From the very first day I saw the new Assassin's Creed, the top creative people involved with the game assured me that their game, set during the American Revolution, was not a rah-rah, jingoistic USA #1 kind of video game.
"[People were worried] that it's going to be rah-rah-Team America and flag-waving," the game's creative director, Alex Hutchinson told me this past summer. "It's not something we wanted to do and it's not the story we wanted to tell, anyway."
Since then, the game's publisher has shown several trailers, released batches of screenshots and even had the game's developers play different sections of their game, live throughout the week of E3, the year's annual showcase for the biggest video games.
Every time, in everything that's been shown, the half-British/half-Native-American hero Connor assassinates redcoats. Every time, he sheds not a drop of blood of the men in blue. He attacks no Colonists. He kills no Patriots. Why not? It seems that someone at Ubisoft has decided that gamer — American gamers, presumably — can't handle it.
"There's definitely a decision on the communication side to align you in the communications with America," Hutchinson said, presumably referring to decisions made in marketing or elsewhere outside of his development team. I pointed out that Kotaku readers (and this writer) repeatedly ask the simple question: How can you say your game isn't Team America but not be able to show a single scene of Connor, a supposed non-partisan in the American Revolution, from killing a single non-redcoat?
Shouldn't we believe our eyes which show a game that looks like it's all about killing the British who fought the people who would become the first Americans?
"As a team. we read that same coverage and we agree." Hutchinson said. "Yes, that's all you've seen. But the decision's gone to communicate on that angle. But we guarantee you that's not the game and we're going to be like...
"That'll go away once you play the game. The only real evidence is: 'have the controller, have a copy of the game.'"
It's strange to think that someone at Ubisoft has decided this is where the line must be drawn. Stranger still, because the creative people on the game seem to be struggling to point out that what they're showing of the game isn't entirely accurate.
Here's ACIII producer Francois Pelland going out of his way during Ubisoft's press conference to emphasise that the enemy isn't really just the British and that we'll be fighting people "on both sides of the war."
But they only show Connor killing people on one side of the war.
Here's a scene from one of the game's E3 trailers. In it, Connor makes it clear to a Patriot that he cares only about killing Templars, the AC series' history-spanning legion of bad guys.
Connor says he doesn't pick sides. Again, every piece of footage shown from the game makes it appear that he does.
Hutchinson said that there is at least some justification for only showing Connor kill redcoats. "You need a recognisable group when you're doing tiny demos or trailers," he told me during an interview in May. "And we made the decision, early on, that when you're going to show 90 seconds of footage and you're killing someone who is not representative of anything, for the general audience, this is incredibly confusing. If you're telling a story that, 'Oh it's about the Revolution and then you suddenly you run past George Washington and hatchet a guy [who fights for Washington] in the head, are people to takeaway from that you're against the Americans? We felt that it was just too noisy to try and communicate that."
Pelland, sitting nearby, told me that they'd been discussing whether they could at least tell people about some of the non-redcoats who Connor kills, "but it's kind of giving the story away."
"It's not giving away the story," Hutchinson clarified, "it's giving away twists."
A few weeks ago, after seeing many readers of this site struggle to square what the development team has been saying about Connor's affiliations with what the footage of the game has shown, I asked a Ubisoft rep to simply share a single screenshot that shows Connor killing someone other than a redcoat.
They said they'd look into it.
That was before E3, before Pelland got on stage to make pains to assure people that Connor fights people on both sides. That was before E3, when not a single demo of ACIII showed Connor killing anyone other than a redcoat.
It has more than a whiff of condescension from the Ubisoft marketing team. It certainly feels like Ubisoft has simply decided Americans can't handle it. Is it because Ubi is French and the game is mainly being made in Canada? Can't Americans handle the sight of the hero of a potentially multi-million-selling blockbuster game killing their "founding fathers"? Americans can't tolerate that non-Americans are working on such a project?
Through multiple meetings with Hutchinson and Pelland over the last couple of months, it's been clear to me that the duo respects the reaction of sceptical gamers and recognises the dissonance between what is being said and what is being shown. Hutchinson sighs and tries to spot the silver lining: "When the biggest question [about the game] is: 'Are you only killing redcoats?', that's kind of a win," he said, before rattling off all the other things fans used to worry about regarding Assassin's Creed III.
"It's a first-world problem," he said.
Added Pelland: "And it's not the game."