The graphics are great; the combat is more fluid than the previous installments and considerably more difficult; the atmosphere of the American Revolution is a refreshing break from the over-urban; getting from one point of a forest to another by tree is fun; the naval missions are a blast, and we finally get some action in the 21st century with Desmond with one of the best looking skyscraper climbs I’ve ever done in a videogame.
So why am I therefore going to tell you that this game is actually a big disappointment?
I can look beyond the quick-time events, the countless immersion-breaking cutscenes, and the needless financial transaction minigame, but what I can’t look beyond are the shallowness of the main character, Connor, the story that went from interesting to invigorating to weird and now bonkers, and most importantly, once again, the loss of the thrill of murder.
I covered this briefly in my 3-part retrospective about Assassin’s Creed but here’s a question. What makes Assassin’s Creed so much fun? When you pay $60 for a new AC game, what are you most excited about doing? Getting immersed in a new atmosphere, fair enough; free-roaming and occasional trouble-starting, sure, that’s fun. But those aren’t the answers.
Assassin’s Creed is fun because you get to murder people. It doesn’t matter what kind of people they are; guards, soldiers, Templars, Templar associates/co-conspirators, the occasional annoying civilian…when you bought Assassin’s Creed games, you bought them so you could exact vengeance upon them for being mean and manipulative.
Planning a route to the target, sneaking past the guards and into the crowds where you gingerly creep your way up to them and at the moment of truth, jam your hidden blade straight into their throats – these things never get old, so long as you’re given new places and new scenarios to try them in. That’s what made Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 work so well; that, and the fact that the story actually supported and existed in tandem with the gameplay.
But you wouldn’t know that in playing 3. This game has hardly anything substantial about the Assassin/Templar struggle; only that which was provided in a few brief exchanges between father and son, which I would have liked to see more of.
I actually liked the beginning of the game. It set up what very well could have been the perfect Assassin’s Creed game. You played as Nathan Kenway (Connor’s father) as he travels from Britain to America to investigate a strange medallion. You assemble a group of people to help him in his search and also take a small part in the French/Indian War, and rescue a Mohawk tribe from English captivity. That’s where you meet Connor’s mother.
That’s cool, right? You play the part of an interesting character and unwittingly assemble the group of people that will be important later. That was actually a brilliant move.
Too bad it didn’t work out that way. I’m not going to say any more about the story, but it’s continuously convoluted, complicated, twisty, windy, incoherent, and just plain uninteresting. It treats the gameplay like an obstacle in the road rather than the car that drives the plot, and that’s an act of charity compared to the way the game treats the player. The combat is both too easy and too hard in a time-wasting manner. And as mentioned before, the gameplay hardly has any stabbing in it.
I get that you’re supposed to kill a lot more guards than you are political targets. I’m okay with that. But Connor isn’t an assassin. He’s a thug who just happens to wear the garments and stands by a decent cause. He’s not even that good at killing people either. There were multiple occasions where you’re in a quick-time fight, grappling on the ground, where all you do is wait for the moment to appear, press the X button, and Connor just stabs him. And both times that happened, Connor was pinned down to the ground. What’s the point?
Just about every character in the game is more interesting than Connor; his mother, his father, his mentor, and other patriots of the Revolution. His story is just something to do while the real main character Desmond’s story makes all the progress. And even that part seems to be incapable of being interesting or coherent.
Assassin’s Creed 3 is very well presented up front, but ultimately it squanders the gifts it gave itself. Its end result is a sloppy and frustration-inducing mess of a game. All the extra junk is great. But we’re not in the game for the extra junk. We’re there to sneak & stab. If only Ubisoft understood that.
So how does it measure up to the official criteria I established in the previous note?
- An open-ended beautiful nicely textured expansive terrain to explore and adventure through with a deliberately loose but environmentally varied sandbox structure. PASS
- Richness of character. FAIL
- Continued exploration of the themes of morality from the first Assassin’s Creed, with such themes woven into the context of the Revolution. FAIL
- A chief individual or small core group of villains to hunt and destroy. HALF PASS
- A greater sense of character closure. HALF PASS
My love for AC1 & 2 aren’t diminished at all, but this series has fallen far from the standard.