The Controversial Assassin's Creed III Is More Impressive In 2019

A promotional image for the ACIII remaster. (Screenshot: Ubisoft)

It’s so refreshing to play Assassin’s Creed III now, nearly seven years after its controversial release. The game’s debut was marred by misleading marketing, a surprising game structure, and a lot of bugs, but I always liked the rough-edged yet fascinating adventure the game’s creators actually built. Playing the new remastered game on my PS4 last night was a trip, like stepping into one of those machines that lets you relive past lives.

Assassin’s Creed III launched in October 2012 with a lot of hype.The game’s debut trailer, released back in June of that year, was superb. Our new hero, a half-British, half-Native-American man named Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor, wielded a special Assassin’s tomahawk against British forces during the Revolutionary War. He weaved through the chaos of huge battle and leapt over musket-wielding redcoats to kill an enemy commander. This would be a stirring setting for a new game.

ACIII disappointed a lot of people that October. It was buggy and janky and had a controversial fake-out that kept players from controlling Connor for the game’s first several hours. It didn’t include any grand battles like the ones seen in that trailer, except for one tucked into the end of an optional downloadable expansion involving Benedict Arnold.

I was so thrilled by what I found in Assassin’s Creed III when I reviewed it and in the months following, though, that I kept poking at it. The game was radical. It was radical in its structure, delaying the player’s opportunity to play as Connor by first putting them in control of his father.

It was radical in its gameplay, daring to expand the series’ exciting—if sometimes clumsy—free-running from cityscapes to forests. It was radical in theme, repeatedly emphasising that a man of Connor’s background and skin colour would lose out in the new country.

This narrative underpinning didn’t always do the work of fleshing out Connor’s character, which meant he occasionally seemed offputtingly irritable, but that was only if you ignored the game’s side missions. After I returned in February 2013 to ACIII’s recreations of colonial Boston and New York and went through all of its side content, I found my opinion of Connor transformed.

The lower-Manhattan zone is full of burned buildings and people at risk from smallpox. In this zone, you need to find pox-infected blankets to burn and sick, threatening dogs to kill. You carry sick people to doctors. You can do all this while en route to other quests, but as you’re doing them you develop the rare sense that Connor is doing something simple and good.

So many of the heroic actions we commit in video games are overly grand. They involve saving the world. In northern New York, you wind up helping farmers by repelling hooligans while they plant their crops. You pay off or beat up shady government officials who are trying to foreclose on people’s homes. In Boston, you do more traditionally video-gamey things: you attack British prison guards and officials. But in New York, you might as well be Robin Hood or some sort of super-powered soup kitchen volunteer. You do good. Connor feels like a hero for the 99%.

I couldn’t believe what I found as I dug deeper into the game. I discovered the full scope of the excellent Homestead missions that involve Connor creating his own better society.

Amid the game’s modern-day sequences, I found optional discussions that defied the pro-American sentiment you’d expect in this sort of big-budget game to, say, remind the player that some of America’s founders had slaves.

Here, before it came in vogue to interrogate whether a major new game was being political, was a clear argument that modern politicians’ strict constructionist approaches to finding the original intent in the Constitution are a farce:

It was entirely understandable for players to miss or not care about any of that. Assassin’s Creed III brambled the path to many of its most interesting parts with a cumbersome, rhythm-breaking inventory system, calamitous glitches that broke the game for many players, and a torturous endgame on-foot chase that our critic Kirk Hamilton denounced as the worst thing I played all year.

A lot of ACIII’s glitches were patched out, and the new remaster is designed to make the whole experience run more smoothly. I’ve not played enough of it to assess how well it does that, but stepping back into this game is a pleasant return.

The newly released Assassin’s Creed III remaster also includes the original’s expansion about a George Washington who becomes king of the United States, as well as a remaster of Assassin’s Creed Liberation, a game about the Creole assassin Aveline de Grandpré in 18th-century New Orleans that is presented as a VR experience made by the evil Templar-run company Abstergo Entertainment. The whole remastered package is a reminder that the Assassin’s Creed series has seldom played it safe with its settings and heroes. (Screenshot: Kotaku)

I hadn’t absorbed until playing III again just how severely the spirit of the Assassin’s Creed games has drifted since 2012. Many of the series’ more vocal fans on YouTube, Reddit, and message boards have turned on the franchise of late, complaining that recent sequels have bent and eventually snapped many of Assassin’s Creed core tenets.

