Episode 217: A Craft Discussion About Charles Bukowski’s On Writing, with Vanessa Blakeslee!

Tags

, , , , , ,

Episode 217 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about On Writing, a book of selections from Charles Bukowski’s letters,

Vanessa and John 2

plus poet Henry Hughes writes me a letter about his own correspondence with Bukowski back from 1989 and 1991.

Henry Hughes
TEXTS DISCUSSED

On Writing

post-office-charles-bukowski

Women

Bukowski Hughes letter 1 Bukowski Hughes letter 2 Bukowski Hughes letter 3Bukowski Hughes letter 4Bukowski Hughes letters 5Hughes 1Hughes 2Hughes 3NOTES


Episode 217of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Curator of Schlock #148: A Bullet for the General

The Curator of Schlock #148 by Jeff Shuster

A Bullet for the General

(I’d hate to be the General.)

GeneralA

If they were to stop making movies tomorrow, I don’t know that it would matter to me. There are decades upon decades of cinema to sift through.  I could probably live three lifetimes and not have enough time see every movie ever made. I decided to ban of covering any movie made past 1979 for the whole year on this blog. This was due to my trauma at viewing the Adam Sandler comedy Pixels and its misuse of 1980s nostalgia.

GeneralB

I like to do theme months on this blog to force myself into exploring a particular genre of film. I went with Spaghetti Westerns this month because I was obsessed with Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy as a boy. I remember recording a syndicated broadcast of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the late 1980s. As I recall, the network split the movie up and aired it  on two nights to accommodate the almost three hour length. It was pan and scan in addition to being chock full of commercials that I had to fast forward through, but none of that mattered. I was mesmerized by the coolness of Clint Eastwood, the cruelty of the villains, and the Civil War backdrop. I can still quote lines from the movie like when Tuco says, “I like big, fat men like you. When they fall down, they make more noise. Sometimes they don’t even get up at all.” I used to listen my father’s LP of the Ennio Morricone score while working on my 6th grade homework.  I spent my allowance on western capguns and holsters while donning my dad’s cowboy hat, imagining what it would be like to be a bounty killer in the untamed west.

GeneralC

But I never really went on to explore the genre beyond that classic trilogy until this month. You have to understand that while having access to cable TV and video cassette recorders gave me access to movies that previous generations of movie watchers could only have dreamed, that was still nothing compared to what we have access to today. DVD and Blu-Ray gave companies an excuse to re-release obscure and forgotten classics. Streaming channels also give access to films you’d never see on cable or broadcast television.

GeneralD

The four films I watched for the blog this month are available on Amazon Prime. I enjoyed them all, but A Bullet for the General from director Damiano Damiani stands above the rest. In fact, I would argue it stands as tall the Man With No Name trilogy. I don’t really want to write about the movie because it’s so good that I want you to watch it with few hints of what to expect. From the title, you can gather that the movie is about a general and a bullet with his name on it.

GeneralF

A Bullet for the General belongs to a sub-genre of the sub-genre of Spaghetti Westerns called the Zapata Western, a genre that deals with the political themes of the Mexican Revolution.  Make no mistake, though, this is a Spaghetti Western: ugly characters, cruel deaths, and moral complexity. For instance, if an evil man saves your life and gives you a square deal, what does that make him to you? A friend? If an evil man is your friend, what does that make you? Think on that. Until next week.

_______

Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Save

McMillan’s Codex #49: Call of Duty 4 (Modern Warfare)

Tags

,

McMillan’s Codex #49 by C.T. McMillan

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Since reviewing Advanced Warfare, Call of Duty (CoD) has been on my mind. Infinite Warfare is just months away and all I can think about is where everything went wrong. In the past I explored how the series has evolved and decayed with each installment. Because the last truly great entry was nearly a decade ago, I have become used to the mediocrity. I have spent so much time talking about why CoD is no longer good that I have failed to mention what made the series so compelling. Modern Warfare 2 is arguably the last best CoD, but looking further back I realize the game’s predecessor is far greater.

0000002999What makes Modern Warfare (MW) exceptional is simplicity. Each level consists of you shooting people and moving to an objective marker to shoot more people. Along the way you defend an area, plant explosives, or sneak past enemies. At the game’s core MW is as basic as Doom (2016), but not as incredible.

The set pieces are probably the best handled. Instead of being short vignettes to tease players because the developers hate you, they take up whole levels. The famous “Death From Above” mission is an extended sequence where you play a C-130 gunner providing covering fire for a ground team. You are put into the guts of a gunship and your vision switches to infrared.

The plane rumbles while the crew fills you in on the situation. The entire mission is you flying over a town covering the ground team with three available weapons. The spotter calls out shots and enemy movements that play out in real time. The crew also reacts to what is happening on the ground in a casual manner while the team will radio in as a gunfight plays out in the background.

“All Ghillied Up” is another great set piece that became copied and pasted throughout the series. The level is a flashback to an assassination mission in Chernobyl where you play one of two snipers sneaking into the Exclusion Zone swarming with Soviet troops. You wear the titular ghillie suit, a camouflage garment that makes you look like a Wookiee, and crawl through the overgrown foliage with rifle in hand.

0000002994Your partner provides instruction as you come upon guards to take them out quietly. At one point you encounter an army marching towards you and must lie in a field to avoid them as they walk over you. Later you move into the heart of Chernobyl where the environment has taken over. You pass through the Swimming Pool Azure, set up a firing position in a worker’s housing block, and exfiltrate from the Pripyat Amusement Park.

MW also does the modern warfare aesthetic well before the concept became a joke in videogame culture. The game takes the CoD signature of playing multiple characters, across multiple theaters of war, and applies a modern context. Instead of fighting in an open field or small town like in past games, the sections where you play an ordinary soldier take place in urban environments. Firefights are close and intense with a lot of exciting moments like a tank rolling through the streets and a nighttime battle.

When you play as an operator in the SAS, your missions are low-key and far more complex than those of the ordinary soldier. You are always alone with your team without an army to back you up. You work behind the scenes, taking care of the small problems that lead to bigger ones. In one instance you infiltrate an active combat zone that you are not directly involved with to rescue an informant. Towards the end combat becomes more intense where you fight off a small army and a helicopter while riding in the back of a truck.

0000002991Returning to the first Modern Warfare reminded me of what once made Call of Duty great and what the new games get wrong. Too long has the series wallowed in a monotonous slog of pointless gameplay features on top of hollow set pieces and broken promises. Modern Warfare proves that you do not need more to be good, and that having more could mean stagnation in the long run.

_______

CT McMillan 1

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

Save

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #33: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2014)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

33. Dominic Dromgoole and Robin Lough’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2014)

Plenty of film adaptations of Shakespeare actually happen to be adaptations of stage versions of Shakespeare’s plays, since the vision of theatrical directors and the experience of the actors can make an expedient transition to a two dimensional plane.

Of course, the temptation and haste of many of those films means that a breathtaking stage production becomes either merely adequate, or even a disappointing film.

A great stage version is greater than a great film of Shakespeare, dear readers. If you have good theater near you, do go. Don’t just sit at home watching Shakespeare alone in the dark if good actors are doing good work in your vicinity. There is something special about the uniqueness of every single performance, of sharing the same air as the actors, of being neurologically a part of the same experience the actors are creating with you.

One inevitable solution to this potential source of regret of missing out on theatrical experience is to film, directly, a stage production itself. This can be a wonderfully satisfying experience, as is the case in Shakespeare’s Globe film of its stage show of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

MSND5

The Globe seen in this film is a recreation of the original O-shaped theater that Shakespeare was a co-owner of in his time, and the new one is located not far from where the original once squatted. I don’t know as much about this establishment as I could, but there seems to be a commitment to maintaining a reasonable fidelity to period. The architecture, costumes, props, effects, and music seem apropos for the Renaissance without being fusty. Yet there are modern touches, such as electricity, women playing women roles, presumably civilized toilets, and very good lighting. And the audience has not been asked to wear seventeenth century duds or practice hygiene from four centuries ago.

There is something in the world of Shakespearean performance today called period practice that tries to pretend that the performance is actually happening in the Renaissance itself. The Globe appears to be sort of working in that tradition, but less priggishly so.

This film is charming in the way its camera cuts simulate the dynamic experience of being at the theater, and some of the conceptual ways that the drama is enacted, so simply, let us get into the story more quickly and deeply than a million dollars’ worth of CGI effects would have.

MSND 11

One odd peculiarity of seeing a film of a stage play performance of a comedy is that you can hear the audience laughing, like a laugh track on a sit com, and I can almost hear someone saying, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream was filmed before a live studio audience.” The effect of this laughter isn’t creepy though (unlike sit coms) because you can actually see the audience.

