life of freedom Altair possesses, to the point where they think something is wrong with him. Other responses like “he’s going to get himself killed” and “he should stop acting like a child” indicate people who have given up on any sense of hope and resigned themselves to the life of order set for them. They see Altair running across the rooftops and only see an idiot whose freedom will cause their downfall, because the world has taught them that Altair’s freedom does not truly exist.
The Assassins show the innocent people the freedom they can have, in their movements and actions. Mechanically, the first Assassin’s Creed game is my favorite. Ezio Auditore is a better protagonist than Altair and the writing gets better in subsequent installments, but the first game connects the player to the innocents they fight to protect in a way that none of the other games do- with the press and hold of a button.