There is something about Assassin’s Creed, the up-coming game from Ubisoft that has me salivating, shaking and smiling a toothless grin all at the same time, even though I only drool at night and I do actually have teeth. Not only has the Middle East been politically volatile for the past couple of thousand years, the prospect of visiting Jerusalem and Damascus during the time of the crusades to mete out murder is incredibly appealing.
I found myself getting a midnight snack a few nights ago, as one does when there is a new-born baby in the house, and staring at the glow from my Macbook on the kitchen counter. I couldn’t stop thinking about the video so I crack open a beer, slide my bowl of peanuts up to the machine, attach my HSDPA modem and go back to Gamespot to watch it again.
The opening scene of the video shows the player panning the view around the city of Jerusalem from the top of a tall building and all my years of reading and re-reading Umberto Eco come streaming back. The city looks real enough.
In fact that’s a sense I have been getting for a while now. I started playings games when Donkey Kong was big. Then I got a PC and things started going sour – the promise of realism was so vivid that a monochrome screen just didn’t cut it. Neither did Leisure Suit Larry on CGA graphics, or Doom on VGA. It was always as if the realism would come in just one more generation of technology. When the Playstation 2 came out I still felt that way.
But now I can say, with some conviction, that games feel real. I feel like Moses staring down at the promised land, as the people of Jerusalem bustle around in a busy market place. The XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 really do make gameplay something special and immersive. And also, to some extent, more dangerous. The ideological messages behind crime and warfare games were always easier to keep at an arm’s length because the simulation did not feel real.