Reviews: Assassins Creed III
I Like to be in Ah-mer-ee-ka
The advertisements for Assassins Creed III felt like they were doing everything possible to sell the game as The Patriot, complete with chest beating jingoism and cries of FREEEEDOM! Surprisingly, the game is anything but this. I guess Ubisoft felt they couldn't market a game as a balanced and insightful depiction of American history. I don't know who that speaks worse of. I can't understate the painstaking efforts taken on the setting, politics and story. You don't even get that sort of thing in most games. The game still has that ridiculous meta-plot involving ancient aliens, worldwide conspiracies and Mayan doomsday prophesies, but I've learnt to tolerate that by now. I suppose the AC franchise would look far more ridiculous if no context was provided for ninja assassins running around Medieval Europe. Hokey sci-fi plot aside, the actual story within the story is excellently put together and I appreciated it a great deal. The protagonist, Conner, can be kind of uninteresting, possessing even less personality than Desmond. That said, he is offset by the other playable character; Colonial era James Bond. He's chilled as fuck, and the game vastly improves whenever he comes along to put Conner in his place. The most common criticisms of Assassin's Creed games is that they are boring and repetitive. This is still an issue with AC 3. There are only so many times one can free run, shank, and counter-strike without it getting dull. I've only played the three main AC titles, and in spite of the swanky new mechanics, weapons and take downs, I was just wanting to get on with the story. I can't imagine how tedious it must be for people who have played all the titles up to now. The issue is made worse by the fact that it takes hours for the game to remove the training wheels stops lecturing you. Even the regular loading screens test your patience. The sea battles offer the most interesting change up and they are a lot of dumb fun, but the rest of the trading and political mini games aren't worth a damn. In conclusion, AC 3 is an occasionally fun, occasionally tedious game with an arresting story and a love of history. I can recommend it on the writing alone, but I can't deny that you might eventually lose patience with it.
Lots of Potential, Too Many Problems
As someone who played the previous games, I'm the first to admit the series was getting stale, and 3 looked like it would help fix this problem. And indeed, the story I thought was the best one so far, but that I feel is the only thing the game improved upon. Elsewhere, it suffered. For one, fast travel is now a lot worse. Finding tunnels is tedious. Horseback is pointless because they refuse to go down hills, of which the Frontier mainly is. This is one of the biggest problems. The Frontier is needless. I understand it's the setting of missions, but these could have existed outside the travelable zone. Otherwise there's little to do besides collectibles, travel is a pain, and hunting? You can literally run around with your blades out. There is a greater variety in missions, but 100% on some of them are the hardest missions in any AC game so far. And while we're on missions, we need to talk about characters. I'll list the likable characters: Paul Revere, the Mohawk shaman, the Homestead recruits, and the Assassin recruits. Connor is the least likable protagonist so far. Altair was arrogant but trying to redeem himself, and Ezio was smooth as hell and a master assassin. Connor is selfish, out for revenge, and doesn't seem to care about helping a huge cause, only motivated by his own desire, and in the end this leaves him flat. Many of your allies are douches as well, and while the duality of both sides having good points is interesting, it ultimately leaves the player dissatisfied that they aren't a 'hero'. Also, Connor's story just kind of... ends, and the epilogue missions are just cutscenes. There are some positives though. Naval missions are FANTASTIC, the best part of the game, there was clearly a lot of time put into it. The Homestead is a very cool idea, and the missions for your friends do make you feel good. We do get to play as Desmond, but only in a few missions, and they're incredibly easy. Multiplayer is still fun, and the new mode Wolfpack is excellent. However, with all that, the thing that brings the game down is the glitches. So many things left unfixed half a year later. Recruits not being marked as complete, leaving 100% missable. Clothes and items changing randomly, characters not appearing, ammo vanishing, optional objectives becoming failed after a success, and many more. They take the game and just delete the fun.
