I know, I know – we haven’t published an Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer review yet (catch my thoughts on the single player component here). Blame Ubisoft for roping half the really interesting unlocks to the topmost branch of the experience tree, and Sony for mailing over our copy of the (excellent) Gran Turismo 5 four days in advance of the embargo. Sigh.
Why not put some multiplayer hours in now then, Edwin, rather than testing the internet’s patience with yet another badly reasoned opinion piece? Well, hypothetical interlocutor, I’ll tell you: I’ve just had an epiphany, an epiphany that turns Brotherhood’s otherwise impressive Metacritic average on its head.
It’s an idea I brushed against, a tad poncily, in my review of Assassin’s Creed 2 a year ago, but the precise practical ramifications didn’t strike me till this week. Tom Bramwell sort of covers it in his Brotherhood write-up, too. (Thus making this piece a little surplus to requirements, yes, but you know what? Fuck Bramwell. He edits Eurogamer. He probably drives a solid-gold hovercar and lives in a villa walled and roofed with pole-dancers.)
What is it? It’s this: all Assassin’s Creed games are, by necessity, flawless.
Flawless, that is, in spite of their flaws. Flawless despite an epidemic of short-term memory loss among Renaissance guardsmen, unrecorded in the history books. Flawless despite the fact that the PS3 version of the original tore like a pillowcase full of mating hedgehogs. Flawless despite the nuclear-powered countering system, and number two’s unremarkable economic subgame.
You may be wondering whether I’ve taken leave of my senses. Bear with me. Assassin’s Creed does not – indeed, cannot – put a foot wrong because of a little thing called the Animus. It’s the wacky Matrix-esque cyber-gadget that facilitates Desmond’s trips around the time-line, ripping fragments of latent memory from his DNA and rendering them up into breath-taking holos of 12th century Constantinople and 15th century Florence, among other cities.
Without it, Desmond and his fellow assassins would be unable to fight the Templars or watch their ancestors have sex. More importantly, though, the Animus is perhaps the best-integrated, ballsiest get-out clause in the history of game narrative.
The bulk of Assassin’s Creeds 1, 2 and Brotherhood take place within a world generated by this wondrous machine. Of the handful of playable scenarios conducted in the present day, many are no more than glorified hub menus, and some are riddled with bleed-out from the Animus interface – prompting the suspicion that, at some point in what is likely to be a very long line of sequels, Desmond’s own life and times will be exposed as Animus constructs, re-enacted by some distant descendant.
And this means that all the niggles mentioned above – together with lacklustre quests, frame rate dips and those wildly over-the-top Italian accents – are in fact facets of the Animus experience. See where I’m going with this? When Assassin’s Creed screws up, it’s because the Animus screwed up. The game itself is just a depiction of an imperfect depiction.
And how can Ubisoft take responsibility for the shortcomings of the thing depicted? It’s a fictional device, crafted by fictional beings. If we were going to rail at anybody, it’d be the Templars who threw the concept together, and we can’t rail at the Templars because they don’t actually exist. Whoops. “Not my department, monsieur,” as Associate Producer Jean-Francois Boivin might have put it. “You should apply for a firmware upgrade.”
Man, do I feel thick. There I was thinking that the whole “back to the future” gambit was some cynical marketing call, a sop to those who might find a pure period action-adventure too “rich” to swallow. Turns out it’s a carefully calculated exercise in covering one’s arse. Bravo!