2012-11-14

Assassin’s Creed III – Who Guides Our History?

by Yo Snyder

There’s a lot of “history” on screens this Fall, what with Lincoln in theaters and Assassin’s Creed III
sneaking into millions of homes. Of course, I have to qualify that
statement of “history” with quotation marks because first and foremost,
movies and video games are about entertainment and not historical
accuracy. Certainly in the case of AC3, one must take the historicity of
everything with a serious grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is a pretty
compelling narrative, for the most part, and it’s a period in history
that many games and movies just don’t cover, which is weird considering
what a pivotal moment in history the Revolutionary War actually was.
Well, although AC3 may not help you pass any history tests, it does
offer a ton of amazing gameplay and a compelling open world to explore
and play in, and despite a few rough edges, it’s easily one of the
biggest and most enjoyable games to release this year.

Now,
there’s no denying that long-time fans of the series will probably get
more out this game than others. I played AC2, but other than that, I
don’t have much experience with the series. That means most of the
Desmond sections, which take place in the near future and deal with some
sort of impending disaster that our heroes are trying to avert with the
aide of some weird, spirity alien-type characters and blah, blah, blah,
I don’t care, I just want to play the good stuff. Fortunately,
Desmond’s sections are mercifully short, but for people who have kept up
with the franchise, there will be some nifty revelations, though I
don’t know how they’ll feel about the ending. There’s also a pretty cool
twist that takes place early on in the game’s historical story, and
even though I’m not a long-time fan, I’m familiar enough with the series
that I still found it pretty stunning and actually pretty cool. So,
you’ll get more out of it as a long-time fan, but don’t worry, if this
is your first AC game, you’ll be able to catch up with goings-on fairly
quickly. And in truth, most of that doesn’t matter, because what you
really came to this game for was being an assassin that helps the
efforts of the colonies in the Revolutionary War, right?

Of
course you did, and to that end, this game is no disappointment. Now
some may feel that the game starts rather slowly, and it does take
awhile for you to get to all the cool stuff you see in the commercials
and trailers, however I think that’s time well spent. It helps establish
characters, motivations and gets you immersed in the setting. It also
serves as a rather lengthy tutorial, but as there are quite a few skills
to master to truly excel in this game, it’s worth it. Once the game
really opens up, despite being eased into things, it can still be
overwhelming. There’s just so much to do. Take for an example a typical
gaming session: I set off to the marker for my main mission, but before I
do that, I decide to hit the open seas to open up some commerce lanes,
fight British blockades and sail off to find hidden treasure. By the
way, the naval missions are entirely optional, but extremely awesome and
tremendously fun. The ships handle great, the combat is exciting, you
can upgrade your ship so it’s better in combat, you can even board other
ships; it’s just so cool.

So, back to going to my main mission. I
head out once again to follow that marker, but on the way through the
frontier I decide to do some hunting. After all, animal pelts trade for
some good money. After spending some time doing that I come across some
missions that can help improve my homestead. The more I do that, the
more I can make in trade, so of course I’ll help out. These mission are
often short, but they’re satisfying. Back to following the marker for my
main mission. I finally arrive in town, either Boston or New York, and
there are many more things to do. I can help liberate sections of the
city. I can take up assassination contracts, I can look for hidden
treasure, I can liberate forts, I can chase pages of Ben Franklin’s
Almanac across the rooftop, find hidden passages, trade at general
stores or…oh yea, the main mission. So once again I’m off to follow
that. You see what’s happening here? This is one of those rare games
where the main mission is probably where you’ll spend the least amount
of time because there are so many other things to do.

