Game Review: Assassin’s Creed 3

I haven’t been very, well, creative lately. I’ve had things I’ve wanted to write about, and then just not got around to them. I’ve been busy, but I could have made the time. It got to the point where I told myself “Just write something. Anything.”

So I present my review of a video game that came out several weeks ago. The plus side here is that I’ve already finished it so I can comment on the whole experience.

As the name implies, Assassin’s Creed 3 is the latest in a series. It might be a bit harder to infer that it’s actually the fifth one. Assassin’s Creed was (apparently) always envisioned as a trilogy, with the last one to be released shortly before December 2012. However, since the first two games enjoyed such great (and well-deserved) popularity, and there was a two year gap between the second and third installment, the second one had two sequels of it’s own

Back in 2007, I had just got my Playstation 3. I didn’t get it for videogames. I got it to watch blu-ray movies.The format wasn’t sure to win out yet, but I figured I could always sell the Playstation if blu-ray died out. But since I had a Playstation, I decided to get some games. One of them was the first Assassin’s Creed game.

It was the first game I got that I actually enjoyed, and really the reason I kept on playing videogames.

While it was released in 2007, the events of Assassin’s Creed take place towards the end of 2012. Well, more or less.

In the game, you take on the role of Desmond Miles. You have been kidnapped by an Evil Corporation and forced to relive your ancestor’s lives by use of a machine that can read Genetic Memories. When the first game starts, you don’t really know why they chose you, or what their looking for, or what their goals are. Each game (in the major 3 releases) focuses on a different ancestor of Desmond.

All of which have something in common – they were all Assassins.

I don’t mean they walked around murdering people. They were part of the historical Order of Assassins. I’ll spare you the easily-googled details (and reality) of this order and just say that for the purposes of the game they don’t kill innocent people, so they’re technically good guys. They can also climb buildings with all the agility of Spider-Man.

In the first game, Desmond explores the life of his ancestor Altaïr, who lived in the Middle-East during the Third Crusade. The game was criticised for being somewhat monotonous and repetitive, with the same side-quests repeating themselves. I, however, loved it. The scope, graphics and general atmosphere were phenomenal.

It turns out that the bad guys are trying to find something called a “Piece of Eden” which can help them control all of mankind. It further transpires that Desmond’s ancestors might know where this device is hidden, as they had access to it in the past. Altaïr, in the first game, retrieves this piece of Eden and then hides it.

In the second game, Desmond is rescued by the current-day Assassins. He then voluntarily uses a much better version of the memory-recreating machine to relive the experiences of his ancestor Ezio Auditore, who lived in renaissance-era Italy. The idea is that he’ll absorb the Assassin skills along with Ezio, and therefore a lot faster than he could learn them in real-life. In this game we discover that the Pieces of Eden were created by a precurser civilisation to our own, and that ancient humans stole the Apple of Eden and used it to fight them off. We also learn that the world is going to end in December of 2012, and that the Ancients foresaw that Desmond would be able to use the pieces of Eden in order to stop this.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations further follow Ezio’s life, with the scale of real-world adventures growing somewhat each time. We learn more about the whole world ending stuff, and more about Desmond’s own early life.

Which brings us to Assassin’s Creed 3.

As I said the events of the previous games all take place in what is essentially the present – or rather a month into the future. This game takes place in and during revolutionary America, and in it Desmond relives the life of his ancestor Ratonhnhaké:ton. Ratonhnhaké:ton is half-Indian, and since nobody can pronounce his name he goes by Conner.

Being half-Indian with an unpronounceable name myself, I sympathise. Even if I am half the other kind of Indian.

At least that was what was advertised before the game was released. When it starts, you find yourself reliving the life of one Haytham Kenway, a British citizen who is almost immediately sent to America to search for an Ancients site.

Now I took an almost immediate dislike to this guy. He’s kind of a jerk.

I should go back and mention that when you start reliving Altaïr’s life, he’s kind of a jerk. The first thing he does is disobey every single rule of the Assassin’s brotherhood because, frankly, he’s just cocky. He learns his lesson, though, and spends the rest of the game redeeming himself.

Ezio also starts off as a jerk, but more because he’s still very young. He immediately has reality crash down on him, and almost instantly starts growing into a good and decent (if homicidal) person.

Haytham Kenway, though, is already an adult, and clearly already an experienced Assassin. But he’s just a jerk. Something about him just rubbed me the wrong way. Also he has a stupid name. It was very obvious that he ends up being Conner’s father, and I couldn’t wait to get to the point in the game where you get to be Conner.

One of the things I didn’t like him is that he didn’t have The Walk.

It’s probably better if you youtube some gameplay videos, but all the previous Assassins you play have this walk. Kind of like a hunter stalking their pray. A bit cat-like. Haytham did not have it.

However, a plot-twist early on makes all that make sense.

Then you get to be Conner. Who does have the walk. At least when he gets to be an adult.

Which means that, 1,000 or so words in, I can get to my review of the actual game.

I can’t say I loved it. Not as much as the previous games, at any rate. It just occurred to me that starting the game with that really annoying character might’ve coloured my perception. That and the fact that this game is very, very buggy. More on that later.

