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Assassin’s Creed III

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Assassin’s Creed III is here…

There’s a new Assassin, a new setting, and a conclusion to a protagonist’s story that has spanned five games. Does Assassin’s Creed 3 live up to the series good name, ending the story of Desmond with a bang? Or does it falter and conclude with a whimper?

The Assassin’s Creed series has been one to embrace evolution. Starting as a simple, “Kill these targets” game that was praised for its unique ideas, but lamented for the horrible repetitiveness of its missions, the series took a major leap into new territory with Assassin’s Creed 2. However, as the franchise approached the middle of its life, the clear path was lost and most gamers were left frustrated by two “filler” games. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood was by all means a great game. But it was plagued by the struggles to achieve “100% memory sync” in all its missions and the large amount of less than interesting side quests (shop quests, Leonardo’s machines, Borgia towers, etc) that the game didn’t really need. Assassin’s Creed Revelations did even worse and in an attempt to just be different, went and threw in first-person platforming puzzles and the most horrid tower defense mini-game I’ve ever been forced to suffer through. Assassin’s Creed 3 trims the fat of AC:Brotherhood and fixes the errors of daring to be different that was AC:Revelations, but besides an intriguing story set in the American Revolution, the rest of the game was riddled with horrible game mechanics and sleeper side missions.

Story:

The game’s main plot and story is that of Desmond Miles, who you all know from the previous entries in the franchise. He and his modern-day assassins are finally at the grand temple of the “Ones who came before” that they just spent 3 games searching for. Now, as always, Desmond must sit in the Animus (the machine that reads genetic memories) and relive the life of an Assassin ancestor in order to (yet again) find another piece of Eden (technology from the ancient ones who came before) and basically save the world. He finished the stories of Altair and Ezio in Revelations and now is reliving the life of Connor Kenway. Connor is his half Native American, half British ancestor who lived during American Revolution. If there’s one thing Assassin’s Creed does right, it’s the period settings of their games. The various cities you visit in the 18th century are spot on accurate. Even the dialects and colloquialisms of speech remain intact. As you might have guessed, the main antagonist of the series is the Templars, both in the period and modern settings. They are attempting to affect the outcomes of the American Revolution and Connor must stop them.

 

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There are some unique plot twists, especially in the beginning, but after the biggest reveal (four hours in), you never really get another M. Night Shalmalan style smack in the face. In fact, about 2/3’s of the way through the game, I already knew what was going to happen at the end….and I was correct. It’s based on history remember. The American Indians didn’t really win.

The story takes awhile to get going. You start as someone else who is not Connor and after 4-6 hours as this person you get the plot twist and are finally Connor Kenway. However, you have to go through his childhood first and lead up to a life-changing moment.

When you are finally Connor, he becomes the Assassin he was born to be and also becomes a naval captain (some of the best missions in the game). Let’s just say the American Revolution sequences are the best part of the game and you will meet and interact with such notable historical figures as George Washington, Benjamin Church, Ben Franklin, and Paul Revere. You even get to be a part of key historical moments. However, that being said, the pacing is annoyingly bad and unless you are very familiar with the history of the American Revolution, you might be left wondering what each battle is really all about.

Thankfully I remember I read in school about that part of our history, however I realize a lot of gamers probably aren’t familiar with the Battle of Bunkerhill, Paul Revere’s ride, or both the Boston tea-party and Boston massacre. Also, once again the “100% memory sync” comes back and as usual, it’s damn near impossible to nail that 100% on the first try every time. Desmond’s tale that I’ve actually been interested in ends with something that is to say the least, underwhelming. You do get to play as Desmond and do some “away missions” and missions at the base he establishes with his fellow modern-day assassins.  But they aren’t as interesting as the many things you can do as Connor in the Animus.

Before we get into the gameplay, I’d like to be clear. If I were to judge this game on setting, style, and the absolute immaculate attention to detail alone, it would be a perfect 10. However, the most important part of the game (the way you play) ruined most of the joy for me.

 

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Gameplay:

Here is where my frustrations began. I have made it through every AC game and even replayed AC2 and AC Revelations on different platforms multiple times. I simply do not understand why Ubisoft thinks it’s a great idea to maintain the same parkour mechanics that were broken in the first two games. Many will disagree if these controls do not bother them, but I say they are broken. Holding one button to free-run, climb, and parkour is just a bad idea that leaves itself open to trouble.

