I had a good deal of fun playing Assassin’s Creed 3. If you care about scores, I give it a solid 8 out of 10. Normally all of this would be in the final paragraph of a review but with this game, it’s necessary to preface everything with my positive take-away because the rest of this piece is going to sound extremely negative. Realize that any disappointment I express is due to my love of this series and my hope for what could have been. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but if you haven’t played the preceding games, obviously don’t read this review yet.
Supposedly the last part of Desmond Miles’s story (I’ll believe it when I see it), AC3′s main narrative thrust is in stopping the world from going all Vesuvius at the end of the Mayan calendar. To do that, Desmond and company need to find a key to a First Civilization temple that was hidden by his 18th century Native American ancestor, Connor. Connor, meanwhile, helps fight the Revolutionary War on his quest to dismantle the Templar Order in the Colonies.
I’m going to talk about the story quite a bit because, as with all Assassin’s Creed games, the gameplay is largely the same as the previous entries (more on that later, though). Firstly (and I’m not sure how to talk about this without being slightly spoiler-y so stop reading now if you want to remain virgin), there is a plot turn near the beginning of the game that caught me completely off-guard. The best part about the twist is that it played off of gamer mentality, subverting the expectations of what we expect out of Assassin’s Creed games. Unfortunately, the story really only goes downhill from there.
There are a few reasons why Connor’s story didn’t resonate with me. The first is simply the character himself. Outside of the occasional indignant yelling and petulant teenage-angsty moments he has with his assassin mentor, Connor has almost no personality. I understand the desire to make him speak stiffly, without contractions (it makes him sound more “Indian”, you see), but it has the unfortunate effect of making him sound more like a robot. Add to that the fact that other than killing people, Connor seems to have no interest in much of anything and you arrive at one boring-as-sin dude. You would think that from him childhood in the 1750′s until the (possible) end of his adventures in the 1780′s, there would be something personally interesting happening, maybe even a romance or two. One might assume, given that the previous game, Revelations, was memorable solely for its character development of Ezio and Altair, Ubisoft would have learned from that experience and continued that trend going forward. If anything, Connor is more boring than Altair was in the first game, and that’s saying something.
The second reason the story fell flat was because it explored the idea of a truce between the Assassins and the Templars. That very notion is antithetical to the whole premise behind this fictional universe. The reason it’s a laughable idea is that these aren’t warring nations, killing each other in the name of resources or land or nationalistic pride. These are the two sides of human civilizations that are diametrically opposed to each other. Hobbes vs. Locke, control vs. freedom. For Desmond or Connor to honestly propose peace with the Templars is to undermine the whole nature of the struggle. What it says is that both sides are akin to political parties or sports teams, that which side you end up on is arbitrary. If I were a member of the Assassins I would call both guys out for completely failing to understand the core principles involved. The idea of a truce is eventually tossed aside, but not in any meaningful, poetic way. It just sort of fizzles out with a shrug and a “Nevermind, I guess not.”
The writing is also fairly embarrassing. With Ezio and Altair, the writers could get away with clunky prose because not only was it a more distant time period, but presumably everything was being “translated” from Arabic and Italian into English. Here, however, we have a great deal of connection with the time period and everyone spoke excellent English, to the point where we are still quoting much of what the Founding Fathers wrote and said today. None of this word artistry is evident in the game (except when famous quotes are shoehorned into the dialogue); I was dumbstruck when one of the main characters, upon realizing that a prisoner was getting away, exclaimed, “Really?!” in that sarcastic, annoyed way that wasn’t even around before 2005. The writers didn’t even try for period-specific dialogue, maybe because they were incapable, maybe because they thought that the average gamer couldn’t handle it. Who knows, maybe the Animus was translating 18th century English into 21st century English because it knows that Desmond is kind of an idiot. Whatever the reason, it sure didn’t feel like 1776.
Alright, enough about the story; it’s the biggest disappointment but it gets the player from point A to point B. “What about the gameplay?” you ask. While it’s still the same free running, swashbuckling kinetic madness you’ve come to expect from the series, there are a few slight tweaks this time around. Instead of having to simply hold down the block button and occasionally click to counter-attack, combat is now a two-step process. First, you must hit the counter button right before someone attacks you. When successful, time slows down and you have about three seconds to decide how you want to respond. You can disarm, throw, riposte or even fire your pistol to finish the fight (if you have it loaded). It’s a small change but it adds both cinematic flair and the ability to be more strategic on the fly. Also added into the mix are double kills (if you parry two people at once, some very cool animations play where Connor goes into a murderous rampage) and the ability to grab people and use them as human shields to protect yourself from firing squads. None of this revolutionizes the gameplay but it does streamline and refine the combat that made Assassin’s Creed fun to begin with.
The assassination missions themselves are a letdown, which is a real shame given the title of the series. It appears that the developers, in deciding between cinematics and player choice, came down heavily on the side of the former. There really is only one “right way” to perform each major assassination. This is reinforced by “constraints” (optional limitations on how you act). Compared to the other recent assassin game, Dishonored, AC3 feels confined and claustrophobic, which is ironic since the former has specific levels and the latter is open world.
Another thing that caught me by surprise was the sheer amount of bugs and errors. Weapons switching when going through a load screen, outfit colors reverting to white in cutscenes, typos in the mission tool tips, missing words in the library database, and now it seems as though the latest Hidden Secrets DLC is erasing saved games…it’s a mess and while playable, the bugs are too noticeable not to mention. I don’t remember any of the AC games launching this flawed.
Yes, the game has the usual multiplayer component. No, I’m not really going to talk about it. It’s the same as all the previous games, including automatic matchmaking (unforgivable on PC), repetitive hunt/be hunted back and forths and level ups to get slightly better gear. I certainly don’t buy AC games for the multiplayer and I doubt many people do, especially since they come out every year now ensuring that even if you were a fan, you would have to continually move on to the next sequel to keep up with the player base. Now if Ubisoft wanted to put co-op into their next game…
In spending so much time ranting about the story and characters, I left little room for other details such as the amazing snow deformation mechanics, the naval battle side missions (easily the best mini-game the AC series has ever given us), and the linear, but fun, town building missions. With so much good stuff packed into this game, it’s a real shame that linear design and lazy writing crept in. Still, unlike Brotherhood and Revelations, at least we are finally covering some new ground.
Final Score: 8/10