Monday, December 23, 2013

Assassin's Creed: The Fall (Deluxe Edition) review

    It's a simple fact most adaptations of works from one media to another suck. Video games made out of movies stink, novelizations of movies are just as bad, and comic books made out of video games have a history of being cheap tie-ins. This isn't a hard and fast rule but it's generally true. This is why I wasn't too enthusiastic about reading the Assassin's Creed comic book series.

    Still, I was intrigued by the prospect of the comic which deals with the backstory of Assassin's Creed 3 character Daniel Cross. The comics were also said to be "canonical", which doesn't really interest me as long as a story is well told but made me consider Ubisoft might be serious about this story being good.

    Apparently, the folk at Ubisoft shared my misgivings since opening the trade paperback, I was exposed to a letter talking about how cross-media material usually sucks. So, I give kudos to Ubisoft for addressing the issue head on.

    So, is The Fall any good?

    Yes, yes it is.

The covers are quite beautiful.
    The premise is Daniel Cross, troubled twenty-something, is having flashbacks to the memories of his ancestor, Nikolai Orelov. At the very beginning, we know Daniel's memories are linked to something more than the nebulous genetic memory pseudo-science at the heart of Assassin's Creed but how and why unfolds throughout the story.

    I find The Fall to be unique amongst Assassin's Creed media in that I actually preferred the modern sections of the story to the past. This isn't because the past sections are boring, quite the contrary, they deal with one of the more intriguing periods in world history with the Russian Revolution.

The transitions between modern day and 19th/early 20th century Russia are quite powerful.
    Instead, it's due to the fact the Daniel Cross mystery is intriguing and well-paced. I also liked seeing how the modern-day Assassins functioned. We only got a hint of that in the video games. I particularly liked the depiction of the camps which are implied to be the same as the one Desmond Miles grew up in and the discussion of the Mentor's role in the modern Brotherhood.

    The character of Daniel Cross himself is a nice contrast to the somewhat bland Desmond Miles, being a schizophrenic and unstable adult who is recruited into the Assassins only because of the value of the data in his head.

    Watching him transform as he comes to accept the Assassin ideology and his role in the world was good, as well as vaguely foreboding. How the story plays out is both shocking as well as satisfying. I doubt I would have enjoyed it half as much, either, without the cute character of Hannah backing up Daniel's journey.

    The sections regarding Nikolai Orelov, Russian anarchist turned Bolshevik revolutionary, are petty good themselves. The comics are able to add a layer of moral ambiguity to the struggle between the Templars and Assassins, highlighting the cause for freedom has created as many villains as heroes.

    Nikolai tries to liberate Russia from the yolk of the Czars but is continually pushed to more and more extreme actions by the Brotherhoood--even as he just wants to live a normal life. It's an excellent contrast to Ezio Auditore and Connor, who both were wholly committed to the Assassin cause. Knowing someone like Lenin was allied with the Assassins makes perfect sense but also darkens up the game's perennial champions.

It's hard to do the right thing when everyone you care about is telling you to do what's against your conscience.
    I also loved the book's all-too-brief cameo by Nikola Tesla. Which brings me to the book's only major flaw, which is the fact that it's six issues to cover one of the most extraordinary periods in human history plus a storyline set in modern times.

    The book makes good use of economic storytelling but really just feels like "snapshots" of the period versus something approaching a coherent tale. I think at least twice the issues were necessary for this story to be told properly.

    I bought the Deluxe Edition and while this is the only version readily available, I can't say it's particularly better. There's some extra drawings and artwork but the biggest additions are entries from the Assassin's Creed Encyclopedia. Which, unfortunately, mostly deal with the very same characters from the comic book. This wouldn't be a problem if not for the fact all of the information in these entries comes from The Fall itself.

    Assassin's Creed: The Fall is a good comic and worth my money but it's hardly essential. I recommend it only to those fans of the franchise who are really into the setting's mythology. Otherwise, there's better stuff to pick up.


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