Friday, December 14, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3 Recap, Part 3: The Road to Lexington

After finally getting the business started in the Boston Massacre and learning the ways of the city by courtesy of the tutoring of Samuel Adams, we return home to the wise sage(tm) and ask ourselves what the hell just happened. So, the Templars started the American Revolution. Why? It's not clear, at least not yet, but we can hope that they will provide some answer in the future. One thing is certain: Samuel Adams, who is perhaps most responsible for the escalation in the true version of history, is on our side. The problem is, I don't know why. Really, I don't know. He just popped out of nowhere and explained Boston to a halfblood. 

And involves him on a high level in the conspiracy to create the USA.

Even stranger, we meet a Canadian French cook whom we recruit for our cause. He isn't exactly happy with the Quartering Act (which I can understand), but you shouldn't really express your discontent with the dominant policy by slaughtering British soldiers by the dozen. It gets almost ridiculous as we, for no apparant reason, gain the objective to protect the cook on his rage-revenge-mission, constantly telling him to calm down while stabbing redcoats. Bear in mind, we kill all these people because the cook's unhappy with King George's edict. The problems of choosing this particular time setting are becoming more and more apparent in scenes like this. 

How dare you violate the property of a total stranger!
But before anything more happens along these lines, we finish our training and start to improve the mansion, much like in the previous Assassin's Creed titles, although it seems even more arbitrary. We learn to know some real characters with whom we can populate the mansion, but it doesn't really feedback on the game itself. The people we recruit for the mansion - a female hunter, an earthy woodchuck-couple, a black couple - are nice and generate subplots themselves, but they are more like stuff that was put into the game purely optionally, which seems a waste. But really, it adds to the flavor of the Homestead Frontier. 

A hunting cabin in the wilds. Breathes atmosphere, really.
The parts of the game where we explore the Frontier work astonishingly well, by the way. The country is beautiful, and although the controls really suck sometimes when you try to climb high trees the view really pays off for this. So it's almost a shame when we return to Boston in 1773, just in time for the Boston Tea Party. Our official objective is to strike at the Templars for the first time. We find out that they gain their money by smuggling tea, which really isn't such an unrealistic proposition given what really happened in the day, so we decide to throw the stuff overboard to dry up their income. This is one of these opportunities the game really misses. Instead of mixing us up with the real events, crossing them just by coincedence and along the way fulfilling our own objectives, everything revolves around Connor as we move. Adams and his gang support us in our mission to destroy the Templar's finances, and in contrast to Assassin's Creed 2's Machiavelli it is never stated that Adams is part of the Assassins. Instead, he just aids us for no real reason. 

Killing redcoats in the process, while historically inaccurate, isn't the problem here.
Having succeeded in this, we kickstarted the American Revolution for good, but you wouldn't know by Connor's gloomy appearance. He is all contrite about having disrupted the Templars, but aside from that, there's nothing really going on. The cause of the Americans can't be his motivation. He states that he hopes for better treatment for "my people" from the colonists than from the British, but why, we never know. Of course, it makes for one of the strongest scenes later when this trust is betrayed, which it has to be since historically, the British were the natural allies of the Indian tribes, preventing the colonists from moving westward. But still, it is odd. Is Connor too blind to see that? And by now he knows that the Templars are on the side of the Revolutionaries, or why did they start the massacre after all? So, why does he think that the colonists would aid him? Naturally, he should look out for the British, but they are painted as the bad guys. There is no single British character in the game that isn't also a templar. These guys are just Aunt Sallys. 

Splending targets, all in red.
But well, we are committed. So when we meet up with Paul Revere in 1775, you know what's coming: Lexington, Concord, the Midnight Ride. And yes, just that happens. We need to alert the Minutemen, and surprise, we're one horse short and have to ride double with Paul Revere. Why? Nevermind. Paul comes along to point directions, and we ride and knock on doors, because apparantly, knocking doors and shouting "the Regulars are coming" exceeds Revere's skillset. This mission, apart from being present at the Continental Congress, is the most jarring of the whole game. Connor partaking makes no sense. Instead, the ride and the events of Lexington/Concord should have interrupted a scheme we had, like assassinating someone. Now, with the events unfolding, we need to be faster than Revere and his guys, because else they disrupt...something. That way, we would still have witnessed the event, but not so on-the-nose like we do know in the game. 

Knock, knock, history's at the door
It goes on at Lexington, where the milita made their stand. The news come in, the British are far too numerous, we have to draw back. The local commander needs some guys to stay behind, but who's to command them? We not only volunteer but debate him for two or three minutes on our merits as a military commander, of which there should be exactly none. But unsurprisingly, we gain the command and play a little minigame in the style of "Revelations" Tower Defense minigames. It's ok, though, since the event is small enough not to really matter and somehow it's not as bad as Paul Revere's ride. After we won the battle and got our heartfelt thanks and a lecture about the nature of loss in war (Connor's naivitee is also strange at places), it's off to kill the next target on our list, who conveniently is the opposite commander in the battle of Bunker Hill. 

Attack that blasted British!
And really, in terms of translating an historic event, the battle is the best transition of the game. At first, we need to neutralize the British warships in the harbor, which we do by sneaking aboard and assassinating the crew (you know, sneaky and all). Then, having earned the grudging respect of the American commander, who is a real character, we need to cross the battlefield and assassinate the enemy commander. Not because it's our cause here, but because ours overlaps with the colonist's. That's how they should have played it from the get-go. We circumvent the British lines, infiltrate their camp (which is a challenge for a change) and kill the Templar commander. And then, something unexpected happens: the game finds back to its prior form. The fallen Templar chides us for being such a fool: he negotiated with the British, trying to put an end to the useless war, and to bring back peace. Connor's lame-ass talk about freedom is hollow, and he knows it. Doubt creeps in, like in the very first Assassin's Creed. Are we doing the right thing?

Look over the battlefield, ye mighty, and despair!

In case you were wondering now, falling into that morally ambigious grey area that defines good storytelling, the designers quickly put you back in place. We are at the Continental Congress for a little chat with Samuel Adams and George Washington, witnessing the signing of some unimportant Declaration, and then it's off to hunt Templars again. Wait, what? Really. We just witness the signing, for no apparant reason. There's a cutscene in Philadelphia, we exchange some bad words with Charles Lee - who wants to become commander in Washington's place - and then we walk away. Why is Lee a worse choice than Washington, besides not being Washington? We never know.

He doesn't stick out, at all.
And so we're left here, the war fully going now, still not sure who Connor really is. For now, he mainly is a vehicle to allow us some historic sightseeing. As I stated previously, I'm a scholar of the American Revolution, so I love the setting, I love being witness to these events. But the designers loves it even more, and it's showing. Until now, the game's disjointed, not really telling a coherent story and entirely lacking a central character we could relate to. Who is Connor, and what motivates him, really? I still can't say, and we're about half through the game.


  1. Wenn Du mit AC3 durch bist, solltest Du Dir übrigens unbedingt mal Dishonored angucken. Sehr sehr stilvoll und "arty", gute Geschichte, ein tolles Portrait einer Gesellschaft und Stadt (abhängig von Walöl als Treibstoff) und ein Deus Ex-artiges Gameplay. Gruß, Jan

    1. Hab ich, war nicht so mein Ding. Gameplaymäßig.