Assassin’s Creed III came out this past Tuesday. This time around the setting is in America around the time of the Revolutionary war. I’m not even halfway through the game yet and I’ve already spoken with Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams, and I’m sure many other notable people will appear. The game is beautiful, the story is relatively strong (so far), and they’ve added some really fun new things to do, like captain a ship fighting a naval battle. Ubisoft scores another winner, possibly because they put every possible thing you might want to do or know into each game.
I have to admit to being a huge fan of Ubisoft in general and the Assassin’s Creed franchise in particular right off the bat. I don’t want anyone reading this to be under the impression that I am trying to hide my bias in this review. I I have played all four previous games (yes, four. Assassin’s Creed II was a trilogy), and I have, more or less, loved them all without reservation. I know people who don’t like them because they want to skip the exposition and get right to the stabbing, but those people are wrong, or, possibly, not as interested in long running, and occasionally long winded, narratives as I am. That said, my faith was a little shaken when I first started playing Assassin’s Creed III. In this fifth installment (are we calling it the Connor saga yet?) the first chunk of the game introduced characters but left a lot of questions dangling for the player. Just as I began to question the storytelling though, there was a twist that brought me right back on board.
To my mind, there isn’t a reason not to like the series simply because it has everything in it. The gameplay isn’t linear and the world is open to exploration, so you can basically pick and choose your favourite activities. If you like melee fighting, but not sneaking around or solving puzzles, just run straight into the guards and you’ll be fighting for as long as you feel like it. If constant sword fights aren’t your thing, get good at being stealthy. There are agility challenges and puzzles, sneaky assassinations, property to repair and manage, and plotlines that span decades and/or millennia if you care to explore them. If you aren’t interested in exposition, you can just hold down a button and skip it. Want to play some weird board game that was popular in the 1700s? That option is available to you. You name it it’s probably in Assassin’s Creed. Well, not in the first one, but after that.
That said, I am not 100% sold on our ancestor this time around. He has the obligatory traumatic backstory (he is a mixed race child of an Englishman and a Mohawk woman, his mother dies when he is young, his father is totally evil), but something about him rings a little too earnest. The creators were likely going for contrast with the gregarious, womanizing Ezio of the last three games, but I feel he’s a little one dimensional. His major motivation seems to be that he’s really mad about Europeans taking Native lands and that he finds European politicking distasteful, which is fair enough for a start, but could use some fleshing out. Maybe it’s just that I can barely read the subtitles when the characters are speaking Mohawk, but I’m lacking a little warmth for our hero so far. It doesn’t diminish the fun of running through trees, strategically murdering people, or appreciating some lovingly rendered views of Boston, though.
The one thing that really sets this series apart for is the truly joyful approach to history. The basic premise of the series is this: you are Desmond Miles, a member of the Assassins who have been at war with the Templars since time immemorial. You use a machine called the Animus to relive the lives of your ancestors and hunt down clues and tools the help prevent some kind of doomsday scenario from befalling the earth. In previous games you have navigated the Holy Land during the Crusades and Renaissance Italy during the late 15th century. Now you are in America in the mid to late 1700s. In each era, famous buildings are carefully depicted, costumes are detailed and fairly accurate, and historical events are used as backdrops for outrageous conspiracy theory narratives. There are even databases if you wanted to know more about particular buildings or people. If you are at all a history buff, these are fun games to hang out in.