Video games promise to take us to new worlds, but few have lived up to that idea as well as "Assassin's Creed III" (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99). Its new world is, well, The New World, and its recreation of colonial America feels entirely fresh.
The streets of Boston are crammed with scoundrels and freedom fighters chafing under British rule. The frontier is populated by hardworking immigrants struggling to make a new life and natives fighting to preserve theirs. The protagonist, a half-British, half-Mohawk warrior who calls himself Connor, falls somewhere in between.
More important, he's part of a long line of Assassins who have been fighting a centuries-old battle against the Templars. The Assassins want freedom, the Templars want control. It seems obvious which side Connor will take in the brewing Revolution — but his Mohawk blood may make things more complicated.
The result is a freewheeling romp through 18th-century America, from Boston to New York with stops in Lexington, Concord and points unknown. The sprawling cast includes Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And Connor is present at seminal events like the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere's ride. The historical scenarios dovetail with Connor's overall mission, which is to bring down seven Templars.
Branching off from the main plot are dozens of side missions. You can take on violent assassination contracts or more benign courier jobs. You can help liberate the cities and towns by eliminating some of the nastier Redcoats. You can build your reputation as a frontiersman by hunting rabbits, foxes and deer.
Two of the games-within-a-game are particularly rewarding. Homestead missions allow you to build your own community away from the bustling cities. As you help your neighbors, they become more adept at farming, woodworking, mining and other skills.