From playing Atari at my cousin’s house to getting my first NES when I was 7 years old, I’ve kept every console and game (all in working order) that I've ever owned well into adulthood. My generation and younger values video games much differently than the past- it’s not simply Space Invaders or Mortal Kombat anymore. Amazing writing, design, and imagination combined with Panama Canal-sized teams of developers have created a viable medium to tell stories in a way which humans have never been able to experience. Emerging into fantastic environments, time periods, galaxies, and controlling the protagonist to discover your own story is a field-shifting concept. When simply compared to the ability of storytelling, the video game is a much greater achievement than the motion picture. Or at least it could be.
However, the generation gap of investors mixed with an industry driven by mind-melting profits has stunted the maturity of the video game. It has pigeonholed this genre of entertainment to relentless violence and created a formula of rinse and repeat. For those of you who only understand things put into terms of dollars and cents, allow me to drop a number. For films, the highest grossing box-office opening weekend of all time was Jurassic World bringing in $524M worldwide. Grand Theft Auto 5 made over $1B in less than 24 hours on its release day. That’s the highest revenue generated by any entertainment product in 24 hours, ever. As of August 2015 the game has sold over 54 million copies, earning $2B. Just to compare, all 6 of the current Star Wars movies have made a total of $4.4B, or an average $600M per film and 3 of them have been around since the '70s.
Us, the consumer, is to blame for what we get as the studios will continue pumping out what we buy the most of. However, a shift is on the horizon. Those of us who have been playing since Atari have grown up. We’ve literally killed hundreds of thousands of pixels across the decades and are looking for a break from the battlefield. I, along with the vast majority of my avid video game playing friends of a certain age, were not one of the 54 million people to purchase a copy of Grand Theft Auto 5. It’s not that we have any objection to it- it’s not a question of taste, ethics, or morality. I’m simply tired of it. I don’t want to see Die Hard every time I watch a movie, even though it’s a classic film. I don’t want to listen to Rage Against The Machine every time I put in my ear buds.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise was a shinning glimmer of hope, a sanctuary among the conventional. It was intelligent, historical, provocative, eerie, and intense. It required patience and offered consequences if you went on rampaging killing sprees. It required the user to solve complex puzzles and figure out alternative ways to complete objectives besides destroying everything in the room, it also had a distinct and purposeful story to tell. The game originally taught the Assassin’s to refrain from violence and killing unless in the most dire of circumstance or assassinating (hence the name) a high profile Templar target. Over the last few releases, the game has taken a drastic turn and should be renamed to Sociopath’s Creed.
Again, I don’t care about the morality of slicing someone’s throat in a video game, but what does bother me is that writing and story no longer justifies it. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is one carriage ride with a hooker away from becoming GTA set in steampunk London. The franchise originally took place during the crusades in the Holyland. It was filled with religion, cults, power, control, societal manipulation, and the clashing of multiple cultures. The game’s objective was to essentially kill corrupt factions within the Catholic Church and preserve freewill for humanity. Now I’m supposed to believe that some mob boss in 1800s London carries the same weight in the epic battle for humanity as the Pope?
Assassin’s Creed used to be different. It used to be edgy, it used to almost feel a bit taboo while playing it. You used to be fighting an uphill battle against a centuries old religious order that was hellbent on controlling humanity. You slowly uncovered and sabotaged their conspiracies while at the same time discovered bits of information that lead to revelations of where humankind came from. The artifacts you found had significance and unearthly powers, and you felt scared being near them or stress if they got stolen. It was like Indiana Jones had a love child with The DaVinci Code and sprinkled in some parkour in amazing historical settings. Now it’s just another open-world killing machine.
The game is “fun” but because I am older, I have to budget my time a bit differently. Sadly, I only buy one or maybe two new games a year. The 60 or 80 hours it takes to play Assassin’s Creed is usually spread out over weeks, or months. That’s a significant investment of time, especially when I’m not getting what I once had out of the experience.
I guess I feel let down, like the Templars won and the game turned out to be everything the Assassin’s fought against. Ubisoft sold out to the idea of GTA instead of continuing to write their own great game that could have pushed the genre into another category. They undoubtedly see the irony with their countless references to the Abstergo conglomerate throughout, but unless there’s significant developments or the game returns to it’s contemplative roots, it might be equally ironic when I start looking at titles like Wild next year over anything AC.