The Best (and Worst) Historical Periods for Assassin’s Creed

I don’t think there is anyone out there who doesn’t have that friend.  You know the one.  The one who still wears that silk Hawaiian shirt with the flames on the bottom because it’s ironic now.  The one who wears 90’s wrap-around shades solely because nobody else would be seen dead wearing them.  The one with the Linkedin profile that describes his occupation as “pixel art renaissance”.  He’s a prick, but you can never seem to shake him, and he’s loaded so you never really shake THAT hard.  He’s the one that usually starts up these inane conversations, such as the one about how Mario is set inside a drug fantasy, or how X character is REALLY in a coma, and the game is just one last addled fantasy before brain death.

Every so often (unfortunately), one of these conversations will be enough to bait us, and it’s usually the one that begins with the line:  “You know, the next Assassin’s Creed game would be awesome if it were set in Aberdeen”.  For the amateur historians among us, this kind of conversation is likely to end in physical harm.  Not just because he thinks he knows better than anyone connected with the game, but because his ideas are always shite.  Even if they sound good on the surface, more than a minute’s thought on the period renders the idea as self-defeating as a Saudi Arabian strip club.

So, in this article, we will not only be explaining the awesome potential of these yet-untapped historical periods, but also explaining why they sure as hell wouldn’t work.  Hopefully, the next time one of these is mentioned in a conversation with that friend, you can rub his pudgy fusion-jazz-appreciating, communist-manifesto-owning face in it.

 

Assassin’s Creed: The Titanic Disaster

 If it took place AFTER the titanic disaster, it could be pretty fucking awesome!

Picture it, if you will.  An Assassin’s Creed game that takes place in Edwardian London during the British Wreck Commission’s inquiry into the disaster (because by comparison, the American inquiry might as well have been an episode of Judge Judy).  A gruelling, month-long examination of the survivors, officials in both the government and the White Star Line (who owned and operated the Titanic) and rescue crews.  With each piece of evidence submitted and debated, we’d be treated to flashbacks and playable sequences of the Titanic at various points during the voyage.  Over the course of the game, the player would be able to see glaring differences between what actually happened and the false reports and depositions given during the inquiry, the truth covered up with a healthy dose of the ol’ Templar whitewashing. 

Perhaps Lord Mersey, the High Court overseer of the enquiry could secretly be the Templar grand master of the age? Perhaps a handful of the Assassin order would be giving witness statements and trying (behind the scenes) to subtly manipulate the proceedings to orchestrate the downfall of the White Star Line, and bring to light the true events of the tragedy.  Their ultimate failure to get the truth of the matter into the public eye could leave just as bitter a taste in the player’s mouth as the demonization of Edward Kenway in AC: BF.  There’s a wealth of conspiracy theory that Ubisoft could work in, for that little bit of extra alternative history.  Everything from Norwegian submarine insurance scams to an ancient mummy’s curse.  Seriously, they could have a field day with this shit.    

Assassin’s Creed: The Titanic Disaster

It wouldn’t though, would it?

Of course it bloody wouldn’t.  As much as we love Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft are playing by different rules now, and seem to be bowing to modern-day social pressures rather than being interested in any of that boring old History shit.  It’s why Marxist communism is portrayed as a noble and valiant cause in Victorian London rather than the abortive and poorly-planned mess that sent Marx packing back to Germany.  And it’s also why most of the actual English characters in the games that don’t hail from the colonies behave like haughty cape-flapping classical villains who deign to take their boot from the neck of the huddled masses just long enough to deliver an evil monologue or two.

