June 2021
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Review: Assassin’s Creed III

C+C Music Factory, for those of you too young to remember, was a dance-pop group in the early 90’s that had a few hit songs. They were formed by 2 producers, and the original idea was that they would swap out the actual members of the group every album so that only the producers would remain the same and the previous artists would theoretically go on to have solo careers – hence it would be a “music factory”. *insert groans here* The Assassin’s Creed series is the C+C Music Factory of gaming. The original idea was that each game would feature a new protagonist in a new time period, with the modern day story serving to tie it all together. So how did that turn out for them? About as well as it did for C+C Music Factory, unfortunately.


The new protagonist, Connor

In Assassin’s Creed 3 you play as Connor, a half Native American who is inducted into the Assassin’s guild primarily to take revenge. I won’t go into too much depth with the story to avoid spoilers, but the parts that deal with Connor and his father are the most interesting, even if that story line does end up having a somewhat weak resolve. There are a few twists and turns as you go along as per usual. I guess I should actually say you play as Connor *most* of the time, since the game starts out with you playing a different character entirely and you don’t actually get to play as adult Connor until around 5-6 hours into the game. Some have bemoaned the slow start, but in my opinion this “prologue” section is the best part of the game.

Also, as in the previous games, you occasionally take control of Desmond, the modern day guy who is involved in the overarching sci-fi plot of the game that I dare anyone to make sense of. His segments boil down to be an annoyance in-between the “real” game, but this really isn’t anything new. I’m not even sure why they keep pushing the Desmond stuff on us, unless they felt they were committed to it and couldn’t find a way to back out of it. No one cares about his parts of the game – even Ubi Soft themselves, who never feature Desmond or the modern day story in any promotional footage of the games. The story of Desmond more-or-less wraps up at the end of this game, but that ending is just as bad as the rest of his story. Think “SyFy movie of the week” and you’re on the right track for the type of schlock you’re in for.

Desmond & Co.

Not a single living person cares about these people

The gameplay in Assassin’s Creed III is all over the place. This is primarily due to the fact that it feels like three different games glued together. Game one is the modern day stuff with Desmond, which is both dull and frustrating. Since you’re supposed to be in the “real world” with him – aka not in the Animus, the digital whats-it that lets him relive his past lives in a simulation – you have no goal indicators or directional markers when playing as him. This means there’s a lot of wandering around trying to figure out where you’re supposed to go. Thankfully, his segments are the shortest parts of the game.

Game two is what I’m going to call Assassin’s Creed proper. It’s the story missions you play as Connor, which primarily take place in either Boston or New York. You do traditional missions such as assassinations, eavesdropping, chases, etc. in cities that while not as grand as those in past games still serve the same general purpose. This part of the game is slightly better than Desmond’s portions but still not incredibly fun. Combat is a very clunky affair, consisting of mainly two buttons – an attack and a parry. When facing small groups it’s cumbersome but manageable, but the game loves to swarm you with ridiculously large numbers of enemies, often unendingly. In these situations your best bet might be to run, but getting out of sight and finding a hiding place is equally difficult thanks to the number of enemies and the fact that hiding places no longer show up on your radar. It quickly becomes preferable to avoid combat if at all possible, but a good number of the missions require it of you. Even worse, this makes the cities not fun to explore because any little thing you do sets off the guards.

Boston circa 1776

Boston circa 1776

Another problem is that missions are often vague. One mission in particular which involves chasing someone down had me stumped for quite a while. You could not catch up with him and you couldn’t get too far away or the mission would end. I thought at first that you just had to keep up with him until another cutscene triggered, but then I found out that he just continues to run in a large circle. So then I tried shooting him, but this also caused me to fail the mission because you can’t kill him. I finally looked the mission up online out of frustration to find out that you have to take an alternate path that keeps you close enough not to fail but still puts you in front of him – something the game never gave me any indication of. This is indicative of most of the missions in the game. You’re often presented with vague goals and there is often only one right way to reach that goal. But since the game won’t tell you what that is, there ends up being a lot of trial and error until you stumble upon what the developers had in mind. I don’t recall these problems, or at least not to this degree, in either Assassin’s Creed II or Brotherhood (I didn’t play enough of Revelations to say).

The third game is the best by far, but it’s also sadly the most pointless. The frontier is simply a joy to explore. Everything is absolutely gorgeous here, and running through the trees is a lot of fun. You can hunt animals, explore, find forts to take over and complete challenges. This is probably the part of the game you have seen the most if you have watched any trailers, and with good reason. This is where the game truly shines. The heartbreaking part is, none of it really has a point. Hunting gets you skins & other animal parts which you can sell, but money is by and large pointless in the game. You can buy new weapons, but the ones you start out with are perfectly fine – there isn’t the same feeling of progression with your equipment as there was in the past games. You can also build up your Homestead, but again this serves little purpose in the overall game besides just giving you something to do.

AC3 ship

Arrr, there be no assasin’atin on me ship you landlubber!

I’m going to include the naval battles in this portion, because if I remember correctly there are only 2 story missions that have you doing this. They are every bit as fun as they look, and it’s a shame they weren’t utilized more. I really got the impression that the frontier & naval battle portions of the game could have been made into their own non-Assassin’s Creed game and they would have been much better for it. They never seem to fit well with the main game.

Technically the game is also mixed. There is an incredible amount of detail in almost everything you see. It’s clear a ton of effort was put into the historical aspects of this game, and it’s easy to get lost just looking at the scenery. Time of day, weather and seasons change throughout the game.  All of this is handled with a fantastic eye to realism, with little details such as characters struggling to walk through thick snow.  The naval battles were perhaps most impressive to me, the way everything on the ship moves with the waves and the waves themselves are almost mesmerizing. Where the seams start to show, quite literally, is in the cutscenes. It was very common to see seams in the character models and textures flickering in and out. This is very distracting and pulls you out of the experience. The lip syncing is also off at times, and in at least one cutscene a character spoke quite a bit and never opened his mouth. Voice acting is very well done across the board, with the possible exception of the native language. I say possible because I’m clearly no expert on what it’s supposed to sound like, but to my untrained ears it came off as flat and monotone, as if someone was reading it.

There are also a fair amount of glitches in the game. The horse is one of the worst offenders, it would get stuck on almost anything and there were several times I had to abandon it and go on foot because I could not get him out of the spot he was in. There were also other odd NPC pathing issues and random glitches throughout the game.

Connor & Washington

Connor & Washington

What makes this game hardest to review is the fact that it has flashes of brilliance. There are parts of this game that, when taken by themselves, are absolutely fantastic. But the individual pieces don’t fit together cohesively to make a solid whole. There’s no real incentive story-wise to do the side stuff, and your Homestead feels so isolated that there’s no real draw to build it up. If I love being in a game’s world then I need very little reason to do side activities, but I simply did not enjoy the overall world of AC3. Also, for many people Assassin’s Creed IS Ezio, and Connor just doesn’t measure up. But that can be said for the game in general – Boston and New York are interesting, but they aren’t nearly as fun to explore as the dense cities of past games. Missions don’t seem as well crafted. Equipment upgrades are far less interesting and necessary. And side content isn’t integrated nearly as well. Basically, this game falls short of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood in nearly every aspect that matters. Much like C+C Music Factory, switching out the characters & setting in AC3 produced a worse product than before.

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