Review: Assassin’s Creed 3 (PS3/360)
After years of Ezio Auditore in the spotlight it’s time for a new assassin to take the reins. Does he have what it takes to replace the smooth talking Italian?
Assassin’s Creed 3 is one of the most hyped entries into the franchise and everyone has a lot to be excited about. The main story of Desmond is arcing to a close, there is a brand-new assassin, we have a fresh time period to explore that has never been explored to this depth in a video game before; and there are all new upgrades to the game play system. As the first numbered version in a while there is a lot of high expectations that have been placed upon the game, but the question is does it live up to the hype? Answering this is not quite as easy as a simple yes or no, which is a bit shocking to me considering my level of excitement going into the experience. Simply put, Assassin’s Creed 3 is an epic and wide sweeping game with so much to do and see that some of it is almost bound to be sub-par to the surrounding game, and it is. Toss in a healthy dose of glitches and you drag down a nigh masterpiece to what is simply a fantastic game.
This time around you’ll be filling the shoes of the half Native American, half British assassin Connor. Set during the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States of America, the stage is set for some exciting developments. You’ll meet and rub shoulders with names like George Washington, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams as you help them seek their independence. While the story itself is standard Assassin’s Creed affair with cool nods to the best of history without leaving out the gritty nasty details, I found the protagonist tends to drag down the experience. Perhaps it was just me, but I never really connected with Connor in the same way I did Ezio. Overall the character just seemed flat with little emotions shown aside from anger and staggering naivety. Even when showing different sides to himself he comes off like a poorly written cliche.
I kept waiting throughout the game for Connor to come into his own during the experience the same way Ezio grew during Assassin’s Creed 2 into the more mature assassin with more complex issues at hand. I won’t say there isn’t any character development, and I don’t want to go into depth for fear of spoilers, but what is here is incredibly shallow. Another thing that bothered me about the story was the way that Connor was constantly stating how he wasn’t on anybody’s side, but yet murdering Redcoats by the hundreds. True, most times his goals lined up with that of the freedom fighters, but it was all handled pretty poorly. Equally perplexing is that Connor’s Native American heritage also seems to disappear through most of the game, his tribe is there to kick off the main story, but little else.
Where the main protagonist gets less character development your fellow assassins that you can recruit are back, and now each is a unique character within the story with a more developed background. Instead of just being completely random you’ll complete different missions throughout the territory that the assassin resides in until you’ve sufficiently helped them. After a larger more traditional mission they’ll join your motley crew and each brings with them new abilities. One assassin has a marksman ability where they will fire on whoever you choose whilst another has an escort ability that will allow you to bypass the British as if your fellow assassins are your captors. Overall this works well and adds extra depth to your assassins though I found myself rarely using the abilities unless directed. One of the biggest additions to the game is the improvement of free running. Just about everyone has seen our agile assassin in videos moving through the trees branches above unsuspecting victims, and it’s just as fun as it looks. The movement is far more fluid then I remember with my last foray into the franchise and it’s delightful to speed through the trees at a breakneck pace. Leaping across rooftops within towns is much improved as well and less often did I find myself leaping outwards towards something I wasn’t aiming at or running up a wall over and over trying to get the contextual movement to register. Overall this makes for a far better traveling experience that isn’t as cumbersome and frustrating as previous titles.
Speaking of traveling, other smaller, but definitely welcome additions, have made their way into the game; my favorite among them the new fast travel system. Previously you could unlock new fast travels by purchasing them whereas here you run through the tunnels below the city platforming your way to a new fast travel location. Once you’ve unlocked a new fast travel location you can move to it at any time by simply selecting it, regardless of where you are within the city. Also, your days of hunting down pigeon huts to regulate your assassin recruits is over. Now you can simply select them with a quick touch of a button and send them on missions to gain XP. Other such small touches, like the new one touch mission tracker available from the map and the streamlined inventory system, are a nice additions to an already enjoyable system. Combat is vastly upgraded in this newest entry into the franchise as well. Previously you simply would press one button and basically annihilate entire groups of enemies, this iteration requires far more tact and attention to detail. The reward is being able to combo chain through enemies in a spectacular fashion while never really feeling like the combat is one sided, boring, or too easy.
