Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Assassin's Creed IV: Shameless Speculation Edition

Robert Rath | 14 Feb 2013 12:00
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Part of my vision for Critical Intel is to print accurate information from reputable sources. I fact check my research and don't run with a story until I've read a thick stack of articles or books. But you know what? Even though we don't know anything about it, I'm going to spin wild, unsupported theories about the next Assassin's Creed setting. Why? Two reasons: history is my favorite topic, and - let's face it - it'll be fun. So take this as a warning: we're about to venture into the badlands of baseless speculation, wild theories, and gut instinct. There's no guarantee any of the following will come to pass, but man, it'd be great if it did.

To try and predict what the next AC will be like, we have to deconstruct what elements attracted Ubisoft to the historical settings they've already used. First of all, let's talk visuals - Ubi likes to choose periods that are visually distinctive and recognizable to buyers and players. The Holy Land, the Italian Renaissance, New England and New Orleans during the Revolutionary War, all of these periods have a sense of place because they're well-established in our cultural psyche. Next, that period has to have a cast of historical and pseudo-historical figures to fill out its Animus database. This means that AC games generally take place in settings that have extensive written records that deal with individuals great and small. Last, we must remember that Assassin's Creed games always take place during periods of where society's power relationships are undergoing change, leading to upheaval and bloodshed - after all, there's a reason we've never seen Assassins running around 18th century Switzerland. Partially this is necessary to contextualize the violence and make it believable. This is why Ubi sets most AC games at a time, like Renaissance Italy or the Crusades, when political assassination and targeted killing of leaders was commonplace. (AC3 is an exception, and the story's believability suffered accordingly.) But most important is that the period's historical themes play into the war between the Assassins and the Templars, emphasizing themes of populist control versus centralized authority. The original Assassin's Creed was about questioning the motives of the powerful, and was set during a time when dogmatic religious warfare benefited only the nobles. Assassin's Creed II pitted the humanists of the Renaissance against the centralized power of the Papacy. Assassin's Creed III dealt with the ideas of democracy and popular power versus monarchy.

Lastly, we must remember that to put out a sequel in a year, it's likely that the new Assassin's Creed title will build on the elements from Assassin's Creed III in the same manner Revelations and Brotherhood borrowed from Assassin's Creed II. Therefore, it's unlikely that there will be major changes to the game's design, letting us rule out periods that would force a redesign of the core elements. Repeating firearms, for example, would make AC's hand-to-hand combat, evasion, and parkour mechanics unworkable and lead to a radical shift in gameplay. While this doesn't necessarily preclude settings like the First World War, I consider them unlikely.

Alright, enough with methodology. Let's get to the rampant rumor-mongering.

The French Revolution

If we're honest with ourselves, Assassin's Creed III's themes would've worked better in revolutionary Paris. While George III is always a distant figure in AC3, Louis XVI would be an immediate, involved presence in a Revolutionary setting, further contrasting the people and the monarch. In fact, the French Revolution's narrative of popular revolt, regicide, violence by republican extremists, and usurpation by a dictator is a perfect fit for AC's ongoing narratives about the corruption of power and the dangers of ideology. It's begging for an Ezio-style three-game arc. First game: a political agitator from Paris joins a secret society intent on overthrowing the French crown, and eventually kills King Louis himself. Second game: as France descends into war with Britain, the hero finds he must kill his friend and fellow Assassin Maximilien de Robespierre, who has begun to enforce the Assassin's ideas of civic virtue via the guillotine. Third game: due to Robespierre's Reign of Terror, the French people rally under a powerful Templar named Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Assassins find themselves working with their erstwhile enemies, the British, to depose the Corsican monster.

In addition, the series' violence would seem more commonplace among the riots and assassination plots of Paris, where citizens were known to kill soldiers and carry their decapitated heads through the streets. Parisian architecture also begs for the kiss of free-running feet, and I admit a certain mouth-watering desire to infiltrate the Bastille. The period is also chock-full of interesting historical figures to play with. In addition to the aforementioned personalities, there's Charlotte Corday, who assassinated the radical Jacobin Jean-Paul Marat. There's Marat himself, an incendiary journalist who helped incite the September Massacres and, due to a debilitating skin condition, conducted most of his business from a bathtub. There's Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the son of a French aristocrat and a Haitian slave, who rose through the ranks to become a Divisional General. Dumas crossed the Alps with Napoleon and fought at the Battle of the Pyramids. Dumas' exploits, and his imprisonment after a shipwreck, would inspire his son to write The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

I consider the French Revolution the most likely setting for the next Assassin's Creed. Not only does the theme fit, but it takes place such a short time after the American Revolution that it would be easy to lead from one game to the other, since it would allow established characters like Connor, Aveline and Lafayette to drop in for a cameo. Ubi also got some practice with French-style architecture while building the New Orleans of Assassin's Creed: Liberation, and its sailing mechanics could see use depicting naval combat in the English Channel. Enemies would be easy to design, since they'd largely follow the British soldiers used in AC3 with a few variations for variety, and there'd be no particular need to completely redesign equipment, clothing or the enemy's tactics. Added to all of this, previous games have heavily hinted at the French Revolution for some time: a puzzle in Assassin's Creed II identifies Napoleon as possessing an Apple of Eden, and the ending of Brotherhood features the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The French Revolution could, of course, just be one of many historical periods referred to in the Ezio trilogy - but for my money Assassin's Creed 4 is under the shadow of Madame Guillotine.

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