Not that this is a bad thing, mind you.  Anyone who hasn’t been to Brighton on a Saturday night still seems to view the English as haughty and arrogant cravat-wearing toffs who just KNOW they’re better than you, no matter what.  The problem here is that the game would be set on the Titanic proper, and the same evil treatment would be given to the crew of the Titanic, while the actual crew of the Titanic are remembered as selfless and gallant individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in the course of their duty. Nevertheless, we’d end up with something like that shit 1997 disaster film, but with more hidden daggers and less of that guy who played Theoden in The Lord of the Rings.  It’d turn out much like the movie actually, with the British crew of the Titanic portrayed as tea-obsessed, chinless wonders who refuse to abandon the ship until they’ve finished buttering their crumpets or as ravingly-insane and maniacal Templar zealots who intend to bring down the whole ship just to kill the few bedraggled (and therefore morally decent) Irish Assassins in steerage.    

Assassin’s Creed:  Cold War

Assassins and Cold War espionage?  What’s not to love?

This one could have a LOT of potential.  The Cold War was a turbulent and nail-biting time for almost the entire world back in the 1960’s, and one which (by most contemporary reports) brought humanity to the brink of nuclear annihilation.  Literature on the subject (most notably John Le Carre and Ian Fleming) paint evocative and dramatic scenes of snow-bound soviet installations besieged by solitary agents in impeccable eveningwear and lonely, terror-filled journeys through the unstable heart of Europe on rundown trains.  Translated to the world of Assassin’s Creed, the player could take on the role of a lone agent of the order, stranded behind enemy lines in Templar-controlled East Berlin.  Just the thought of the costumes is enough for us, incorporating the trademark hood into the trenchcoat-and-suit combo of the secret agent.

The Soviet Union seemed to have become the monster in the entire world’s closet, and even after the Union dismantled, Russia was still a state that nobody seemed to trust.  A lot of their time was spent subjugating Central and Eastern European states, wandering about and putting down revolutions and rebellions, even going as far as to divide entire countries down the middle to make them easier to digest.  The Cold War simmered on for the better part of 40 years, and is arguably still kind of going on today in the shadows, so Ubisoft would have no shortage of events to choose from, perhaps pulling together a patchwork of events from the establishment of the KGB in 1954 right up until the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  Playing an aged Assassin, poring over his notes from the last 50 years as he travels back home from the USSR would give the player the opportunity to dip in and out of his remarkable (yet shadowy) role in world politics, placing himself in the right place at the right time to circumvent atomic Armageddon.

Assassin’s Creed:  Cold War

Thing not to love #1: Not much actual espionage went on.

Depending on how closely Ubisoft wanted to relate it to ACTUAL history and not the cloak, dagger and Martini-riddled world of fiction, this might become their biggest stumbling block.  The thing about cold war espionage is that it didn’t really happen all that much.  Arguably, because of the secrecy of it all, you could claim that it DID totally happen, but it was all covered up.  Which puts it on the same level of historical accuracy as the Roswell Landings, or the Nazca Lines being carved by super-intelligent mermaids.  The actual verified acts of espionage that went on during the Cold War period could be counted on the fingers of a particularly clumsy butcher, about 15 or 16 in total.

Besides that, a lot of the actual espionage stuff was boring as all arseholes.  We all have this awesome image of fighting off femme fatales on top of trains while keeping a tight grip on the briefcase that contains the nuclear launch codes but surprisingly enough, nothing in history is actually that fun.  A lot of the actions that took place were quite basic.  The US and the USSR swapped defected German scientists (the shiny Pokemon of the age), and a handful of British students fell in with the communist cause because students and communism go together like acid and someone who doesn’t know any better than to drink acid.   Julius and Ethel Rosenburg, probably the most famous of all spies of the period were stupid enough to try their hand at the great game of espionage despite having become card-carrying members of the American Communist Party in 1942, which is the equivalent of going to a vegan convention in a suit made entirely of Bacon.  Unluckily for us, most of the acts of espionage that took place were very likely undertaken by very bored government agents in overly-clean offices, managing punch cards between sips of weak coffee.  Which would probably make as thrilling an entry as Assassin’s Creed: Hounslow County Council.

