I had to mentally prepare myself before playing Assassin’s Creed 3. Partially because this is the latest instalment in one of my favourite series of video games (and I am such a fan-boy for it it’s not even funny) but also because I had to gear myself up for playing through a game where all the enemies are British, it just doesn’t sit well for some reason. Seriously, I would really like a game in which we go around actually killing Americans for once, I figure that something quite so unique would be bound to turn a few heads.
Anyway, witticisms aside I do feel I ought to say that, minus the fact that I was always very aware that every single redcoat I killed was a fellow tea-drinker, the game honestly doesn’t do quite as much English bashing as I was expecting. Only about as much as is necessary to remind you that this was a period and place where the English weren’t very popular (much like Glasgow during the world-cup actually). In fact if, like me, you felt the need to read anything in the database that is written in game by the veeeery English, and veeeery cynical, Shuan Hastings (voiced by Danny Wallace) you will quickly see that the developers had more than a few digs at both America and the American Revolution itself (pity about 99% of gamers probably won’t read them, but I digress).
The game follows the twin story-lines of Desmond Miles (in the present) and Ratonhnhaké:ton, or as we know him: Connor Kenway, a native American who goes on a quest for vengeance and to protect his people and becomes an Assassin in the process, all during the American War of Independence. As usual the Desmond storyline is the overarching plot in which Desmond and a few other Assassins are trying to prevent some world-wide apocalypse with the “help” of “the Precursors” or “Those Who Came Before” a mysterious alien race who apparently both created humanity and died out in this exact same apocalypse many thousands of years before. And while you would think that preventing an apocalypse would require a lot of real-world work, instead Desmond has to view the life of one of his ancestors via a machine called the Animus (and don’t even get me started on how it’s supposed to “work”), because that tends to solve all his problems.
I want to start this review explaining about what the game does wrong, because I will admit now to having loved the game and even the problems won’t discourage me from approving of it:
First and foremost is Desmond himself. I do sort of wonder whether somewhere in the Ubisoft headquarters some writer is sitting down on a chair and mentally kicking himself for including Desmond and the Precursors in the first place. As if a “genetic memory viewer” wasn’t bad enough the whole story of those who came before was ludicrous from the moment they were introduced and it has always been the worst part of the Assassin’s Creed games. Desmond also hasn’t changed from previous instalments and so still comes across as pretty whiny and otherwise flat. Honestly, the whole Desmond/Precursor thing might have worked if we spent more time with both of them, but in reality across the five main games so far I’ve spent possibly two, maybe three hours with Desmond, spread out across some 100+ hours of gameplay, and so the player never really has time to grow a rapport with him. As a result, Desmond is frankly an irritation to play.
Next up is actually Connor. Or rather some parts of him. Now I think Connor could have been a fairly strong character, clear motives and very likeable. However, I feel that he also comes across as really rather dull, and it took me a while to work out why. I eventually realised that it seems that he says absolutely everything with the same dull monotone, with very little expression on his face. And while this makes him pretty cool, an ice-cold, deadly assassin, it also makes it very hard to relate to the guy. I can’t help but feel that in comparison to the charm of Ezio Auditore, Connor falls somewhat shy of being a completely compelling character.
My biggest gripe of the game is actually something I spent a while trying to come up with a term for and in the end settled for “glossing”. Essentially on more than just one occasion I felt that the game was skipping over fairly important bits and pieces of story and dialogue. Nothing world-shattering, but I do feel there were some revelations (pun intended), some dialogue, some meetings and cut-scenes that definitely should have been included. I could mention a few major ones but that would spoil a fairly big twist early on in the game, so I can’t do that, instead I will use as an example the new Assassin recruits. Like every game since Brotherhood you have the chance to recruit apprentices into the Brotherhood. This time though they are specific people across Boston and New York. To gain their apprenticeship you have to liberate a district in each city which involves a few small side-quests leading to a little longer side-quest. The thing is though, you only ever seem to meet them after having completed all the mini side-quests, and they already know who you are, know about the Assassins. Honestly, would an introduction have been too much to ask? Not much, just a “Hi, I’m such-and-such and man do I HATE the English… Oh? You hate the English too? Well help me out and I’ll help you!” This seems like a fairly small thing but I swear I could probably name at least 15 occurrences, and I am certain there were well over double that, where it felt like the game was skipping a little tiny bit or piece that I feel ought to have been included.
