Last night I completed Assassin’s Creed III, the fifth game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise and the third in terms of character and location. My reactions are mixed to say the least, largely positive with a number of complaints… some larger than others. I’m not certain whether my negative feelings have more to do with the game itself or the fact that I’ve plowed through four of the five games in a matter of three months or so and may be experiencing Assassin’s Creed burnout. But honestly, this game is a bit of an inconsistent mess… a beautifully rendered mess, but a mess nonetheless.
The story, like the previous games, ultimately revolves around Desmond Miles, the 21st. century bartender who was dragged into the assassin’s life by his family and the secretive Templars hiding in plain sight as the Abstergo Corporation. His mission is to prevent the end of the world on December 21, 2012 by somehow stopping a huge solar flare from frying the planet, all with the help of the Animus, the device that allows him to take control of an ancestor’s body in the past and relive his experiences in order to find certain hidden objects, and a few “gods”, Juno and Minerva in particular, members of the “first civilization” who befell the same fate we will. This time around, the clock is ticking from October 30, 2012 (the games release date) to the fateful day in December.
This time, instead of traveling to the Crusades or to Renaissance Italy, Desmond finds himself sent back to London in 1753 in the guise of Haytham Kenway, the father of the eventual hero of the game, Connor Kenway… or more appropriately, Ratonhnhaké:ton… he is half British, half Mohawk. You play as Haytham for the first three to six hours of the game, depending on how much time you spend monkeying around with the old man before advancing the story.
Like all the previous installments, you can avoid the main story as much as your heart desires. There are so many side missions and challenges here that you could conceivably play this game for days without ever progressing the story at all. This is both a benefit to the game and the very thing that spoils it a bit… not all challenges are created equal, and some, like feather gathering, are as dull as they were in each of the games prior. Others, like the naval missions, are so fantastic that I longed for more, to the point where I would say that I could play a complete game that had nothing but naval missions… but more on that later.
Spanning the years 1753 to 1783, we cover 30 years, bracketing the Revolutionary War between the colonists and Great Britain. There was some early griping by the Brits that this was a skewed game in that it looked too “pro-American”, but the game does it’s best to show that there are faults on both sides… making some things up, but also subtlety pointing out some glaring hypocrisies, such as freedom for all… except for slaves… and women… and anyone not owning land… and who’s land is that anyway?
The setting is incredible, and the visuals are absolutely breath taking. The gameplay has been smoothed out in a way that felt fantastic coming right off of Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Not that ACR had poor gameplay, it just felt more fluid, much more dynamic, and being able to interact with natural features such as trees and rock seemed to match the more naturalistic way in which everything played out. Even without that natural element, the opening scene when you meet Haytham, an elaborate assassination in an opera house during a performance, was so fluid and believable I stopped myself short of cheering at the screen when I had to calmly make my way out the the theater amidst the chaos of a hunt for a murderer. I have no complaints when it comes to gameplay… well thought out, increased fluidity, better fight sequences and mechanics all around… those were the fun parts.
Other aspects of the game I truly enjoyed were elements that were present in past incarnations but refined for this era and situation, specifically gaining recruits and sending them out on missions throughout the colonies as you wrest control from Templars over to the Assassins. I loved this in the last two games, I love it in this one… especially the French assassin who wields a meat cleaver, Stephane. Plus, getting to meet a number of historical figures like Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, George Washington, and many others is quite a treat.
Also, being able to hunt for furs and meat in order to trade is a welcome addition, even thought I was reminded of Red Dead Redemption more than once. And your weaponry is certainly different. Being able to use muskets, pistols, and my favorite, the tomahawk, was fantastic… and this being the year of the archer, of course he uses a bow and arrows… which he can use while on the run. Like I mentioned before, the gameplay mechanics are phenomenal.
OK… let me quickly discuss the naval missions. On one hand, it makes little to no sense that suddenly you become a ship’s captain… on the other hand, these were the most fun moments to play and if it were a complete game of nothing but these missions, I would gladly spend sixty hours playing them. Again, beautifully rendered, but more than that, it was challenging and different, which is much more than I can say for almost any other aspect of this game. Being able to be in control of a tall ship, use two different weapons, canons and swivel guns, and eventually, different types of shot, raise and lower sails based on need and wind direction… all this conspires to make for some genuinely fun times.
Now on to the less than stellar bits of Assassin’s Creed III… it can be a bit overwhelming. With so many things to do, the sense of urgency or interest becomes a bit lost and you find yourself running around for hours doing very little… and many of the challenges and side missions are nothing more than carrying someone from point A to point B with no challenges in between… or an escort mission where nothing happens. Even some of the Captain Kidd missions, which had great potential, amounted to little more than Uncharted-like climbing and running around until you find the treasure.
But the worst and and most grievous sin is that Connor Kenway, the story’s protagonist, other than Desmond, is a boring wet blanket of a character. Sure, he’s noble and strong… but he’s also humorless and bland. Ezio, hero of the previous three games, was charming, funny, and someone you would not only enjoy hanging out with, but could imagine being the leader of an organization as important as the assassins. Connor… not so much. I don’t imagine I would follow him to the corner store much less up and down the eastern seaboard.
I read one review early on, I believe it was IGN’s review, that pointed out that the game is inconsistent… fun one minute, deadly boring the next. I couldn’t agree more. In addition to the inconsistency of the action, the voice work was all over the place and the animation often got very poor in odd moments, and crystal clear and gorgeous in other times. I don’t know if this was a function of rushing to get the game out or if it is simply so massive, something had to give.
I won’t say that this is necessarily a bad game… it’s quite fun most of the time and I don’t regret spending about twenty hours playing it… but it’s a shame that Desmond’s story couldn’t come to a better conclusion. The Desmond story line was alright here, but I only got to actually play as Desmond a few times, two of which were outstanding moments where you are able to fight or sneak around… and climbing a large modern skyscraper had me white knuckled and sweaty. Sadly, the ending itself leaves quite a bit to be desired. I won’t spoil anything… but I hate it when you are given a choice, but don’t get the opportunity to choose.
There are a number of situations that could be spoiled, so I will end this now for fear that I will delve into plot… but there are at least three moments that got me sitting up and uttering, “oh snap” (ironically of course, I don’t tend to talk like that), and for those moments I would jack up my rating.
In the end, perhaps if I had taken a break between Assassin’s Creed games I wouldn’t have felt so negatively… then again, if I had to wait for over a year for the concluding chapter and got this with all the anticipation surrounding it, that could have been much more disappointing. Whatever your situation, I would leave it up to you to decide whether or not you play this one. I can’t call it a must play game, but if you do choose to play it, I can think of many other worse ways to spend your time. I don’t regret playing this… I just wish it had lived up to it’s potential, and that Connor was even remotely likable.
Sam Adams never offered me a beer,
Cornelius J. Blahg