Assassin’s Creed #4

AC-4As an action narrative, Assassin’s Creed #4 delivers a number of welcome indications that the series is just about ready to start delivering on the promise of its first issue. As Massachusetts Bay Colony assassin Tom Stoddard’s story comes to an end, the burden of action shifts to his present-day relative Charlotte de la Cruz, who in the final panel comes to the realization that she is going to need to step out of the VR chair that has largely confined her for the past two issues and rely on her own strength.

From the beginning, Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery’s Assassin’s Creed has gestured toward a fictional universe in which neither side in the intergenerational war between Assassins and Templars had an unqualified claim to the moral high ground, embodied mostly in Tom Stoddard’s indifference to lives incidental to his mission, and the conflict between his ethical standards and those of his contemporary descendant (and, it is assumed, those of the reader). Assassin’s Creed #4 enriches that conflict by offering a Templar character the chance to act as an individual moral agent, and re-centering its focus on the motives of a modern-day Assassin who may or may not have betrayed the order.

In the context of the genre, it may be a bit unfair to complain in the way Assassin’s Creed (so far) portrays the motives of a character we have never met as absolutely determinable[1]—either Joseph, the possibly rogue Assassin, possess a particular piece of information, in which case he is a traitor to the Brotherhood, or he does not, which apparently indicates that he is instead deceiving the Templars for some unknown purpose—but whether the series establishes itself as a reasonable action narrative tie-in property or elevates itself into something more will depend largely on how it resolves this situation. Must Joseph be perfectly loyal or a perfect traitor, or will there be room for a richer explanation of his actions?

I can even hold out hope, if Del Col and McCreery are serious in their narrative critique of the strange moral absolutism that the two deeply compromised secret organizations of the Assassin’s Creed world try to inhabit, that de la Cruz’s Brotherhood handlers are entirely mistaken about Joseph, and that what he is up to will turn out to be far more interesting than the MacGuffin de la Cruz and her ancestor Stoddard have been chasing.

Would there be a risk in declaring largely moot the events of the first four issues of a planned ongoing series? Absolutely, but if it turns the story in a new direction, throwing open a door that the reader didn’t even know existed, then if would offer a change to share a bit of the sense of excitement, discovery, and unlimited possibility that de la Cruz must have felt when the Brotherhood opened her eyes to a larger world back in the first issue.

Either way, in a month, we should finally get a chance to see Charlotte de la Cruz kick some butt herself rather than through a musty colonial relative. That should be worth the price of admission all by itself.

ASSASSIN’S CREED #4
Written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery
Art by Neil Edwards
Colors by Ivan Nunes
29 pp. Titan Comics. $3.99

[1] Would it also be unfair to note that a character fires a single-shot, muzzle-loading flintlock pistol twice in impossibly quick succession? Or is the more reasonable complaint that the art is sloppy enough so as to make it unclear whether the pistol has one barrel or two? (A two-barrel pistol would be able to fire twice before reloading.) In either case, it’s a bit aggravating that the character continues to wave around a necessarily empty pistol as if it were a threatening weapon. There’s also an uncontrolled fire in a secret basement chamber that’s there and then sort of isn’t, until it’s needed for the plot, and then it’s forgotten again. Oh well.

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Grayout: Now You Begin to Understand Me

I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game as frustrating (in a great way) as Grayout, Neven Mrgan and James Moore’s followup to Blackbar (the two games are set in the same dystopia; Grayout is a prequel). I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game that frightened me as much, either.

Grayout’s protagonist and player-character is Alaine, a woman living under a totalitarian regime who has recently awoken in a hospital after an accident. That’s all I’ll say about the well-written and well-paced narrative, to delve too deeply into the plot would be a crime, but for anyone who’s already played Blackbar or has any experience at all with dystopic stories—you’re probably already clenching your teeth.

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Brothers and Sisters of the Creed: Unsung Assassins

After the Kenway family played their part, the gaming scene was flooded with the Assassin’s Creed franchise. There was a large DLC coming for Black Flag, a title for the PS Vita, and two new full games being made so that Ubisoft could make their money. This meant, however, that many of those products were easily overlooked and their characters forgotten, as the oversaturation led to glitch-filled games and weak, unexplored protagonists.

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation holds the distinction of being the only game in the series with a solo female protagonist to date, however, the limitation of the Vita and the nearly paint-by-numbers storyline took a lot away from the title. Aveline de Grandpré is a New Orleans native of French and African descent who uses various costumes to infiltrate the worlds of the social elite and slaves, while hiding her true identity as an assassin. The setup is brilliant, but it is underused. She struggles with her dual lives while having an odd relationship with her father—who may have been in love with her, depending on how one reads into it—and has to fight her own mentor, Agaté. It is an odd look at male figures in her life. Aveline accomplishes so much though, ridding New Orleans of all Templar activity, but the story goes by so fast and everything feels vastly abbreviated from the normal games, so the growth isn’t there. Players got a bit more character depth because there was almost no meta story to take away, but it was still a drop in the bucket compared to the others. If there is any character I want to be given another full game, it is her.

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Brothers and Sisters of the Creed: The Kenways

After three good installments that managed to feel like one solid story in the Assassin’s Creed lore, Ubisoft decided it was time once again for a change. As Desmond’s story was reaching its climax in the year 2012, this made for an opportune time to have the player journey to the new world in Assassin’s Creed III—which is literally done in the opening hours of the game as the player character transitions across the sea—and make some new drastic changes to the environment, mechanics, and characters as the developers explored the Colonial period.

I, like many players, was a bit confused after the opening scene with Desmond ended. I found myself playing someone who was certainly not the half Native American on the cover, but a white aristocrat from England with a mission in America. This was Haytham E. Kenway, whom I would quickly realize was the no-nonsense type and quite deadly, a killer with little remorse. For an assassin, he seemed to fit in fine, but was certainly not the type of man I was used to dealing with after my last adventure. We play Haytham as he puts together a group of compatriots and lays the foundation for some kind of organization in Boston, alongside setting up relationships for the overall story. This was a great introduction and foundation, one that took many players off-guard when it was revealed that we had gone through the motions of setting up the first Templar Order in the New World—which we would now endeavor to tear down.

Continue reading Brothers and Sisters of the Creed: The Kenways