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Saturday, 14 November 2015

Editorial: Five More Great Assassin's Creed Settings

Editorial: Five More Great
Assassin's Creed Settings.
(Getting Progressively Stranger)

I actually thought I'd be reviewing Telltale Games' Game of Thrones today, but that isn't out until next week. My sorrow is real.

But, we have just had a new Assassin's Creed game come out, which means it's time for me to spend a little bit of time pondering some settings that Ubisoft would do well to consider using at some point in the future - although only one of the settings on this list is ever likely to show up.

Sengoku Era Japan.

Actual painting from the Sengoku era.

This is the most cliche suggestion on the list, and I am very sorry for that.

At this point, feudal Japan has been suggested by everybody so often that it's a wonder that Ubisoft hasn't used it yet - and out of all the ones I listed, it's the one most likely to show up in the next few games, because lately it seems like Assassin's Creed is where originality goes to die.

That having been said, it would be an interesting time period to use: It's a time of political upheaval with a lot of surprisingly nuanced historical figures often warped by sensationalist history (Nobunaga, usually portrayed as a harsh and austere warlord, was startlingly liberal and ahead of his time, did things like free slaves and give them noble positions, and promoted religious freedom; Hideyoshi, usually portrayed as a wacky fun guy, was an arch-conservative who crucified people and sold slaves back into slavery), in a rich culture.

So, yes, it's a cliche. Ubisoft will most definitely do either it or something very much like it. But actually, that's okay.

1920s Hong Kong.

Hong Kong in the 20s has everything that people love about the Roaring Twenties, but in a much more interesting environment. 

Politically turbulent with a rapidly booming population and war looming on the horizon, Hong Kong in the 20s is an interesting fusion of cultures, with the values, ideals and culture of the primarily Chinese population clashing with the culture of the quite tyrannical British government that controlled the city.

Yes, its historical figures are maybe not quite as recognisable as, say, Queen Victoria, who for some reason is a prominent character in Syndicate, but then neither were most of the characters in the first game. You coped then, Ubisoft, you can do it again.

Modern Day Dubai.

So here's one which could potentially get controversial.

Dubai is a glittering, shining city - not only absurdly beautiful, but also practically built for an enterprising assassin to run around in. It is a city of wealth and art, a cultural centre and an academic powerhouse.

It also has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Censorship of the media is rife; its use of foreign labourers is slavery in all but name; it is not only illegal to be LGBT but illegal to even advocate for LGBT rights; the government practices torture; apostasy is punishable by death; and the government has a tendency to have activists disappear, a tendency that has increased steadily since 2011.

(Sometimes its prince poses with lion cubs, though, and that's apparently important to people for reasons that are as yet unclear.)

So, sure, let's go the social commentary route. I mean, don't count on selling any games in Dubai ever again, Ubisoft, but you're a multinational company, I'm sure you'll cope.

The Ice Age. 

Guess who saw the Far Cry: Primal trailer! Me, but that's set in the Stone Age, so it's not relevant. Shame on you for bringing it up.

In all seriousness, though, Ubisoft could do with taking a leaf out of - well, their own book, and aping Far Cry a little. Like Assassin's Creed, Far Cry was in danger of becoming stale - a worn down formula that changed very little and brought nothing new to the table with each game. So Ubisoft changed up the formula, first by putting you in the very much populated region of Kyrat, and now by just straight up dumping you in the distant past, because the past is, as they say, a foreign country filled with sabertoothed cats and woolly mammoths.

That's not me saying that. That's 'they' saying that.

The Ice Age would give a game a distinct aesthetic and, with a little artistic freedom, could be rife for both the usual freerunning schtick (leaping from great column of ice to great column of ice, what do you mean 'ice would never freeze like that') and new gameplay elements (maybe you're protecting a nomadic group, and each time you fail their number drops, and you can see the effect that has on them; maybe a weather system can be implemented, with heavy blizzards slowing you down and forcing you to take shelter; maybe instead of having flashbacks, your protagonist is having flash-forwards, learning techniques and the production of technologies from the future which will swiftly make him or her either a minor deity or an outcast).

It's a breath of brisk, fresh air, and Assassin's Creed could really use that right now.


The distant future.

The past is a foreign country, but so is the future, and unlike the past, the future has robots, so it automatically wins always and forever.

If the Ice Age would be a breath of fresh air, then the future would be even fresher, and it would offer a lot more in the way of artistic freedom. Is the future a gritty cyberpunk dystopia ruled by the Templars? Is it a bright, shimmering seeming utopia with a dark side bubbling beneath it? Are we all in space now and your assassination antics are actually just your mind in a simulation as it and the rest of humanity float through space as data on a satellite?

Could be any of those things. Could be none of those things. Could be all of those things, because god knows this game loves flashbacks. But it would be new, and interesting, and it would sell like hotcakes even while the fans screamed that this was a total, repulsive betrayal of everything that drew them to the series - because it would be.

I mean, they'd get over it. Eventually. After a couple of decades and, one presumes, another hundred Assassin's Creed games.

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