[Warning: Possible Spoilers]
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag comes out in the UK in just under a month now. I’m going to be honest with you though, I’m not so totally psyched about it like everyone else seems to be. After the broken, counterproductive mess which was Assassin’s Creed 3, even the superb ship mechanics which are being carried over will be overdone to the point of being repetitive in AC numero quatro.
But, hey! At least Desmond Miles won’t be in this one, am I right?
Well, I wouldn’t get your hopes up, just yet. Video game protagonists respawn as quickly as superheroes these days. And besides, even if he is dead, somebody will come back to replace him as a plot device – then the problems begin all over again.
You see, the problem isn’t with Desmond Miles as a character. Granted, he’s a bitchy, whiny, complacent, complaining sap who never takes the opportunities given to prove himself. The problem isn’t that Altair, Ezio and Connor overshadowed Desmond (I would argue that Connor matches Desmond in mediocrity). The problem isn’t even that Desmond’s story isn’t interesting – it is!
No, the problem is the Animus.
You see, the Animus acts as our window into the past. It’s how Ubisoft kept a sense of consistency in their stories. It worked as an excuse for the repetitive gameplay and mechanics which were only well-executed in Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood.
The interface of the main menu, the loading screen and even the pause screen are all designed to reflect a look into the Animus. Ubisoft want the player to feel like Desmond Miles inside the Animus, that’s why the worlds have those beautiful glitchy aesthetics (or in the case of AC 3, that broken glitchy asthetic). That’s why it doesn’t cause dissonance when tutorial messages pop up while on missions.
That’s why we actually hate Desmond Miles.
Remember the first moments of Assassin’s Creed? The first person view of Desmond, locked inside the ancestor-machine-3000? Looking around at the Abstergo employees who locked you in? Then being flashed backwards through time, playing as Altair in a crowd of beautifully rendered citizens in a packed square? Not only did these opening moments serve as a demo of how beautiful the game would look on ‘next-gen consoles,’ but it also worked as a demo of the Animus – or at least, it felt that way. Whilst Abstergo tweaked the settings on the Animus, the player went through these minor tests in the beginning to work out the quirks.
It wasn’t until Desmond started to walk around and… ugh, do things that the game began to get… strange. We were no longer Desmond Miles, locked in the Animus/games console, we were a gamer, playing as Desmond Miles, walking around an office, and about to be locked inside the Animus/games console inside our games console.
Now, isn’t that a mindfuck.
And whether you realise it or not, it’s one of the biggest things which will be niggling around at the back of your head whenever you play Assassin’s Creed again, whether Desmond Miles is in the game or not.
Think about Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. How strange did it feel when Desmond woke up on that weird virtual island… thing. You were literally seeing him inside the Animus. Dissonance was at an all-time high, and it made the jump into Constantinople even more of a gut-shift than usual. If Ubisoft really wanted to keep plot-device Miles, they should have kept him in the first-person, and reduced control of him to a minimum.
The fact of the matter is, we should stop judging Desmond for being a pathetic moron who refuses to take responsibility or control of his life. Instead, we should blame the Animus for not realising its full potential. Ubisoft should have kept the illusion that the Animus was just an extension of our games console. What started off as a great idea fell away to poor attempts to create an interesting sci-fi story, all at the cost of the suspension of disbelief, and us, being the open-minded community that we are, immediately pointed the finger at Desmond Miles.
Poor guy, all he ever wanted to be was a bartender.