Assassin’s Creed: Cultural Revolution

Assassin’s Creed LOVES revolutions!

Okay, so we’ve had a couple of titles now that have focused on revolutions. Of a sort, anyway.  We’ve had the American Revolution (which was more of a colonial rebellion, but don’t tell our American friends), the French Revolution (which was a bona fide revolution) and the industrial revolution (which of course wasn’t a revolution at all, but it has the word in it, at least).  Players have been clamouring for the chance to play a proper (non 2.5D) Asian Assassin since everyone just up and decided one day that the Middle East doesn’t count.  Probably because they only had shitty curved swords, and no +1 Shuriken or masterwork katana.  So, surely the idea of a Chinese AC game, set around the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1949 would be a sure-fire winner?

China got almost-completely donkey punched during the Second World War and its aftermath, and didn’t just have massive Japanese occupations of their territory to deal with, but had been hammered pretty badly in 1937 when the Xinjiang War saw the Soviet Union take a pop at them.  It all boils down to various factions viciously trying to carve up the China pie for their own ends.  Over a decade of brutal and bloody (not to mention costly) conflict later, Mao Zedong (or Tse Tung, or whatever) rose to prominence and with him, revolution.  It’s already canon that he was a Templar associate in the AC lore, so why not a game where a band of barely-literate but oh-so-determined farmhands are inducted into the turbulent and understaffed Chinese Assassin’s order, tasked with putting out the flames, liberating and uniting the vast and beautiful Chinese landscape?  I can almost see that ending sequence now, your adventurous band leading a rebel army through the streets to take on the might of the Asian Templars.       

Assassin’s Creed: Cultural Revolution

Yeah, not this kind of revolution...

Oh wait.  Mao’s revolution wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic and triumphant as any of the others mentioned.  In fact, it managed to cripple the entire country of China for decades.  It was a socio-political movement rather than an actual military revolution (though that didn’t stop Mao’s happy ass from having 2.5 million people beaten and tortured to death), and with a monumental idiot like Chairman Mao in charge of it, it’s surprising that China ever managed to claw its way back.  He instituted the ideological importance of a “Great Leap Forward”, where he intended to transform China from an agrarian and agricultural state into an industrialised one overnight, aiming to surpass the US and UK in industrial economy.  Not only had the UK and US been hard at it already for hundreds of years, but Chinese people needed that food for more petty counter-revolutionary acts, such as keeping themselves alive. As soon as they were ordered (on pain of being branded a traitor and put to death) to forget about that vegetable patch and start producing steel instead, they showed their displeasure by dying.  En masse.  Because they couldn’t eat steel.

Even though there was plenty of food available, with a reportedly fine harvest in 1958, there was nobody assigned to harvest it from the newly-collectivist farms.  They were all too busy trying to smelt alloys with farming equipment.  In addition to this, Mao’s bright idea of instituting the Great Sparrow Campaign (literally as stupid as it sounds) to shoot all the sparrows which he erroneously believed would hinder crop yields, managed to backfire when swarms of locusts came along and ate up all the crops because those asshole sparrows weren’t around to fuck their shit up anymore.

Suffice to say, there wouldn’t be much fun in playing an Assassin’s Creed game where your character doesn’t have the strength to lift a sword, let alone crawl all over buildings and shit, and there was no real revolution involved.  Just an opportunistic, unhinged dictator brainwashing and terrorising his people.  So much so that there are still those today who revere Chairman Mao, and buy icons of the man who killed 45 million people in four years with the power of truly stupid ideas.

Assassin's Creed:  The Ancient World

It’s the Assassin’s Creed setting everyone’s been waiting for!

