Special Series Playthrough - Assassin’s Creed
ACIII and Black Flag had standalone add-ons, peripherally connected to their main games; both feature a slavery plot and thus far the only two black leads - let’s see if playing them together gives some weight to their stories, which really shouldn’t be confined to DLC.
Part Five; Liberation & Freedom Cry
Notably, ACIII’s Liberation has the first AC female lead; it wouldn’t be until Syndicate that we had another female hero, and she had to share the limelight with her brother. But here, our female hero is the only thing between us and … the good-guys?
We’re Aveline, a multiracial girl separated from her ex-slave mom during a shopping trip. By 1765, her father’s new wife, Madeleine has raised Aveline as a respectable lady fit for polite New Orleans society. By day that is. By night, Aveline the Assassin disrupts the slave trade and searches for clues about mom’s disappearance.
Returning from the Bayou a few years after assassinating a governor who oversaw the slave trade, Aveline discovers slaves are willingly returning to servitude; she boards a slave ship to a secret village in Mexico where well-cared for slaves are helping Templars search for an Isu object. As her mentor becomes increasingly erratic, Aveline realises the Templars’ goals are honourable and forsakes her Creed to become a Templar.
That could have been awesome, but it’s not what happened. As we make our way through the story, we witness unedited memories - Liberation isn’t someone in an animus reliving memories, we’re playing Abstergo’s first video game; a propaganda piece showing sympathetic Templars, and the truth is in the DLC. Very meta.
Rather than be a devious, subversive bit of satirical Fake News, or even an extended intro (Like Haytham’s long-winded start in ACIII), the Templar version is the entire game. We only actually play the truth in a post-credits scene which is a standard kill the Grandmaster ending. Otherwise, we’re just following the fake story and searching for hidden cutscenes around the map. And we learn all this early on, so it’s drained of tension and intrigue.
This could have been a two-sides story, the Assassins’ seeing the Templars as villainous and controlling and the Templars portraying the Assassins as usurpers and anarchists; while a middle truth is revealed. Given this is a video game within a video game, multiple choice could have worked.
Aveline deserves better than this. Consumed by her mom’s disappearance, managing her doting dad’s insistence that she marry while step-mum insists she behave like a lady, Aveline is rebelling against expectations as much as she is the Templars. And we’re just free-running through a linear story knowing we’re being lied to and unable to change it.
The slavery element is both central and secondary; Aveline is focused on it but isn’t doing a great deal to disrupt it - that might be due to Abstergo’s meddling - but it then becomes lost amongst the plotlines of who the Grandmaster is (which is both obvious and an incredulous coincidence), her mother’s fate, the disorganised and traitorous Assassins, and the Isu object hunt; none of which she really drives. The (presumably) deliberate continuity errors come across as convenient not suspect and you don’t force the truth to come out so you stop investing in any twists. Neither we nor Aveline are actually participating in this story.
Like the story, Aveline has some great ideas but she’s hamstrung. She can change into three outfits; standard assassin garb which gets her auto-notoriety in the Templar-controlled New Orleans; a well-dressed lady which allows her to sashay about charming men and be above suspicion but restricted in movement and weapons, and as a slave able to go unnoticed but any untoward behaviour triggers high-notoriety. It just doesn’t work - a slave only delays the guard’s curiosity, and being a Lady is too restrictive; understandable given the dress she’s wearing, but her charms aren’t infallible. It should let you chose the approach like a Hitman game, but usually it demands you do a mission in a particular costume so it’s just a way to add difficulty.
ACL is hard just for the sake of it. One mission has me stow aboard a slave ship. Now, I’m no slave trader but I think a slave trying to board is not going to be chased off? I have to get a box, follow other slaves then when we reach the dock, the slaves (and my box) disappear and tons of guards pop up. Why didn’t I just carry on following them onto the boat!? And why is my Slave suspicious, there’s other milling about?
The world is great looking though and considering this is rebuilt from ACIII it feels fresh and new. The Bayou is a great place to charge about in, and its tighter layout makes Aveline feel more capable than Connor was. The missions there are largely around our mentor’s outlandish missions and a smuggler group but there’s not a lot else other than to cure people of swamp fever and finding alligator eggs; collecting them all gets you a hat that … wards off alligators - the alligators I can easily avoid and only tussle with to get the eggs? Naa.
New Orleans is busy and vibrant and some missions, such as setting up diversions to lead a target to where you want them are good ideas, while collectables can only be recovered in certain outfits – the Lady can sweet talk diamonds out of suitors in a classic example of Ubisoft feminism - and Aveline can also manage Papa’s shipping business, but it has no bearing other than to gain money for weapons you never need; she gains a whip which is good fun and she can use it to miss jumps as often as makes them; talking of which we meet with Connor in one mission that screams padding. And what does he do? Gets stuck and fails the mission. How I’ve missed you. The Isu resolution is less interesting than an Alligator hat and one of their contraptions is like those ball-maze games you’d get in crackers. No wonder they died out.
