Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3 Recap, Part 2: Connor's Training

After having examined the prologue, in which Haytham Kenway lays the groundwork for the templar's organisation in America, we get to know our real protagonist, Connor. In a voiceover of his mother, we are informed that the Indians, kind and trusting people they are, took Connor in with no problems at all, ignoring his half-blood heritage and loving him as one of their one. This leaves me with a bad feeling in the stomach, because this romantization of the native Indians should be a thing of the past. It's just benevolent racism to paint them as nature's children, taking no more than they need and living in harmony, yadda yadda. In case you didn't get the point, the soundtrack spells it out for you, constantly displaying an Indian chant in the background that soon tires and never stops. 

In exchange you get breathtaking scenery.

We meet young Connor (with an Indian name you can't pronounce) playing hide&seek with some other children. It is a nice sequence, again playing out a tutorial. After we learned the secrets of inner-city-assassination as Haytham, now Connor teaches us how to do it out in the open - the unique feature of Assassin`s Creed 3, setting it apart from its city-borne predecessors. The functioning of these parts will largely determine whether the game will be a success. In this sequence, it works. You can feel all Indian chasing the children down and not to mix them up with the wildlife. The joyful play soon turns to ash, however, when the bad guys(tm) show up.

You can tell them apart by their ruffy look.
Connor is knocked unconscious and returns to his village, only to find it burning. The Indians seem to regard sitting around with sad faces the appropriate response, so it is on us to find our mother and watch her die in the burning debris, setting up the stage for the hatred for the templars. Boy, does this feel forced. Since Connor has virtually no reason to dislike the guys, they behave in the most bad guy fashion imaginable, like they're the fucking Colonel Tavington. And since beating up a child isn't enough, they let his mother die under circumstances that could totally have been avoided. It's only fitting that after a time jump into his adolesence years, there is no emotion left from the tragic event, as we take our fat-friend-sidekick hunting. 

Someone played a lot "Red Dead Redemption" programming this flick.
In this sequence, Connor can show off his skills in hunting and climbing to his friend. Mind the subjunctive, since I messed it up pretty badly and felt like a total noob. Out of training, sorry, fat friend. Anyway, we return home with meat and pelts after brutally stabbing to death some animals, which is much more fun than it sounds like, and get an audience with our wise chief(tm). He gives us another exposition speech: the village is founded on some Precursor ground, guarding it, and is destined to do so. Connor's desire to leave the valley is a mystery to him as well as to me. Until now, Connor's just a blank slate who acts out some emotions and dialogue that seem expected. I hope this gets better at some point. Anyway, the elder gives us some artifact, and we have our first encounter with Juno.
Lacking a screenshot, some concept art.
She tells us that not only does some great fate await us, no, we have to seek out someone with THIS SYMBOL. Of course, it's the Assassin's seal. Ok, I guess. This is one way to introduce Connor into the Assassin's order and to set the stage for some epic "I am your father"-drama. One way. Let's spell it out: it's absolutely moronic. Connor is a pure agent until now, with no will of his own, and kindly enough, he spells it out in a voice-over, too, because, again, subtlety isn't a strong suit of the writers. So we run through the beautiful landscape to some point marked on the map, where we find a mansion inhabiated by a black man. He has "wise old mentor" written all over him, and true to the book he refuses us because we're not earnest enough. To prove him wrong, we take a nap in his stables and kill some random guys who want to kill the old guy. That proves to be sufficient to start Assassin's training. 

