I work at an American History museum, and Revolutionary history is probably my favorite era, with all of the complexity of decidedly controversial American issues, including the dichotomy of equality for some vs. equality for all, race, gender, symbolism, wealth disparity, and national narrative. When I saw the trailers and info on ACIII, I couldn’t wait to play the game. I bought it on Halloween night, and dove into it the next day. Here, I’ll be giving some of my thoughts on the game, both as a gamer and as someone with an historical perspective on the events that it refers to:
Part I: Igniting the Powder Keg
I have never played a game in the Assassin’s Creed series, but have read synopses and watched playthrus. Firing this game up, I am very impressed with it. Right off the bat, it has a great integration between scripted cut scene events and actual gameplay. The action isn’t seamless, like say Skyrim, but it never seems to devolve into a ten minute cut scene just for the sake of showing off pre-rendered 3D. The focus here is on the gameplay.
This is also the first game I have ever played with free running, which is a lot of fun. The controls are not perfect, and I was expecting them to be a little more precise, considering they’ve had three other games to practice refining the formula. Sometimes I’m just interested in running fast, but if you are close to obstacles, your character will end up climbing or hanging when you don’t want him too, and it takes a few button presses to get him down. There needs to be some way to make a distinction between just running fast, and running with climbing. But it really is fun to hop and tumble and swing from building to building or tree to tree. This game has also really got me interested in taking some rock climbing, free movement, or parkour classes, to go with my capoeira. I want to become a badass like Ratonhnhaké:ton.
Speaking of which, it was interesting to fire this game up and be thrust into the role of… Hatham Kenway? Where’s Connor? Where’s my awesome American Indian, tomahawk wielding, assassin extraordinaire? The game starts with some background story to the revolutionary main plot: you begin as expert covert infiltrator Hatham, an interesting character in his own right. This guy is like an 18th century James Bond, complete with gadgets, espionage skills, gentlemanly charm, and he can swing a sword pretty well too. The fighting mechanics are a little on the easy side, but very satisfying. Apparently, the assassins in the game don’t always one-shot-kill their enemies. Sometimes, they hack ‘em apart! One thing I’ve always wanted to see is how musket combat could be developed in a video game, and in this one it is fun. Not only can you wield a musket for sharpshooting, but the long reload times allow you to hide from shots, and then attack in the interim, breaking the lines. Haven’t seen a solid Lobsterback bayonet charge, and that is one thing that this game is missing. There is a reason the British regulars were known as the greatest army in the world during the 18th century, and they break ranks way too easily in this game. Still, the combat is fast paced, and fun. I’ll bet the tomahawk will make it even better!
Hatham is sent looking for Ancient Civilization secrets, which takes him to the new world in the prelude of the French and Indian War. This prologue sets the tone for several of the historical issues, including Indian/ Colonist relations, and even a bit on the question of Slavery, which is quite timely for Quaker-influenced, forward-thinking 1700s Boston, which is where much of the game’s beginning takes place.
Boston itself is extremely impressive, with full scale models of those colonial buildings. On a personal note, it was very cool to see a couple of free blacks walking around too. Kenway allows you a great opportunity to explore the city, learn a bit about the personalities of certain inhabitants, and run in to some of the famous Redcoats, who will become the antagonists later on. When you do finally meet a few American Indians, it feels important. I was very impressed and thankful about how the pre-Colonial culture is depicted in the game, and seeing some of the complexities that Indians had to deal with as European descendants encroached on their way of life will be interesting and thoughtful, I think.
The Kenway prologue ends with a pretty cool cliffhanger, and sets up the primary conflict for the rest of the game. I was quite happy with this beginning; some of the implications on how this might affect Desmond Miles, frame narrative protagonist of the AC series, in his quest for self-discovery are mind-bending. Then, we are introduced to the main character of the title. In the next section, I will give my impressions on alias Connor Kenway, and his induction into the Assassin’s Brotherhood. So far, though, this game is quickly becoming my favorite of the year. My first impression grade is an A minus! Get it? It’s almost like “animus…”
“Sigh,” that joke worked a lot better out loud…