Published on November 11th, 2012 |
by Andrew King
Review – Assassin’s Creed 3
Assassin’s Creed 3, Ubisoft’s long-awaited third and final entry in their epic End of the World Sci-Fi series that sees characters romp through turning points in history as a social assassin, has arrived. After the phenomenal success of Assassin’s Creed II, and its pseudo-sequel Brotherhood, many were hoping that this release would best all the others and show us that the franchise wasn’t growing as stale as its detractors would suggest.
Sadly the game doesn’t quite live up to the pedigree of its past.
Instead, Assassin’s Creed 3 falls short in many of the areas that made the previous games as enjoyable to play as they were, and while this shouldn’t by any means indicate that AC3 is a bad game, nor is it the worst in the series, it does suffer from an abundance of new ideas and concepts that ultimately go underused and should likely have never been introduced in the first place.
You’re still technically playing as Desmond in this one, hunting around in his genetic memory via the Animus, but the premise this time is that you’re playing as Ratonhnhaké:ton (otherwise known as Connor Kenway for those not fluent in the various languages of the Native Americans), the son of a British-born noble Haytham Kenway, and a Native American mother. Fitting, considering the setting has moved from Renaissance Italy to revolutionary America during the War of Independence.
Unlike previous entries in the series, the scope of the story is broad , trying its best to not take sides throughout the war and showing us such famous and idolised men as Sam Adams as the slave owners they were. I almost got the sense that Ubisoft tried to make sure they could get this game out in time for the US Presidential Election just so they could try their best to place it as a social and political commentary. At times this works, especially when Shaun (the researcher out in the “real” world that writes all the database entries) is left to rant while Desmond is out of the Animus, but characters’ almost constant flip-flopping between sides often leads to a muddled feeling of confusion and bewilderment that I had never experienced in any Assassin’s Creed title beforehand.
Geronimo! (Not strictly accurate as Connor is from a different tribe)
It may be down to the choice of setting, but here we’re faced with a time period filled with grey areas, something the game really seems to struggle with. Previous games have shown the characters trying to take an unbiased perspective on the conflicts being shown to us, preferring to target all of the people responsible for the mess. This time we’re faced with a character that has a clear motive to protect his homeland and side with the people that apparently share the same goal, often leaving characters with questionable goals and motives alive and well while those that seemingly have little to no connection to any major threat are punished as quickly as possible.
I often felt, both as a character and a player, that I was being manipulated to accept one viewpoint, and this ultimately made me sympathise with the “bad guys” more often than I did the “good guys” in the fight.
Mechanically, the game works; but then again, very many games work; they are playable, they are game-like in their design and in the way you play them. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are built in a good way.
Combat is merely a matter of pressing B (or circle) to counter an enemy’s attack, and then pressing A, X, or Y (or X, Square, or Triangle) to perform a killing blow depending on the type of enemy you are fighting. And while the kill animations have improved greatly since AC2, combat still lacks any skill requirement and simply becomes a matter of waiting for the enemy to flash red on screen and hey presto, you’ve killed him or knocked him prone.
Finally! A chance to recreate our favourite scene from Indiana Jones 4
Parkour, movement, and exploration are yet more features that have been watered down and left just as messy as before, if not worse. While it’s still enjoyable to run through city streets and climb up buildings, leaping from roof to roof, the system is still prone to accidentally forcing the player along the wrong path. Running up a flagpole while trying to chase an enemy down, or simply jumping to your death when you’re supposed to be performing a Leap of Faith remains as irritating as ever.
Viewpoints, one of my favourite things to track down in previous games, are no longer as useful as they were, with whole portions of the map remaining hidden by the fog of war, and they are more oddly placed than ever before; there was one particular moment when I discovered three viewpoints were all within 50 metres of each other, which feels like a waste given the huge space available.
It’s not all bad news though. The ability to climb through trees is very enjoyable; finding the right path through the forest without the need to touch the floor is as thrilling as that first leap of faith so many years ago, and is an addition I would love to see continued into future games.
Similarly positive is the scale that AC3 tackles. This is by far the biggest game in the series, with the Frontier alone purportedly the size of Brotherhood‘s Rome, not to mention New York, Boston, the Homestead (Connor’s private getaway), and a large chunk of the ocean included to explore or fight your way through.
Naval battles replace den defence or whatever Revelations trialled – a very good decision
Alongside the increase in the usual collectibles such as feathers and treasure chests, we see the return of assassination contracts and delivery missions, as well as liberation missions to help recruit more assassins to your cause, homestead missions to secure new neighbours in your small village, and naval missions, by far one of the best new additions to the series and in my opinion a standout feature with the right mixture of feeling slow and methodical, yet quick paced and interesting all at the same time, giving you the feeling of truly controlling a large ship in the middle of oceanic action.
As is symptomatic with the rest of the experience though, many of the returning side missions feel uninspired when compared to previous instalments. Still, the new additions certainly add more flavour and a sense of atmosphere to the game and its locations. Fully liberating a section of one of the cities will give you access to an assassin character that will often have a very specific attribute such as ranged combat or poison combat, and these characters feel more fleshed out and likeable than many of the major characters throughout the game.
This signals another problem with the game, the characterisation. Haytham Kenway is an interesting character, a noble born Brit that is sure and confident, but not cocky about it. He has a plan, and a goal, and will do anything to make sure that happens and comes across as caring and compassionate in many circumstances. Connor Kenway, on the other hand, has little character progression to speak of; he starts as a naïve and angry child, and ends as a naïve, angry, and slightly confused man. When compared to the characterisation of the main protagonist in previous games, this is a bit of a letdown, though as with the character of Altair in the first game there is a lot of room for improvement in the future.
Throughout, Assassin’s Creed 3 is a game heavily weighed down by that which came before it, a shame if truth be told. By itself the game is great, and still fun to play, but when compared to earlier entries in the series it falls short of all the wonders that Ubisoft managed with the second iteration and ultimately tries too hard to change things that didn’t need to be changed. Like with the first entry in the series, there is a whole lot of potential, but alas it’s never quite met and instead it’s left hiding in a haystack just out of sight.
Summary: Overall a good game, but one that suffers from being overshadowed by its predecessors. There's a lot of potential with the setting and the character that could be expanded upon in the future but, as it is, Assassin's Creed 3 doesn't quite meet the mark of greatness.