The concept of learning with video games isn’t new. For some time now video games have been used to teach children – and adults alike in some cases – everything from early childhood development like ABC’s and 123′s to history lessons about some of the most horrid wars human civilization has endured. Although most gamers look at Call Of Duty as a great shooter, it also highlights in many ways the strategy, as well as human emotion and courage, exhibited by brave men during World War II. In many cases, the next generation of children are learning more about history through playing these interactive games rather than studying subjects in schools or libraries.
If you’ve played the Assassin’s Creed games since the first iteration five years ago, you already know that Ubisoft has mastered the art of creating a fantastic game based on historical fact, packing it with so much history that in some cases even the most schooled adult may learn something they didn’t know. Players have now played through the First Crusade and the Renaissance as two very different protagonists, Altair and Ezio. Assassin’s Creed really went from a very good game to a great game with the introduction of Ezio in Assassin’s Creed II. However, Ubisoft’s two yearly follow-ups in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, saw the franchise return from being great to just good, as the story began to lack, and the setting of Renaissance Italy started to become a little old to many players of the franchise. Ubisoft needed a major reboot of the series, and that’s exactly what they did.
Assassin’s Creed III continues the story of modern-day Desmond, whose life was suddenly turned around when he discovered that his lineage included a long line of members from the Order of the Assassins, sworn enemies of the Templars. Using a machine called the Animus, Desmond is able to relive the memories of his ancestors stored in his DNA in his pursuit of a powerful artifact called the Apple Of Eden. Newcomers to the series really should not start with Assassin’s Creed III, as the storyline picks up right where Revelations left off, assuming players are aware of earlier events. To really understand the entire scope of the story, playing each iteration in order is advised.
However, the beauty of Assassin’s Creed is that the game features two plot lines that relate to each other. While the overall plot surrounds Desmond and his modern-day fight with the Templars for control over the Apple of Eden (players will find out exactly why in the game, no spoilers here), each game features a subplot as the ancestor Desmond relives in the Animus. So gamers not willing to put in the time to play all four previous installments will still be able to enjoy Assassin’s Creed III.
Assassin’s Creed III takes a bold step forward in video games by placing gamers right in the middle of one of the most famous periods in history, the American Revolution. This is the first game ever set in this period, and Ubisoft has hit it on the nail head. This time, Desmond relives the memories of not one, but two different ancestors of his past. First, players will play Haythum Kenway, an English gentlemen sent to the colonies on a mission, and father of the story’s main protagonist, Connor, the son of Haythum and Zio, a Native American woman. Connor’s Native American heritage plays a big role in his abilities, like climbing trees, navigating the woods, hunting, and his excellent “work” with a tomahawk.
The story begins with Haythum Kenway, after an assassination mission in England, being sent to the American colonies in the search of a doorway. The first few hours of the game are focused around reliving Haythum’s journey to the New World, and establishing his band of allies upon his arrival. Haythum’s story starts twenty years before the American Revolution, when the colonies are still happy being under the rule of England’s King George. Your time playing as Haythum comes to an end after a major assassination is completed by Haythum, with the help of his new-found love interest Zio, an Iriquios woman. Ubisoft also throws a major plot twist in with Haythum that will shape the way the player, and his son Connor, views him.
Fast forward 20 years, and his son Connor, unknown to Haythum, is a fully trained Assassin looking to seek vengeance against the Templar-controlled British for the destruction of his village. Connor finds friends of his cause in Americans who are also seeking independence from the tyranny of the British Empire.
Connor’s mission to destroy the Templars sets him on a journey to iconic colonial locales like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Seeing recreations of famous locales like Boston and New York, along with the frontier and Native American villages, will make any history buff go crazy with excitement. This is because Ubisoft has stepped up the design in AC III. In previous installments of the series, famous cities like Rome or Jerusalem looked great, but in many cases buildings that weren’t iconic landmarks like the Coliseum or Wailing Wall were recycled, making the city feel like a bunch of recycled streets in between recreations of these iconic buildings. In AC III, Ubisoft has done a wonderful job in giving each building a seemingly unique character. The Frontier area is lush with trees, shrubs, bushes, and animals. Traveling through the Frontier is made more enjoyable by the fact you can hunt these animals, as well as travel through the treetops. The occasional homestead or Native American village along the way provides some sort of relief from the forest and are recreating very well.
The updated game engine in Assassin’s Creed III not only lends for beautiful locations, but also ones full of life and vibrancy. The updated game engine can support up to 300 NPC’s (non-playable characters) on-screen, giving players the feeling that they are actually roaming the streets of a bustling colonial metropolis. Markets are full of people buying and selling goods, and the streets are full of people having conversations. This also lends to more hiding or blending spots when the Redcoats are looking for you.
