The Assassin’s Creed games are largely a mash-up of science fiction and historical fantasy, but the near future setting of Abstergo Industries is a very cyberpunk place, and acts as the backdrop for the entire video game franchise. There maybe some more cyberpunk aspects in the peripheral games, but I will be sticking to the primary games for my discussion. Major spoilers ahead.
In the first Assassin’s Creed, you play Desmond Miles who wakes up inside an Abstergo Tower, under the oppressive supervision of Warren Vidic and his assistant Lucy Stillman. Here he is being subjected to testing that relates to unlocking memories, specifically of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, from his genes using a technology called the Animus. As you progress through the game you have opportunities to read email entries you manage to gain access to through various methods. This maps out the world of the future which is bleak and being controlled by the Templars and Abstergo, a Templar organization. With the discovery of the Apple of Eden, an ancient alien artifact, it comes out that Lucy is a Assassin double agent. The game ends with Desmond gaining Eagle Vision which allows him to see hidden messages left by Subject 16, who was the previous subject who lived in Desmond’s room, that predict the end of the world.
In Assassin’s Creed II, Desmond is assisted by Lucy to escape from Abstergo Industries. They meetup with two other Assassin’s named Shaun Hastings, a historian, and Rebecca Crane, a computer expert. Rebecca has built their own version of the Animus which is a stripped down, but more powerful version. This time Desmond explores the memories of Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Also the mysterious Subject 16 has left encrypted glyphs inside the Animus for Desmond to find and decrypt. When all of the files are decrypted we learn that Adam and Eve stole the Apple of Eden, an alien artifact, that was being used to control humanity. An alien hologram, Minerva, appears to Desmond in one of Ezio’s memories and explains that the aliens and human once co-existed, but the alien civilization fell when a catastrophic event occurred, and then the survivors built a temple that would allow humanity to stop a similar catastrophe in the future. Abstergo troops show up at their hideout and the Assassin’s are forced to flee.
In Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, having escaped from Abstergo, Desmond and the Assassins have holed up in Ezio’s old home. Here they set up a make shift Animus system so they can locate the Apple of Eden. This setup is pretty cyberpunk, lots of cables, and improvised equipment. They discover the Apple’s location and the Assassins go to the coordinates they have obtained from Ezio’s memories. Once there Desmond meets another holographic alien named Juno, who exclaims her hatred for humanity. When Desmond places his hand on the Apple, Juno possesses his body and forces him to kill Lucy. Desmond is then plunged into a coma.
In Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Desmond has fallen into a coma and is trapped inside the Animus’s safe mode called the Black Room. Desmond awakens on Animus Island, the original Animus testing program located within the Black Room. Here he meets the consciousness of Subject 16 who was trapped in the Animus. Now trapped in this virtual environment Desmond has to relive memories of both Altair and Ezio to differentiate their personalities so that he can awaken from his coma. After completing a memory the Animus begins to purge excess data and Subject 16 sacrifices himself to save Desmond, being deleted. Desmond goes on to discover another alien being called Jupiter who reveals the location of the temple that will stop the impending cataclysm, which turns out to be a massive solar flare.
In Assassin’s Creed III, we see the end of Desmond’s story. This time Desmond is exploring the memories of Ratonhnhaké:ton. Desmond and his Assassin allies discover an underground alien temple that can prevent an impending ecological disaster. In order to activate the temple Desmond must retrieve power cells from both Manhattan, and Brazil. This gives you an opportunity to use your Assassin skills in an urban environment. Eventually Desmond faces off with Vidic and a turn coat Assassin named Cross, both of which are killed. In the aftermath of the temples activation, and aversion of catastrophe, Juno escapes and Desmond dies.
In Assassin’s Creed IV, you play a game tester who is working for Abstergo’s game division. While you are exploring the memories of Edward Kenway you are contacted by a hacker working with the Assassins. He implores you to join him, hacking the buildings computer systems and couriering information to Assassin contacts. These contacts end up being Desmond’s former partners Rebecca and Shaun. As you hack the company’s computers you discover that Abstergo Entertainment is using the staff to search the memories of interesting parties to find items or persons of interest. It turns out that you are searching Desmond’s genetic memory for a Sage, a person who has Alien DNA. As you dig deeper into the computers you also learn about the Animus’s development, and it has the feel of being developed in the early years of computing, and a certain amount of retro-computer age nostalgia. Furthermore, you discover that Abstergo is keeping surveillance on its employees and if an employee comes across something sensitive they are moved to the basement level and contained in a jail cell-like environment where they are expected to continue working, and all of this is allowed by the contract that you sign to work at Abstergo. There are also mysterious sticky notes that have been left around the office. They describe the mad ramblings of a man who believes in a god inside the company’s computers. Near the end of the game you discover that this god is actually Juno who is living insides Abstergo’s servers and is trying to escape.
In Assassin’s Creed Unity, you play a consumer who is playing one of Abstergo Entertainments games. You are contacted by Assassin hackers who recruit you to search memories of Arno Dorian to find the body of a Sage before the Templar’s do. As you explore these memories you are being tracked by Abstergo’s system, and when you are nearing detection the system begins to destabilize, and you have to go through a helix to move to a new server. When you go through these helixs you travel to a different moment in the genetic memory and have to navigate through different time periods in Paris’s history including medieval Paris, and the occupation during World War II. The game ends with the discovery that Arno destroyed the body of the Sage.
The plot of Assassin’s Creed Rogue is that another employee of Abestergo Entertainment is investigating the memories of Shay Patrick Cormac, and trips a hidden memory file that corrupts the Abstergo servers. The building is put into lockdown and the player is recruited to continue searching Cormac’s memories in an effort to repair the system. Cormac discovers that there are alien artifacts that hold the world together, and that the Assassins plan to retrieve them to keep them out of Templar hands. Cormac manages to stop them, but the Assassins almost destroy the world when trying to save it. The Templars then upload this information to the Assassin Network under the supervision of Otso Berg. This information throws the Assassin’s into disarray, the Assassin’s then hack Abstergo’s systems and destroy all of the company’s precursor samples (Sage DNA) in retaliation.
Outside of the plot and aesthetic aspects of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the underlying themes and philosophy of the games is also aligned with cyberpunk. In the modern day the Templar’s use the corporation of Abstergo Industries as a front to exert control over the population. Corporations and conspiracies suppressing people is a mainstay of cyberpunk. The modern day Assassin’s are represented as underfunded and as guerrilla operators by necessity. Also the struggle between control and freedom is a cyberpunk theme that Assassin’s Creed is heavily based on. The Templars represent the idea that people need to be controlled to be happy, and order is the only thing that stops humanity from falling. The Assassin’s, on the other hand, believe that people must have the most freedom possible to ensure free will and this is the only way humanity can reach it’s full potential.
It’s fair to say that Assassin’s Creed is really just a historical fantasy game with some science fiction elements. Amidst this however, there are strong cyberpunk themes that will be of interest to those who enjoy the cyberpunk genre. I would recommend the Assassin’s Creed franchise to anyone who wants fun gameplay alongside an intelligent plot that will make you think.