Obviously, though, while these elements can add charm to the film, the director and actors have to surprise us with the interpretation of the play, in this case, a play that is performed and over-performed, and over-over-performed, like a bar musician playing his cover of “Stairway to Heaven.”

So Dominic Dromgoole, the stage director, chose to emphasize the carnality of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the interrelationship of the faeries and the human realm, this sort of subconscious current of desire.

MSND 8

Sarah MacRae plays Helena, whose love for the young noble Demetrius (Joshua Silver) is painfully unrequited. Deep in the Athenian woods with him, she temps him with her sensuality when he earnestly praised the worthiness of her virginity, and Demitrius is momentarily swayed. During this interlude, the Faerie King, Oberon (Chuck Light), is invisibly learning from a tree and touching her hair, a pervy crossing of a boundary, but done so gently and sensitively that we understand why he is moved to help her win her man.

MSND 9

Traditionally, Helena comes off as a mewling sad sack, so this portrayal is a nice touch.

When Oberon learns of how effective his sexual prank of Titiana has turned out, he celebrates rather exuberantly with his clownish assistant, Puck (Matthew Tennyson).

MSND2

This uncontainable lust continues to expand when Lysander and Demetrius, now both magically enamored of Helena, attempt to fight one another with Helena between them, although this wrestling looks like nothing so much as dry-humping, with Oberon humping the phallic tree he is holding onto. Is he responding to their behavior, or causing it?

MSND 6What makes the scene poignant is that Hermia (Olivia Ross) is looking on at this maddening scene.

Another fine touch is that as the play progresses, and Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander wander further into the wood of the unconscious, they get physically dirtier and more unkempt.

MSND 12

Have I mentioned that this film is wonderfully funny?

MSND 13

I don’t want to give too much more away, but the rude mechanicals can easily make or break any A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As James Cagney proved, a bad Bottom, the excitable, egotistical amateur actor, punishes an audience. One can’t go the full bad Bottom. One must act the idea of the bad Bottom.

MSND 10

Pearce Quigley’s Bottom is understated in his idea of bad acting, finding most of the humor in his fun timing, which allows the other rude mechanicals to be a greater part of the show, and not just props for a narcissist.

Robin Lough’s film of Dominic Dromgoole’s stage show sets an impressively high bar for filmed stage shows. Shakespeare, and the theatrical experience, is very much alive in it.

_______

1flip

John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 216: J. Bradley!

Tags

Episode 216 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to J. Bradley about his new novel, Jesus Christ, Boy Detective,

Jesse Bradley

plus Tom McAllister reads his essay, “A Brief History of World Travel, Part 6.”

Tom McAllister Alaska

TEXTS DISCUSSED

j_bradley-jesus_christ_boy_detective-front_coverFR_40_1 - front cover

NOTES

  • For those of you who’d like to read “A Brief History of World Travel, Part 6,” or follow Tom McAllister in general, go here.
  • Subscribe to The Florida Review for only $15 a year.

Episode 216 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Save

Save

The Curator of Schlock #147: A Noose for Django

Tags

The Curator of Schlock #147 by Jeff Shuster

A Noose for Django

A bunch of guys get shot. The End.

Noose1

Yeehaw. I know I promised you, my ever so patient audience, a review of A Pistol for Ringo two weeks ago, but I’ve decided to postpone that review. As it turns out, A Pistol for Ringo takes place around Christmastime and I know I’ll be struggling to find some decent Christmas movies to review this year due to my post-1979 ban. So we’ll be covering A Noose for Django instead. There is no character named Django in this movie. For that matter, there isn’t a noose in this movie either. This title is one big old lie. We’re off to a rocky start.

Noose2

A Noose for Django came out in 1969 and was directed by Sergio Garrone. He also directed Django the Bastard and Kill Django…Kill First, one of which features a character named Django. He also directed a film titled Terrible Day at the Big Gundown. I don’t know what a gundown is. I assume it involves gunslingers getting gunned down. Apparantly, Sergio Leone directed a western called The Big Gundown which is considered second only to his “Man with No Name” trilogy so I should check that one out.

Noose4

What is A Noose for Django about? I have to be honest with you folks, I had trouble following this one. Wikipedia summarizes the movie in one sentence, “A pair of bounty hunters team up to hunt down an outlaw gang that has been sneaking illegal immigrants over the border to sell as slaves.”  Ummm. That’s sort of true. See, there’s a wealthy American landowner named Mr. Fargo (Riccardo Garrone) who is sneaking Mexican peasants over to work his farm/plantation? It’s not really made clear. I think he promises to pay them once the work is done, then has his gang of bandits murder them instead. The US Army doesn’t approve and they tell him to knock it off.

