High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which GamesRadar editors
and guest writers are invited to express their personal thoughts on
games, the people who play them and the industry at large.
the cat’s finally
out of the bag regarding Assassin's Creed III. Instead of the modern-day
adventure we once predicted, the next historically tinged adventure will take
us back to the days of the American Revolution. Playing as a half-Mohawk,
half-British Assassin named Connor, we’ll work alongside the likes of George
Washington and Benjamin Franklin, continuing the secret Templar-Assassin war
under the guise of fighting for independence.
Above: OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG
I couldn’t be more excited. Public-school education and political revisionism
here in the States have given most of us a rather dry, straightforward idea of
the Revolution as the story of a bunch of scrappy, fife-playing farmers and statesmen
fighting a guerrilla war against faceless, tax-happy Redcoats, but the real
story’s much more complicated – and much more interesting. Secret societies, conflicting
loyalties, European adventurers, shady financiers, Native tribes and giants of
political thought all played significant roles in the conflict (most of which
get downplayed or omitted from school textbooks), making the Revolutionary
period a rich, intrigue-filled setting that – outside of maybe a few RTSes – hasn’t
really been explored by games at all.
yet when confronted with all this promise, gamers, as we so often do, complain.
“Not another game set in America,” groan
endless comment and forum threads, “America is for stupids. We want Victorian London/feudal
Japan/the French Revolution/ancient China/the Jurassic Period!”
Above: "Oh, and what's that, a tomahawk shaped like the Assassin emblem? Pfffft. Obviously a katana would be far superior to such a primitive weapon"
enough; I’d like to see those too, eventually. But the most baffling,
widespread complaint I’ve read by far is that colonial America is a poor choice for a setting because it had “no cities,”
and therefore nothing substantial to climb. It's a claim I've seen made in forums, in comments, on blogs and even in professional outlets. Even Forbes
contributor Erik Kain wrote that “The American colonial countryside had essentially no cities at all [emphasis
mine], let alone anything remotely as grand as Constantinople.”
like the above are, not to mince words, absurd horseshit. Eighteenth-century
America might not have boasted any cosmopolitan centers of art and culture, but
it sure as hell had cities. Particularly
in New England, where the bulk of Assassin’s Creed III will be set. Several of them even played key roles
in the Revolution; where would the First Continental Congress have met, if not
for Philadelphia? Boston was the site of both the Battle of Bunker Hill and Paul
Revere’s famous (and possibly apocryphal) ride, and New York City –
specifically Brooklyn – played host to the single largest battle of the war.
Above: Seriously, what does this look like to you, if not a city?
weren’t recent settlements, either, at least not by American standards; New York and Boston
(which we now know will be the settings for ACIII) had been inhabited and built
up for nearly 150 years by the time
the Revolution broke out. Sure, they were still small by European standards,
boasting populations that hovered around the 20,000 mark. And they weren’t
really known for ambitious architecture, given that structures taller than
three stories were fairly rare. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t boast
ample opportunities for climbing up walls and leaping off rooftops.
Above: Does it look any more like a city NOW?
the historical sites of Boston and New York, and you’ll find a lot of squat,
utilitarian buildings, true – but you’ll also find structures like Boston’s Old
North Church, which was used to warn the Charlestown militia of impending
British attack (and which was immortalized as part of Paul Revere’s ride). During
the Revolution, the church sported a steeple that was 191 feet tall; not as
impressive as some of the series’ other structures, maybe (Giotto’s Campanile,
the soaring bell tower seen in Assassin’s Creed II’s version of Florence,
stands at about 278 feet in real life), but still a potentially satisfying
Above: The Old North Church as it is today – 16 feet shorter than it was in 1776
not even the half of it; Boston’s crammed full of colonial buildings that present
unique and interesting climbing opportunities, including Faneuil Hall, King’s
Chapel, the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House. Again, these
structures aren’t quite on the same level as Rome’s Pantheon or the Doge’s
Palace in Venice, but visit them in person and you’ll see they’re still nothing
to sneeze at.
Above: Boston's Old State House. C'mon, you know you want to get up on this thing
there’s New York; even before it was the sprawling metropolis we know today,
New York was a bustling port city and a center of colonial commerce. It would have
been a fairly densely populated place, although unlike Boston, most of its more
impressive landmarks weren’t built until the 19th century. Still, we’ll
at least be able to scale St. Paul’s Chapel and the nearby Federal Hall, both
of which are impressive structures in their own right.
Above: Federal Hall as it was in 1798, centuries before it became the site of the Raiden-Solidus fight at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2
by the information that’s recently been leaked, we know that this will be a
different kind of Assassin’s Creed; about a third of the game will be made up
of a wilderness that’s larger than AC Brotherhood’s version of Rome, with
climbable trees standing in for buildings. But that doesn’t mean that the
series is going purely rural, and to assert that it is because “there were no American
cities back then” is a ridiculous argument.
Of course, it’s
one thing for history buffs like me to cream our jeans over the thought of
exploring 18th-century New England. I can't expect everyone to share my enthusiasm. But consider that – while the
series has had its ups and downs – the settings chosen by the developers of Assassin’s
Creed have been one of the most consistently impressive things about the
franchise. If they think the American Revolution is a good backdrop for their
game, I’m inclined to trust that they know what they’re doing – and that, yes,
they’ve picked an area, and an era, with plenty of interesting things to