Assassin's Creed III review
1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back
Ugh Assassins Creed III is one mess of a game. This might be the biggest disappointment I’ve experienced in the video game art form since…. Nope I honestly cannot think of another game that has disappointed me to the extent that this game managed to. While the original Assassins Creed fell short of its lofty goals it was hard to deny the pure ambitiousness of the title which still has yet to be matched by most other studios. I thought Assassins Creed II signified Ubisofts mastery of the period piece but apparently I was wrong, as Assassins Creed III takes everything that its predecessor got right, throws it out the passenger side door and then backs over it for good measure.
I’ve got to give the game some credit though. It took many hours for the cracks to appear and a handful more for them to begin to actively piss me off. Though the opening opera sequence by no means is indicative of the rest of the game it does show off the care and attention to detail that has been put into crafting the games world. Then, after the goes-on-for-far-too-long trip from Europe to Boston it is impossible not to be impressed by Ubisoft Montreal’s rendering of 18th century America. In retrospect it was my infatuation with the setting that stopped me from noticing the games faults during its initial hours. Being a huge American Revolution nerd I already had knowledge about the events and characters portrayed in the game but it’s one thing to read about life in the colonial era and quite another to walk through the (virtual) streets of Boston in the 1770s. Although Assassins Creed III might fall short of its predecessors in various ways, the setting is not one of them as Colonial Era America is as fully realized a world as the first titles Medieval Middle East or the second titles Renaissance Era Italy.
But a memorable setting can only carry a game so far. Post-apocalyptic Washing D.C. wouldn’t have been so fun to explore if Fallout was no fun to play. Defining what constitutes “good controls” is hard. Fallout doesn’t exactly rival Halo during firefights but it doesn’t have to, a games controls should complement the experience. GTA III which is (and rightly should) be regarded as a classic title was actually pretty underwhelming every time you stepped out of a car but the developers seemed to be aware of this so the game was built to its strengths, with most missions being focused around its superb driving mechanics.
Assassins Creed III on the other hand doesn’t know what it wants to be and as a result its controls and gameplay are a bit of a jumbled mess. Actual combat is fairly satisfying even though it feels as if it’s taken a step back from even the second entry. Seriously whoever decided to remove an in game item wheel needs to be fired; and I’m one of those people whose all like “what about the employees!” when I catch word that a studios been closed down or sold off. The whole ordeal is pretty much salvaged though by the beautiful animation that makes Connor come across as the 18th century equivalent of some weird hybrid of The Punisher and Batman.
Stealth on the other hand is borderline broken as enemies can see you from the weirdest angles and running around on rooftops garners attention far too quickly. It’s hard to put into words exactly why the stealth system is so frustrating but it mostly seems to stem from the fact that the title never really establishes its rules regarding stealth unlike other games. The cone of vision system employed in Metal Gear Solid or the camo index in Snake Eater for might not be realistic but they work because it’s easy to understand. Assassins Creed III never concretely lays out what works and what doesn't and as a result it winds up leaving the player instead with a vague understanding of its rules.
From what I can tell apparently the developers felt the same way. In the original Assassins Creed almost every major target could be taken out before they even knew what hit em. It was pretty difficult to pull off but it was possible. Things have changed drastically since then as most encounters with this titles big bads end up devolving into predetermined chases or swordfights. In fact this is a far more linear experience overall as the games missions feature less room to experiment than before. This is best personified by the segment where you are put in charge of the continental army as they hold off the advance of the British. It literally involves riding up behind people on horseback and pressing Y at the proper time and it’s as about fun in practice as it is in theory.
Naval combat however exceeds all of my expectations and stands out as a highlight from the campaign. Best of all it’s a full-fledged side-mission accessible at any time and each mission is long enough to appreciate the experience yet not so long that its various shortcomings can become noticeable. While the scope of the missions never expands beyond “go there” and “blow up this”, it manages to stay fresh each time out owing to the pure and simple fact that boats-on-boat action is always awesome and well developed though simplistic controls.
