Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise began life sometime after the release of Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time, the critically-acclaimed game for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox released in 2003. Tasked with imagining a sequel to the game, Ubisoft Montreal settled on an assassin the player would control, tasked with taking down the titular prince. The game would be inspired by the life of Hassan-i Sabbah, a missionary who lived in 11th Century Persia, and whose followers became known as “Hashshashin”, or Assassins.
It quickly became apparent that Ubisoft Montreal had something that stood on its own, and with Ubisoft keen to focus Prince Of Persia on the prince himself, the Montreal team’s assassin game quickly became an all-new IP. Assassin’s Creed was born.
Since development began on the first Assassin’s Creed game, the franchise has always been at the top of Ubisoft’s priority list, and since its release in 2007, there have been more than 20 games within the Assassin’s Creed canon, as well as comics, novels and books.
But even before the first game’s release, its powerful, cinematic trailers seemed to be a perfect segue to a future for the franchise on the big screen. Now, in 2016, audiences will finally get the chance to see Assassin’s Creed brought to life, in a new film directed by Justin Kurzel (Macbeth, Snowtown). The film, which stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, lives within the overall Assassin’s Creed narrative and features plenty of moments and nods that fans of the games will pick up on.
With the new film on the eve of release (New Year’s Day in the UK), it’s high time to take a step back into Assassin’s Creed history, and catch up with the story as it has unfolded so far.
Assassin’s Creed (2007)
Captured by Abstergo and forced into a device known as “the Animus”, Desmond Miles explores the memories of his ancestor, Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, during the Third Crusade, which took place in the Holy Land between 1189 and 1192. Desmond picks up on Altaïr’s life immediately following the Assassin’s demotion to novice, having broken the three key Assassin tenets (stay your blade from the flesh of the innocent, hide in plain sight, and never compromise the brotherhood) in his pursuit of Templar Robert de Sablé, who sought to take one of the Pieces of Eden.
The first game in the series introduces many core concepts that survive to this day: the notion of using technology to tap genetic memories; the philosophies of the Assassin order; and their ongoing struggle against the Templars. The Pieces of Eden become key items in the Assassin’s Creed franchise – remnants of “The First Civilisation”, a highly-evolved species of life that lived on Earth long before mankind. Their technology – powerful enough to decide global conflicts – and the danger it represents becomes a key focus of the antagonism between the Templars and the Assassins.
While Altaïr successfully defeats de Sablé, the schooled Templar reveals ten more Knights on the same quest as him, which forces the Assassin to travel between Masyaf, Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus in his quest to find the Pieces of Eden. Using parkour abilities and assassination skills taught by his brotherhood, Altaïr succeeds in his mission, but Desmond’s progress through Altaïr’s memories lead Abstergo – the modern-day front for the Templars – to the information they need to uncover the Pieces of Eden in the present day.
Assassin’s Creed II (2009)
Building on the success of the first game, Assassin’s Creed II sees Desmond Miles on the run from Abstergo, broken out by an Assassin mole within the organisation. With the Templars hot on their tail, Desmond re-enters the Animus to live through the memories of another of his ancestors, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a young nobleman in 15th Century Florence. Against the backdrop of the Borgias, the Medicis and the increasing power of the Papacy, Ezio discovers a Templar plot by Pope Alexander VI to use the power of a Piece of Eden known as the Apple.
Set across Florence, Venice, Forli and San Gimignano, as well as Ezio’s home villa at Monteriggioni, Assassin’s Creed II demonstrates the extraordinary flexibility of the franchise to operate in any time period. And, just like the first game, it sets its story against real history and true historical figures. Ezio spends time with Leonardo Da Vinci and romances Caterina Sforza, while the struggle between the Assassins and the Templars is revealed to be behind many of the key machinations of the day.
At the game’s end, Desmond and Ezio are visited by an entity addressing herself as Minerva and introducing the Assassins to the true history of the Pieces of Eden and the First Civilisation.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (2010) &
Assassin’s Creed Revelations (2011)
Ezio proved to be a popular character in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and he was brought back for two more outings in quick succession, which expanded the story of Assassin’s Creed II.
In Brotherhood, Desmond and his allies retreat to Ezio’s ruined Monteriggioni villa, and Desmond re-enters Ezio’s memories in the Animus to continue his search for the Apple of Eden. We learn the reason for Monteriggioni’s destruction, as Cesare Borgia’s army laid siege to the villa and the Apple was stolen from Ezio’s care. With the Borgias more powerful than ever, it is left up to Ezio to recruit and train a new team of young Assassins from the streets of Rome, which provides the backdrop for this entry in the franchise. Ezio works to turn Rome against the Borgias, and finally has a stand-off with Cesare Borgia, assassinating him and taking back the Apple. He hides it under the Coliseum, revealing its location to Desmond and his team. In the present day, they retrieve the Apple.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations picks up Desmond’s story as he investigates Ezio’s later memories, re-joining the Assassin in his dotage, on a pilgrimage to Masyaf to find the original headquarters of the Assassins’ order. Ezio finds Altaïr’s library, but it is locked by five keys that were also being sought by the Templars. And so he travels to Constantinople, where the keys are said to have been hidden by Niccolò Polo. With feuding brothers Selim and Ahmet vying for the Sultanate, Ezio races to find the keys whilst bringing order to a city torn apart by Templar machinations.
Assassin’s Creed III (2012)
The third chapter of the Assassin’s Creed franchise saw Desmond relive the memories of a half-Mohawk, half-British Assassin called Ratonhnhaké:ton, dubbed Connor by his British father, Haytham Kenway, who is revealed to have been a Templar agent. While Connor only appears in this chapter of the franchise, the Kenway line of Desmond’s ancestry would also provide the memories for the next game in the series.
