Anyone could be forgiven for assuming that Connor is a dyed-in-the-wool American patriot. In spite of Ubisoft appearing to pay lip service to the notion that Connor has a bipartisan role in the American Revolution, trailer after trailer for Assassin’s Creed III has depicted the Native American assassin tomahawking entire brigades of dumbstruck English redcoats into so much fleshy kindling.
Indeed, Ubisoft’s promotional material for Assassin’s Creed III appears to be almost singly designed to whip US audiences into a patriotic lather. It’s all soaring eagles and motley Continental militia grimly resolute in the face of overwhelming tyranny – the kind of nationalistic electrotherapy intended to stimulate its target audience into waddling down to GameStop with credit card in hand as they chant “USA! USA!”
There’s nothing wrong with hacking up mad King George’s instruments of oppression in a videogame, of course. Gamers have been disembowelling all manner of henchmen hailing from every corner of the globe for more than three decades without so much as pausing to wipe the viscera from their eyes. Besides which, the War of Independence can rightly be celebrated as a triumph for humanism that, no doubt, altered the course of Western history for the better.
Instead, what has been disappointing is hearing Ubisoft say one thing, and watching it show another. The publisher appeared to be pandering to both sides of an imaginary divide that only it could perceive, and nothing is sure to raise cynical heckles faster than painfully obvious sycophantism in marketing.
When unshackled from that department, however, the game gleefully teases out some of the uncomfortably loose and ambiguous threads in the tapestry of America’s creation myth. In 1773, Connor arrives on the outskirts of Boston. He’s here to seek out an aspiring revolutionary, Samuel Adams, and to solicit his assistance in putting a stop to the illegal sale of Mohawk tribal land.
The bustling setting of Boston is demonstrative of welcome advancements to the Assassin’s Creed series. Architecturally, it includes a greater variety of structures than the Renaissance and Medieval cities depicted in earlier games, and includes more freestanding buildings constructed from a greater variety of materials. Taverns and inns call to passersby with a din of merriment from within. As Connor walks with menacing purpose along the cobbled streets and muddy thoroughfares in search of Adams, rats, domestic animals, and delinquent children all join the adult citizenry and constabulary to create are more vivid rendering of urban period life.
Adams is in situ when Connor finally locates him, locked deep in conversation with fellow patriot. The effect of this minor addition in Assassin’s Creed III is substantial. Rather than a stationary character model waiting to be activated at Connor’s convenience, this assassin now appears to be interrupting a mission-giver’s day.
The portrayal of Adams is admirably caricatured, and his interaction with Connor perfectly illustrates the assassin’s scepticism of both factions in the simmering hostilities – the very thing the trailers for the game carefully ignore. As the two walk through the city, Adams explains how Britain’s Tea Act implies the colonists can be taxed without political representation. Adams’ tirade soon escalates until he’s extolling the virtues of equality, and the right of all men to live free from oppression. It may be a self-evident truth, but it’s one that Connor bluntly points out Adams isn’t prepared to extend to African slaves and Native Americans.
Adams also appears to be somewhat opportunistic. Connor is known to him, and known as a man of exceptional abilities. As a matter of convenience, the would-be purchaser of the Mohawk land is William Johnson, and Johnson is financing his purchase through the sale of British tea. By disposing of the tea, says Adams, Connor will remove Williams’ means to make the purchase, never mind that he’s also advancing the agenda of the Sons of Liberty. So it is that Connor undertakes a series of covert acts that culminate in the famous Boston Tea Party.
Not only does this sequence gently but inexorably pull Connor into a conflict he’s not interested in, it will also no doubt put him at odds with his own tribe. The Mohawk are presented here as distressingly naïve of the Europeans’ motives. Ultimately, they’ll be drawn into the American Revolution as allies of the English, a historical fact that Ubisoft will have been very aware of from the earliest planning stages on Assassin’s Creed III. It's also one they’ll unquestionably leverage to distract Connor from his true fight with the Templars, and to stretch him to the very brink between both national and ideological loyalties in a tale that is shaping up to be the most gripping instalment in the Assassin’s Creed series.
Assassin’s Creed III is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on the 31st of October.