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This Assassin’s Creed Featurette Explains the Animus, Which Never Made Sense Even In the Games, So Good Luck

So far, all of the promotional teasers and images for the Michael Fassbender-fronted Assassin’s Creed movie adaptation have looked incredibly cool. The visuals look exactly how you’d want a live-action version of these games to look, so mark that off in the “success” column, at least so far. However, today’s featurette about the Animus gets at one of the central problems of Assassin’s Creed: the story. It’s confusing, to say the least.

If you’ve played the Assassin’s Creed games, then you already know that the science-fiction premise behind them is paper-thin at best. There’s no such thing as “genetic memory” in real life, so implanting a special device in your spine shouldn’t give you the ability to see through their ancestors’ eyes. But, this is sci-fi, so there’s plenty of jargon to cover up how little sense that all makes. Playing through historical levels and wearing a cool assassin hood always feels fun enough to make up for the fact that the Animus never made any logical sense.

As for why the Assassin’s Creed games insisted on having a weird sci-fi premise instead of just being historical fiction with magical realism elements… well, I don’t know. But I guess it’s too late to go back on it now. The Animus has been part of the games since moment one, and the series has just had to keep on including that aspect in every part of the franchise, even though it’s very weird, and doesn’t really have that much to do with the historical storylines. There’s also the weird ancient aliens plot-lines, but I’m fine with all of that, actually. Apparently, I’m more capable of suspending my disbelief about aliens than I am about the sci-fi concept of “genetic memories,” which don’t exist, dang it. I guess that’s why they had to add in those magical aliens, so as to retroactively explain the games’ inherently goofy and thoroughly unscientific premise.

Anyway. In the games, the “genetic memories” (sigh) are just a projection of events that have already occurred. There’s no time travel or anything; you can’t change the past. Our hero, Callum Lynch, is merely revisiting and reliving an experience that already happened. He doesn’t really need to do anything, and in the games, this is illustrated by showing the Animus as a lounge chair that you strap into, passively. Later iterations of the Animus are a bit more dynamic, sort of like a virtual reality experience where you move around a bit. That’s what ends up getting used in this movie version, where Michael Fassbender is strapped into a device that requires him to leap around a room.

This is fundamentally confusing, though, because again, Fassbender’s physical actions theoretically don’t matter. He’s just reliving a past memory that already happened. Why is he playing a game instead of watching a movie version of what happened, then? I guess that’s the question behind the Asssassin’s Creed movie adaptation. Why play when you can watch? (I think I can already answer that one: because playing Assassin’s Creed is more fun than watching it. Good luck, movie!)

Since there’s no gameplay in this movie to distract you from the silliness of the story, the Assassin’s Creed movie has a much tougher job, particularly when it comes to explaining the aforementioned goofy premise. Even within this featurette, Michael Fassbender seems to be having some trouble explaining exactly what the Animus is, or how it works. At some points in the video, particularly at 35 seconds in, it sounds as though the audio has been edited clumsily to remove pauses, probably to make up for the fact that Fassbender was having trouble explaining this concept. The poor guy. I can’t wait until he starts trying to explain the magical god-aliens.

There’s a lot to love about Assassin’s Creed, but unfortunately, “the story” isn’t usually that high on the list of winning aspects about it. Or, at least, it hasn’t been my favorite aspect, personally. Incidentally, the few lines of dialogue that we do hear even in this featurette sound… uh… not great. But hey. At least it looks good?

(via Coming Soon, image via YouTube screencap)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (, and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (