So Rome in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood isn’t precisely the same as the real-life version, but, as I can attest from my holiday there last week, it is surprisingly close. The big landmarks are there, all trussed up in their 16th century finery, and what’s more they’re in the right place. The developers might not be too interested in developing an authentic historical experience with the AC games, but they do put a great deal of effort into creating some fabulous landscapes and backing them up with some interesting knowledge in the game’s database.
It’s little wonder that Rome, rather than Ezio Auditore, is the star of the game, and I was particularly interested to see how the two cities, one real, one virtual, compared to one another. Here for your enjoyment, then, is a small gallery of a few big landmarks, a gallery which will continue on Wednesday with the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Vatican and the Spanish Steps, but here starts further south.
A quick note: both sets of pictures might not be of the best quality. I only use my 5MP camera phone to take pictures and the graphics settings for AC:B on my PC have to be toned down for it to run reasonably well. Hopefully, however, they’ll get the point across.
The Colosseum is obviously one of Rome’s more imposing landmarks, but the area around it is littered with other Roman remains, particularly the triumphal arches of Emperors Vespasian and Titus. Perhaps the grandest arch is that of Constantine, which is now understandably surrounded by railings. The oddest thing about the in-game Colosseum is that it sits bang in the middle of an area of grassy parkland, away from the urban areas; today, three-quarters of it is surrounded by major roads and the slopes around it, except for that to the west heading towards the old Roman forum, are full of buildings, and the place swarms with people. In the game, it’s a more peaceful place, with only a random horse and a bunch of vigilantes getting in the way. Look at them, loitering there. Harrumph.
Today the tourist trail leads you north-west along the Via dei Fori Imperiali past a whole bunch of Roman ruins, though the domineering Vittoriano monument looms somewhat over everything else. More on the monument later. On the right is Trajan’s column and the ruined market that also bears his name. As with many other locations in the game, the AC version is condensed into a smaller area, but still retains the same distinctive features, with the column looming to the left of the semicircular market building. The screenshot isn’t great for detail, but it’s an interesting example of how the world designers can squeeze elements into a smaller space whilst keeping the basic layout intact. As with all open-world games, a balance has to be maintained between the size of the world and the distance between vital areas, so the player doesn’t have to run through miles of empty streets to get to the next plot point.
Today the Campidoglio, or Capitoline Hill, the centre of civic authority in ancient and 16th century Rome (when the Pope wasn’t running things), is hidden behind the Vittoriano, the enormous Italian national monument inaugurated in 1911, which, while impressive in terms of its scale and pomp, sticks out like a sore thumb in the Rome skyline. In the screenshot you can see the whole of the Campidoglio, with the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the left, the Palazzo Senatorio in the centre and the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the right. In another example of the developers condensing a location, the spot where the Palazzo Nuovo was later built in the 17th century, between the Piazza and the Aracoeli, doesn’t quite exist. The other screenshot is a view of the Aracoeli. The photos show a selection of the buildings, but the shot of the Aracoeli with the monument behind is particularly conspicuous.
The last stop on today’s part of the tour is one of my favourites, the Pantheon. The site was originally home to a temple to all the Gods in around 27 BC by the Consul Agrippa, but the current building was raised in Hadrian’s reign, about 126 AD, after the original burnt down. Aside from the obvious difference of Papal decoration, the in-game version is a lovely copy of the real building, but the inside is again compressed. In this case, I’m not sure quite why; perhaps it is an unfortunate matter of perspective.
The impressive concrete dome still retains its monumental grandeur when turned into pixels, though the inside of the building doesn’t really capture the lighting of the real thing: that odd, hazy light that drifts in through only two sources, the door and the oculus at the centre of the roof. The game’s version, however, is still oddly beautiful.
Outside, the piazza is very different. In real life, it is surrounded by high buildings, casting the place into shadow; in AC:B, lower, standard townhouses allow the Pantheon to become one of the defining features of the virtual Roman skyline.
Hopefully this little foray into photo blogging has paid off, and hopefully (x2) it’ll be just as successful on Wednesday. Though I am going to have to play a lot of AC:B to do it, since I haven’t got far enough in the story to visit St. Peter’s yet. That could be a problem.
Bonus picture! The Pantheon oculus: