Ten or 15 years from now, I imagine there will be a generation of adults who learned about history through the "Assassin's Creed" series. Ubisoft's flagship franchise has carved a niche for itself, creating what's essentially a historical fiction video game that's covered in an intriguing sci-fi wrapper.
It's a series that has taken players through the Crusades and into the Renaissance, and in "Assassin's Creed 3," Ubisoft Montreal takes players to the American Revolution. After a surprising prologue, they take on the role of Connor, another descendant of the main protagonist, Desmond Miles.
Half Mohawk and half British, Connor is on a quest to fulfill his destiny and find his role in the world. He's not as charismatic as Ezio or intimidating as Altair, but the new hero has his moments. Being raised in the Mohawk tribe, he's almost Spock-like in his immersion to an alien British culture. But more than anything, Connor embodies the young nation itself. He's idealistic, headstrong and, at times, naive.
As with any epochal jump in the series, the developers bring in improvements and new approaches to the design. "Assassin's Creed 3" carries over a few years' worth of gameplay elements and weaves it tightly into the design. Instead of fixing up a town or city, players will grow the homestead of Davenport from one home to a thriving village. The "Brotherhood" mechanic is back, but the six allies are distinct characters, a step above the randomly generated grunts.
The biggest upgrade is in the world design and core gameplay elements. "Assassin's Creed 3" is exquisitely detailed. The team did an excellent job bringing cities such as Boston and New York to life. That's about par for a developer who has re-created Venice, Rome and Constantinople. What's more impressive is that Ubisoft Montreal charts new territory by taking players to forested frontiers and the high seas.
This is where the eye candy becomes overwhelming as players are swallowed into a gorgeous New England environment that rivals anything this side of "Red Dead Redemption." The seasons change, and all sorts of animals dash across the landscape. Players can trudge through the winter snow, but the more enjoyable way of getting around is by letting Connor parkour through the treetops and scale mountainsides. The team did a mind-boggling, intricate job of placing every branch and rock face so that players can get around without ever touching the ground.
The naval battles aren't used often in the main campaign, but they are a key diversion as players search for treasure and earn money. They also provide the more epic moments, especially when the seas are churning and ships are firing at each other. It's more of a showpiece than an integral part of the game, but it does offer the most stunning scene you will play all year.
The second part of the revamped gameplay equation is hunting and combat. Preying on other animals for furs and meat is not only intrinsic to Connor's character, but it's also a gameplay element that's incorporated into the in-game economy and upgrades. Hunting is another activity in a game chock-full of them.
When it comes to combat, Ubisoft Montreal upgraded it, requiring more skill from players. They can't button-mash their way to victory. Although Connor is still a whirling dervish with blades, players must learn to counter attack, break a foe's guard and call on allies' help at the right time. They also must deal with several new tools such as firearms and rope darts that give players an edge if they know how to strategically use them.
With all this attention to detail on the visual side, it's great to see that writer Corey May took the same care to write a story that entwines personal drama and American history. Sure, "Assassin's Creed 3" is about the Founding Fathers and the struggle for independence (gamers will be immersed in a history lesson), but it's also a father-son story -- one that carries over between Connor and Haytham Kenway in Colonial times and Desmond and William Miles in modern day.
It's a tough act balancing a compelling story and accurate history, but somehow Ubisoft Montreal performs magic with "Assassin's Creed 3" and convincingly transports players to the past. It's the closest thing we'll ever have to time travel.
'assassin's creed 3'
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Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC