Assassination. The art of killing. I’ve always found the idea fascinating, in a morbid kind of way. The amount of finesse involved in the technique of the assassins most prevalent in history dates back to the times of the crusades. The traditional assassin’s guild was eradicated by the Mongol empire, but it’s still an important part of world history. There is a certain state of mind one has to be in, and an entire physical art to be mastered, to kill with finesse and perfection, covering one’s tracks as they go. To the list of great assassins in history, we can now add Ubisoft. Ubisoft is an assassin. Not of people, but of time. Assassin’s Creed III silently slaughtered 12 hours of my life that I will never get back. I mourn those hours, and I want revenge.
Assassin’s Creed III opens with promise. Colonial-era America is an area we have barely ever seen in video games, and the idea of extending the fiction of the Assassins and the Templar to this new frontier was truly exciting. That excitement, however, leaves the airport before getting on the plane, and what remains is a boring, jumbled, downright unsatisfying experience.
Although the game is shown starring Connor, a half-British, half-native America assassin, the game begins placing you in the role of Hatham Kenway, the man who becomes Connor’s father. In itself, this start to the narrative would be fine, serving as both a tutorial and a healthy dose of context, but here it lasts for about the first third of the game. By the time you’re done with Kenway, you think “okay, time to jump into Connor’s shoes and start the real adventure”, only to be slapped in the face with ANOTHER hour of tutorials. These tutorials could be paced out much more quickly, but the real problem is that you’ve already learned almost everything actually relating to the combat by the time you step into Connor’s story. Once you enter what is meant to be the main story of the game, there is no sense of advancement. No new skills to be earned along your way. The new things you learn as Connor are all part of the sailing and hunting minigames, which are innocently pointless at best. The hunting serves virtually no purpose, and loses its appeal before the tutorial for it has a chance to complete, and the sailing is slow and clunky. Luckily, it’s only forced upon you three time throughout the game, leaving it as an optional the rest of the time.
What I’m getting at here is a problem that began to rear its ugly head in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, and came to its pinnacle in Revelations. It is a problem that I am far from being the first to sound off on. Although it’s slightly less prominent here than in Revelations, the fact remains that Assasin’s Creed III has lost its focus. It used to be a game about killing people with all the skill of the most masterful of assassins. Now it’s become more concerned with involving you with as many significant historical things as possible, in an effort to make you feel more “connected” with the world of the game. Ironically, III has made me feel more disconnected than anything, and not just through the non-progressive gameplay.
Although colonial America is a great setting for a game in theory, the political wars of the time butt their way into Connor’s story in all the wrong places. You’ll find yourself roped into significant historical events in virtually every single sequence, from Paul Revere’s midnight ride to the battle of Bunker Hill, and an eye-rolling number of other examples. The inexplicable need to shoehorn these events into Connor’s life at every turn add to the games overall loss of focus. Desmond’s story is actually the more interesting part of the game, and manages to deliver the bigger payoff.
Now, here’s the funny thing. All of these things don’t make Assassin’s Creed III too bad of a game. Flawed, yes, but still enjoyable. It’s just an extremely poor example of what this series used to be. There are a couple truly fun parts of the game, despite the rambling nature of the game. Leading a strategical raid on Boston Harbor was really cool. But these couple moments are exceptions to the rest of the game, which is a campaign to connect you to a story that comes off as boring and far too political.
The gameplay still manages to retain its charm, but shows more than a little age here. The jump button is removed completely, forcing you to auto-jump whenever you run up to a wall. This leads to a lot of Connor not going where you want him to go. The colonial cities aren’t very interesting places to explore, losing a lot of the grandeur from the large-scale cities featured in previous titles. The frontier is very pretty and leaping through the treetops has a bit of exhilaration to it, but even this is flawed. If you want to make quick tracks through the woods, you’ll need to ride horseback, which is where the game becomes glitchy almost to the point of unplayability. On top of this, the game becomes more about running around to meet checkpoints than anything else.
All in all, Assasin’s Creed III is a frustrating mess of a game in a once-great series. The cities offer no bounty of exploration, and the former goals of the series are lost amidst a storm of politics, forced minigames, and Samuel Adams is a jerk. A couple moments still deliver a fun experience, but are way too few and far between. Non-progressive gameplay, extremely slow first few hours, and some truly awful level design in the game’s final sequence hamper what could have been a much better experience. The game still presents some fun points, and an enjoyable experience for newcomers, but what makes it fun isn’t what made the series fun in the beginning. It feels like Assassin’s Creed isn’t itself anymore, and I’m not very confident that it will ever return to what made it strong to begin with. If it made changes to improve upon the original gameplay, we would have at least a more commendable effort. But the new elements introduced have nothing to do with what the series was built upon.
Available for: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed) and PC; Publisher: Ubisoft ; Developer: Ubisoft ; Players: 1; Release date: November 30, 2012; MSRP: $59.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of the game that was purchased by Hey Poor Player.