Grievances aside I will now return to what this review really ought to be about: praising the bejesus out of this game. Ubisoft said that this was their most ambitious and the largest Assassin’s Creed game yet and boy does it show. The graphics (even on Xbox), the music, the scale, the missions, the cut-scenes. It all flows together into one maelstrom of awesome and epicness.
It’s true that the game is certainly very buggy, it seems an unfortunate trade-off that as games get bigger and badder (see Skyrim as a main example here) there becomes more and more little bits and pieces which can be overlooked, but it seems Ubisoft have been working tirelessly to get this sorted and honestly even by the time I started playing this game, a few weeks after release, the majority of the worst bugs had gone.
The free-running remains a joy to do, and the inclusion of being able to climb trees and rocks (finally) makes Connor just seem so much more versatile than his predecessors. More than this, with so many new movement animations and styles he just feels so much more fluid and dynamic than either Ezio or Altair. Now of course this IS an Assassin’s Creed game which means that: yes you will get stuck on things you should be able to climb up, yes you will occasionally jump a direction you didn’t mean to and yes you will sometimes not jump when you DO mean to. But this is all par for the course. One day it will be perfect, but for now I honestly do feel that I can overlook these occasional flaws when looking at the greater improvement overall.
The setting is absolutely fantastic as well, the colonial Boston and New York along with the massive Frontier are all absolutely fantastic to explore and mess around in. I will admit to feeling that they lack the same grandeur as the magnificent Renaissance cities, but they have their own charm and character. The streets seem alive and the people vibrant, even though they honestly don’t do anything of note. Along those lines, the game looks absolutely fantastic it has to be said. The graphics are amazing (which meant that the Xbox struggled at times), the massive battles were pretty damn epic, the cities and people look alive and just excellent. Overall, the look of the game is just top-notch.
The combat has become more fluid and more difficult simultaneously. Winning fights tends to require you use combo kills and the insta-kill system which was slowly introduced in Brotherhood and Revelations, some of the enemies can’t be killed by counters at all. Also, despite the majority of enemies having guns Connor still does not feel outclassed or out-gunned, manoeuvring around the battlefield to slay all the redcoats!
To call Assassin’s Creed a stealth game (as I understand some people have been) is, quite simply, wrong but I would like to say that ever so slowly there has been a bit more emphasis on the sneaking and stealthy qualities of Assassin’s rather than merely running across a roof in broad daylight and jumping on your target’s head like an overgrown Mario. Of course the Mario style Assassinations still do take precedence, and are far more amusing than the stealthy ones by far, but it is nice to see the occasional mission where you have to pause and think a little tiny bit before jumping into the fray.
Overall the story seems to be pretty good as well (it’s Assassin’s Creed, story has never been that high of a priority) it’s an unfortunate truth in Assassin’s Creed games that the story for the ancestors does tend to be pretty cool at the very least whereas the overarching story with Desmond is just… not… I mean I definitely enjoyed the whole story of Connor and his part in the War of Independence and I have to say that the way they worked him into the fabric of history is really rather compelling and oddly believable actually. It had more than a few good moments and it came to a fairly satisfying conclusion. On the other hand the Desmond plot was as bizarre as always and the end (the “actual” end of the Assassin’s Creed trilogy) was just, quite frankly, rubbish. A fairly dramatic build-up to an end which just didn’t really deliver, and I fear I never really expected it to.
The variety of the game was something that really stood out as well, the missions were varied and paced well and the sheer number of side-quests and objectives means that you always have something amusing to do. Hunting, for example, is an amusing diversion. It’s not something I spent any great degree of time on at all, but it’s nice to have as a little something on the side. The trading system is pretty neat, and makes way more sense than just buying a whole city like Ezio did numerous times. I will also say that the sailing mini-game has a rather special place in my heart now. I absolutely loved the feel of being able to command a sailing ship with cannons out in the Atlantic. Admittedly it might not be the most realistic, but I enjoyed those missions and thought them an amusing little diversion from the stabbing and killing.
One final thing which is worth mentioning: the multiplayer for Assassin’s Creed has, since it was first devised for Brotherhood, always been my favourite multiplayer out there and I think that the AC3 version is just another excellent step in the line of it. It’s intense, it’s great fun and it’s a refreshing break from all the shooters out there. I will say that it’s only major downside remains the fact that you can only play on your own.
Overall Assassin’s Creed 3 is a fantastic game which I would recommend to any and all gamers. The thing which keeps it just shy of perfection (and I hope you take into account that this is in the eyes of a fanboy so some of what I said should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt) is that the Desmond/overall Assassin’s Creed story line was just really rather poor and never really lived up to the rest of the games standard.