There are two bounty hunters in this movie. Anthony Steffen plays Johnny Brandon, a stubble faced bounty hunter who keeps insisting that he’s not in it for the money. I thought the purpose of being a bounty hunter was collecting bounties, but what do I know?

Noose3

The other bounty hunter is a preacher named Everett Murdock (William Berger). I like this guy. He’s got the whole Solomon Kane thing going on. Plus, he carries the coolest gun I’ve ever seen in a western, a kind of six barrel shotgun that you do not want to be on the receiving end of.

Noose5

Brandon and Murdock decide to team up to take down Mr. Fargo and his gang of bandits. No wonder Mr. Fargo can’t afford to pay the peasants what he owes them. He has at least a hundred bandits working for him. Brandon and Murdock keep killing Fargo’s henchmen until it’s revealed that Murdock and Fargo had actually worked out a deal to kill Fargo’s own men and collect on the bounty money. This kind of leaves Brandon out in the cold. There’s a three-way showdown at the end. Brandon wins. Justice is served. Blah. Blah. Blah.

_______

Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

McMillan’s Codex #48: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Tags

, , ,

McMillan’s Codex #48 by C.T. McMillan

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Call of Duty is the mascot of missed opportunity. Modern Warfare 2 had decent stealth mechanics that should have been used more often, Black Ops 2 had drones that were not incorporated enough, and Ghosts was a total mess. Not until Black Ops 3 did the series give players full control of the cool stuff whenever they wanted. The last game to restrict players was Advanced Warfare (AW), which should have been more accessible as a revitalization of the series with so many new things.

ss_1f93a052028f11eddd44b4972acd92d535d07974-2

AW was a paradigm shift. Improved graphics aside, the game marked the core Call of Duty titles’ transition into the future. Exoskeletons, power armor, and walking tanks have become the norm in the game’s fiction. AW stays grounded in relative reality where nothing is too shiny or impossible to conceive in speculation. What you see is still conceptual today.

One interesting aspect of AW is the examination of private military corporations (PMCs). The game images a world where one such corporation has become a monolithic entity with influence and resources to rival the world’s militaries. The fictional Atlas Corporation (how original) is the Disney of private security. They have the power to end wars, rebuild whole countries, and provide humanitarian assistance in the wake of disaster.

What AW tries to convey with Atlas is that contemporary PMCs have the capacity to grow bigger than conventional government forces. Imagine China or the US being outmanned and outgunned by a body that does not answer to a country or set ideology. This entity is a superpower that does not operate by constitution, but by committee. The presence of such a corporation creates a massive moral grey area where anyone with enough money can pay them to do whatever they want. You could order the genocide of a whole ethnic group and the PMC will do so as long as you have the cash.

Call of Duty 2

With this moral ambiguity the motives of this corporation are nebulous, yet AW explores this idea in the most run of the mill way possible. Atlas is just an evil corporation bent on world domination and the fact that Kevin Spacey was the CEO did not help. Instead of exploring the ambiguity of PMCs, AW postulates that absolute power corrupts absolutely without trying to broach the central idea that makes PMCs controversial. In the end, the game is trying to say that if you are Keyser Soze with a giant army, you are bad.

Oh, and there is a story about the main character having daddy issues, but this plot was so trite there is no point in explaining why.

The trend of missed opportunities continues in the gameplay. With the introduction of EXO Abilities you can jump higher, quick dodge, and scale walls, but only when the game lets you. Each level restricts you to a set number of abilities and weapons when they could have been useful. Access to accelerated movements, micro drones, and gloves that let you climb walls would have helped you out in a number of situations. At one point you can bounce from side to side avoiding incoming fire and then you cannot come the next level because I guess the developers did not want players to have fun.

The futuristic side of the game is realized less so in the overall world. On the first mission you are shot out of an airship in a drop-pod like a soldier in the Mobile Infantry. You land in a skyscraper and make your way down to the street where a full-blown war is in progress, walking tanks and all. Later there are hover bikes, an experimental hover tank, and power armored heavy troopers with Gatling-gun arms. There is so much cool stuff in AW that I do not understand why the developers chose not to exploit such content.