Assassin’s Creed 3 was created by a different team than the previous games. While some elements remain the same (you’re still climbing buildings, hiding in hay bales and assassinating people using a hidden blade), some things are very different.

After three games in Renaissance-era Italy, revolutionary-era Boston and New York are somewhat dreary. For one, there are not as many really tall buildings to climb. However, there are several forest areas. In these, trees take the place of buildings.

Starting with the second game, you needed to make money in order to get better armour and weapons, as well as improvements to the towns and cities you operated in. This took the form of a steady income, which you had to go and collect at certain locations every now and again. This changed with Assassin’s Creed 3. You still need money, but you can no longer generate a steady income. You have to actually work for your money. Early in the game, the most efficient way of doing that is by hunting. While it is somewhat… humorous that rather than hiding on top of buildings and plunging down to assassinate a bad guy, you now hide in treetops and plunge down on unsuspecting bunnies, I can’t say that I love the whole hunting aspect. But so long as it’s just a game (an fairly often the animals you try to hunt can in fact hunt you back, damn bears) I guess it’s ok.

Climbing and free-running have always been a cornerstone of the series. Again, there’s a lot of wilderness/forest areas in this game which is new. One thing did bug me a bit though.

One of the things you had to do, starting with the first game, was find viewpoints. This is the highest building in a given area, which for some reason houses an eagle’s nest. Climbing to the top of these would synchronise your map with the area so you’d know what object/objectives exist in that part of the map.

You still do that in this game, only a lot of the viewpoints are tall trees rather than buildings. Now, in the previous games you’d occasionally have a point where a lot of the tall buildings in a given city were pretty much exactly the same. That isn’t unreasonable, though, since it’s possible they just used the same architect or whatever to build a few church steeples or towers or whatever. What makes no sense is that in this game there are a bunch of exactly 100% identical trees. And they’re really annoying to climb, too.

One thing added in this game are naval missions, in which you get to captain a ship. These are absolutely fantastic. I wish there were more of them.

Another high point, for me, were the real-world missions, where you actually control Desmond. You get to do three of those, and, again, I wish there were more. They were fairly epic. During the “memory” segments, Desmond is basically interfacing with a video game, which explains why you can call up a map, why enemies have red dots next to them, and so forth. I found the way the real-world missions were handled, where you still had all the abilities but none of the videogame extras, to be a lot of fun.

Although since there is so much more Desmond in this game I have to note that I found it somewhat disturbing that he looks a bit like my brother. More of a hairstyle/skin-tone/body-type thing than anything, but still.

I was having a decent amount of fun with the game, but at some point I just got tired of the side-quests and focused on the main mission. I assumed (correctly) that I could always go back and do the rest of the side missions later, if I liked. Which means I got to the ending.

There are two endings, really. There’s Conner’s storyline, and then Desmond’s.

Conner’s… well, it was OK. I was a bit annoyed, though, by how much of the ending is a Cinematic. That is, you don’t actually have any control and just get to watch. There are certain actions that, yes, that’s exactly how you’d want them to play out, but I’d like to be the one pushing the buttons.

As for Desmond’s, and the entire series’ end… I’m a bit underwhelmed. I definitely don’t want to spoiler it for anyone, but really, it seemed a bit… well, there’s closure, but I’d have liked a bit more… defiance, I guess. There’s something in there that seems like it’s trying t be a bit of a twist ending, but sadly it lacks originality.

Now, a word about bugs.

This game is very, very buggy. There is a patch being released soon that’s supposed to fix a lot of them, and it’s a HUGE patch. I’ve played a lot of games by other studios that can be counted on to mess up on a regular basis, but Assassin’s Creed have always been fairly stable for me. Not this one.

It didn’t really crash a lot, but occasionally I’d start a side-quest, and it would just… vanish. There are quite a few side-objectives that I just could not complete because of this. There are entire areas of the map that I can’t synchronise. There are people I’m supposed to talk to that just aren’t there. It’s very annoying, and sadly I don’t feel the desire to go back and get all that done now that I’ve completed the main storyline.

Oh one more thing. Conner’s life takes place before and during the American revolution. As such you meet many historical figures from that era. Sadly the only one of those I’ve heard anything significant about is George Washington. I’ve heard about many in passing, and I’ve heard of events like the Battle of Bunker Hill, but it didn’t have as much significance to me as it might to someone who’s learned about them since they were kids.

Plus I got the feeling all these revolutionaries were just using me. But I guess I’m wrong since everything worked out fine for the native Americans. Oh wait.

Actually that part is addressed fairly well in the game. There is a fairly poignant moment… this is a semi-spoiler. It’s after the main quest is complete, after the revolution is won. Conner is watching on as the last of the British leave American soil, while a crowd is yelling “Death to the oppressors!” at them. In the background, Conner notes, is a slave auction. The flawed nature of Humanity is probably one of the overlooked (and consistent) points of the series.

I didn’t enjoy this game as much as I enjoyed the previous game, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. That one just had a lot more emotional context for me. But I still did enjoy it flaws and all. And hopefully most of those will be fixed soon, and I’ll feel like revisiting Revolutionary America. In the meantime I’ll be back in outer space. But that’s a different story.

Which also has a 3 in it.

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