Too many times I was feeling like a bad-ass running across roof-tops only to accidentally get too close to an object, or wall, or ladder, and immediately turn and start unintentionally climbing up it. This was the game taking over and nothing I did. Granted, the new tree climbing ability is very cool and the animations are outstanding. But the core mechanics are just bad when compared to a game like InFamous (1 and 2) which is known for its protagonist being a parkour master. When you wanted to run in those games, you pushed the left-stick forward a little more. Then to parkour/free-run, you had to push a button to go to the next thing when climbing, etc. Compare that to holding a single button down for minutes at a time and hoping you don’t go somewhere you don’t want to (which you eventually will).

 

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Also, you’re an Assassin. Yet, this entire series has yet to include a really well-thought out stealth mechanic. I’m sorry, but hiding in plain sight by blending into crowds or jumping into hay isn’t stealth. It’s hiding. Stealth is being able to crouch and move quietly through shadows without being noticed.  Oh…you know….kind of like how assassins do. But no, you loudly walk or run up to every target standing straight up and everyone dies screaming. Yet, the guards within ear-shot do not hear the ruckus (because they didn’t “see” you). In AC3, you can crouch somewhat through tall weeds and bushes and for that I was very thankful.

You still have to come out of hiding (and will stand straight as an arrow in very conspicuous clothing) to kill your targets. Yes, regarding the clothes …18th century….everyone looks like they belong and then this guy wearing a very odd-looking outfit with a hood comes out, walks the streets, and no one asks why he’s wearing that or gives him odd looks. Sorry, but the Assassin’s outfit, while very cool, simply never looked like it belonged in the Renaissance (AC2) or 18th century America (AC3).

 

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It’s also 2012 and most games have lock-picking figured out. AC3 sadly does not. Why they wanted to introduce that mechanic now after 4 previous games is beyond me. You can shoot a gun now. Yes, no more hidden gun (sad face), but now you have a flint and powder weapon. Good luck with it though. The shots are a lot of fun to fire off, but the reload time is probably just as awful as it would be in real life having to pack a ball in a chamber with powder, etc. I guess it’s great it’s so realistic. But maybe they went too far on that one.

Sound and Music:

As always the soundtrack to Assassin’s Creed is very well-written and evokes the proper mood. The naval missions have sailors singing old songs of the sea and you can’t help but feel immersed in that world. The voice acting is hit or miss with some people. Random NPCs tend to repeat the same lines over and over and Connor’s voice actor sounds a little flat and wooden at times. The rest of the cast does a superb job however and my personal favorite was Haytham. The sound effects of cannons, guns, even the bow and arrow (yes!!) sound very convincing and well designed.

 

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Graphics:

I played the PS3 version of the game and while there were some pretty vistas, there wasn’t anything that really blew me away. Not like the first time I saw Roma in AC: Brotherhood or the first time I climbed the highest point in AC2 and looked down. No, you get good graphics, but they’re still on par with what’s already been seen in the series. I do plan to purchase and play the game on PC once it releases on Steam. Hopefully I will see a marked improvement in graphics as I did with the previous games in the series.

 

Conclusion:

There was an enormous team at Ubisoft working on Assassin’s Creed 3. Some parts turned out brilliant and are well-worth the price of the game. However at its core, the gameplay mechanics are just as frustrating, if not more so, than they were in the previous games. There’s an old saying, “Too many cooks in the kitchen”. I feel that’s why AC3 suffers. Instead of feeling like a cohesive whole, the game feels like many very brilliant parts (except the free-running and boring side missions) nailed and glued together by different makers. For fans of the series, this game stands out as one of its best. However, those of us without Stockholm syndrome are finally realizing that the series can be set in the time periods of various cultural and societal revolutions. But that doesn’t mean it is a revolution in and of itself. The series needs a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, now that Desmond’s story is concluded we can see a new Assassin’s Creed on next-gen consoles that sets a new standard for the games to follow.  Concerning the multiplayer, which I failed to mention in the main body of the review, it’s pretty much the same as it was before.  Now you have some new characters and a few new modes.  One is a decent co-op mode called “Wolf Pack” where you team up with friends to hunt targets.  But the basics of the multiplayer are the same as they were before and unless it’s your cup of tea, you should probably pass on it.

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