I’ve never wanted to play a Facebook game. This is probably due to a combination of factors, the two biggest being my indifference to Facebook in general and my dislike of the mouse as a controller. However, in the past few weeks, I’ve logged on to Facebook more times than I have in the past several years, all because of Project Legacy, the Assassin’s Creed Facebook game.
I love the Assassin’s Creed series, so I’m not surprised that it’s the catalyst that got me gaming on Facebook. What is surprising is how the developer managed to translate the Assassin’s Creed experience from an open-world adventure to what feels like a menu-driven RPG.
The lack of an open world is expected considering the platform, and it’s not missed. You don’t play as an assassin. You play as a new employee at Abstergo (in fact, the game opens with a fun, meta, employee interview), and it’s your job to jump into your ancestors’ bodies and record the history that you experience firsthand. The developers seem to understand the platform limitations that they’re working with: From the outset, the game isn’t about hunting or killing. It’s about observing, an act well suited to a menu-driven interface since any observation can easily be described with words.
The game is split into four chapters. Each chapter contains multiple memories, and each memory contains multiple events. Your goal is to get 100% synchronization in each event, therefore completing the memory, so that you can move on to the next chapter.
Getting fully synchronized is easy in the beginning. The only buttons on an event screen are Execute and Close. The latter’s function is obvious, and when you click Execute, the sync bar increases. Click the button six times, and you complete the event. To make the clicking more compelling, each event plays out like a vignette. There’s a short description of the scene to begin with, and each click adds another sentence or two until you complete the little story. While basic, this bit of narrative is a major driving force that keeps me playing. As later chapters add more memories and events, the stories become more complicated and even begin to interweave with the plot of the main game: Chapter 3 puts you into the body of Mario Auditore, the man who first brought Ezio into the Assassin’s fold, as he defends Monteriggioni, your base of operations in Assassin’s Creed 2.
There’s more to the game than its vignettes, however, as complications are quickly added that make synchronization harder. Executing an event takes AP, and you’ll earn one AP every two minutes, so there are a limited number of actions that you can take each day. In addition, sometimes you’ll need men, supplies, or weapons before you can Execute, and you can get these in a variety of ways. You can buy them with money, which is earned every time you Execute an event, or you can earn them at random from certain events. This leads to moments when you may have to “grind” one particular event in order to earn enough items for another event.
In this way, the game forces you to play it in short bursts. Sometimes all you can do for a day (or at least several hours) is grind to earn money, items, or experience (another addictive RPG element that the game incorporates). Your actions are purposefully limited, which gets frustrating for a gamer like me that’s more used to playing in multi-hour marathons than just minutes a day. But unlike other Facebook games, Project Legacy draws you in with the promise of reward rather than punishment. Your profile doesn’t require constant upkeep. The worst thing that’ll happen if you don’t play it every day is that you’ll stop earning money. You won’t be punished for a lack of attention, which makes it (ironically) more accessible for someone like me who will inevitably get distracted by other games.
Of course, as a game on a social network, it must have some social components, but they’re largely optional. You can invite friends to the game and ask them for rare items, but that’s it (so far at least, there might be more social mechanics introduced once I start building an army in Chapter 3). As someone who almost never uses Facebook, I love that Project Legacy is mainly a single player game.
Supposedly, there’s also a way of carrying over your progress from Project Legacy into Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, but I’ve yet to find any way of linking this game with my Gamertag or PSN ID, so I don’t know how that would work. It’s also a shame that I can’t access the game through the Xbox dashboard, which can connect to Facebook but only to browse pictures or post a status update — nothing I care about.
I find myself growing more and more addicted to this game with each passing day. Maybe because I can play it during the loading screens of other games, but more likely it’s the skin of Assassin’s Creed that it wears that keeps me coming back. The franchise itself is actually a good metaphor for this game: Project Legacy is like an assassin. It disguises itself as something that it’s not in order to get close to its prey, the console gamer, and by the time I realize the deception it’s too late, I’m already hooked. The disguise is expertly crafted: the light blue background with white static, the sound effects in the menus, the music, the icons that look like Renaissance paintings; this looks and feels like an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s just not the Assassin’s Creed game you expect. While your ancestor in Chapter 2 is an assassin, this game is not about assassinations. At its core, this is a numbers game, a resource management game with some well-implemented RPG elements.
But Project Legacy is hardly the first Facebook game to implement these mechanics. In fact, I’m told that it plays a lot like Mafia Wars, another popular Facebook game, and that intrigues me. After all, I did enjoy GTA IV, and they’re both mob games, right? However similar Project Legacy and Mafia Wars may or may not be, it’s telling that I came to this new platform of games through an old familiar franchise.
It’s been fascinating to experience a Facebook game firsthand — the limited actions, the bite sized chunks of play — but what’s more interesting is that I can now see how other, more “hardcore” games incorporate the same mechanics. I think that the daily challenges in Halo: Reach will become a new standard for online shooters as they directly encourage daily play, just like a Facebook game. Unfortunately, Reach lacks any meaningful kind of persistent reward, buying new pieces of flair for my Spartan is boring compared to unlocking a new gun in any Call of Duty game. Activision’s franchise understands the addictive power of constant reward. All we need now is for a game to combine both, and we’ll have an online shooter that follows the same model as a Facebook game. At that point, the only real difference between “casual” and “hardcore” games will be the platform.