In the
course of these main missions, you’ll encounter figures like Sam Adams,
Ben Franklin, Paul Revere and yes, George Washington. You also
participate in key events like the Boston Tea Party and some of the
early battles of the war. It’s pretty fun to be apart of “history” like
that and see those events and even help shape those events. Of course,
that’s one of the key elements of this plot; who is really shaping
history. According to the lore of Assassin’s Creed, no matter what the
books may tell you, history was really shaped by the Templars and the
Assassins, and the Revolutionary War was no exception. In truth, the
Assassin’s Creed games are not far wrong when it comes to the idea of
some force guiding the fate of history. While they focus on the plans,
schemes and conspiracies of men, which makes for some compelling drama,
the fact of the matter is history is molded by it’s maker. Read through
the Bible and it becomes very apparent that God’s hand is upon the ebb
and flow of history. There’s a common cliche among churches to refer to
history as HIStory (Get it? It’s His-story). While that’s a pretty hefty
simplification, it’s also true. In fact, the Revolutionary War is a
great example of God’s guiding hand on history. Even Ben Franklin, who’s
not exactly known as a devout man of faith, stated quite plainly that
he saw God’s guiding hand on the formation of this nation, and urged
that prayer to the God of history be made before each and every meeting
in which the fate and course of this nation was being decided. Men can
plot and scheme all they want, but in the end, much as Pharaoh did,
they’ll discover who it is ultimately guiding the course of that mighty
river known as history. 

Well, let’s set the philosophical stuff
aside for the moment and get down the nitty gritty. We know that AC3 has
a fascinating, historical setting with some rich characters, but how
does it play? In truth, like a slightly better version of previous
games. This is a more action-based game, and I kind of miss some of the
stealthier elements of past games (like nonchalantly passing between two
targets, stabbing them with poison blades without breaking stride and
then disappearing into the crowd). There are stealth sections in the
game, which can be frustrating because if you’re spotted, because then
it’s game over. The stealth isn’t as good as Splinter Cell: Conviction,
but it’s not bad and it’s not a huge part of the game, but it’s
satisfying when it works well. Generally, though, you’ll see more action
than past games. The combat system is good, but not great. It’s similar
to Batman: Arkham City but not as refined or fluid,  but it’s
close. Enemies still wait to take you on one at a time, but Conner does
have a wide variety of moves and weapons to use, and it’s still simple
to pull off some awesome looking moves. The free-running has also been
refined. It looks great and is mostly fluid, but you’ll still have some
missteps, mis-jumps and a few times where can’t quite find the right
spot to allow you to scale a wall or cliff. 

Then there’s
multiplayer. It’s a different experience from most games. My friend said
he didn’t really like a game where you just wander through a crowd
looking for someone to kill while trying not to get killed yourself. I
thought it was an interesting and different sort of challenge, and I can
see why this multiplayer has gained a following. It’s slower, more
suspenseful, but I thought it was fun. You can earn little perks, like
being able to use a disguise, to help you, and there are some fun modes.
There’s a co-op mode where you work with teammates to eliminate targets
as quickly as possible, and one where you alternate between being the
hunter and the hunted. When you’re the hunted, all you can do is hide
and stay alive; you can’t kill those targeting you. Good stuff. 

All
of this is a wrapped in a great looking, great sounding game. There are
a few glitches here and there (I once saw a horse that was standing on
his feeding trough for some reason), some clipping issues at time,
places where you might get stuck in the environment, some pop-in and
fogginess in the draw-distance and times when the animations are bit
less than fluid (this can happen a lot trying to navigate the frontier
on horseback; there just some places that apparently a horse can’t go).
Still, it’s a huge, massive game that covers land and sea, the wild
frontier and two sprawling towns. It’s hard not to be impressed with the
scope of it all, especially during some of the larger battles. Couple
all of this with some fine voice acting and excellent music, and you
have an epic game that truly feels like a cinematic experience. Little
things like the tracks you leave in the snow or the orange glow of
summer’s sunset are gorgeous to behold, just as other little things like
accepting a mission at night-time only to have the introductory cut
scene and the mission itself taking place during the day are a bit
distracting. 

Now, this is a pretty long review, but I’ve truly
only covered the tip of the ice berg of this game. I haven’t talked
about the expansive economy in the game, or how you can recruit and use
your own network of assassin’s to complete missions, I didn’t even
really talk as much about the awesome naval missions as I wanted. Or
about all the things to experience in the frontier, or in town, or in
building up your homestead. AC3 is just huge, and despite a few rough
patches here and there, it comes together beautifully. The makers of AC3
talked about how the making of this game, because of the timing and the
resources available to make it, was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity, and how games of this size and scope are becoming a rarity.
Well, the result is a truly expansive and special experience.

Score: 6 of 7 (Now, this is an M-rated game about an assassin, so yeah, it’s violent and bloody. Not gratuitously so, but it is pretty brutal. Also, some sensuality and raucous behavior is on display)