Fans of the series have been hankering after something like this for a long time, probably because the actual backstory of Assassin’s Creed, the one that doesn’t revolve around blokes in hoods making implausibly-high rooftop kills, is wrapped so tightly in pseudo-mystical swaddling.  There are Gods who aren’t really Gods, but aliens or machines or something, and they came from space ages ago.  Creating humanity as a slave-race seemed like a good idea at the time, and they had these weird, wibbly bits of tech called Pieces of Eden to keep them easily manipulated.  Everything went great until a solar flare hit the Earth, and then things went to shit for the First Civilization, while humanity started getting on with things like building rubbish villages and figuring out how irrigation works. 

So yeah, an actually ancient AC game could be super.  The earliest civilizations we have on record are the Sumerians, who lived down in Mesopotamia, and the early Dynasty period of Egypt.  The Sumerians would be the best bet, with a written record starting at about 2500BC.  As they had a lot of mythology set around jerks from space creating and enslaving humanity, it’s a safe bet to say that Ubisoft drew much (read: probably all) inspiration from this.  The storyline could work itself around the tale of the first humans’ escape from servitude, and could be a heady and actually epic mixture of the ancient world and the inconceivably-advanced technology of the First Civilization.  The idea of dashing around the streets of ancient Uruk, helping the legendary king Gilgamesh (and his faithful partner Enkidu) battle the overwhelming forces of the Gods should make fans of the series shiver.  The gods of the time could also be introduced, especially Enki and Enlil, brothers who didn’t quite get along over their ideas on how humanity should be treated.  A game set in the ancient world could really open up the pantheon of the First Civilization, and let us finally get a glimpse of the struggle and turmoil that led to the birth of modern-day humanity.   

Assassin's Creed:  The Ancient World

There’s a good reason it hasn’t been made yet.

 
Though we might rag on it from time to time, Ubisoft’s treatment of History has at least been constant.  They might yank actual events in a particular direction, or twist a particular historical character out of all real proportion.  Sure, George Washington more closely resembles Bruce Campbell in a wig than the actual sickly British military failure he was, but we can forgive it.  The US is a pretty big videogames market, after all.  It might strain credulity a little too far, however, to try and transform the first cities of Mesopotamia into a semi-futuristic wonderland of Gods and Monsters.  We don’t know much about this period of history, but we can be fairly certain that they weren’t principally inhabited by cybernetic alien deities. 

They’d have two options, really:  Either work a fabulously-advanced civilization into the series before written records began (which would give them the earliest point of about 5500BC to play with), or more historically represent a later period, when people actually started scribbling down things that happened to them (about 2500BC).  Needless to say, each comes with incumbent problems.  For instance, the AC series has always been able to work from a central historical point to gain a foothold in the player’s mind.  Unity might have been pretty poor, gameplay-wise, but we’ll always remember the faithful recreation of revolutionary France with fondness.  Even when we were bored with Black Flag, we kept sailing around those gorgeous Caribbean locales.  An AC game without the same kind of basis might well be a really sneaky version of Dead Space.    

If they don’t make this leap, however, we’re left with a rather uninspiring setting to play around in.  Apart from the occasional royal strife and invasion, a lot of people’s time was taken up with agriculture, law-making and pottery, and unless they happen upon some great idea to make a viable and exciting gameplay model out of carefully-crafted ceramics, we’re fucked.  Still, at least we’d have vantage points.  The buildings in Sumer were at least three storeys tall, and the largest (the Ziggurats) averaged at 300 feet (which is about a third as tall as the Empire State building).  A perfectly high spot to watch people herding goats from place to place.    

 

Assassin's Creed:  The Great Depression

There’d be so much to do and to see!


The United States might have gotten its own game in Assassin’s Creed III, but that was pretty shit, and the setting of the game didn’t offer any real glimpse of the US as we know it.  In 1775, during the revolutionary war, the United States was a British colony, and as such was distinctly British.  Ideals and rhetoric were still drenched in the same European romanticism that covered their British cousins and even the architecture was designed to provide a home-far-away-from-home for the colonials and military detachments stationed there.  The game, therefore, focuses more on the natives and the wilderness, with a brief sojourn into the cities.

