Assassin’s Creed is no stranger to other forms of storytelling, but among the series’ shelves of tie-in books, stacks of graphic novels and lonely Blu-ray of the Michael Fassbender film, there’s not been anything quite like Assassin’s Creed Gold. An eight-part audio drama created and released by Audible, Gold is an enjoyable mix of the video game series’ usual historical shenanigans – that feeling you’re mixing with key historical figures – via a dollop of Hollywood talent to help things along.
Gold’s starry cast includes Star Wars: Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Head, who respectively steal the show as blind assassin Omar Khalid and apple-loving scientist Sir Issac Newton. Together, the two tackle a counterfeiting conspiracy which has left a trail of bodies in its wake. Meanwhile, in Gold’s present day storyline, Khalid’s descendent Aliyah Kahn (No Offence’s Tamara Lawrence) – acts as its protagonist, aided by familiar Assassin faces such as series stalwart Shaun Hastings (the ever-present Danny Wallace).
The story begins in a familiar way – with Kahn being scooped up by Assassin handlers so her genetic memories can be explored via the Animus. Kahn, a poker-loving scam artist with a heart of gold, is as developed a modern day protagonist as Assassin’s Creed has ever had. This isn’t saying too much, of course, but we hear enough about her life in and around trips to the past that there’s more of a balance to the present and historical storylines than we’ve had for a long time. There are parallels to her experiences too, sort of – she’s a victim of the recent cryptocurrency bubble, while her ancestor helps Newton investigate a plot to destabilise the British economy with fake coinage. And her reflections on the racism Khalid faces in the past, as a person of colour today, are well observed.
As ever in Assassin’s Creed, it’s in the story’s historical portion where the fun really lies. The first time Kahn enters the Animus to visit her ancestor’s memories, she is bewildered by the fact she can’t see anything – until she’s told Omar Khalid was blind. So it is from an audio-only perspective that Khan hears the past – a knowing decision by author Anthony Del Col for this Audible series. The idea is never played as a gimmick – instead, Khalid’s blindness only makes his abilities as an Assassin all the more impressive, the sound effects in this series’ dramatisation all the more important as they represent how his Assassin-heightened senses detect the world around him.
Khalid, an Assassin, has been sent to keep an eye on the easily-distracted Newton and ensure he roots out the source of England’s counterfeiting epidemic. Riz Ahmed’s calm, assured tones here as Khalid are the perfect foil for Antony Head’s excitable, eccentric Newton – a character whose layers are allowed to gradually unfold as the series progresses and, in particular, after his close relationship with mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier is introduced later on. While Newton is perhaps not as well known as some other Assassin’s Creed figures, his portrayal here as a kind – if stubborn and mildly misanthropic – figure is well textured.
Back in the present day, all this plays out while Kahn and her Assassin companions attempt to stay one step ahead of the Templar-run Abstergo. It’s a familiar-feeling plot – especially as Kahn’s own heritage begins to play into it more – but one which is aided by this series’ greater freedom to include her thoughts. Where other modern day protagonists such as Desmond and Layla were kept to limited hubs, their plot developments largely consigned to cutscenes, Gold mixes its storylines better by letting Kahn occasionally interject amid the historical action. It feels a natural step considering the Animus’ setup – and one perhaps the games could explore in the future.
Gold isn’t flawless – it can sometimes play a little too goofy (expect Rogue One references and a Danny Wallace commentary on video games showing violence but demurring from sex), while Kahn’s historical search for a secret code to stop an Abstergo product launch in the present (software which, we’re told, could instantly hack anything on the internet) is a thinly-veiled mcguffin. But Gold’s characters help elevate the story beyond its pulpy roots, aided by strong performances by its ensemble cast, regular episodic cliffhangers, and elements of Austin Wintory’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate score (composed to show off that game’s version of London, some 150 years later). Just like Kahn’s Animus trips into the past, Gold is worth listening to.
Assassin’s Creed: Gold released via Audible today. The full series is available for one of Audible’s subscription credits (or you can redeem it as your freebie if you activate an Audible trial).