This scene was based on the editor's faces upon reading this part of the script.
We get to see the inner sanctum of the mansion, where the white hood(tm) waits for us finishing the training before we're sent off to do some training exercises. We're about 15% through the game (if the UbiLauncher is to be believed) and still the tutorial isn't over because now we have to learn how to trade with stuff and manufacture it. This seems like the "improve the mansion" from "Brotherhood" all over again, and I haven't given it much thought since the intial tutorial mission. Perhaps I'll come back to it later. The next part is to restore the ship in our natural harbor to take it out to naval missions. The writers give us a clicheed but welcome gruffy captain to train us, and the naval gameplay is way better than expected. If you think of the sucking cart sequences of the previous games, think again. The naval battles really rock, surprisingly enough. I guess I will do some of them at least. Later. 
Hoist the colors!
Right now, we go to Boston. It's snowing, and the year depicted is 1770. As a history nerd and scholar of the revolution, I know what these means: the Boston Massacre is looming. And sure enough, people in the streets are angry and start throwing things at British soldiers, who are commanded to restrain themsevles by their officer. Now, this is an interesting moment: what will Assassin's Creed's take on history be? Until now, the redcoats were little more than pawns to be killed at the player's leisure, but this is the moment to give the whole scenario some direly needed ambiguity. Will they depict the British as the bad guys, or will the conflict between templars and assassins play out more like in the first game, with bad guys and good guys on either side? I dread they will go for option A, but right now, the game chickens out. Lee, Haytham's rigth-hand-man, fires the notorious first shot of the Boston Massacre, and we have to flee the scene. 

If you wouldn't believe how many people mix up the Massacre and the Tea Party, google it.
This allows for another piece of tutorial, in which Samuel Adams shows us how to remove posters, bribe announcers and to bribe printers. His appearance presents us with the next challenge for the writers: how to depict the historic personalities of the time? They clearly go for the approach of "Assassin's Creed 2", "Brotherhood" and "Revelations", making them tutors and directly involving Connor in their actions. I think this is a big mistake, but we will see how it plays out in the future. Right now, it works in so far as it gives us the knowledge we need to have. Another problem has become apparant in the meantime, though.

Walking the streets of Boston.
Altair and Ezio strained believability a bit with their white hoods, but the Crusades and the Renaissance were far enough from the present to let us forget about it. In the revolution era, this doesn`t work anymore. When Samuel Adams convinces people that the Indian in his tribe leathers and bow on the back isn't the Indian you're searching for, you cannot help but shake your head. What, are they searching for another native Indian walking the streets of Boston? Really? Connor is even more obvious in his tribal garbs than he is in the white hood. Characters also tend to treat him as an equal all too easily. First, Connor is a child still. He may be an assassin in training, but he can be no more than what, fifteen, seventeen? That's no age to be taken seriously by people in their 30s and 40s. Ezio and Altair both reflected this in the early stages of their story, but Connor doesn't need to earn his spurs. If that's not strange enough, the 18th century also seemed to be a place devoid of racism. No one has a problem with an Indian walking around and doing stuff, especially with an Indian looking the part.
Replace the log with a roof. Seems disjointed? It ought to.
Connor chides Sam Adams in a brief scene for not wanting to free all Indians and grant them equality, but it goes no further than that. Everyone Connor meets treats him with respect and has no problem at all with his skin. To a lesser extent, this is true for his mentor. He states more explicitly that his color provides difficulty, but besides his words we never get any evidence for it. This really fucks up the world building. Why make the protagonist an Indian if you decide to regard him as European for all purposes? Connor even starts talking English to his brethren from the tribe, as if he unlearned his native tongue somehow. Here, the developers really give away chances to paint a more accurate and interesting picture of the era. Instead, they opt out and let all "good guys" show their good-guy-ism by accepting Connor just the way he is. This attributes to another major flaw: Connor remains a blank slate. There is no personality at all, like in the early days of Altair. He gained some personality only in the final stages of the game. So far, Connor is leagues away from being a second Ezio. This speaks trouble.


  1. Natives pretty happily accepting people who were part white seems to be pretty historically accurate. Hell, in colonial times it would have been somewhat common to run into members of various tribes who were 100 percent white by blood. A lot of the eastern U.S. tribes had the tradition of taking captives during wartime and eventually adopting them with full rights as members. Mixed kids had a pretty good record of becoming leaders and such, too. Joseph Brant, for instance.

    1. OK, granted. That's not a field in which I`d consider myself an expert of any kind. It's only a minor thing in my overall complaints on this part, though...