However the game also involves too many one-off sections like when something like parachuting or firing a cannon are briefly brought up only to be quickly discarded and never used again. (This however does not apply to Connors vision which is pretty awesome) Word of advice to Ubisoft for the future, spend more time refining the core gameplay before you add on extra half assed features.
But if you’ve read my other reviews you know I’m a sucker for a good story and that one can elevate a games standing significantly in my eyes. Unfortunately for Assassins Creed III the longer its tale goes on the less endearing it becomes. The characters you start off working with early on wind up becoming the games primary antagonists , but the problem is that they’re much more likeable then most of your eventual allies. The founding fathers are presented as manipulative assholes who aren’t above lying to get what they want (I’m not saying that’s much of a stretch from actual history), whereas the templars are lying manipulative assholes who at least have the decency to be honest about the fact that they’re lying manipulative assholes. If Thomas Hickey doesn’t manage to win you over with his final monologue then I don’t know whats wrong with you.
This leads to feelings that you’re fighting for the wrong side and while this was evidently Ubisofts intent it doesn’t manage to make your allies any more likeable or less annoyng. The worst offender being Connor who might be the most unpleasant video game hero I’ve ever played as. Hiss most annoying trait would be his voice acting which takes an unlikeable guy and pushes him straight into douchebag territory. Seriously I don’t know if it’s just me but I find his voice seriously grating and I hope that the voice actor never reuses that tone in another game.
Then there’s the overarching story featuring Desmond in the present which has just completely lost my interest at this point. I’m sad to see the once gripping tale of modern day Templars and Assassins fighting over the artifacts of a long dead civilization take a backseat to alien gods and the deadly effects of solar radiation but thats what happened. To be fair it’s not as if the story is actually poorly told I’m just a bit bummed out to see the original premise abandoned.
As an odd site note I find it pretty hard to suspend my disbelief as the series moves into more recent and better documented history. The fact that I honestly have no idea how any of the men Altair took out in the first Assassins Creed actually died (or even who most of that games characters were King Richard aside) made the whole premise easier to buy into. However when the Boston Tea Party is re-imagined as a brutal battle instead of a relatively peaceful act of protest; especially considering the colonists track record, things begin to take a turn into the ridiculous. So if the franchise decides to encroach even more upon the present day here’s to hoping they don’t wind up turning the franchise into a parody of itself. Having it turn out that in the AC universe Wellingtons victory at Waterloo over Napoleon was decided entirely by the intervention of an assassin, or that it wasn’t really James Wilkes Booth who assassinated Lincoln would truly be nauseating.
Multiplayers fun as its slow methodical pace differs from the run and gun experience most titles offer. It basically boils down to a game of hide and go seek blended with the disguise aspect of Hitman and while there isn’t exactly a lot of depth to it there are definitely worse ways to kill an afternoon. Combat has been stripped down completely to kill, stun and some tools such as the ability to throw down change to slow down pursuers. Honestly I’m not the biggest fan of online multiplayer; preferring the personal touch of splitscreen, so if you want a more detailed report on that aspect of the game I’d look elsewhere.
Ultimately Assassins Creed III is just an alright game propped up in a blockbusters clothing. The game lacks a cohesive vision and as a result very few aspects of its gameplay are sufficiently polished enough to be satisfying and wind up feeling disconnected from one another. A few unforgettable moments such as rushing across a battlefield and avoiding musket fire, or the almost execution of Connor can't hide this. The fact that I didn’t even get around to mentioning homestead missions or hunting should indicate how forgettable and non-noteworthy most of the games extra features wind up being. Assassins Creed II was one of my favorite games of the current console generation. Yet this long awaited “true” sequel represents the series taking a nosedive off a cliff and unfortunately like that un-named redshirt in the original it completely missed the haystack.
About the author
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