Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Why Arabic is at the heart of the new game
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is released this week – and reviews have called it a return to the series’ roots. But there’s also been one major change.
For this edition, set in 9th Century Baghdad, developers Ubisoft have recorded the game’s performances in Arabic.
Previous games in the long-running stealth franchise have taken place in the Middle East, Europe and Africa, but the heroes have always been voiced by English-speaking actors by default.
Players can still choose to play the game with English dialogue, but its makers hope they’ll choose the more “authentic” Arabic.
It was what fans heard when the game’s first global trailer dropped in late August, and a move that’s been welcomed by fans like Ameer, who grew up in Baghdad.
He says hearing Arabic in games isn’t a first, but “it’s usually with a terrorist saying something that people recognise as Arabic”.
Engineering student Ameer, 20, says he was impressed by the trailer, when fans got to hear the Arabic dialogue spoken by main character Basim and get a glimpse of the game’s world.
“I was like ‘this is perfect’,” says Ameer.
“Arabic is a beautiful language and the dialect they use in Mirage is a beautiful one,” he says.
Mohammed Al Imam, who works for Ubisoft’s Middle Eastern and North African branch, explains that the language spoken in the game is classical Arabic, a “1,000-plus years old” version “still preserved to this day in schools, academia and news and entertainment”.
He says it differs from modern, spoken dialects but is still widely understood.
Mohammed says that it’s common to see Arabic characters in Western media speaking in “broken Arabic” or “mimic the sounds without understanding the words”.
“The intonation is off, their pronunciation is off.
“It’s something that’s been bothering the Arabic consumer for decades, similar to someone who’s not French trying to act like a French guy.”
He tells Newsbeat that one of the starting points for the project was to insist that “any Arabic line must be performed by someone who is fluent in the language”.
Mohammed says the philosophy also worked in reverse – its translation team in charge of subtitles for English speakers playing with an Arabic voice track needed a deep understanding of both languages.
He points to one line in English script, where an impatient character complains that “camels will sprout wings on their humps” if they have to wait any longer.
In the Arabic, Mohammed says, the line is actually “if I waited any longer the Phoenix would have risen from its ashes”.
He says these “small things” are scattered throughout the game, and might not be noticed by non-native speakers.
“But for Arabs, they’ll know immediately,” says Mohammed.
“And they’ll point it out and say, ‘Ah, that’s inaccurate. They haven’t done the research’.”
Another key part of Mirage, and previous Assassin’s Creed games, is faithfully recreating their historical settings.
Mohammed says Ubisoft also employed various historical experts to make sure the world was authentic where it needed to be.
Ameer, who currently lives in Istanbul, hopes the game will help the rest of the world to see Iraq differently.
“I feel like it’s going to put in the mind of players that Iraq and the whole Arab world is really important to the entire world history,” he says.
“In the past, all that people talk about is war.
“But Baghdad and the whole of Iraq [in the 9th Century] is a hugely important moment in history.
“This was the golden age,” he says. In Ameer’s opinion “all knowledge, books, and the biggest writers, mathematicians, they all originate from Iraq and Baghdad”.
That’s also something that Mohammed says drove his personal passion for the project.
“So seeing a positive depiction, seeing an accurate depiction, different characters with different personalities, not stereotypes, not cliches, was something that pushed me to to really put everything I have into it,” he says.
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Changes to popular franchises can be unpopular with long-term fans, but Mohammed thinks modern, English-speaking audiences will be receptive to the game’s new approach.
“People are more exposed through social media, through the internet to different cultures, they’re more understanding of different cultures.
“I mean, I grew up watching and consuming entertainment and media from other cultures and seeing people do the same. The other way around is refreshing.”
Early reviews of the game, which is available on Playstation, Xbox and PC, have been generally favourable, according to aggregator Metacritic.
And some websites, including Polygon, IGN, and Eurogamer, have praised Mirage for its more focused approach, compared with sprawling recent titles in the series.
But other sites, such as The Gamer, said the return to the style of the franchise’s earlier games “dredges up problems you may have forgotten”.
Ameer says he’s excited to get stuck in regardless, and also hopes that the game’s approach will have an impact closer to home, and pave the way for more Middle Eastern games development.
“I hope games like this inspire people, they see themselves being represented, and they think ‘maybe I can make something like this’.
“Why can’t we make something about ourselves as well? It would be a beautiful future if we get more developers from everywhere.”
The release of the game coincides with the reported arrests of five former Ubisoft employees over sexual harassment allegations.
According to French newspaper Liberation, the claims stem from a 2020 investigation into claims against high-ranking staff.