Assassin's Creed
The son of sam meets lumines in a jungle gym.

There is a moment between the alacritous acquisition of desire, and sealing the deal, when you're fumbling uncertainly with your dick. You may know this moment from sports, where, when you are fast enough, and react quickly enough, and find yourself at the right place on the field to save the day, the reality of the ball in front of you reveals a cavernous gap in your experience. For your entire career, you had been striving to be in the right position; it had never occurred to you that, once there, you would have to Do Something.

This moment comprises the bulk of many video games, though with the uncertainty and self discovery bludgeoned into submission by tutorials and script. The issue of position is largely not even a question. When was the last time you had to rush to be on time in a game, or see the consequences of being late unfold in some way other than 'restart y/n'? Either you have the gold in Rogue Squadron, or you claimed the silver, yet again, and there is a long night ahead of you in trying to determine the Salesman problem of TIE fighters, AT-ATs, and arbitrary objectives. It would be nice if, since they had no intention of allowing you to truly get the feeling of immediacy in the moment of action (the they that are paid to guarantee that games are produced to an exacting standard of idiocy), if everything leading up to it mattered somehow.

The argument has been made that Assassin's Creed is repetitious. I suppose this is true. So is breathing. If repetitiousness was somehow a mark against gaming, then everything would be condemned on its basis. There are no unique experiences out there that do not trade on their uniqueness to the point of familiarity. I was no less enchanted with the hyperactive 'woohoo' of Mario when he dove head-first toward a wooden block in the first level of Mario 64 than when he dove head-first toward the bunny rabbit in the middle stages, or when he grabbed a turtle shell (probably, I don't know--whatever, right? You get the idea) on the final levels. Diving forward was moderately thrilling. Repeating a moderate thrill is part of what it is to be human and too cowardly to venture into genuine danger (and proud of it!). Most of us giggled and smiled when daddy threw us up into the air and caught us. It didn't necessarily last long, but that was just a preparation for a life who's diminishing returns would spawn the bulk of our grim flirtations with being too cool to go to the football game. Even if that one chick said she'd be there.

I can't and won't try to argue in the face of that madness. If you want to enjoy Assassin's Creed you have to acknowledge, first, that it is about what is fundamentally a human being, except in the sense that it is probably the dream of an unimaginative human being. So it's a dreamstate person.

Let me back up a bit. There is a difficult proposition in bringing history into art, and that is the question of what, exactly, you think the history part really is, and what exactly the completely bullshit imaginary part is. In most cases, it is very difficult to mix the two, especially within a 3rd set of constraints such as time or money. Usually, any effort along these lines lies in ruins at the bottom of the bargain bin: whether it's a movie or a game, or whatever. My favorite movie of all time is Conspiracy, because, despite having a narrow focus and an incredibly contentious premise, the only 'imaginary' part is that everyone is speaking English, and never trip over themselves while discussing such a hand-in-the-cookie-jar concept as genocide. Jesus Christ: Superstar irritates me to no end, because the ham-handed use of various icons makes every metaphor into a kind of chameleonic hydra of lies that becomes more deceitful for every ambiguity within what is explained or clarified. Sure, it's a fine movie, but I'll never like it, and for any given audience, the more preinterpreted the data, the harder it is for someone to foist their own bizarre belief upon it. A white supremacist could watch conspiracy and beat off vigorously into his hood, because, for him, it's all great ideas that were at last getting their just consideration. I'm Jewish, and I can watch it and love it because it does not turn the people involved into cartoons, and does not sugar coat the reality of the event--thereby allowing me to impose my perpetual minority paranoia upon it as Yet Another Example of terrifying Christians.

Assassin's Creed justifies any interpretation of it you care to make by presenting something which is inherently very accurate, from the standpoint of its medium.

Obviously, the white laboratory, and the kind of psychotic concept of modern day Templar and Templar agents working to fight a modern offshoot of a guild of assassin's is fairly out of bounds. That is the English. The fact that the main character, once you enter the dream realm where the game takes place, is a Conan or Rambo like figure who goes through a variety of scenarios in the context of what is allegedly a single narrative, is the part where nobody trips over their lines or shows signs of giddy nervousness over the subject matter.

The part at the end where alien technology is being used to make monks into demigods, or else artifacts with magic powers are doing the same thing, is probably a bridge too far, but I'm not terribly upset about that, because in what other rational way do you end a series of disjointed dreams? Wake up, it's time to go to school, honey? The noise of an alarm clock and a blurring effect? Fighting clones is about the same as any given buzzing noise.

When the game viscerally and casually captures the bizarre ideological organization of the ancient world in the holy lands, and then proceeds to jam in all the abundantly obvious hypocrisies of the times, and gives the player a hook that is based on concepts of misdirection and street magic (in the sense of the fundamentally scientific and psychologically based practice of tricking people) with the very real sport of par cour, what you come away with is something that feels like reality, and not even, particularly, an action movie. But if it is an action movie, then it is a Dirty Harry kind of presentation where the hero can not stand up to infinite odds (though, in point of fact, he can, depending on your reaction time--let's not dwell on that, though). The reality parts fall off a bit once the game ventures outside the cities and can't seem to create a reasonable guess about what it is people do when they're not hustling and bustling to no apparent purpose (though many are clearly in the business of bringing water from here to over there, where it is probably needed).

So then comes my creative participation in this wonderful tapestry for imagination. In my mind, the main character is not an innocent bartender at all, but a dangerous psychotic undergoing experimental medical procedures to determine if his intense sociopathy is somehow treatable. The reason the doctor is so mean to you is because he is bored with your deranged ramblings of innocence, and would prefer that you simply *get* in the goddamned machine so they can get some data, and go the hell home. Kid's got a little league game, and all that. The reason the woman is nice to you, is because, like all women, she is in fact an emotional sadist who is toying with your fantasy for her own perverse amusement.

So what takes place in the dreamstate is not the memories of a past life, but the reality of this particular person's psychosis. It is quite possible, in my mind, that this person is a physical coward incapable of the life he leads in the dreamstate, and, while demonstrably (somehow) sociopathic, hasn't had the wherewithal to start murdering people. So, this is really just a kind of playing out of his imagination.

Now, I embrace the role of this character to the very core of my being. I know, for instance, that the streets are teaming with sinners, and God has given his chosen instrument the keen insight to determine who among the people harbor Demons.

The demons are obviously all fork-tongued liars who, in their deceptive final words do their best to point you, via innuendo, and inconsiderate ambiguation to the true destiny of your righteous blade's aim; the destruction of Satan, who, in this case, seems elusive to you. I think it's obvious, at this point, that the demons are bound by a pact of the soul which blesses your weapons, to help you in this way--though they are, again, devious, and will not simply help you outright, but prefer to confuse you as much as possible. Such are the children of damnation, amirite? Of course I am. In any case, as you accumulate clues, you ultimately realize that you have, like Eve, been taking orders from the Serpent the whole time, and have to backtrack to what you assumed was the beacon of light on the hill from which issued your authority and power, to cleanse the garden, so that it might be pure.

Even as you are pure.

Now, of course, the demons are important, and you've got to spend some time killing them, but alot of your duties involve cleansing the streets of sinners. Marking them is not hard; there are many clues. Are they infirm, hobbled by their sins? Are they afflicted with some outward sign of their inner evil, such as leprosy, madness, age, or womanhood? All these unclean must die. The guard isn't going to understand your aims and goals, though they do seem to recognize that you are a holy man of some kind when you bow your head and steeple your fingers. In any case, many of them are either demons or betrayers, or possibly homosexuals, so they might as well die. When you have thoroughly cleansed a street or public square, it is time to climb to the rooftops and make your way across the city.

Now, if you *choose* to do so, you can make a point out of tempering the faithful by murdering any knight who is too weak to avoid being stabbed in the ear by someone who jumps off a building onto their head from behind. That is simply working in the Lord's interest to be sure his instruments are unwavering. Duh. You can also collect flags which symbolize divine guidance, and also the insanity that, oddly, and probably only coincidentally, seems to grip any pure hawklike divine weapon. Or gamer. Or autistic. You can also climb to certain high vantage points and prove your faith by leaping into hay. Thank god nobody has regular access to pitchforks which they could leave in the hay. You can also save certain innocents from the aforementioned sinners who are, from time to time, waylaid. These are all possibilities. However, you will quite often be too busy finding a long continuous path of evil water-bearers that take you through the city without any time to investigate or kill the many demons that infest it. After all, if you save the corrupted, you are left only with a cancer that is free to grow until it swallows the pure. Amirite? Of course I am. Again.

In any case, this is the game from my vantage point, atop an innocent victim whom I have just tackled in broad daylight; a beautiful and pure window into pathology and madness which is so often stilted or fantasized into an ambiguous paste. If we were playing Call of Duty, set in Nowhere Specific, Middle East, or its predecessors, set in Nowhere Specific, World War 2 movies, the fantasies are so layered into the realities that who can really say what it is you're achieving, or what message you're trying to convey. Is this some kind of glory that we're hounding after? Is there something wonderful in shooting Hanz, the anti aircraft gunner who's doing his best to prevent allied bombers from destroying the town where he works and lives? Are we to assume that every bullet, using an internal guiding mechanism, finds its home in the black heart of an ideological racist--one who, rather than being mislead or attempting to get by in a world which his spun out of control, has, with open eyes, rejected his brotherhood in humanity and wants to join some kind of exclusive club of a DNA subset?

What if we were playing quake. What's the cybernetic giant eyeball with a railgun on its back's take on the political nature of gladiatorial combat in the context of an information rich society? Does he have one? Or does he want me to Suck it Down?

Meaning is a cornerstone of art and philosophy, and if you have no direct intention of putting information into your medium that could be considered meaningful, then you are wasting my time deliberately. Metal Gear Solid: whatever, while it may be repugnant to sane caring people is not meant to be another fun romp ending in a feeling of emptiness. Unreal Tournament has no perspective on any issue that I'm aware of. It doesn't have to, but then, why wouldn't it? What else are they doing that they don't have time to consider the concept of deathless gladiators in a far flung future. Of course, more recent versions have the scribbled outline of some kind of 'war' that allows me to assume some kind of role or make some kind of personal story, but I'm not trying to drive home meaning as kind of abstract win for the human soul. I'm talking about it in the context of me enjoying what I'm doing by harnessing my own imagination in concert with the game I'm playing. No book or movie is complete without some audience participation in this regard, but games often try to be, it seems, and suffer for it.

Assassin's Creed, if you take it at face value as a kind of commentary on predatory benevolence in a very real and legitimate scenario makes running and jumping tirelessly between committing acts of murder the liberating story of whatever kind of crazy person you care to empathize with. In comparison, what kind of rotating buzz saws or artifically difficult 'puzzles' do I need?

In any case, as I intimated earlier, being in the right place within a teaming morass of variables is far more entertaining than walking down hallways set with challenges. By the same token, superfluous targets fall under the heading 'all of the above' when you are in a universe of antagonists--whereas in this game, simply causing trouble has the right kind of simple joy that says 'mommy, pay attention to me'. Only, luckily, you won't be ruining anyone else's dinner at the restaurant when you do it.

3.5 stars.

back to the news...