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High Horse: Quit saying Assassin’s Creed III won’t have cities

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.

Well, 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

Personally, 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.

And 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"

Fair 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.”

Statements 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?

These 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?

Visit 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 climb.

Above: The Old North Church as it is today 16 feet shorter than it was in 1776

That’s 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

Then 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

Going 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 climb.

81 comments

  • ultimatepunchrod - March 5, 2012 5:28 a.m.

    The only thing I was thinking about ACIII was that it will be smaller in terms of the size of the cities. I just didn't think that Revolutionary War America would be less intriguing to explore than Renaissance Italy. The story will probably be excellent with plenty of great historical fiction as usual.
  • ultimatepunchrod - March 5, 2012 5:29 a.m.

    *I didn't think Rev War America would be AS intriguing...
  • De-Kay - March 5, 2012 3:54 a.m.

    History 101, the 13 colonies that rebelled against British rule? yes they had cities.... on a serious note, cant wait for the culmination of the AC story!! the world at stake, gonna be interesting to see how the founding of the land of the free could change the world.
  • Dmancapri - March 4, 2012 7:31 p.m.

    "...climbable trees as stand-ins for buildings..." it took them 5 games to add something that is not only easier and more natural to climb than a building, but that most people climb?
  • system1988 - March 5, 2012 12:37 a.m.

    Wait wait wait... let us start from the top... not the treetop just the regular issue top... Just how many games in your life have you seen with climbable trees? I am a gamer and I have frankly rarely seen but only a few crazy enough to try. Why? Because it is frikin difficult, near impossible to create an animated character who would move his hands and legs according to the natural irregularities of a tree trunk! Also, creating a climbable forest requires millions and millions extra programming coding, something very expensive and frankly, tiring. It is not a matter of reluctance it is a matter of ability. It is not easier and it never was for the most of the game studios to offer such an experience. I seriously believe that this game may be actually a sui generis in that area! Ok, maybe Arche Age has that, but still! I want to see a more detailed, non- sand box version of it!
  • TheLotusReborn - March 11, 2012 2:30 p.m.

    Mario 64 ;D
  • Peguin - March 4, 2012 8:55 a.m.

    AC3 has got me interested in the series again. I think the setting is a great idea and cant wait to see what they do with it.
  • Ravenbom - March 4, 2012 7:56 a.m.

    This is the first time I've heard anyone claim that AC3 won't have cities.
  • renwuying - March 4, 2012 7:32 a.m.

    Cool! First mestizo main character in videogame history!
  • system1988 - March 4, 2012 1:39 a.m.

    What we want from AC III (because even 4 years of developing the game will not stop us from worrying) 1) Urban enviroment (yes I was worried as well) 2) More important assassinations (Brotherhood and Revelations really let us down on that area- Killing all the multiplayer characters... really?) 3) No more mini games... if you are going to spend precious gigabites spend them on more awesome swordfighting animations! 4) Bring in more puzzles! Nothing beats a good old headscratcher that extends the gameplay from hours to days! (Seriously bring them back or my nephew will claim that he is better in AC than me and he will be right!) 5) Find a way to bring Connor to an awesome level higher than that of Ezio's... ... ... nah... I don't see this happening... anyway, try! At least make him a ladies man as well! Altair always gave us the cold shoulder, don't bring this back again! USA at that time had a few women available in its ranks so the female sex was highly appreciated and loved... I mean men grabbed women they just met and rushed them to the churches! (Please do not make Conor marry till the end of the story, heartbreaks that cannot be solved by air assassination have little hold on us), 6) "Raquiescat in pacce..." ... ... ... oh come on we all know that there is no better catchphrase than that who are we kidding? I tremble to the thought of listening to the American version of this godly bestowed line! Did native Americans have any good catchphrases? Wait... don't answer that... I have more but I run out of jokes to accompany them so... yes do not worry all! I think that cities will be a part of the game... nothing beats a good old fashioned church climbing!
  • TODDRICKDAL15 - March 4, 2012 12:22 a.m.

    i guess the attack on Ny city that the british burt down to the ground never happened lol
  • larkan - March 3, 2012 10:42 p.m.

    Yay...AC is the new Modern Warfare...I'll save my money, Ubisoft doesn't deserve it. Besides technically I've already pirated it if I own a PC, that's what we PC folks do all the time according to them.
  • asspills - March 4, 2012 12:03 p.m.

    Third person singleplayer stealth/melee game with an emphasis on hunting techniques and social stealth set in the 1700's is similar to a modern day military FPS because they both feature america and some form of war? Are you fucked?
  • Blazdav - March 4, 2012 1:21 p.m.

    Well, I think Iarkan was referring to its yearly releases. However, unlike CoD, Assassin's Creed continues to introduce fresh gameplay and, even if there's no new stuff, it's just a fun game.
  • MasterBhater - March 4, 2012 6:54 p.m.

    This one's been in development for four years, while MW games are in development for 1 and a half. HUGE difference right there. Get your facts right. Do you seriously think that ALL of Ubisoft was working on Brotherhood and Revelations?
  • thelazymackenzie - March 3, 2012 9:39 p.m.

    First three paragraphs = Beautiful "When I grow up I want to write has well as Mikel Reparaz!"
  • ScrEAMaPiLLar - March 3, 2012 6:50 p.m.

    Assassins Creed reminds me of how the Fable series is going. Fable 3 basically hit the American Revolution/industrial age. The AC series has been going on a similar path. I cannot wait to play this, but I am slightly disappointed our game with Desmond is a ways off. Seeing as American history has taught me didly squat, playing this game will be great in understanding my nation's heritage better, with all those cool fact bubbles that pop up on every structure. Just like in AC 2.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - March 3, 2012 4:25 p.m.

    Thank you, I hate all the crap being said about this game. Being able to climb trees makes me even more exicted for this game, AC3 is definitly number 1 on my game list this year.
  • Shinard - March 3, 2012 2:23 p.m.

    I have a problem. I haven't finished Revelations yer, and I want to spend a lot more time on it, but I also desperately want to play this! Give you employees a break Ubisoft, slow down and let us take a breath. I admire your dedication but seriously, one full open world game every yea? Wow. Bit too much. (Also, Jurassic Era AC? I want that now!)
  • Predinator2 - March 4, 2012 7:33 a.m.

    lol ezioraptor

Showing 1-20 of 81 comments

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