Assassin's Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington (2013)
Available for PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Price: $30 (for all three episodes)
Yeah, I bet that picture got your attention. The Tyranny of King Washington is exactly what it sounds like: an alternate history story in which George Washington, instead of becoming the democratic ruler of a republic, became America's king upon independence and established a tyranny just like that of the other King George that America had fought so hard to be rid of. What is going on, you may ask? The answer lies in the Apple of Eden, the sci-fi MacGuffin of the Assassin's Creed series that bestows magical powers upon those who possess it. In this world, George Washington got his hands on an Apple, got corrupted by absolute power, and became a tyrant building a massive, Egyptian-style pyramid palace in the middle of Manhattan. His "bluecoats" run rampant across America, fighting to put down a resistance led by the likes of Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and it looks like they're winning. But in steps Connor to both stop King George and set history right again.
Gameplay should be familiar to anybody who's played any of the Assassin's Creed games, especially the most recent one. It is a stealth action game where you can choose to either sneak around forests and rooftops to silently kill enemies with bows, poison darts, and the like, or go in swinging a tomahawk at everything in sight. The gameplay here is starting to get a bit old after five full-length installments, but it still flows especially smoothly whether you're being a ninja, a fighter, or a mix of the two. It is incredibly simple, yet if you don't know what you're doing you will get your ass kicked, over and over again. This time around, though, the gameplay is goosed up with the addition of animal powers that Connor can use. He can summon a pack of spirit wolves to maul his foes, he can use a wolf cloak ability to sneak around and kill enemies undetected, he can tap into the might of a bear to smash obstacles and knock enemies away, and he can fly like an eagle to zip around the environment and over rooftops.
It is this last power that has the greatest effect on gameplay, for better and for worse. On one hand, travel across the game's three fairly large maps (based on colonial Boston, New York, and the wilderness in between) becomes a lot less cumbersome; even if it removes a lot of the game's parkour-inspired movement, I must admit that having the ability to effectively teleport did come in handy on numerous occasions. On the other hand, the eagle flight ability essentially gives the player an "I Win" button whenever they have to get away from bad guys. Whereas escape in other Assassin's Creed games relies on fighting off foes and hiding in crowds, alleyways, and conveniently placed bales of hay, here it is a matter of looking for the nearest rooftop, wall, fence, or ledge and, with the push of a button, flying halfway across the city before the bluecoats realize you're gone. The other powers were all balanced quite nicely -- the bear might and wolf cloak drain Connor's health quickly, guard dogs will see through the cloak and attack Connor, and the spirit wolf pack has a long cooldown time before it can be used again. Some method of limiting the use of eagle flight, such as increasing the minuscule health penalty, removing the ability to chain jumps together, putting in a cooldown period before it can be used again, or restricting its use when being chased, would've tightened up gameplay a bit.
The story here is a standard alternate history potboiler, largely (outside of the aforementioned MacGuffin) unconnected to the mythos of the main series and its secret societies, wars for ancient artifacts, and conspiracy theories. I was pretty well engrossed by the story, but there's largely little to do outside of it other than look for "memory fragments" and a few random events involving freeing prisoners, giving food to starving people, and fighting off bluecoats and wolves harassing people. This stands in sharp contrast to the main game, which had you building up a sizable homestead on the New England coastline, running naval combat missions where you fought pirates and the British navy (there is only one naval mission here), building up a collection of weapons, armor, and outfits, and exploring the wilderness and cities looking for trinkets. Even Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Revelations, largely built upon the foundation of the second game, offered new settings in the form of Rome and Istanbul as well as a wide variety of new features and weapons to justify their cost. At $30 for all three episodes, on top of the fact that you need the main Assassin's Creed III game (currently $40 on Steam, not counting sales) to play it, The Tyranny of King Washington offers a good deal less bang for one's buck than comparable games like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, either of the Grand Theft Auto IV expansion packs, or The Walking Dead: The Game -- none of which need another game in order to play.
Score: 3 out of 5
A good Assassin's Creed game is still a good Assassin's Creed game, even if it's not anything that fans of the series haven't seen before. If you can't bear the wait until the next main game in the series, Black Flag, comes out with its pirate assassins, and you've still got your copy of Assassin's Creed III, then this should tide you over until then.