Assassin's Creed 3 Review: Rotten Apples
The Assassin’s Creed series is among the darlings of this generation of games for me, with the first title in the series breaking completely new ground and really bringing a feeling of “freshness” way back in 2007. AC 2 and Brotherhood have undoubtedly been the high point of the series, but with the announcement of Assassin’s Creed 3 Ubisoft looked set to stem the feeling of annualised stagnation with the biggest entry yet. A new setting and protagonist, new gameplay mechanics and a break with the Ezio storyline looked set to completely reinvigorate a series that already had a shocking amount of lore under its belt, and Ubisoft looked ready to fulfill the potential of one of the most ambitious and exciting trilogies in recent times.
The story of Assassin’s Creed 3 follows directly on from the ending of Revelations, and if you have not played all the games in the console series then you will certainly be missing story beats, despite the effort 3 makes to fill players in on what has happened up till this point. Desmond and the modern day assassin’s are still on the run from Abstergo and locked in a race to save humanity from a deadly apocalypse, using the animus to find the locations of the treasures they need to access the ancient vault. To do this Desmond taps into the memories and experiences of a new ancestor: Connor. A native American and son of an English nobleman, Connor certainly had the makings of one of the most compelling protagonists in the series, but unfortunately this is not the case. Connor is a dry and relatively uninteresting character, lacking the sheer charisma of Ezio or even the doctrinal devotion of Altair, and as a result he just falls flat. He has one emotionally impactful scene in the entire game, but beyond this I felt little attachment to the motives or plight of Connor as a character, and as he is the lead role for the game this is a serious problem in a series that had 3 games driven to success by the strength of Ezio as a lead role. The game also puts players in the role of Haytham Kenway, a predecessor of Connor and a far better character, but we only control him for the opening chapters of the game.
Outside of the animus Desmond is as plain and uninteresting as ever, with that story floundering ever since it failed to make good on the demise of Lucy. Answers are finally provided regarding much of the mythos of the series but frankly I found them all unsatisfying and the ending of Desmond's story in particular to be grievously insulting. Many people were in uproar at the Mass Effect 3 ending, but I feel that the conclusion to Assassin’s Creed 3 is far worse as it not only leaves players without any kind of satisfying ending to their interaction with this series but it also fails to draw the events that have taken place up to this point to a conclusion. It is pathetic and poorly placed, feeling extremely abrupt and pretty much exemplifies the lack of harmony between the modern setting story and the historical drama that has wracked the series since Brotherhood. It feels as that the relationships that the characters rely upon to develop are never fleshed out, and interactions never hit the notes they are clearly meant to as a result. Connor and his mentor Achilles get a lot of attention, but I never got a sense of a significant connection between them in contrast to Ezio and Mario. There are just so many missed opportunities for a better story throughout the narrative that it is painful to watch at times.
The visuals of the game are strong at a glance, with great scenery, a faithfulness to the setting and a crisp appearance to everything in typical Ubisoft style. Animations for characters are still among the best in gaming, and the colonial setting is fantastically mixed between urban areas and a wild frontier that reminded me of Red Dead Redemption. The seasonal changes bring snow to rural settings in a beautiful way, and the water of the game is stunning, which is fitting for the visual highlight that is the naval battles.
However, there are a host of small yet niggling graphical glitches that interfere with the beauty of the whole thing. Janky animation locks interrupt the near flawless on foot characters for the first time in my experience of this series, the horses are especially affected by this as they often get stuck on terrain in the environment, and pop-in is rife. Lip synching is also all over the place, which is very disappointing for a game of this calibre and profile. Finally, the colonial America setting is inherently less interesting or impressive than Renaissance Italy and Constantinople. Wooden buildings and manors are lovely, but they pale in comparison to the edifices, castles and cathedrals of past Assassin’s Creed games, and though this is an inherent part of the setting I still found it disappointing.
As for the audio, the voice acting is generally fine. Connor is uninspiring but Haytham and Charles Lee are fantastic, and the supporting cast all do their jobs admirably. Unfortunately the music is lacking in Assassin’s Creed 3, and the absence of Jesper Kyd has left a gaping wound in my view. The soundtrack is serious and grim constantly in Assassin’s Creed 3, completely lacking the exciting, haunting and often chilling work of Kyd. To put it simply, the soundtrack of Assassin’s Creed 3 is just background noise while the work of Kyd in the previous Assassin’s Creed games was nothing short of iconic, and Assassin’s Creed 3 doesn’t even approach its brilliance. This was a huge letdown for me personally as the music is a huge part of this series for me.