Call of Duty 3

Advanced Warfare is everything Call of Duty has been for years: A set piece simulator. You have all these things you get to experience only once before they are gone completely. There is no meaning behind what you do because they are so superficially included just to break up the monotony of the gameplay. If the set pieces were better applied, then the gameplay would not be monotonous. While space dogfights and the ability to choose your missions in the upcoming Infinite Warfare seems great, I have been tricked one too many times to believe such a paradigm shift will happen. Maybe the developers have learned to have fun, but after all this time I am not holding my breath.

_______

CT McMillan 1

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

Save

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #32: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

32. David Kerr’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016)

As I’ve often said, comedy and tragedy are not that far apart in Shakespearean drama. Comedies end with weddings, and tragedies … a pile of corpses. The tension between these two extreme outcomes is such an important part of Shakespeare’s appeal: Hamlet is really fucking funny, and Much Ado About Nothing has a serious share of mourning and sorrow.

MSND BBC 1

David Kerr’s new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reminds us of these tensions by leaning into comedy’s tragic potential even more than the bard originally did. More often than not, AMND is treated like a fantastical farce in which faeries and humans alike are both made helpless and ridiculous by their desires, but will ultimately be comforted by romantic love. In Kerr’s version, the context is a bit darker, and the outcome is less certain.

MSND 12

Duke Theseus of Athens is a fascist tyrant in a retro-futuristic contemporary setting. Many productions show the impending nuptials between Theseus and Hippolyta as a tense union, but this version (adapted by Russel T. Davies) shows Theseus as outright domineering, Hippolyta being a prisoner in a straight-jacket.

MSND BBC 14

The mood is darker still when Egeus petitions Theseus to intercede in a quarrel with his daughter in regard to her suitors. Egeus wishes her to marry Demetrius, in this case a loyal soldier of Theseus’s, instead of her favored suitor, Lysander. Shakespeare has Theseus tell Hermia that she must abide her father’s wishes, or else face execution, or else (and here Shakespeare diminishes the stakes) become a nun. The Theseus of this MSND does not offer Hermia the third option.

The aggressive conflicts in the human world are nearly as brutal in the faery world. Maxine Peake is the most impressive Titania I’ve ever seen, determined not just in grace, but in physicality, not to submit to her Oberon.

MSND BBC

And Nonso Anomie’s Oberon is equal to the menace and seriousness of conflict this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is pursuing.

MSND BBC 5

The make up and special effects of this film work intuitively, persuasively, so that the faery element joins the drama rather than being an awkward lark imposed upon the audience. The passions and cruelties of this play have never felt so intense in the watching.

MSND BBC 15

Murray Gold’s music is remarkable for its accents that keep such bold moves from being sloppy camp. For avoiding the Mendelssohn and other overfamiliar music, Gold offers a lot of dramatic oomph without being absurd.

MSND BBC 7

The acting is stellar, down to every last actor, and the rude mechanicals, including the misadventures of Bottom, come off as surprisingly new despite this being Shakespeare’s most often performed comedy.

I am rushing a bit through this review, dear readers, but then again this film comes in under 90 minutes, and keeps up a nearly manic pace.

Russel T. Davies has taken quite a few liberties with the text, including giving lines to different characters than Shakespeare did, but the result is one of the best films of Shakespeare that has ever been made.

_______

1flip

John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 215: Lisa Wolpe!

Tags

, , ,

Episode 215 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I interview the actor and writer Lisa Wolpe,

Lisa Wolpe open arms Alchemy

plus Mistie Watkins reads her essay, “Why I Write.”

Mistie Watkins

NOTES

Get tickets for Lisa Wolpe’s current run of shows here.

macbeth3

Alchemy of Gender

Learn more about Lisa’s work and the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company here.

THAT

Check out THAT Literary Revue here.

Kevin Crawford as Macbeth

Check out my interview with another Shakespearean actor, Kevin Crawford, back on episode 4 here.


Episode 215 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

McMillan’s Codex #47: Me, Myself, and Assassin’s Creed

McMillan’s Codex 47 by C.T. McMillan

Me, Myself, and Assassin’s Creed

Did you ever like something when you were young then feel embarrassed at an old age? Some look at Star Wars or pop music and realize how stupid they were as a kid. I remember all the Dragon Ball Z I used to watch, and I cringe.

In terms of videogames I lost interest in the Assassin’s Creed (AC) series, but not from growing up.

0000003840

AC grew up too fast for me to keep up. What was the progenitor of the aggressive stealth genre has become a cavalcade of inconsistent successive content and deliberate narrative retardation. My aversion to the series started after just three games and since abandoning AC, nothing has changed.

The basic conceit of the series is what drew me in. The first Assassin’s Creed takes place in present day, but you play in a virtual simulation of Altair, an Assassin during the Crusades. You travel across the Holy Land killing targets of the Knights Templar and their sympathizers. The Assassin/Templar conflict has been going on for centuries and your character, Desmond Miles, is the captive of the Templars in the present using the simulation to find a weapon by tapping into your lineage.

Assassin’s Creed was the first game to experiment with aggressive stealth, a sub-genre of regular stealth with an emphasis on speed and power. Instead of sneaking, you run and climb your way to approach a target before landing the killing blow. This sets off an inevitable chase where you must evade pursuers and hide out in a number of designated spots. Line-of-sight plays an essential role: as long as you are not seen, you will not be detected. Hiding and running are your only options because the game’s combat is not very good.

The historical fiction aspect is why I got into the games with the use of real people, places, and cultures. I like history, particularly ancient Rome, and the Crusades are a great setting. As the series progressed, the period gimmick persisted with Assassin’s Creed 2 taking place in Renaissance Italy. As Ezio Auditore you become entrenched in the Assassin/Templar conflict after your father and brothers are wronging executed. Visiting Florence, Milan, and Venice you track down Templar operatives embedded in the Catholic Church while unveiling the legacy of the Assassins.

ss_5e706eb078ccdf6a3171eb16b5f2cd35abaa184b

Assassin’s Creed 2 was like the first game, but bigger. The number of people you kill is extensive, the cities larger, and your range of abilities increased. You now have two hidden blades that pop out of your wrists, meaning you can kill two targets at once, and use them in combat, which was easier to manage. When performing a combo you could switch targets and engage another, something you could not do in the last game because enemies were so aggressive. You can also disarm targets and use their weapons or shoot them with a wrist-mounted pistol.

Then came Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, a spinoff of 2 that was the same game, but scaled back and with notable additions. Set in Rome, the story follows Ezio battling the House of Borgia, a prominent family from the 15th Century. You also become friends with Leonardo Da Vinci and prevent his inventions from becoming weapons. The titular brotherhood is an army of Assassins you can employ and train by sending them on quests throughout Europe. In combat they can be used to take targets out from a far or engage in melee.

Brotherhood was my Revenge of the Sith before Force Awakens. I thought this was the end of Ezio’s story and the follow up would take the series in a new direction. On top of that, the present-day story ended at a pivotal moment that opened up a lot of narrative potential. I wanted to see where Desmond would explore next in his lineage and then came Revelations.

To be totally clear, Brotherhood was the last AC game I ever played because of Revelations. The story focused on Ezio (for a third time) in Constantinople investigating his ancestry, while Desmond was in a coma experiencing a virtual hallucination. As a result, the overarching science fiction story stops so the writers could make up things they obviously did not plan out the first time.

This was also the start of AC becoming an annualized series. Since 2011 there has been a new entry that adds and takes away content. Your Assassin army and fancy gadgets are gone in Assassin’s Creed 3 where you play Desmond’s Mohawk ancestor Connor in the American Revolution.

My biggest problem was how the present day story purposefully negated making progress. The narrative reaches a point of relative no return because of what happened in Revelations. To keep the series going, the writers added a deus ex machina that made no logical sense and was a poor excuse to continue an already dying series.

Had the writers not painted themselves into a corner AC could have gone to more interesting places. I expected the Assassin/Templar conflict to become this Illuminati war where governments, corporations, and religious factions battle for control of the world with ancient weapons whose origins are telling of our origins as species. That and the use of historical simulations was why I fell in love with AC and that did not happen. Instead, three more games came out.

ss_dd6a4d319cda32c24a4e16a0a62908e82673f458

Assassin’s Creed has been dead to me for a long time. The stagnation, Baywatch levels of narrative choices, and the gutting of content proved too much. The once unique action adventure series that grabbed me as a history buff has become a hollow shell with age. I would have said this was the end of my affinity if developer Ubisoft did not announce they pulled Assassin’s Creed off the annual circuit. How much time they will take is unclear, but I have hope that a whole year will be enough time for a proper realignment, and maybe my faith will be restored.

_______

CT McMillan 1

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,126 other followers