Through the game, Connor is forced to come to terms with the betrayal of his Templar father, whilst learning the ways of the Assassin Brotherhood. On his journey, he encounters the tumult of the American revolution and, amongst other things, prevents an assassination attempt on the life of George Washington. In the present day, Desmond, ruined by years of activity in the Animus and fighting to prevent the end of the world by a solar flare prophesied for 2012 way back in the first game of the series, is killed when he uses precursor technology from the First Civilisation to stop the impending apocalypse.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)
Using samples taken from Desmond Miles’s body, Abstergo continues to investigate his genetic memories, this time disguising themselves as a virtual reality entertainment company, hoping to use the power of the cloud and the mass market to quickly scan through the mounds of data. Their first release took players back to the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean, where they relive the memories of Edward Kenway, Connor’s grandfather. Disguised as material-gathering for an Animus-powered feature film, Abstergo are really searching for the Observatory, a precursor structure that operates like the Animus but allows the participant to see through the eyes of any subject. Kenway manipulates the British, Spanish and French naval fleets in the area in order to locate the sage, Bartholomew Roberts, who could lead him to the Observatory.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue (2014)
Released concurrently with the next game in the series, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Rogue picks up on the sailing mechanic featured in Black Flag and takes players to the seas around North America in 1758. In a break from series traditions, which saw players always playing the role of an Assassin, the central character in Black Flag was revealed to be Shay Patrick Cormac, a Templar caught in the middle of the Seven Years’ War.
Assassin’s Creed Unity (2014)
The first Assassin’s Creed game for the new generation of consoles – the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One – Unity brings players into the heart of the French revolution in Paris and followed Arno Dorian, whose father was killed by Shay Patrick Cormac at the end of Assassin’s Creed Rogue. Adopted by a family whose patriarch is a Templar Grandmaster, Arno’s inability to stop his adoptive father’s murder led him on a quest that revealed his heritage as an Assassin, and he trained to fight with the Brotherhood. Along the way, he meets the Marquis de Sade, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Maximilien de Robespierre.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015)
The latest game in the main canon to date, Syndicate introduces the idea of dual protagonists, allowing players to switch freely between twins, Jacob and Evie Frye, in the industrial world of Victorian London. The city is controlled by a gang called The Rooks, who torment the Frye twins at every opportunity. With industrialist and Templar Crawford Starrick the puppet master behind the Rooks, the Frye twins are forced to re-establish control over the city, with the help of noted Victorians like Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin, and Charles Dickens.
A number of other games have advanced stories seen in the main series and introduced new Assassins of their own. Among them, Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles follows the Assassin of the first game as he wages war against the Saracens, and Bloodlines takes him to Cyprus to assassinate the last remnants of the Templars.
In Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery, Ezio rescues Christopher Columbus from a Templar trap set by Rodrigo Borgia, and he comes face-to-face with Tomás de Torquemada, revealed to be a Templar agent behind the Spanish Inquisition. Ezio chooses not to kill Torquemada when he encounters him, a task that will later fall to Aguilar, played by Michael Fassbender in the Assassin’s Creed feature film.
Amongst the most notable of the other Assassin’s Creed spin-offs are Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, a series of three games that transported players to China, and a new Assassin named Shao Jun; India, with the Assassin Arbaaz Mir; and Russia during the aftermath of the October Revolution, featuring the Assassin Nikolai Orelov.
The most recent Assassin’s Creed spin-off for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One was Assassin’s Creed: Jack The Ripper, which picks up with an older Evie Frye in Whitechapel in 1888, on the hunt for the infamous murderer. With Jacob out of action, and worrying reports that Jack once trained as an Assassin, Evie has to follow the clues to find her brother and stop the Ripper before he took more life.
Assassin’s Creed has offered fertile ground both for comic book authors and short filmmakers, with Ubisoft licensing a number of live-action and animated shorts to provide further insight into the world of the Assassin Brotherhood. In fact, Justin Kurzel’s film is not the first time Assassin’s Creed has been adapted into a live-action medium. A 36-minute prequel to Assassin’s Creed II was released on YouTube in 2009, allowing the publisher their first steps into the live-action realm. The story followed Giovanni Auditore, Ezio’s father, on an investigation into the mysterious assassination of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza. Using actors shot on green-screen sets, the film demonstrated the quality of Ubisoft’s world-building by placing them in high-resolution renders of the actual locations created for the game.
Assassin’s Creed (2016)
And so we come to the latest entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, less than ten years since it began. The Assassin’s Creed feature film introduces two new lead Assassins, both played by two-time Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender. At the Abstergo facility in the present day, Callum Lynch is a death row inmate spared lethal injection if he’ll promise to explore his genetic memories through the Animus. When he steps into the Animus, Cal is brought into the world of 15th Century Spain, and he becomes Aguilar de Nehar, a Master Assassin determined to unseat the Templar influence behind the Spanish Inquisition.
The Templars controlling Abstergo claim to be seeking to understand violence. In reality, they see in Cal the missing link on their search for the “Artefact”. But also at the Abstergo facility are a number of other captured Assassins, all of them struggling with the trauma induced by the Animus. As they help Cal to understand the traumatic history that put him on death row to begin with, and as he begins to understand the legacy his genetic memories have left behind for him, he will seek to stop the Templar plan before it can be executed.
The film will play a canon role in the ongoing development of Assassin’s Creed. Under the stewardship of Ubisoft, the events of the film will further deepen the games’ narrative about the battle between the Templars and the Assassins and the key tenets of the Assassin Brotherhood.
Article by Joe Utichi – www.joeutichi.com