A Game, a Gadget and an App: Tom Standage free-runs in colonial Boston, weighs up the new Kindle against the iPad mini, and remixes Brian Eno
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013
A GAME: ASSASSIN’S CREED III
Never mind the convoluted frame, a centuries-long secret war between Templars and Assassins. What makes this series so much fun is the chance to charge around in meticulously accurate renditions of old cities. "Assassin’s Creed III" is in fact part five in the series, and as usual you play an athletic hitman with a handy foreknowledge of the modern urban sport of free-running. A gloriously fluid control system makes the world your playground as you run, jump and climb to outwit your pursuers and move from one mission to the next. After 12th-century Jerusalem and Damascus and Renaissance Florence, Venice, Rome and Istanbul, this instalment lets you loose in colonial-era Boston and New York. You are Connor Kenway, half British and half Native American, who is drawn into the conflict between Assassins and Templars as the American revolution unfolds. Even if you can’t keep up with the labyrinthine plot, "Assassin’s Creed" is worth playing just for its dazzlingly detailed settings—and this is the best-looking yet. It confirms that the greatest games, like the best books, let you escape into another world.
Assassin’s Creed III available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC; £40
A GADGET: KINDLE PAPERWHITE OR IPAD MINI?
Amazon’s Kindle is a wonderful e-reader, and Apple’s iPad is still the best tablet computer. But when it comes to reading in bed, each has a fatal flaw. The Kindle can be held in one hand, but lacks a built-in backlight, so it cannot be used to read in the dark while your partner snoozes. The iPad’s vivid colour screen means it can be used as an e-reader in the dark, but it is too heavy to be held comfortably in one hand. The two devices’ latest incarnations address these shortcomings. The new Kindle Paperwhite packs a slick new touchscreen menu system, plus a gorgeously crisp backlit screen, into its slender plastic shell. The new iPad mini, meanwhile, scales down the familiar iPad into a surprisingly thin gadget that is just light enough to be held using one hand. All this presents the nocturnal reader with a difficult choice. Do you want a dedicated e-reader, or a versatile tablet computer? You will be delighted with either. But you may want both.
Kindle Paperwhite from £109. iPad mini from £269
AN APP: SCAPE
This unusual app, created by the musician Brian Eno and his collaborator Peter Chilvers, is something between a musical instrument and an album. Like Eno’s previous apps, it lets you create school-of-Eno ambient music by placing, combining and tweaking elements—slowly shifting synthesisers, bells, bass-guitar harmonics—on the iPad’s screen, with more options revealed as you go along. This time the app also includes an album of ten pre-defined tracks or "Scapes" by its creators. You’ll find yourself producing soothing, dreamy soundscapes in no time. It will particularly appeal to fans of Eno’s music—or anyone who needs to knock out a film score in a hurry.
Scape for iPad £3.99
Tom Standage is digital editor of The Economist and author of "An Edible History of Humanity".