Review: Ed Miliband Will Simply Love The New Assassin’s Creed

Next time a talking head harps on about the supposedly deleterious qualities of video games, consider this heart-warming tale.  

As a High-Anglican, royalist, Thatcherite Eurosceptic I had, naturally, always regarded Ed Miliband much as HG Wells’ Woking Victorians regarded the Martians: alien, remote, inexplicable and nothing to do with me. I had more in common with a horseshoe crab. Or so I thought.  

But then Ed let slip that, as a lad back in the ‘80s, he had been a fan of the ZX Spectrum classic “Manic Miner.” 

And then everything changed. I looked again at the Martian and saw a brother.  

Because I too was in thrall to Matthew Smith’s three-button 1983 stunner. 

Lord, it was infuriating. No leeway like you get nowadays. You had to be pixel perfect with your moves or poor Miner Willy was toast. Between us, Ed and I must have bumped him off hundreds of thousands of times. But we’d always come back for more, until its tinny background theme (Greig’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King,” savagely tortured by the Sinclair’s primitive voice box) drove our parents to apoplexy.

No matter that Ed played his as respite from the relentless selfishness and militarism of the Thatcher years, or that I played mine in breathless adoration of the Iron Lady. We both played.  

Because for those of us who were in at the start of gaming, Manic Miner was one of those peaks, a quantum leap in what computers could do and that — when joined with other greats — created the evolution-charting parabola that took in Nolan Bushnell’s “Pong” and Kevin Spacey’s “Advanced Warfare.”   

I LOVE IT, BUT I SUSPECT DIEHARD “ASSASSIN’S CREED” FANS WON’T BE AS BREATHLESS IN THEIR ADORATION

One of the more recent points on that glorious curve was assuredly Assassin’s Creed II. The first game never quite hit its stride, but there was promise. The second instalment fulfilled it in spades in 2009. By then, I had more responsibilities than I did in the days when Ed and I were Manic Miners, but it was still a trip to take a day off work to wander through Ubisoft’s stunningly-realised renaissance landscapes. Many of us just abandoned the game itself to wander around Florence, or Venice, jaws agape. It was like being trapped in a Canaletto. Who’d want to go back to the office?  

Of course, as with all blockbuster franchises, Assassin’s Creed spawned sequel after sequel, all of them successful but none of them, for my money, moving the bar quite as substantively as episode two’s glorious muscular shove.

So here comes the latest edition, “Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China”. There’s no doubt that there are going to be others and “India” and “Russia” are apparently in the works. But this is a total revamp, a beautiful detour from the main run of the series. Unlike the canonical games, Chronicles is, essentially, a scrolling platformer in direct line from Ed’s favourite bit of bedroom fun.  

And, my God, is it gorgeous? Ubisoft took its cues from Chinese watercolours to create a truly beautiful game, quite as stunning in its way as anything the series has had to show. With the gameplay’s emphasis on stealth rather than violence, it’s a real departure from what has gone before in almost every way. This is Manic Miner by way of Tarantino and Versace.  

I love it, but I suspect diehard “Assassin’s Creed” fans won’t be quite as keen. It’s always tricky to go against the grain. Sega’s “Alien Isolation” may have been a world away from the gun-spitting fury of most of the franchise’s efforts. It was beautiful and critically acclaimed, but it faded fast.

You can get “Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China” on your PC for peanuts via Steam. And you should, even if you love the originals. And that includes you, Ed.

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