Like in past games where you would upgrade your home you now upgrade an entire map called the Homestead. Gone are buying shops and horse stables and instead a new system is in place where you’ll find blacksmiths, doctors, loggers and others to come live on your patch of land. You’ll often be visiting and getting to know these characters as you trot about doing missions for them: everything from picking flowers to running off deadly poachers. In the course of the game I managed to grow attached to several of the people on my land because of the new system; rather than just a new place to buy weapons you would get a new and sometimes interesting back story of a character to explore. However they come with one very irritating addition: the new trading and crafting system.
Trading and crafting is not only very unwieldy, but the background and training the game gives you on using it is next to nothing. Basically you can build anything you have resources for; usually you can buy these resources from the various people on your homestead. More resources and recipes become available as you complete missions for them and your homestead improves. Crafting rewards you with upgrades to your ship, weapons, items, and even convoys that you can send off to separate stores to try and sell your goods increasing your profits. All of that sounds great on paper, but the way it is presented is just flat out boring and suffers from a poor user interface. First off, if you go to craft something from a recipe and you don’t have an ingredient you have to memorize what it is then go buy it, come back to the recipe and discover oh I didn’t buy enough or I need another kind of lumber too. What ends up happening is you end up either spending way too much time on the system or you give up on it as it feels like a bloated and unneeded addition to the game. If they streamlined the whole process by letting you buy the resource you need straight from the recipe, and not making you dig through tons of menus , it could have been an engaging side activity you could participate on whilst on your Homestead rather than a waste of time. The rewards you get from it often just aren’t worth the time you put in and certainly aren’t needed to make your way through the game.
Multiplayer is something I haven’t experienced much of in the newest iteration yet, but if you haven’t experienced it yet in any form yet you certainly should. It’s a unique cat and mouse game that you just don’t see anywhere else in the over-saturated death-match market. At the outset of each match you’ll choose an avatar and other players will choose theirs. Once the match starts the world is populated with NPCs that look exactly like each player character. You are given a target to kill, which is a certain avatar, and at the same time others are given you as a target. Your job is to balance acting as unsuspicious as possible whilst trying to seek out the one person who differs from all others. It’s an intense and fun mode that can be won with several well planned and timed kills rather than just running around crazily and randomly murdering. This outing they also added a decent co-op mode where you’ll team up with others to complete objectives, it’s a nice break from all the competition, but not the main attraction here.
Assassin’s Creed 3 greatest asset can be its biggest enemy as well: the sheer size of the game. There is just tons to do and see here, from a full-fledged hunting system, the aforementioned craft system, frontier missions, delivery missions, assassination missions: the list goes on and on. Problem is this leads to a massive inconsistency in the quality of different missions. Some of these are just not very fun to play and shows a massive lack of playtesting in some areas. For instance, the new assassination contracts are literally as simple as find guy walking by himself, stick guy with blade, walk off. Other times random missions like taking down a fort can be more exciting than the main story quests with no consistency between them.
More striking is the number of bugs and glitches you’ll run into while playing. To a certain degree I expect a number of smaller glitches to take place within an open world game as there is just so many ways to approach each situation that sometimes it can cause hiccups that couldn’t have been foreseen. However, Assassin’s Creed 3 is inundated with an enormous amount of glitches, and I’m not even talking about just falling through the world or glitching through a person; which both certainly have happened to me. I’m talking more about glitches that make missions impossible to completedunless you go online and find out precisely how to complete it. I had multiple problems with the missions to gain the assassins in particular. Often my contact would disappear from the map and there would be no direction on how to get the assassin to populate. If I hadn’t gone online and looked up the precise place where they were supposed to show on my map and followed that I never would have completed the mission other than completely by accident. Another time I went to find and kill a man eating bear only to do the events leading up to it in a manner that made the mission unable to be completed. Things like this are rampant throughout not only the extra side quests, but even through a few story missions (I’m looking at you Paul Revere).
Reading this you might think that I would greatly dislike the game; on the contrary I think it’s an utterly fantastic game that simply falters under a deluge of bugs and poor play testing. When the game hits the right notes it’s everything I love about the Assassin’s Creed franchise (which I’m a massive fan of by the way). The vistas are utterly gorgeous and free running through them is a complete delight. All the little improvements add up to a more enjoyable and streamlined experience in most cases and the combat is the best of any entry in the series. Stealth is as fun as you remember throughout Assassin’s Creed and even with a boring protagonist it’s still great entertainment playing through a slightly fictionalized history. It’s simply a shame that the experience is dragged down a few rungs by various technical problems, interface issues, and a lackluster assassin lead. Instead of a masterpiece you’ll just have to settle for a great game and a truly vast experience, albeit a sloppy one.