The game plays the same as Assassin’s Creed has always played, with the same combat fundamentals, use of projectiles and mix of stealth with straight out combat. Some of the additional stuff from Revelations has been eliminated, but I have to say that I did not enjoy actually playing most of the sections that Assassin’s Creed 3 throws the players way for a number of reasons. Firstly, the combat has been so overshadowed by the likes of Arkham Asylum and City at this point that I find it unbelievable that Ubisoft are content to leave it in its current state. Its stodgy, lacks weight and just doesn’t work all that well with its lack of tactical depth and plainness. Kill-cam animations are added for flash, but combat is still too hectic and lacks the enjoyment that I get out of games that are just better for their combat.
The free running and exploration is also falling behind, with its plethora of control issues and frustrating busywork. Infamous, Sleeping Dogs, Arkham and other games have all surpassed Assassin’s Creed when it comes to making it fun to run and jump over things, and something needs to be done about this badly. Similarly, the series has always alluded to have stealth elements, but Assassin’s Creed 3 easily has the worst stealth segments of all the AC games. Its broken thanks to the strict mission parameters that result in instant desynchronised if failed in any way. Bad camera angles, unclear enemy line of sight and poor controls all contribute to this, but in my view a game that is incapable of implementing decent stealth should not force stealth missions onto the players.
AC3 has far too many linear and scripted segments, including a painfully long 6-8 hour tutorial before the game really gets going. The early missions are boring and the pacing is a mess, and without spoiling anything the chase sequence towards the end of the game is a perfect example of what not to do in a game. All that said, the naval battles are spectacular with great controls, and exhilarating sense of power and excitement, and overall are by far the best addition to the gameplay in AC3.
The multiplayer is back and seems to be more refined and fun than ever before, with a lot of value to be gotten from it. However, I have never been interested in the multiplayer segments of AC, and so I have not played much of it and can’t really comment too much on its overall quality.
Design wise Assassin’s Creed 3 has numerous problems, but they all boil down to one clear source: the game does too much. It feels like 3 games in one: The prologue, the rise of Connor and the modern day setting. There are simply too many mechanics running alongside each other and making the game a lumbering mess. The interface is sluggish and poorly designed, with a horrific weapon selection system and a pathetic mini-map. The fast travel system is a welcome addition but is implemented inconsistently, and the way items are selected is just bizarre.
There are also a lot of technical problems besides the ones I mentioned already. Loading screens are rampant, with abrupt transitions from the end of a fight to a cutscene, music cutting out and long pauses in the middle of dialogue. The game also does not look all that good in motion, with some poor lighting and artificing effects that are plain shoddy for a top level game. There are also scripted sequences like chases and infiltration missions that keep players on far too tight a leash, desynchronising them if they take a single wrong step. It goes against intuitive gameplay and is my single biggest gripe with the AC series at this point. There is a huge amount of side activity to do, but none of it is fun or interesting and as a result I avoided it as much as possible.
Finally, it feels to me that nothing in Assassin’s Creed 3 works all that well. Running is laggy, climbing obstacles clunky, fighting is hectic, shooting takes too long and lacks impact, targeting your movements while scaling trees/buildings is a disaster, the list goes on. It really feels like the game lacks a single core mechanic that it does well, and this is a serious issue what resulted in a lack of engagement for me personally.
Assassin’s Creed 3 is jaw dropping in its scope, but it tries to do too much at once, and as a result manages to do nothing to the extent that it deserved. The fundamental “assassinations” are still great, and I love the short conversations that Connor has with each of his targets after mortally wounding them, and the naval battles are nothing short of truly fantastic. The design flaws with Assassin’s Creed are the real problem here, and they are more apparent because of the sheer amount of things that AC 3 tries to do and the lack of cohesion between them. There is a lot of unnecessary clunk that gives me the feeling that the series is floundering with a lack of vision. The narrative of the game is also deeply disappointing overall. Though still worth experiencing for followers of the series to see the conclusion. Assassin’s Creed 3 could, and should, have been a powerhouse gaming experience, but because of a lack of direction it is merely a decent game. It has a huge amount of content, but I think that Ubisoft should think about the creative direction of the series and refine the mechanics before farting out another annualised release to further diminish what I considered a gold standard brand. It worries be that before I even managed to finish the singleplayer campaign after getting the game at Christmas the next game, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag had already been announced. In conclusion, Assassin’s Creed 3 is good but its potential is spoiled with poor design and weak story elements.
- Loads of content and variety
- Strong sense of style and attention to historical details
- Sea battles are nothing short of stunning
- Bugs, glitches and inconsistend design
- Weak music compared to the rest of the series
- Unsatisfying story with an awful ending
- Actually managed to balance the British-American viewpoints in a Revolutionary War setting
- 5/10 - Average