Hey, I Was There In Real Life! Revisiting Past Trips While Playing Assassin’s Creed Part 1 – London

This will be the first in a series of three. As most of my prior trips have been to Europe and Assassin’s Creed as a franchise can be a little euro-centric, of course a blog called “The Wandering Nerd” would write about this.

My first time traveling abroad was when I was a sophomore in high school. That was probably about seven years ago now. One of my sisters was living in Paris at the time and we took a family trip to visit during Spring Break (eat your heart out South Padre Island). On that same trip we went to London and Tuscany. Being a nerdy high school student who’s primary short term goal was to score a Five on the AP European History Exam, a trip to Europe was the most exciting thing ever. Authors Note: I ended up getting a five on all of my AP exams – yay neuroticism! It was not long after that I had saved enough money to buy myself an Xbox 360 and exposed myself to the world of console gaming (fight me PC players). I starting playing more video games, including Assasssin’s Creed.

For those of you not familiar with Ubisoft’s  Assassin’s Creed games they  take place in many different eras of history and revolve around the centuries long struggle between the Knights Templar and the Assassins. People are able to experience the past through a machine called the Animus that gives them access to their ancestor’s memories. The franchise began in 2007 with Assassin’s Creed which chronicled a man named Desmond experiencing his ancestor, Altair’s memories. Altair was an assassin during the Third Crusade and the game involved running around Jerusalem, Damascus, Acre, and the countryside between those cities. The gameplay is not spectacular and for some reason Altair, a middle eastern man, has an American accent. Nonetheless it is endearing to me and significant in that it kick-started the franchise. Since that game there have been seven more installments, not including non-console games and DLC. The franchise has become huge and even inspired a live action movie which I heard from friends was just “Eh.”  Sadly, much of the original appeal of the games has been lost with each new installment, but that doesn’t stop me from giving all of my money to Ubisoft each time a new one comes out. Authors Note: Assassin’s Creed: Unity had so much potential with the French Revolution and I will never forgive Ubisoft for not using it. 

The first European country, and subsequently foreign country, I set foot in was the U.K.  I remember arriving in London and feeling jet-lagged beyond belief. We couldn’t check into our hotel so we got breakfast at a waffle place where I had an incident in the bathroom. It wasn’t anything gross, it just was super embarrassing. For some reason I thought, “Oh, this is a foreign country so the way you flush toilets is different here!” so instead of pressing the flush button on top of the toilet, I pulled a string hanging from the ceiling. It set off some flashing lights and I quickly ran out of the bathroom. I had pulled the string that signals to the staff that I needed assistance. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) no one had come in to rescue me.

After that incident we met my sister who had just arrived from Paris and started to sight-see. If I could go back in time I would tell myself to calm down, I acted like I was never going to visit London ever again. I wanted to see every sight, I wanted to try every type of pub food, I wanted to buy all of the souvenirs I could carry. In less than two years I was back in London! I have been to London so many times, I don’t even buy souvenirs now and I go out of my way to avoid the big sights and the millions of tourists who congregate there. My sister currently lives in London and I inevitably use it as a starting point for most of my adventures. I just got back from London a few weeks ago and in less than a month will be there again! Chill 16 year old me, you will be there so many more times you’ll be sick of it!

London is one of those cities I can’t escape in both real life and in fiction. Not only do I have to constantly travel to and through London, I have to see it in my media I consume. It makes sense, being a major world city, London appears in a multitude of fictional works. It’s almost like no other cities exist in the U.K. If a character is British they probably live in London and probably went to Oxford (according to fiction London is the only city that exists in the U.K. and Oxford is the only University). London is everywhere in popular media, including video games. You  watch it get destroyed in Mass Effect 3, you get in a pub fight at the start of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Laura Croft has a small flat in London when she’s not at Croft Manor in Rise of the Tomb Raider. There is no escaping London. Which brings us back to Assassin’s Creed.

London is a beautiful city and the 19th century influence is still present. Pick a piece of fiction that exists in the Victorian era or the industrial revolution, no doubt it is probably set in London. Ubisoft’s seventh installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, takes place in Victorian Era London. The plot was not too memorable, but enjoyable nonetheless. If I am being honest I actually don’t remember much from the game except that there was a part where you can rescue a corgi and that there was a pretty awesome DLC about Jack the Ripper. In the non-story missions you could choose to play as either Jacob or his twin sister Evie, I obviously picked to play as Evie. As I played through the game I recognized some obvious landmarks that I have seen in real life on my numerous trips to London, Big Ben, The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, etc. It was like digitally induced deja vu.

While seeing the big iconic landmarks was exciting, the parts of the in-game map that stuck with me more were the smaller, seemingly random, and often overlooked areas. I remember running around by the Thames in-game and wondering if this was close to where I had a pint with my parents that one time? I had Evie drive a carriage around Central London near the Strand and got flashbacks to the Friday night we tried to find a pub that wasn’t over crowded because the theaters had all gotten out. On my last trip to London I was walking by Clapham and realized that the park I was in had an uncanny resemblance to one in the game – and pretty much every other park in London, let’s be honest here.

Sadly, London, much like the Assassin’s Creed games has lost some of its charm for me. Once on an unbearably hot summer day while trapped in a swarm of people I thought to myself, I hate this city and I never want to come back here! Despite that dramatic declaration, I don’t hate London. I actually appreciate it more now that my sister lives there and I can see what the city is like outside of the touristy areas. I have restaurants there I love almost as much as the ones back home. Still, the same thrill of excitement that gripped me my first visit there has worn off. I’ve matured and seen more of the world and realized that there are places infinitely more exciting than London that I have yet to explore. I also don’t hate Assassin’s Creed, I just have found better games that captivate me more and unfortunately the franchise has declined in quality over the years. Assassin’s Creed games were the first console games I started to play and my tastes have evolved since. London, like Assassin’s Creed is sill enjoyable and holds significance for me, but there is more in this world worth trying and exploring. (Also, I have spent more money than I’d like to on both).

 

AN: The image used is my own taken 2015 in London

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