It's one thing to turn a great founder of the United States into a maniacal super-villain, but quite another to have him pulling pistols and busting caps with the kind of aggressive swagger typically reserved for Tarantino characters. And yet, that's the sight that greets you in the first of three episodes of Assassin's Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington. While it's a transformation that so very nearly crosses the line into the comical, Washington's newfound dictatorship is an audacious and alluring concept.
It's a concept made possible by the move to an alternate, altogether darker history than was laid out in ACIII. Washington's influence is felt throughout the game as villagers line up to face firing squads, and fresh corpses litter the snow-covered roads of the frontier. Both you and Connor are none the wiser as to the reasons these events have occurred, or why the events of ACIII have been forgotten, but this is a clever move on Ubisoft's part. While historical accuracy has always been a series forte, by freeing itself from those constraints, The Tyranny of King Washington can meddle with the game's underlying mechanics and experiment with the narrative.
And so, despite the familiar setting, The Infamy initially feels fresh. The villainous Washington is the main attraction, and much of the drive to make your way through the downloadable content comes from wanting to discover the secrets behind his evil empire. You quickly learn that Washington--having not given up his presidency after a second term--has gone mad with power and begins wreaking havoc on the country by burning, shooting, or beheading anyone who stands in his way.
Naturally, not everyone is happy about the king's violent regime. One such person is Kaniehti:io (Connor's mother), who attempts to steal the Apple of Eden that gives Washington his power. What follows is an intriguing adventure that is far more taut than that of the main game. While there's still an element of open-world action to enjoy--there are side quests in the form of convoys to attack and villagers to defend--the focus is on taking down Washington, whatever the cost. This streamlined approach keeps you locked into the action and the narrative, which is helped by your actions being limited to the frontier (the second episode, The Betrayal, is set in Boston, while The Redemption is set in New York).
The action itself has undergone a few changes. Here, there's a renewed focus on Connor's Native American heritage. Aside from adventuring with the tribe, you're asked to drink a hallucinogenic tea, which in turn lets you communicate with spirit animals. While the resulting drug-trip-cum-tutorial's awkward instruction doesn't work as well as it should, the special abilities you receive significantly change how you play the game, and mostly for the better.
The Infamy features two new abilities derived from wolves. The first lets you summon a pack of wolves in battle, taking down multiple enemies at once. Though they perform a similar function to (and replaces) Brotherhood recruits, the wolves are much quicker and more violent opponents for your enemies to face. Indeed, the sound of munched flesh as the wolves tear into bodies is quite an eye-opener. The second and more disruptive power gives you the ability to cloak at any time, thus rendering yourself invisible to surrounding enemies.
This ability significantly changes the way you use stealth, but it doesn't make Connor into the invulnerable super-assassin you might expect. For one, your health drains while using the power, so if you leave it on too long, you're easily killed. And more often than not, killing someone while using this power disables the cloak, thus exposing you to any would-be attackers. What cloaking is useful for is sneaking around enemy encampments and avoiding scuffles. By using nearby bushes as rest points, you can sneak through large areas completely undetected. Indeed, some missions require you to do exactly that, often adding in someone to chase or to eavesdrop on along the way.
The DLC experiments only with Connor's abilities, rather than the missions, so most of the time you're engaged in standard assassinations or helping out people in need. That doesn't make missions any less fun, particularly with the new abilities in hand, but it would have been nice to see something different to the standard AC fare. Similarly disappointing is how little Washington himself features in the DLC outside of the first section. Clearly--being spread out over three episodes--Washington's tale can't be unloaded all at once. But such is the force of his villainy that it's hard not to develop a deep hatred for the man within seconds of meeting him. That's quite an achievement for a character based on a national hero, and makes you hanker for more Washington face time.
Assassin's Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington - The Infamy is a fresh and interesting take on Assassin's Creed, one that manages to introduce some new ideas without destroying what makes the game so fun in the first place. It's even more appealing if you're into the lore behind the series, with collectible memory artefacts serving as links to ACIII's real world, and unlocking parts of a secret video that explains just what on earth is going on. Due to a few foibles, The Infamy doesn't quite reach the heady heights of ACIII, but it's an exciting start to an intriguing new chapter in the series nonetheless.'