It's not like I wanted it to be
The only Assassin's Creed game I've touched before this is 2, which was an absolutely fantastic game. As a sequel, this game is... complicated. Let's talk about the new things I liked, ignoring the two games in between I haven't played. First and foremost: the ability to start a riot is genius. It makes sneaking around a lot easier, makes perfect sense for the time, and is just entertaining to watch in general. The naval missions are an amusing distraction if nothing special. Infiltrating forts worked quite well as side missions; they always felt satisfying to do. And, the Revolutionary templars are much, much better written than the Renaissance ones were, actually selling me on their ideologies to a degree. On the other hand, the maps. Boston and New York are damn near indistinguishable, as are many of the frontier regions, not to mention I miss the Renaissance architecture. In comparison, the cities in this game just seem rather boring. Fast travel is more annoying with having to crawl around featureless sewers for an age to find the points, although at least it's a one and done thing. Perhaps worst of all, however, are the optional objectives, the side missions that didn't involve Assassin recruits or forts, the hunting and the crafting, all of which were thoroughly tedious and added nothing to the game. By comparison, AC2 felt like a streamlined version of its successor; the Monteriggioni replaced the crafting and hunting, the side missions were quicker, easier, and not needed for 100%, and the much, MUCH more fun Assassin's tombs replaced the optional objectives. And yes, I did feel Connor was bland at times, though I will say he carried the dramatic moments well. Oh and also, I played the Wii U version. Don't play the Wii U version. Your horse will get sandwiched between everything and become immobile. Your dual holsters will switch one gun for another when moving between areas. You will fall through level geometry, and occasionally, your game will freeze. I'm willing to give this a recommendation based on a decent story and some gameplay elements that work, but I won't blame you if you get frustrated.
Grandeur and Folly!
It takes some guts to make the story of America's birth into one of defeat. Connor loses and will keep losing, just like the Mohawk and other Native tribes. On that level this game is a corrective to most macho games about white triumph and this fact definitely underpines most of the criticism of this game. Gamers like to feel powerful, they like to win, basically they like to be white. Haytham enables that fantasy, while Connor lives the reality of most of the planet. He's a real modern figure. Man of many identities. In that respects he represents the direction the industry ought to be going if it wants its much coveted maturity. Sadly, he's betrayed by the fuzziness in his story, the poor way the revenge plot pans out. In terms of gameplay, there's the poor integration of systems and the unnecessary maps of New York and Boston. Ideally they should have made The Frontier the hub map, with the missions in NY and Boston reduced to linear events. The frontier plus the Homestead should have been the entire game. The Frontier is vast, filled with mountains and streams and falls, has a real sense of terrain, more so than Red Dead Redemption which so easily divides different parts into easily understandable patches. Here the forest, the mountains and streams are messily falling into each other, just like in life. The game has real ambition. You don't feel any sense of triumph and its good that a game is trying to subvert expectations. You don't feel like you dominate your terrain, you feel like an outsider, because Connor is one, the notoriety in the Frontier never goes down, which is a nice gameplay touch. The fact that Connor spends all his time in colonial society underlies that. I wish we spent more time among the Iroquois and seen figures like Joseph Butler. The Templar targets are great, though Charles Lee is a real letdown from the real guy. AC 2 managed to make historical figures alive, AC 3 is a comedown in that the founders are fairly staid. I wonder if anyone in the team read Gore Vidal's BURR where the founders are way more interesting. Aaron Burr would have definitely been an Assassin for sure, as would say, John Paul Jones. Neither are here and we see Jefferson in the DLC only. And That's Terrible. The DLC was another letdown of a genius idea.
History in Assassinís Creed III
When I heard that Assassinís Creed III would be set during the American Revolution, I was both excited and concerned. I looked forward to finally exploring one of my favorite time periods, but previous entries in the series made me worried that the game would not do justice to the era. Having played the game twice now, I can say that, when it comes to history, Assassin's Creed III is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the game does a great job of capturing the feel of the time period. The grime, political tension, and cultural diversity of colonial America are depicted better here than in most movies. There are some minor inaccuracies with fashion and architecture, but these are forgivable, since they help make characters and buildings more distinguishable from one another. Unfortunately, when the game gets into the real meat of history, it becomes problematic. The gameís depiction of certain events, especially the Boston Tea Party, is so far off that it distorts the meaning of these events. One could argue that the Templars changed the history books, but these divergences arenít always noted. Sophisticated players will probably take these depictions with a grain of salt, but younger players might be less than critical. Another problem I have with the gameís treatment of history is with Shaunís modern day lectures on the subject. I understand the need to puncture the hagiographic approach to the Revolution that some modern politicians take, but Shaun is often too negative. He overemphasizes the negative traits of the American leaders while often totally dismissing their genuinely positive achievements. George Washington in particular gets short shrift. Whatís worse is that Shaunís interpretation is generally held up by the game; though Desmond argues with him, he is never really more than a straw man to be torn down. I think Assassinís Creed is a series with great potential. Unlike film or literature, which are limited to depictions of events, a video game can give us a serious idea of the social reality of a historical period; with the Animus framing device, it can give a sense of the larger historical context. If Assassinís Creed III were a bit more rigorous and, perhaps, a bit less judgmental, it could have lived up to that potential. As it is, though, it still gives me high hopes for future entries in the series.