Assassin's Creed III (AC III), the latest installment of the Assassin's Creed series by video game maker Ubi Soft, was released today. This time around, the game is set during the American Revolutionary War, and the hero is a half-Mohawk, half-British assassin. His name is Connor Kenway, but he was raised in a Mohawk village by his birth name of Ratonhnhaké:ton.
The planned midnight release in GameStop stores in the northeast was scuttled by Hurricane Sandy, and Ubi Soft has already had to release a massive patch to fix its bugs, but the game is out for XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, kinks be damned, and the reviews are coming in.
It's one thing to be the most anticipated title in Indian country in recent years, but what's most important to AC III's success is how it plays for gamers of all backgrounds. Greg Tito of The Escapist writes that the game "succeeds on nearly every level with nimble combat, fun diversions and the chance to captain your own ship. Connor might not be an altogether likeable hero, but the New World he's fighting to protect is one you won't forget." He concludes that AC III "feels like four independently excellent games rolled into one." Matt Miller of Game Informer writes that "Assassin’s Creed III delivers everything the series has promised, and throws in a little more for good measure." He praises a "staggering scope and breadth" that "makes a convincing case for the freedom and storytelling potential inherent to games over other mediums."
Those are just a couple of the generally-glowing notices the game is getting. Even the less enthusiastic reviewers are granting that the game is very good. "There's so much good in Assassin's Creed 3, it's so ambitious, so singular, that I can't stop thinking about it," writes Arthur Gies of Polygon. "Even knowing that I'll encounter issues that make the game occasionally infuriating, I want to go back. And that, despite Assassin's Creed 3's flaws, is more than I can say for most games." Gies gives the game eight stars out of ten.
In one of the more critical reviews, Conrad Zimmerman of Destructoid.com finds that Connor "is almost annoying in his blind, obstinate adherence to the idea of all mankind desiring and having a right to freedom" and concludes that "when it comes right down to it, cohesion (or lack thereof) is the main issue with Assassin's Creed III." Zimmerman did find many things to like about the game, though, and his verdict of 7.5 stars out of 10 is still quite positive.
James "DexX" Dominguez, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, shed light on Ubi Soft's approach to the Native elements AC III. "The game's creators consulted with the tribes depicted in the game, ensuring they made the language, clothing, weapons, and dwellings as authentic as possible. While it may bug some players, I was pleased to see that the tribespeople speak in their native language and have English subtitles."
"We really wanted to have a real, authentic showcase of Native American culture," Julien Laferrière, an associate producer at Ubi Soft, told Dominguez. "We wanted to move as far away as possible from the stereotypes."
Numerous articles about the development of the game refer to a dread felt by the rest of the world regarding AC III's setting — gamers in Europe and elsewhere were presumably worried that AC III would have to be a flag-waving farce in order to appeal to the American audience. Writing in Slate, Erik Sofge tackles the issue, and reports that AC III's story does not try to glorify the United States, and rather displays "the desire to defend those original Americans, specifically the Mohawks and Iriquois in the Northeast, who watch this white man's conflict unfold."
"Inhabiting [Conor's] point of view allows you to watch long-standing, formalized tribal alliances shatter as groups align with the Brits and the colonists," Sofge continues. "But whoever wins, it's clear—the Native Americans are going to lose, and lose everything." Sofge goes on to describe the importance of Thomas Deer, the cultural liaison for the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center, who worked with Ubi Soft to bring a level of accuracy to the game far beyond what the average gamer might have required. For instance, when Ubi Soft sound engineers wanted to add Native-language background chatter into a scene, Deer had them record Mohawk children playing on a playground.
The payoff of Ubi Soft's efforts, Sofge writes, is something that stands out among not just games but also movies and TV as "possibly the first mainstream look at Native American history that isn't pandering or offensive."
The high marks for the game, both as a game and as a window onto history, make clear what many Native gamers and moviegoers have thought all along: That it's possible to make good entertainment without dragging out the same tired stereotypes.
And perhaps abandoning those stereotypes is one of the touches that is the difference between a good game and a great one.
Could we see more game manufacturers looking to explore producing Indian titles with an authentic feel? Todd Martens thinks so—as he writes in his review for the L.A. Times, "this game makes it clear that there’s plenty of rich Native American gaming story lines yet to create."