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Threeview: Assassin’s Creed III reviewed by a critic, an analyst, and an academic

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The American Revolution held special significance this fall. As we prepared to vote, a number of U.S. citizens took a moment to reflect on how, more than 200 years ago, a people hungry for freedom cast off the Old World and in turn created one of the grandest civic and social experiments that the world has ever seen: the United States of America.

Ubisoft used the Revolution to bring the story of Desmond Miles to a close in Assassin’s Creed III. GamesBeat’s Rus McLaughlin has had his say about the game, but we decided this blockbuster need our “Threeview” review treatment, in which a critic, an analyst, and an academic examine a game to see where it stands on the business side of the industry and how game theory influenced its development. We’ve turned to noted analyst Jesse Divnich of EEDAR and Soraya Murray of the University of California at Santa Cruz for these additional perspectives.


Assassin’s Creed III: The critic’s review

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel like jumping through trees and stabbing random Englishmen. Hey, it’s not like you’d have a better idea.

Fortunately, Assassin’s Creed III (releasing today on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Nov. 18 on Wii U, and Nov. 20 on PC) steps up as my morally flexible enabler. This time, the action moves up from Renaissance Italy to Revolutionary America as the Order of the Assassins and the Knights Templar bring their centuries-old conflict to the New World at the onset of the War for Independence. Their clashes in the 1700s revolve around the same “First Civilization” vault that 21st century assassin Desmond Miles hopes can somehow head off the impending apocalypse … scheduled for Dec. 21, 2012.

The key to activating those ancient technologies lies in the past. With the doomsday clock ticking down, Desmond once again enters the Animus to relive his ancestors’ adventures in professional murder and uncover the secrets they buried.

And so developer Ubisoft Montreal finally closes the book on the historical epic they started five years ago. The ride hasn’t always been smooth. As a franchise, Assassin’s Creed pulled off several incredible highs and sunk to a few disappointing lows (tower-defense minigames, anyone?). Perhaps then it’s fitting that Assassin’s Creed III, as the culminating chapter, does both.

Read the full GamesBeat review

Final critic’s score: 79/100


Assassin’s Creed III: The analyst’s review

Over the last three years, Assassin’s Creed’s success has mostly been stagnant, selling between 6 million to 8 million units every year, with no growth in its fan base. While most publishers wouldn’t complain about having such consistent and profitable success, Ubisoft challenged itself with a formidable task: Grow an existing franchise with multiple yearly iterations late in a console-generation cycle. To date, none of successful franchises have accomplished such, but that might change with Assassin’s Creed III.

The gameplay, multiplayer, and storyline are what you are expecting from an Assassin’s Creed game, and at face value, it would seem the series is in for yet another stagnant year. However, the key difference with Assassin’s Creed III is its pop-culture relevancy—the 2012 United States presidential election.

Assassin’s Creed III’s storyline is entirely structured around the bloodshed, politics, and heroism that created this country, and it is no coincidence that Assassin’s Creed III’s release date coincides with the election. It truly was a brilliant strategy, one that will no doubt capture the attention of millions of more gamers who would have otherwise written Assassin’s Creed III off as yet another iteration in the stagnant series.

While some concerns were raised that a United States setting may alienate European gamers (over 50 percent of Assassin’s Creed’s fan base is in Europe), many have forgotten the critical role that Europe played in the foundation of our country, and that was not lost on the developers as European’s involvement in the Revolutionary War is present and prevalent.

What is even most spectacular is that Ubisoft didn’t need to completely overhaul its game design nor wait for a new console cycle, which is often what has to be present in order for a brand to grow (think Call of Duty: Modern Warfare). It’s truly a brilliant move on Ubioft’s end; one that executives and producers across the industry should make note of.

Final analyst’s score: 90/100


Assassin’s Creed III: The academic’s review

  • Soraya Murray, Threeview Critic, UC Santa CruzBy Soraya Murray, Ph.D, assistant professor, University of California at Santa Cruz
  • Twitter: @sorayamurray

The first descriptors that leap to mind when playing Assassin’s Creed III are adjectives like “stunning,” “cinematic,” “sweeping,” and maybe even “grand.” And those are fair characterizations — certainly no exaggeration — as Ubisoft has spared neither expense nor creative energy on its large-scale period piece, albeit one that is punctuated by spectacular moments of science fiction. Though it occupies a different genre (historical action-adventure), you’ll bona fide moments of the sublime in Assassin’s Creed III that recall the fantasy game Shadow of the Colossus for its similar qualities of massive scale, vast unexplored space, artistic richness, emotional expressiveness—and, of course, the ability to whistle for your trusty steed.

Desmond Miles, a crabby Assassin’s Creed III protagonist, navigates the Animus (a mysterious device that gives powerful access to ancestral memory) to connect to key historical moments. In advance of the existence of such a tool, as the narrator explains, “to the victors went the spoils – went the truth.” That is to say, the Animus allows the truth of history to be unveiled, explored, and mined. Desmond relives sequences as Haythan Kenway, and then later Connor, Kenway’s half-British/half-Mohawk son, first in England, across the sparkling Atlantic, then moving to the colonies in America. Inevitably, the narrative intersects with uneasy themes like conquest of land and people, slavery, and the usual assortment of allegiances made and betrayed.

The concept of accessing and perceiving history as it actually happened (so that one may know one’s heritage, authentic history, or uncover truth) is a theme that runs very deep in the storyline—and is wonderfully explored throughout the game. Desmond discovers his origins in more ways than one: sussing out the truth of his ancestor’s roles, revealing the ones described as “coming before” — powerful godlike entities with their own agendas — even while slogging through the muck of a coming independence and fraught nation-formation, digging up destruction and finding new beginnings.

How this digging takes place presents an interesting set of problems. What does it mean for a player to fictitiously reenact painful and sometimes extremely bloody parts of American history as a form of play? What does it mean, in the context of a history that attempted to eradicate real Native American bodies, to then “inhabit” the avatar of a Native American body for entertainment? Today as I write this, Lincoln, a film that deals primarily with the historical struggle for emancipation, is opening. Quentin Tarantino’s soon-to-be-released film, Django Unchained, tells the story of a freed slave-turned-bounty hunter. Director Steve McQueen’s upcoming Twelve Years a Slave — well, the title says it all. For some, these may be offensive concepts; for me, I see an opportunity to have a long-needed conversation about our American selves, by any medium necessary.

The gamer manipulates a body (Desmond) inside a body (Haythan/Connor). That multilayered body becomes a site through which history is penetrated, organized and structured into meaning. Time-machine aided information gathering, bird’s-eye views of the land from atop church spires to achieve “synchronization” in the Animus, all these offer privileged historical views we can never conclusively have. In this, the game is all wish-fulfillment, both beautiful and ungraspable.

Final academic’s score: 95/100 (with only a tiny deduction for occasional minor glitches)


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