I have been sick for a while, so my review of Assassins Creed III is a little late, but as they say, better late than never!
Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise is one I have liked since the very beginning. Despite flaws here or there in gameplay, the overall experiences and scope of the worlds in which you play have always been impressive. The sci fi element of the story has always been something of a ‘love it or hate it’ aspect of the game but I’ve always found the whole of the mythos interesting, if incredibly convoluted.
Now finally, after 3 consecutive games of playing through the memories of Ezio Auditore, we have a new setting and new ancestor with which to control. In an interesting move, this latest game takes place during the American Revolution. This is quite a disorienting change from previous games with vast cities of grand architecture like Acre or Rome. Colonial Boston and New York just don’t quite give that same sense of awe, not to mention ease of rooftop traversal.
Picking up where Revelations left off, Desmond and his tiny group of Assassin computer nerds head to the site of some First Civilization ruins seeking the means to prevent the cataclysm caused by a coming solar flare. Lead by the spirit/AI of the being known as Juno whose intentions are often called into question, Desmond is directed to the memories of his ancestors during colonial times to find the location of a key he needs.
Unexpectedly, you do not actually start out as Connor, who is the main protagonist of the historical sections, but as his father, Haytham. I was also surprised as to just how long you play as his father, you spend the first few segments as him. It’s kind of unfortunate because Haytham is a far more interesting character than his son ends up being, he sort of feels like a Revolutionary War version of James Bond. Even the outfit he wears is just elegant and suave.
After a twist that fans will probably see coming but I won’t spoil for you, the player takes control of a young Connor (Ratonhnhaké:ton being his actual birth name, but don’t anticipate me referring to him as this since most of the time no one in the game does). After the tragic death of his mother and burning of his village he’s filled with a desire for vengeance which eventually leads him away from his home and into training with an Assassin named Achilles.
Connor himself is fairly stoic in his demeanor, which is part of what makes him very dull. Part of it may just be the voice acting but a lot of his emotions are either incredibly restrained or explosive. He’s somewhat reminiscent of how Altair was in the very first game, incredibly naive at the beginning and eventually being met with harsh truths. Of all the Assassin’s we’ve played so far, I will say that Connor’s story ends probably the most tragically and it’s arguable as to how much he really accomplished of what he had hoped to do.
The ending of the game in general leaves kind of a bitter taste in your mouth. After all the trials and searching, Desmond is presented with a choice which sort of tricks you for a second into thinking this will be a player choice for a multiple ending. Then after the options are explained, Desmond takes it upon himself to make the choice, one I’m sure has been controversial to those who have seen it. Without ruining it for people still playing, the game does little to bring real closure and is disappointing especially after 5 games (not including the PSP ones) leading up to it.
Jumping into gameplay, not a lot of the basics have changed much since the last game. Little tweaks have been made so free running is a bit smoother and there’s less of a chance of jumping off in the wrong direction. It doesn’t solve the problem completely but it does a decent enough job.
Since the wilderness plays a much larger role in this setting, free running through trees and rock climbing has been added as well. I was initially very excited about the prospect of chasing someone down by jumping through the trees but very little is done with it. Honestly the paths are too set and deliberate, giving much less freedom in the direction you go than I’d hoped for.
In general, taking the high ground seems to be discouraged in this game, soldiers are much quicker to be alerted by you running along rooftops than in previous games. So in the end you spend far more time running around through the streets.
Speaking of soldiers, for some reason somebody at Ubisoft decided that turning up the aggression and frequency of combat situations would be a good idea. I cannot count the number of times I would just be walking by on the street in a non-restricted area and incognito when suddenly a pair of soldiers decide to attack me.
Even running from these fights becomes annoying because sometimes any soldier who sees you, even if they can’t see the ones chasing you will become instantly aggressive toward you. It is just very annoying. It’s ridiculously hard to avoid confrontations, I remember when ideally you wanted to not be noticed and assassinate a target, that seems to be far less of a goal now.
If you get to level 3 notoriety, don’t expect to come down from it without a severe amount of aggravation. The game summons soldiers out of the ether to attack you when you reach that level and you can’t interact with wanted posters, doors or people while engaged in combat. I had stopped to fight them and after about a half hour I’m fairly certain I killed about half the population of Boston in one solitary spot before the game could not process sending more soldiers at me.
There are also far less frequent situations of anyone deciding that the cause is lost and running for their own lives. Perhaps self preservation was trained out of military men at that time?
Delving a bit into the combat, they’ve changed the dynamic a bit. Brotherhood had made combat easier with kill streaks allowing you to end fights quickly by going from opponent to opponent with kill shots so long as you keep the rhythm. In Assassin’s Creed 3, they’ve added enemy varieties which need to be killed in a specific way and can stop your kill streak entirely.
I don’t quite get why they thought making combat both more frequent and more annoying was a good idea. Connor is also the most brutal and inefficient killer we’ve taken control of to date, a single stab to the throat is not enough in combat. He’s just not happy until there are at least 20 gaping wounds in a dead man’s body. This of course also adds to slowing down combat. As fun as it is to see Connor chop into an enemy’s chest over and over again like the poor guy slept with his wife, it loses its impact after the 300th time.
Many of the new side distractions have been added, not a lot of them with worthwhile rewards but some bring an interesting mix to the proceedings. Hunting, for instance, can be fun if you’re so inclined. They have a fairly fleshed out system that allows you to bait, trap or sneak up on prey. The only really annoying part of it are the aggressive animals that attack you because they force you into a QTE that will actually take priority over your kill strike.
The absolute best side missions are the ones where you take control of a ship and get into naval battles. The controls feel great, the battles can get hectic as you try to maneuver around land and get the enemies in sight of your cannons. The presentation and look of these sections can be utterly awe inspiring. My favorite was a battle that took place during a huge storm which created massive waves I had to watch out for. There was a moment when a wave took my ship up to the point where I was almost looking directly down at the ocean, it was intense.
It’s a shame that these bits were limited to scripted fights, I’m certainly not alone in thinking this needs to be utilized as a major mechanic in a pirate game with emergent gameplay.
One bit of a mixed bag as far as side missions are concerned was the economic system of the homestead. As you go through the game you can do side quests to add people to your community that will produce items you can trade.
The side missions I have no problem with, i enjoyed the fleshing out of the characters living on the land and it was interesting to see the amount of heart Connor invested in his little town. My issue is with the asinine trading system.
Previously in the series since AC 2 you could just buy shops and collect money from their profits, it was simple and worked purely on basic investment. Here they make you micromanage everything! You have to buy the goods produced by your citizens, trade them as is or have artisans in your community use a combination of goods to create something else… like a box. Then you load up a cart and send it with a limit of 3 things to get some money from town and bring it back. You can increase the number of convoys by building certain things but in the end it is still tedious and utterly pointless.
There’s very little worth investing money in anyway outside of maybe ship upgrades. Buying more weapons is completely unnecessary as you can kill just as easily with your starting weapons than with anything you get later, with the exception of maybe the different pistols that add more shots before needing a reload.
There are sections you get to play as Desmond, where finally you get to use the assassin skills in full modern context, from the sneaking to the fighting. It is hilarious that most of the guards that attack you do so with batons and when they do use their guns they use them as ineffectually as the flintlock pistols in the historical sections. Yet when Desmond gets a gun, it’s blatantly cheating cause he auto-targets every enemy and kills with a single shot. The final full Desmond mission actually has one of the most satisfying moments in the game as a whole which I enjoyed thoroughly.
Graphically the game has aspects which are very impressive, especially some of the character models. There are items that aren’t rendered with much detail that stick out like a sore thumb and seem more akin to something from the late PSX days. It’s kind of distracting to see these well rendered men around a table discussing conspiracies and such while on the table are these dull lifeless plastic-looking bottles and glasses.
Sound design is excellent. The music feels appropriate for the situations, ambient sounds add to the experience, and most of the voice acting is good.
At the time of writing up this review, the game was pretty buggy. I had several issues with game crashes. Sometimes Connor wouldn’t be able to figure out how to take that next step up onto a log and just rest his foot on top of it. There was one instance of a Naval battle where I lost the ability to brace the crew and use the swivel guns, which was followed by the next event of the mission not occurring and just leaving me to sail around in circles with no destination.
Overall, it’s a fairly solid game that I did enjoy despite some of the stupid decisions the developers made. There is a lot of unnecessary fluff but luckily you don’t have to engage in it if you don’t want to. Some of the mechanics they added have potential for expanding into something greater, like the naval battles. The story is as tangled and nonsensical as always, and the ending leaves a bit to be desired. If you liked the series up till now, you should enjoy this one.