Assassin's Creed III
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The latest historical action game from Ubisoft introduces a new main character, part-Native American, part-English protagonist Connor, who takes the lead role in continuing the assassins' centuries-long battle against the Knights Templar. The game, out Tuesday ($60, for PS3 and Xbox 360, ages 17-up; due for Windows Nov. 20), is set during the American war for independence and continues a story cycle that has sold more than 40 million games for the publisher.
An accompanying game, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, also out Tuesday ($40, ages 17-up) for Sony's handheld PlayStation Vita system, takes place during the same 18th-century period, but in New Orleans, and stars an African-French female assassin named Aveline.
The pair of Assassin's Creed games stretches the standard for what constitutes a video game hero. Most remain white and male, even though some games such as Mass Effect allow the look of the main character to be customized.
Not only is Connor the only non-white main character in a console game this year, "Assassin's Creed III is the only game I can think of with a substantive primary role for a Native American character," says Arthur Gies, reviews editor for Polygon.com. It is also a "step in the right direction for a high-profile title" such as Liberation to have a mixed-race female lead, he says. Ubisoft's one-two Assassin's punch is, Gies says, "subversive, for sure."
Integration wasn't solely at the heart of the design decision to give Connor Native American bloodlines, says Alex Hutchinson, creative director for Assassin's Creed III. Where previous Assassin leads relied heavily on knives and swords, Connor wields a tomahawk, battle-axe and bow and arrow, as well as firearms. "It gave us a bunch of gear that maybe wouldn't be appropriate for an English or French person in this setting," Hutchinson says.
To re-create explorable cities of Boston and New York in Assassin's Creed III, staff historians studied period maps. And nearly two virtual miles of frontier can be traversed. "The whole wilderness surrounding these cities is completely navigable," he says. "We try for the first time in a video game to make a forest a dimensional play space, and not just a set of tree assets that you run around."
Beyond that, naval combat between tall ships is part of the game for the first time. That builds upon the past allure of Assassin's Creed games, which have included rubbing elbows with the historical elite. In games set in Jerusalem and Rome, players interacted with King Richard the First and Leonardo da Vinci.
Found in this new game are founding fathers and historical figures such as George Washington and Paul Revere. "There is something stimulating about it, the idea that they have come to life and are talking to you," Hutchinson says. "You get a George Washington, who is not sure he is going to win the war, and a Ben Franklin, who had opinions about turkeys and women and all kinds of things, as well as someone who is a genius and an inventor."
For those who have missed out on the series up to now, Assassin's Creed III has been structured so that new players can join in despite skipping the previous four console games (there have been three additional games released for handheld systems and mobile devices). And those who want more details on the underlying, conspiracy-laden plot that brings the Assassins-Templar into later centuries can catch up easily on the Net.
The franchise is popular enough that a live-action movie is in the works. "It's clear Ubisoft has a hit series in its portfolio," says Dan Hsu, GamesBeat editor-in-chief for VentureBeat.com. "Assassin's Creed is an ideal marriage of a great, marketable name, iconic imagery with its mysterious and cloaked protagonists, and a made-for-gamers theme. Who wouldn't think it's cool to be an assassin?"
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