Another new feature in the environment is seasons. Unlike previous games of never-ending summers, Assassin’s Creed III has distinctly four seasons, and the environment changes according to show it. In the summer, the forest is lush with green and animals, and the cities are bustling with people complaining of the heat. On the other hand, the winter brings snow, bare trees and bushes, and city streets and roofs covered in snow with smoke coming from the chimneys. Even navigation changes depending on the season. Taking a brisk jog through the Frontier during the summer is smooth sailing, however, running up that same hill in the winter becomes a slow walk as you painfully drudge your way through thick snow.
Ubisoft has done a masterful job in recreating some of the greatest moments from the American Revolution and weaving them into a fluid storyline. Rather than focusing the story around Connor, in Assassin’s Creed III the story of the American Revolution is the main plot, Connor is just another player in it. Players will be able to relive historical moments like the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s “The British Are Coming” Ride, and unforgettable Revolutionary War battles. Along the way Connor makes some famous friends like Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and the most famous American that ever lived, George Washington.
Connor’s tasks include assisting these new-found friends in various tasks and battles, further promoting their agenda of American independence. However, Connor still has his own identity and principles, and isn’t afraid to call out his own friends on it. For example, Connor admonishes Sam Adams during a conversation for being a slave owner (which Sam quickly corrects him that his servant is a freed woman who chooses to work for him). I applaud the developers for not shying away from the reality of early American society, and instead painted a historical representation. As much as some people may want to hide it, slavery was real, and it’s a shame that many times we tend to ignore it in pop culture. We all know slavery isn’t right, but hiding from our past isn’t a way to show it.
In many cases, our Assassin hero shares his ideals with his blade instead of his words. In Assassin’s Creed III the combat has been upgraded to allow more options for combat. At the same time, combat is nowhere near as easy as it used to be which is a welcomed addition. Gone are the days of counterattacks and streak kills against a group of enemies who have your surrounded but somehow choose to take their turn attacking you. In AC III the Redcoats are faster, smarter, and deadlier than previous enemies in the franchise. Being surrounded by a group of Redcoats usually means certain death, as in many cases enemies will attack simultaneously. This forces players to make wiser choices when picking a fight, and brings a level of difficulty (in a good way) to the game not seen before. Players will also notice that counter-attacking has become more difficult. This gives the upgraded combat system a much more enjoyable experience and gets away from the previous installments feel of just another hack-and-slash game when it comes to combat.
Assassin’s Creed III also introduces naval combat into the story and as a set of side missions Connor can embark on at any time. These side missions, while beautiful, fall flat in terms of combat. Instead of your Assassin jumping from mast to mast air assassinating enemies from above, or sabotaging British cargo runners, players will simply steer a ship and shoot the ship’s cannons and guns at opposing ships. Players steer the ship with the left joystick, change speed by choosing half-sail or full-sail, and then use the left and right triggers to control the guns and cannons. However, all the aiming is done by the AI, so essentially players find themselves steering a ship around an open sea battles holding and releasing the left and right triggers. The updated game engine handles the graphics and physics beautifully, but there lies the issue. The naval battles offer little satisfaction to the player beyond eye candy, and feel more like a tech demo on the graphics engine from Ubisoft than an actual necessary element to the story.
Multiplayer is available, however, you won’t find a review on it here. I still hold true that the worst thing to happen to Assassin’s Creed was multiplayer. Some games are just made to be a single player experience, and Assassin’s Creed is one of them. What makes the franchise great is the story, characters, and settings Ubisoft has recreated. Other story driven games like L.A. Noire didn’t have multiplayer, and you know what, that’s OK. They are still great games. If I could change one thing about the series, it would be for Ubisoft to dump the multiplayer and spend that development time and programming for an even richer experience. On the Xbox 360, the multiplayer is placed onto a separate disc altogether, however, I would have preferred that second disc for more single player action.
Even with my refusal to play the multiplayer mode, the replay value in Assassin’s Creed III is great. There’s always a side mission here or there to embark on, adding more hours to the already long story. After my first session playing Assassin’s Creed III for almost 5 hours straight, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had only completed less than 10% of the story, meaning I was looking at a lengthy 50 or more hour campaign. In an age where 6 hour Call Of Duty campaigns are becoming more and more prevalent, it’s refreshing to see a lengthy single player campaign. It makes shelling out $60 for the game feel like a more worthwhile purchase, and gives the overall feeling of a better value.
Overall Assassin’s Creed III is, as stated before, the reboot Assassin’s Creed fans wanted and Ubisoft needed to put a great franchise back onto the right track after two less-than-stellar follow-ups to the critically acclaimed Assassin’s Creed II. It accomplishes this by returning to offered a phenominal story in a beautifully crafted interactive setting, and offers players a likeable new hero in Connor. Like Ezio, players will find themselves identifying with Connor, his struggles, and will begin to have an emotional attachment to this character. And it is Assassin’s Creed III‘s ability to, like a great movie, invoke an emotional response that makes it a game that you’ll never forget.