So this update should have appeared on Friday, but that was a tricky day: my last day at university, packing up, leaving town, saying goodbye, driving for three-and-a-half hours home before coming to terms with the fact that three great years had come to an end makes for my best excuse yet, right?
Back to Rome, in what I promise will be my last Assassin’s Creed-related post for a while. After last week’s look at the Colosseum, Pantheon, Campidoglio and the markets of Trajan, today it’s time to go north of the Tiber to check out the Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s before heading east toward the Spanish steps.
Also, you might notice that the picture quality goes up after the first two Castel shots. My phone died, so I hired a friend as my photographer. Sterling job he did too.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is a funny building. Throughout it’s use it has been a mausoleum, a prison, a luxury Papal residence, a castle (duh) and a museum. In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood it is a central location and the levels set within its walls are some of the best in the game. In much the same way as the Pantheon, the game’s Castel is a really clever piece of mimicry; the rugged rock base of the central keep becomes a climbing frame for Ezio’s infiltrations while the multiple levels and enclosures formed by bastions, walls, buttresses and inner fortifications make the place a haven for those who want to keep things stealthy rather than kill every guard in the place. In this regard, it’s probably the best of all AC:B‘s real-world locations, since it is as much fun to play in as it is to look at. The mission centred around the Colosseum is perhaps more inventive, but the location doesn’t quite have the diversity of the Castel.
One quite nerdy point about the bridge in front of the Castel, the Ponte Sant’Angelo: it’s an fun little location for noticing some of the smaller tweaks in the level design made by the world builders. The bridge and Castel are no-go areas: guards will automatically attack if you are spotted within. How to cross the bridge, then? It’s more than possible to fight through, but Ezio is a tad classier than that. Swim? Nope; no point in getting those robes all damp. Clamber along the bridge? Better, but it’s a bit slow, shimmying along the side. The answer is to sink a few struts into the gaps between the bridge’s arches, allowing the master assassin to slip down to the lower level and bounce across the river in a jiffy. It’s a neat element that doesn’t look out of place in the city’s cluttered waterways.
St. Peter’s isn’t exactly utilised to it’s full potential in the game. As one of the most iconic of Rome’s landmarks, certainly more so than the Pantheon or Castel, it’s only fair to assume that they would have done more with the place. The half-built dome stands out majestically on the skyline, but the building is blocked off for most of the game and the interior is only accessible through a single mission, where the pressures of time restrictions and combat stop you from admiring the place. Even without these problems, the level is set during a dark and dour thunderstorm, leeching the place of any colour, unlike the glittering, golden Pantheon.
As regards the exterior, only the huge dome marks the place out; the front of the building isn’t particularly recognisable and the famous square was added about 150 years after the game’s setting of the early 16th century. Inside the building is covered in scaffolding and half-finished artwork, and it’s just possible to see the excellent fresco on the ceiling at the far end of the church in one of the screens. By the way: that is indeed a Cardinal that Ezio is chasing across the scaffolding in one of the screenshots. AC might be a lavish series with some respectable historical chops, but it’s still tremendously silly.
The Piazza di Spagna is one of the most interesting locations in the game, but only if you know how the site stands today. In 1500, there’s not an awful lot there: a market at the bottom, the church at the top and a windy track zig-zagging up the hillside, not at all recognisable as the picturesque site of the Spanish Steps, which were built in 1723-5. Purely from a visual perspective, the whole scene is unremarkable. I didn’t realise where I was when I first passed through the area near the beginning of the game, but then the database notification popped up: ‘Piazza di Spagna’. What? Oh…right…that’s pretty clever. The pleasure of the location is in the fact that you can see time at work. The Colosseum, Pantheon and Castel are very similar to their counterparts in real-life 500 years later, and St. Peter’s isn’t quite recognisable enough without that square – but here everything is in precisely the right place geographically. It almost appears like half a millennium’s worth of building has been carefully peeled back to reveal the busy marketplace, the humbler church and, most obviously, the dusty hairpin path beneath the gleaming marble of the Spanish Steps.
That’s the end of this little tour, then. The two most recent AC games, AC2 and Brotherhood, are superb for this kind of thing, littered with historical landmarks and detail. I’d love to visit Florence again to see how the Duomo compares to real life, or travel to Venice to look at St. Mark’s for myself. I might be a more impressionable gamer than most – I imagine plenty of players simply blast through the game without really paying attention to the details, and that’s fair enough – but it’s to the developers great credit that they have filled a game ostensibly about bloody, savage murder with inspiring settings, carefully realised.
Three last bonus pictures of the whole of Rome, taken at night from the highest point in the game: the top of the flagpole planted on the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo. I tried to get up their in real life to take some pics, but the guards shot me down with their crossbows.