I think everyone agrees that when you’ve created an immersive fictitious universe that people find awesome, you need to make an animated spin-off–in that universe but usually in a different era entirely–so that people think the world is even more robust and crazy awesome. See: The Animatrix, or Star Wars: The Clone Wars, or the upcoming Halo: Legends.
Ubisoft aren’t about to miss that train, so they’re releasing Assassin’s Creed: Lineage, a series of short films set in the AC game world. The films star *Googles for the name for the 80th time* Giovanni Auditore da Firenze, who happens to be the father of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, the star of Assassin’s Creed 2. Like his son after him, Giovanni is a bad ass hooded assassin in old timey Italy (1476 A.D. to be exact).
Question: If there’s been at least two generations of hooded assassin’s in Italy–Giovanni says his ancestors before him were assassin’s too–isn’t the jig kind of up on that whole outfit? Aren’t assassin’s supposed to blend in instead of looking a they sport a dozen secret blades and are up to secret shit?
Anyway, the first thing you may notice about Lineage is how beautiful it looks. Every crease in Giovanni’s standard-issue assassin’s hood is realistically rendered. Cloth moves like actual cloth. When Giovanni fights, he spins and slashes his sword like an actor would in real life. And that’s because it is. Lineage features a real life cast of actors, shot using green screen. Hybride Studios–the guys behind 300 and Sin City–produced the whole thing, and the effect is something close to Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf, but realer.
Two other good things about Lineage are the story and the acting, both surprising given that this is a film based on something video game related. The actors deliver their lines with gravity and the seriousness of Shakespeare, but in a way that fits and draws you in. There’s a plot to assassinate the Duke of Milano, and Giovanni is deployed to investigate. Other stuff happens but if I said more I’d literally spoil the thing’s 15 minutes of running time. Just watch the damn thing.
If there’s something off in Lineage, it’s that it kind of feels like a long trailer instead of an episode. There’s a certain floatiness and montage-like quality to the scenes that prevents you from settling down and getting comfortable. An example of this is the scene where a conspirator is being tortured by Lorenzo Medici (good guy, on Giovanni’s team), and the tortured guy is talking, giving up bits of information about where and how the assassination will go down. Simultaneously, in interspersed shots, Giovanni is somehow in Milan, climbing on stuff, sneaking in places and attempting to break up this very plot. Does he have a cell phone? How did Giovanni come by this information? This isn’t so much a problem as it is just slightly unsettling while watching it. It’s floaty, but I guess how grounded can a 15 minute episode like this be?
In the end, part 1 of Lineage is very impressive. It’s dark, compelling and very well done. And it’s free, so stop reading this way-too-long review and watch it.