Learn history through stabbing!
Assassin’s Creed 3 is disappointing. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game, but it’s below expectations. This console generation Assassin’s Creed has probably been the franchise that has shown the power of current-generation technology. The animation, the settings, the freedom. The series has told a story that is grand in scope, and has interwoven real history into its fibre. As a whole, the series is a real accomplishment for Ubisoft, one of the few publisher developers who have come out of the last few years relatively (ignoring the DRM issue) unscathed by financial or legal woes. But sadly this entry is a misstep, it’s a weak (supposed) end to an impressive trilogy (in five parts, Douglas Adams would be proud).
The graphics are still impressive for the most part. Environments are detailed and interesting, and the opening level is breathtaking. Sadly the 360 isn’t quite up for the job and low framerates and odd visual glitches abound. A lot of these are fairly immersion-breaking and that’s one of the biggest problems with the game. Often you’ll be sprinting down a street after a messy assassination and you’ll begin to see people literally falling from the sky. Or at least three feet in the air. Many of these glitches have since been fixed with a recent patch but releasing an AAA game with this many problems was a big mistake. Many gamers like myself bought it on release day, and finished the story over the first week. All the campaign bug fixes in the world can’t change what was a disappointing experience for many.
Gameplay wise it is much the same as ever. There’s a lot of new bells and whistles (such as hunting and a grappling-hook style gadget) but they really do little to change up the formula. The combat has always been satisfying to me; being able to chain kills and carefully counter attacks from a large group is one of the series’ strongpoints, and it remains intact here. Some of the new counter animations are particularly impressive, and also unusually brutal and gruesome. If two enemies try to attack you at once you can counter with a move that kills both of them and that provides a real high point to the fights. Essentially all the new features are just window-dressing and do little to change the feel of the game.
That change comes from the mission structure. No longer are you constantly building up to an assassination, able to spend time planning and preparing before striking. Instead your are hand-held through a series of story-based events, with very little in the way of agency on your part. You have to follow people, attack people, and occasionally climb things. These are disguised as events with a real historical backdrop (which is incredibly interesting and something I know very little about) but the Boston Tea Party becomes a defence mission, large scale battles become turret missions, there’s nothing new here, just old ideas performed in an incredibly generic way.
The one new addition that is very welcome (although underused) is the naval combat. Commanding your own ships isn’t the on-rails experience many predicted, it is a real arcade naval combat game and it’s awesome. The graphics shine in these sections, and everything has a satisfying physical vitality that brings a smile to your face as you tear apart frigates and men of war. You have choices in how you approach your battles, and upgrades to your ships can make a real difference. A full spin-off game based on these mechanics would be an absolute joy and I’d go pick it up immediately.
The few times the game does give you any agency you can break the game fairly seriously. Before I even became an assassin or became affiliated with the Patriots, I was raising their flags in forts that I had taken over for no good reason. I would constantly refer to people I hadn’t met or use gadgets I didn’t have, even on my player model. The first time you kill a bear you use your double wristblades, but you don’t actually gain those until much later in the story, so it looks like your just kind of touching it to death, like an evil version of the horse whisperer.
The multiplayer is very similar to the previous games. It works well enough when you have people playing properly, but all too often it descends into a fancy-dress game of tag. With knives. Connection problems persisted all through the first week and even finding games can be difficult. I’ve never really enjoyed the multiplayer in this series and if you did you might find something new to enjoy here.
In terms of a finale to the series, it did provide some kind of closure, but there is definitely room for expansion games and the inevitable mainstream sequel. The story takes a number of twists and turns but is ultimately unfulfilling and laborious. Characters do things that make no sense just to move things along, and new characters are introduced then killed off just as quickly. Other than perhaps two standouts, the new cast is entirely forgettable, and that includes Connor. He doesn’t have the same charisma as Ezio, nor the stoic chivalry of Altair. He’s just a slightly stupid kid who seems to enjoy murder. It’s hard to play a lengthy game as a character you can’t connect with and by the time the credits rolled I honestly didn’t care what was happening with him.
As a fan of the series since the first game, this was a huge disappointment. It’s still technically a decent game, and elements of it are amazing. But it’s not what it should have been and more than one aspect of it feels unpolished. Maybe Assassin’s Creed just isn’t a novelty anymore, or maybe the new character was a mistake, but basically this game isn’t as fun as the others, nor as interesting. That’s a real shame.