Gone are requirements that the game’s modern-day characters are related to the historical assassins whose lives they experience through the Animus device. Minimised are those modern portions of the game, their world-shattering meta-plot shunted into a resolution in a spin-off comic book series. Recent Assassin’s Creed games barely even feature an Assassin’s order or an Assassin’s Creed.

I’m mixed on those complaints, but what a refreshing shock it is to return to III, a game about Assassins and Templars and otherworldly sci-fi spirits and the ability of past lives to turn a modern man into a world-saving assassin in his own right.

It’s much weirder and perhaps much more niche than the magnificent but less shocking historical tourism of modern Assassin’s Creed games. Newer games deliver the history and big battles from the trailers that players wanted, but playing ACIII is a superb reminder of what was left behind.


Comments

    Unfortunately for me the series died with the ending of 3. I enjoyed the experience up to that finale which left as foul a taste as the ending to the third Deponia.

    The only thing I found annoying about AC3 really was the fact the game made you do a several hour tutorial then when you finally got control of Conner it made you do another several hour tutorial. Once the game proper started it was actually quite good aside from the occasional bugs, and yeah I did all of the sidequests including the homestead and naval missions.

    Conner's personality was also totally fine. While he wasn't as flamboyant and likeable as Ezio, that was kinda the point. He was angsty but he had his reasons for that. How quickly people forget Altair's personality in the original game who was basically a potato sack with a face drawn on it.

    I never played any of the DLC for AC3, so that will be something to look forward to.

    I should have been able to play that Benedict Arnold mission, but this was the first and only time I've tried to use a code from a sealed retail edition of the game, and had it rejected as expired. For some reason the codes were set to expire five months after the game released.

    While I still have the original PC collectors edition box, and have finished the game, it was the last physical edition of that series that I bought and the 2nd last to play. (Black Flag was excellent). It was fine for the time, but of course that was when they started grabbing more money for the parts of the story they did't put in the original game. It was the start of beginning to just watch the movie parts on youtube to see what the story is.

    Playing as Haytham again on the weekend made for some fun times. ACIII on PS3 actively worked against me with its poor performance so that not being an issue this time around has made the experience more pure. Framerate being fixed is nice but it feels somewhat bizzare to flick between present day and the animus in a matter of seconds, load times down to nearly nothing is something, thanks SSD!

    Not sure I'll be able to go through the all that Connor stuff just to get to free roam again. We will see!

    That ending pretty much killed the franchise for me.
    Being stuck in America was also a massive pain, and i hate the pirate/boat stuff that the next few games had.
    Syndicate was the only one of the newer ones i enjoyed.
    Wont play anything after that as im not interested in the story they are telling, and i sure dont like the games as a service model.

    had a controversial fake-out that kept players from controlling Connor for the game’s first several hours.

    That was probs the best part tho. It was great to play, and then the twist at the end of it... Well...

    Unless they improved the core gameplay I can't see myself enjoying it any more than I did the first time. At the time the gameplay was the least interesting in the series but I think Odyssey may have beaten it in that regard.

    I don't know if I'm the odd one out but I liked the intro to this game. It really got me enthralled in the story.

    Take AC4 for example, While it had an amazing story. The intro was lacklustre.

    A pirate who coincidentally happens to know all the skills an assassin has suddenly become one because he stole another's clothes.

    Is there much modern day stuff in this one?

    For a series I hated I will say I absolutely loved the last one

      This one caps off the modern day "Desmond" story arc that played out over the first five games. I seem to remember there was a short refresher on what had come before, which should help. There is more than in the newer games, but I wouldn't say it is excessive.

    I have the original in my Steam Library, and only just touched the surface. Seeing this article, I went to see if I could get an upgrade for free, or at a discount.

    But it seems if you want AC3 Remastered, it will cost you $60, not much adrift of a brand new game. Overpriced.

    "the excellent Homestead missions that involve Connor creating his own better society"

    Okay, well done, you got me. This article is an April Fool's joke.

    No one can say those missions were excellent. We're talking about where one of the missions is literally one guy asking you to get him a present for his crush (the hunter) and tells you to ask the other women around what they would want. So you climb a mountain to pick flowers (which as the player you KNOW the hunter will not want), but you have to pick them anyway. Then you deliver the flowers WHILE THE GUY IS TAKING A POOP IN AN OUTHOUSE.

    If that wasn't a message from the devs saying "we don't give a crap about this series anymore", then anyone involved in letting that mission see the light of day should have been fired.

    I'm sorry, but I can't believe that praise of AC3 is serious. It was a mediocre sandbox where all of the key missions were on very narrow railtracks, features an utterly bland protagonist, and concludes the "trilogy" storyline in almost the dumbest way possible.

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