ACL is frustratingly muddled – if it stuck to a true Templar plot, it could have built on Haytham’s ACIII arguments but it just cancels itself out and you realise it didn’t mean anything, which feels off for a game using Slavery as a backdrop. Aveline was great, but Abstergo should stick to world domination, they’re crap at gaming.
Still, if Liberation was a bit too timid, Freedom Cry is slavery by Quentin Tarantino.
Adéwalé, Black Flag’s take-no-shit Quartermaster turned Assassin recovers a ‘Precursor box’, an Isu trinket, but is shipwrecked at a slavery port near Haiti. Brothel madam Bastienne Josèphe intended to use the box to barter with the local Templars for more slavery freedoms, but when he refuses to give it up, she convinces Adé to help the slaves and build the Maroons, a local resistance driving out the Slave traders.
FC is a real down ‘n dirty game; there’s no subtlety here and it’s all the better for it. Throughout the port, Adé can find slaves who are on the run, injured, caged, being punished, transported or sold; all require Adé to slaughter Slavers with a variety of machetes and blunderbuss’ and it’s great. Never had so much fun brutalising NPCs. There’s an uncomfortable aspect to it through - freeing slaves unlocks upgrades so they are technically currency ... you start ignoring slaves or only help out when you need a particular upgrade. It makes sense that the more you help, the more the resistance will support you, but more than once I freed a plantation only because I wanted a cooler machete.
The Maroons have a ship they lend to Adé, which is only there because this is a Black Flag spin-off. You can save large numbers of slaves by taking down slave ships but it’s padding, and upgrading the ship is redundant since we only use it to save more slaver ships. FC would have worked a lot better as an intense guerrilla fight with Adé trapped on the island.
Being spotted by Slavers will get you chased which makes the usual ‘follow/eavesdrop’ missions a lot harder than they should be; other slaves are wandering free, why do I keep getting singled out? As always, there’s some idiotic mission parameters – Adé can suddenly walk into an estate as a slave but getting spotted fails the mission and you’re unarmed; so why bother, just go full Assassin - Adé is brutal with no sense of humour about slavery, why are the majority of his missions sneak and eavesdrop?
Still, his scenes with Bastienne are great; he thinks killing Slavers will bring freedom while she wants stability, rightly pointing out a freed slave is a hunted slave - over time Adé lets go of his anger and admits that the Assassin’s Creed is too rigid, recommitting himself to aiding those who can’t help themselves, accepting Slavery can’t be solved by spilling enough Slaver blood. It’s good to try though. Often I just kill Slavers as they pass by.
I’m not sure this is any more respectful to the slavery period than Liberation, but machete’ing Slavers and sinking slave ships feels a great deal more satisfying than Aveline’s vague disruption. A scene late on, where a slave ship is purposely sunk calls to mind the horrific Zong massacre and trying to survive it is upsetting; you do question this as entertainment, but afterwards, Adé loses his shit and storms the Slaver's mansion with a red hot poker; and you’re up for it.
Overall, Freedom Cry is a cracking little actioner and brutal, dismembering fun. But just like Liberation this isn’t really exploring Slavery – it’s a lot bolder than Liberation but perhaps less realistic. Of the two, it’s by far the better game but Liberation did touch on the way slavery became normalised and how that needed to be disrupted. Liberation also had some notable changes; Aveline’s whip and her disguises but most of all, Aveline herself. FC is just Black Flag on a smaller scale, but more Adéwalé is a good thing. It does have a wonderful moment where Adé dives a certain wreck though. Back to sea my trumps!
Taken together though, they do work; Aveline’s subtle Underground Railroad and Adé’s violent rebellion are two sides of the same horrible period and you wish they were full games; but unless Lincoln turns out to be an Assassin, we’ll never be able to play an AC Slavery game, it’s too contentious - so having those two as near-hidden side-games is at least an opportunity to explore it. Ignoring Liberation’s Abstergo interference, they work together pretty well. It’s a shame Aveline didn’t get more of a run; Adéwalé we meet again in Rogue, and I’d rather pretend he stayed on the island with Bastienne …
I really liked both those characters, but the shortness of their games keeps them from toppling Ezio as my number one assassin; but up next isn’t even an Assassin. It’s an Assassin hunter. An Assassin Assassin. AC Rogue, aka Black Flag on Ice is up next.