Ubisoft takes a stab at Facebook with Assassin’s Creed: Project Legacy

When Assassin’s Creed II came out for the Xbox 360 and the PS3 late last year, its award-winning tale of political intrigue and arcane secrets kept me up deep into the night for several weeks. When I learned that Ubisoft had created Assassin’s Creed: Project Legacy for Facebook in preparation for an upcoming sequel for consoles, I expected that my days would be similarly sucked away. So far, however, all I see is a clever clone of well-known Facebook games equipped with a few intriguing perks.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t start off promisingly enough. From the very beginning, Project Legacy retains the look of a computer terminal at Abstergo Industries, the chief antagonist of the Assassin’s Creed series and the modern incarnation of the Knights Templar. (It’s a long story.) Strongly reminiscent of the menu screens for both games, this aesthetic choice quickens the pulse of series fanatics such as myself with its seeming promise of innovative gameplay to come.

 Project Legacy

Only a few pointers are thrown at you, though, and players unfamiliar with the console games will likely find themselves mystified as to what’s going on. (Which, of course, may be the whole idea.) In a nutshell, scientists at Abstergo rediscovered the technology to build the Animus, a device that can allow you to relive your ancestors’ genetic memories. In the series’ case, one trip revolved around Altair, a Middle Eastern assassin hunting down the Knights Templar during the Crusades; in last year’s more popular version, players took the role of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a stylish assassin during the Italian Renaissance who skewers his victims from Florence to Rome.

The Italian version was explosively popular, so it perhaps comes as no surprise that Ubisoft decided to rip off Mafia Wars for the series’ foray into Facebook. Indeed, aside from a questionnaire at the beginning that helps with immersion and ambiance, there’s little difference between Zynga’s casual juggernaut and Project Legacy. Quests are completed by repeatedly performing an action (although flavor text gives you something to read during the process), items and weapons are often needed to complete a particular task, and you can put a few points in a number of specializations depending on your preference. Quests revolve around following Italian protagonists throughout the battlefields of war-torn Renaissance Italy, and are exceptionally well written should you take the time to read them.

So far, likely riding on the success of the series, traffic to the game has been high, but Ubisoft would be wise to learn from Sony Online Entertainment’s The Agency: Covert Ops released last May. In some respects, TA:CO was a superior game owing to its several mini games and customizable avatars and headquarters. Like Project Legacy, however, TA:CO borrowed heavily from Mafia Wars to promote SOE’s upcoming MMO The Agency, and traffic dropped heavily from the Facebook version after only a couple of months owing to a lack of updates and sheer repetitiveness—well before its scheduled release date of December 12.

 Project Legacy

Fortunately, Ubisoft is trying a tactic that wasn’t considered by Sony. In a shining case of console-Facebook interaction that’s rapidly growing in popularity, Project Legacy players can unlock up to 25 missions in Ubisoft’s upcoming console game Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, set for release on November 16. This interactivity extends to other Facebook sites. For instance, by clicking on the “Assassin’s Creed” tab GameStop’s Facebook page, players can pick up “Erudito’s Network,” which allows Project Legacy players to gain more XP, more money, and other perks.

So far, enthusiasm for the game is high, and this enthusiasm is coming in a large part from console gamers who are playing Facebook games for the very first time and only now seeing what the platform has to offer. In that regard, Ubisoft may have accomplished an incredible feat by widening casual gaming’s already astronomical presence on Facebook. Whether or not they can keep this audience remains to be seen, and it’s worth wondering whether the current content will be expanded after the release of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. And to make matters more complicated, Project Legacy is still very much in beta testing, and long hours will go by before you can see something other than the Abstergo logo or a blank screen. Fortunately, Ubisoft has a sense of humor about this, and their Twitter feed detailing the game’s downtime reads like a computer terminal’s error report.

 Project Legacy

Regardless, I, for one, am disappointed. Innovative and wealthy gaming companies such as Ubisoft and Sony Online Entertainment seem all too content to copy the successes of other Facebook games and withhold their innovation and wealth for the console versions. In the end, Project Legacy is by no means a bad game even in its current beta state, but my own time in the game is spoiled by the thought that it could be so much more. As it stands, new recruits to Facebook gaming may find much to enjoy here, but Facebook veterans may find their time better spent elsewhere.