How cool would it be get a glimpse of the American Dream through the lens of the Assassin’s Creed series, and what better time period than The Great Depression to show the downfall (however temporary) of the Templars’ financial stranglehold on the country?  The events of the previous games have shown the Templars gaining a subtle hold over the world’s populace through trade, surveillance and propaganda.  It’d only be fitting to show them slip up.  New York after the Black Tuesday crash would be the perfect choice to showcase their world-building talent, reconstructing the brooding, gothic majesty of 1930’s New York.  The game could work on a faction system, with the Assassins stepping in to liberate New York as best they can through the strife and conflict.  The powerful Mafia families are in full swing (Al Capone even opened a soup kitchen), whole sections of society are itching for rebellion, and a dedicated network of travellers subvert the railways.

Each faction could offer unique, themed quests to the player.  Want to walk the path of brutal rebellion?  There’s a mass of disenfranchised workers to enlist.  Want to help the people?  Take over the railway yards and get them out of the city, to a better life.  Just want to profit on the tragedy?  There’s always a spot of organised crime.  The options for the setting are near-limitless.  

 

Assassin's Creed:  The Great Depression

There’s just too much to ignore...


Unfortunately, the 1930’s are still in living memory, and some events of history aren’t as easily romanticised as the golden age of piracy.  Even then, Ubisoft had to keep reminding us that the pirates of legend were little more than bloodthirsty, workshy wankers.  How much work would they have to put in to stop us from really enjoying depression-era America?  At least the pirates had jaunty songs and funny costumes.  America during the depression was a far grimmer affair, and without much jollity to alleviate it.

Without the required funds to maintain the lifestyle they’d become used to (ie. living indoors and able to afford food), a lot of Americans turned to selling apples on the streets of New York for five cents apiece to avoid the shame of panhandling.  Riots were common, and schools lacked the funds to stay open properly, with three million children leaving school and at least 200,000 riding the rails as tramps and beggars.  Demonstrations were broken by the US Army and farms went into foreclosure, unable to keep up their payments and hit by a run of terrible weather.  Ubisoft would surely be honour-bound to portray the stark reality fairly, and it would up-end the entire point of the series.  Assassins use covert guerrilla tactics against an otherwise-unassailable force, but there really isn’t much that a hidden blade can do in this situation.

To top it all off, the rich seemed to stay rich, while plenty of people were able to become far richer by taking advantage of the crisis.  J. Paul Getty, oil tycoon, bought up all the oil shares he could from those desperate to sell, amassing a fortune in the crude stuff.  Joe Kennedy, one of the men responsible for the unstable markets through his prevalence for insider trading and market manipulation, seemed to know the right time to change business plans, investing in movies and liquor.  Hardly an inspiring setting for an underdog tale.  The most telling aspect, however, of the depression is how it ended.  Not with any genius re-investment strategy or social cohesion, but with a war.  The Second World War, in fact, which kick-started the American economy in the most unpleasant and uninspiring way possible.  The US military created the Defence Plant Corporation (DPC) which worked primarily to manufacture aeroplanes to rain fiery death on the other end of the Atlantic, while the military itself recruited over 12 million soldiers, offering them food and shelter in return for getting their faces shot off on the other side of the world.  Historical Fiction: 0, Grim Reality: 1. 

 

 

 

polycarpFollowing a series of prophetic dreams brought on by ingesting two bottles of buckfast and a handful of dog worming tablets, WASDuk writer Arkworthy once set off to find the secret headquarters of the ancient order of the Templar.  After crawling around in the dark for hours, threatening a security guard with a corkscrew and attempting to scale the outside of the building, he was taken forcibly into police custody while trying to use his newly-obtained assassin’s reflexes to liberate three hundred pounds in loose notes and as much jewellery as he could fit in his lager-stained overcoat.  Hazy Orchard Retirement Home has decided to press charges, pending a court appearance next Thursday.    

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