I’ve not yet finished AC 3, and I have seen glimpses of reviews regarding the ending. Some players were unsatisfied, some indifferent and others think it rocked. This post, obviously, won’t reveal anything about the ending but for those who haven’t yet played the game, it might contain some bits about the story that some would consider spoilers. So, reader beware and all that good stuff.
So with that out of the way, can I just say that I am impressed with Assassin’s Creed 3? I’m aware that some elements of the game are reminiscent of other titles (Red Dead Redemption‘s hunting metagame, for one) but in this day and age, there’s always something borrowed, like weird marriages between different mediums (games and movies). I’m not here to rehash all of that, because it’s already been done by the Big Dogs, aka IGN, Machinima etc. I’m more impressed with Ubisoft’s handling of two incredibly sensitive historical topics that have not often been touched on by developers, for the simple fact that getting it wrong would set off a frenzy of bad publicity.
The depiction of Native Americans and the African slave trade in video games has never really gone well, which is due to a combination of factors, not least of which is an overall lack of respect for the portrayal of minorities in interactive entertainment (women and LGBT people included). Haven’t we always been the white male protagonist, gunning down the Islamic extremists, African warlords and Native American troublemakers (Red Dead Redemption)? I’d read other blog posts regarding the character you play in AC3 prior to it’s release, and most authors regarded it with a sort of careful optimism. After all, just saying it was going to be an awesome game wouldn’t suffice; since its first installment, Assassin’s Creed has probed deep into underlying societal issues that have mostly been associated with religion. From Al Mualim’s misguided zealotry in AC1 to the final boss in AC2, Ubisoft’s never been afraid to make you ask the question “Who exactly was the bad guy in this historical sequence?” It’s no secret that organised religion has had a helping hand in some of history’s worst periods of war, among other atrocities. But that’s a discussion for another blog.
AC3 goes off the beaten path a bit in the sense that Connor’s not really doing battle for any particular organised religious right, but it sails into all-new territory just by having Connor as its main character and by touching briefly on the African slave trade. There’s no sense of either the rebels or the British being the clear good or bad guy, since after all, we know how this story turns out. We can’t change history, but games that pull from specific periods tickle your brain into looking at a situation from a different angle, provided it’s done right of course. AC3 gets it so right, particularly when you start the mission with your Templar father, Haytham, discovering a missive from George Washington to his troops, ordering the destruction of Connor’s village…his second one thus far, considering his first was razed to the ground. Up until this point in the game, you (as Connor) have been helping Washington and the other rebels to further their cause, believing in your heart of hearts that the Templars are backing the British. It’s incredibly hard to convey the true physical reaction involved with the discovery of a betrayal, but Ubisoft manages to make Connor look both tortured and near-homicidal all at once. On his way to foil the delivery of this order, Connor discovers that his village has also gone crazy and is preparing a stealth-attack of their own. His conflicted emotions are evident when he’s forced to end his friend and fellow villager.
Did Washington himself order the destruction of Native American villages? Ubisoft wants to bring you to the point where you say “It doesn’t matter who gave the order, just that the order was given.” That’s why these games are brilliant. You’re forced to admit to the idea that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. The sheer boatload of information that the game overloads you with helps you ask the question of “what way do you turn and which devil do you trust when your back is against the wall and nothing makes sense anymore?” And then you’re left to answer it, knowing that irregardless of your actions in this historically-inspired work of fiction, it’s all already happened. The beauty of it is that now, you can ask questions you never had before. To me, that’s when a work of art has done its job.
So well done, Ubisoft. Well done.