by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Remember back around 2008 when parkour, the sport of getting from point A to point B as creatively as possible, was everywhere? It was on TV, all over YouTube, and even on The Office. Well, if that fad had a game, it would be Assassin’s Creed (put your hand down Mirror’s Edge, you lose by virtue of less awesome hidden blades). This is a franchise founded on climbing enormous Cathedrals, leaping between rooftops, and diving a few hundred feet into a tiny pile of hay. While the first Assassin’s Creed game left many fans frustrated with its linear, repetitive nature, the franchise has grown over twelve titles across multiple platforms to be one of the most popular new IPs of this generation. The latest release is Assassin’s Creed III, which is actually the fifth entry in the series, and takes gamers to colonial America to walk about during the nation’s Revolutionary War.
To make a rather complicated story simple, the Assassin’s Creed franchise is focused on the eternal battle between the power-hungry Templars and the Assassins, who are trying to keep the world safe from the Templar’s influence. In modern times, the Templars operate under the cover of Abstergo Industries, and use the company’s power, reach, and funds to further their goals. The Assassins are largely scattered, with mostly small pockets operating under the radar of Abstergo. Both sides use a machine called the Animus, which allows the user to experience the memories of their ancestors. Throughout the events of the previous four major games featuring Desmond, it is revealed that humans are far from the first great civilization the universe has seen, and there are artifacts called Pieces of Eden that grant great power to whoever wields them. Additionally, it seems that there is some world-ending event coming in late 2012, and the Assassins must stop it.
This all brings us to Assassin’s Creed III, the fifth title in the series. Just as with previous games, Assassin’s Creed III follows two parallel stories running at the same time: we have the modern Desmond, who is using the animus to re-live the lives of his assassin ancestors while combating the Abstergo Industries, and Conor, the half British, half Native American Assassin charged with combating some powerful Templars during the American Revolution. As much as I wanted to like it, I just could not get myself to care about Desmond. I think the series shines because of its ability to vividly bring to life disparate historical settings, and that is lost in the modern setting. On paper, a massive pre-human civilization, power-generating artifacts, and an impending apocalypse should make for a compelling tale, but it just does not. Five games have lead up to this moment, and it never really gives you proper closure. It is not terrible, but it is nothing satisfying either. Desmond’s portions really had me wishing the franchise would just stick with one period/character a game.
The Life and Times of Conor
On the other hand, my time spent with Conor was a blast. I was skeptical when I first heard that the franchise would be moving so far up in time to a period dominated by gunpowder, and thus, ranged combat, but the new setting is a delight. My only real issue is that it takes too long to actually gain control of Conor. For a decently sized chunk at the beginning of the game players instead control a British man named Haytham. His presence makes sense in the story, and it could have been interesting, but I quickly found myself bored with him. Said simply, His struggle could not hold a candle to the brilliance of Conor’s destiny.
Once Connor is in the picture, however, things improve. Boston and Philadelphia are quite beautiful. The early colonies are locations rarely explored in this kind of a game, and as a history buff it was a joy to walk around and feel live that world vicariously through Conor. The mixture of woods and cities makes for some great playgrounds to run around in, which is complemented by the best and most fluid animations the Assassin’s Creed series has seen yet. I loved the themes presented in this game as well. There is a lot of depth to the happenings beyond the literal “beat the Templars” story, such as person identity, culture, discrimination, loss, and more. As an English teacher by trade, I have a great appreciation for media that can present themes that walk the murky realms between pure black and white, and make us think.
Excellent animations, a fresh setting, and satisfying multiplayer.
Pacing problems, occasionally loose controls, and an unremarkable story for Desmond.