Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
The Little Touches in Assassin's Creed

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 14 Dec 2010 12:00
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A while back I complained about games that overwhelm the player by doing things too "big" and awesome, so this week let's take a moment to appreciate the little things. Yeah, you can have your environment engine rendering ten square miles of 16th-century Rome, your ten million NPCs on screen at once, your giant dragons bursting forth from an erupting volcano with napalm squirting from each of their seventeen rosy nipples. But it's the little things that round it all out, that keep our interest in the world alive.

While the historical gameplay environments of Assassin's Creed are detailed and vibrant, I've never been too invested in the connecting segments set in the future with Future Desmond. That may be because a hefty amount of the overarching future story has only been given to us second hand. We're supposed to accept that there's some worldwide secret conflict going on between the good noble assassins and the evil oppressive mega-global corporation, but only because the lady with the fish lips (or possibly a partially healed Glasgow smile) said so. All we've seen of the future world is the interior of one lab and two safe houses (and, yes, some deserted Roman ruins, fuck you, pedant). For all we know this is all an elaborate hoax, and the moment Desmond reaches the grand finale he'll kick the door open and find the entire cast throwing him a surprise birthday party.

But I have to admit, AC:Brotherhood marks the point when I actually started getting interested in the future story, and quite attached to its characters (except Future Desmond). Partly this was because buying up the entirety of 16th century Italy was getting a bit repetitive, but mostly it was because of little things. In this case, emails.

It's not immediately obvious, but when you come out of the Animus and are given the opportunity to explore the safe house (or safe cave, whatever), Future Desmond has a little laptop set up for him, which he can use to read the email correspondence between the other three members of the Assassin Scooby Gang. Though largely mundane, the exchanges between the characters, the businesslike scheduling, the pranks, the snarks, the enquiries after lost yogurts and Ipods, gave them a great deal of humanity. I actually started deliberately leaving the Animus after every Ezio mission to catch up on the news and chat with my new friends.

It was from these emails that I detected hints of a secret romance between Shawn and Rebecca, and confirmed my suspicion that Desmond's Ichi the Killer love interest was exactly the uptight humourless middle-management shrew she seemed to be, anally putting together the schedule every week and nagging the others to stop joking around and get back to work. The kind of person who hangs around the buffet table at the party, counting the vol-au-vents to make sure there's enough for everyone. The only character I didn't start appreciating more was Future Desmond, who never sent any emails at all. He did finally gain at least one character trait: we now know he's the kind of creepy loser who reads other people's emails.

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