Monday, April 1, 2013
Review: Assassin's Creed 3
Question - what is your favorite thing about the older Assassin's Creed games? If you say the assassinations, then you, my friend, will absolutely hate this game because outside of a heavily scripted sequence that'd give Valve and Infinity Ward penis envy, you hardly ever assassinate people, nor is there an ounce of satisfaction from assassinating on the two or three occasions that you do get to assassinate people. If you say the story, then you'll probably dislike this game because it has garbage pacing and a main character who is so boring, Marge Simpson would look at him and go "damn, that's boring". So what's left? Umm... the pretty graphics? Well, they certainly kept the part where it looks pretty to a point where they top Assassin's Creed 2 with some better textures and smoother colors. Whoop dee fucking doo! Like a lot of sequels released in the year 2012, Assassin's Creed 3 coasts on the glory of its progenitors while delivering an uninspired, mediocre experience that can be better summed up by saying "well... it's in the same series as Assassin's Creed 2". I'd say this is like Dragon Ball GT, but besides not having the same directors as their predecessors and being inferior to said predecessors... they're not that similar. I mean... I actually enjoy watching Dragon Ball GT, flaws and all. Sure, Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z fucking annihilate it, but eh, GT has its charm. Meanwhile, Assassin's Creed 3 has all the charm and grace of an obnoxiously fat guy doing a big fart in the middle of an elevator.
Speaking of obnoxious, Assassin's Creed 3's story starts off rather slowly. In fact, it seems to have about the same sort of pacing you'd expect from Naruto where it takes like 60 episodes to do what anything else - from 26 episode animes to any western show - would have done in about a quarter of that time. You'll start the game in the year 1754 as Haytham Kenway, who assassinates a guy in a VIP seating at an opera house and takes a medallion, which happens to be a key to a temple's inner chamber. The modern day plot happens to take place in this temple, but I'll get to that later, let's just stick with Haytham for now. From there, he boards a boat that takes him from England to America. After doing tedious errands for about three hours, the plot re-emerges as he rescues some Indians from a slave trader, learns that the medallion isn't actually the key to the temple but only its inner chamber, and develops a relationship with one of the Indians... I think. It's hard to tell because it seems like he treats her more like a colleague than a romantic interest. After a couple of hours, in comes a plot twist that'd make you go "aww shit" if you even had the energy to muster in order to mutter those words after spending most of the first five hours doing tedious errands and tutorials, occasionally doing something worthwhile.
But the torture never stops, my friends - you'll gain control of Ratonhnhaké:ton, the son of Haytham and the Indian chick he "developed" a relationship with. From there, you'll be subjected to ANOTHER FUCKING TUTORIAL by finding his friends before his village gets attacked by a Templar known as Charles Lee. You guys remember Charles Lee, right? That disgraced general who... wanted to be a commander but didn't become one because George Washington was the far better candidate. Later on, Ratonhnhaké:ton engages in yet another tutorial - one that's just useless unless you want to get 100% because you never need to hunt during the main quest except for this one part. After another hour of play, Ratonhnhaké:ton gets a message from one of the aliens that he is to be an assassin. Then he seeks out Achilles to become an assassin, which then has him participate in EVEN MORE TUTORIALS GODDAMMIT I'M OVER THESE THINGS ARRRGH. At about the eight hour point, Ratonhnhaké:ton - who is renamed Connor so that it's less likely he'll get a lynching - is finally an assassin, and for the next six or so hours, he takes down certain bad historical figures who dare to keep America under control of England and Indians under the white man's control.
Yes, for eight gruelling hours, you'll have to set up the assassinations to come while you do tedious errands and tutorials. Eight hours of not assassinating somebody outside of some set piece in like the first couple of minutes, and then six hours of rushing through each assassination because they went "oh shit, we gotta make the date before the supposed apocalypse, we can't have overly long cutscenes to set up each assassination". I've also noticed that there are parts that seem all chopped up, like they had intended to add in parts here and there if they didn't have to rush to make some arbitrary deadline. But it's not just that - it's also the fact that they spent so fucking long on setting up an overarching plot that wound up being forgotten like halfway through the point during which Connor is an assassin, taking down those evil nasty people who threaten the independence of America. What it basically amounts to is "kill these people because the game said so and the history books say that they're bad people". While I'm on the subject of American history, it feels like each character was presented like some dry version of what you read in your year 9 history textbooks. There's nothing resembling an interesting characteristic in George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere. They're just.. there, existing for the sake of existing because hey, the other games have historical figures! Furthermore, it feels like a glorified tour through history as you go through all these events like as if they're exhibits in a museum, rather than them all being tied together in a cohesive knot. If this review seems incoherently tied together, heh, it's still better tied together than the second half of this shitheap of a story.
All of this brings up something I really miss - where in frontflipping fuck is the war between the assassins and the Templars? It's hardly there in Connor's story. In fact, it's only really there in name only. Like, I get that the assassins eventually became extinct and the Templars rule everything with an iron fist, but I assume that anything resembling exposition for these important details were lost when Ubisoft rushed this out the door for the obligatory November release date because that's all you get. "Oh, the assassins are gone and the Templars rule everything". No shit, that's it. Okay, let's waste everyone's time setting up plot points that are dropped like babies from pregnant housos, but let's not even attempt to give one seventh of a shit about anything actually important that is not only a pretty big plot twist, but actually ties the fucking games together - oh, but we'll tie them together by keeping this grade school science fiction shit about solar flares and aliens and 2012 being the end of the world in Desmond's story. Funny enough, that's all Desmond's story is - aliens and world going boom unless he accesses Connor's life through the Animus to find the secret to humanity's salvation. Trust me, you'll love the ending for one thing it does, and hate it for being really anticlimactic.
Assassin's Creed 3 is what happens when the series takes a joyride with Ninja Gaiden and Hitman to 1313 Lobotomy Lane - the formula is still there in a sense, but the execution isn't quite there and anything resembling nuance and/or a good sense of uniqueness is practically gone. There's still the basic idea of skulking around cities and doing various missions that'll lead up to the assassination of one of the big targets while making sense within the context of the story at that point. Whether you run to certain points and await further instructions (sometimes without being detected) or tail somebody who may know something, there's a semblance of immersion to be found, but not much. You can still do some free running to find vantage points to map out an area, and there are additions like hunting and naval warfare, but while it can all add to the immersion of any game to be able to do what you want when you associate things with actions within reason, it just doesn't feel right within the context of it being an Assassin's Creed game. As its own entity, I could see this being at least a decent set of events and mechanic ideas for a game, but I don't know, just having these things doesn't mean it's automatically a good game, nor does it make one worthy of the Assassin's Creed name and a refreshing breath of fresh air after two superfluous entries that marked the grave for said name. All it does... is just make Assassin's Creed 3 feel like it coasts on the Assassin's Creed name.
Before I continue to shit on this game, there are some good things about it. One thing I've criticized the first two games for is the combat. Before, it was slow and clunky. Now, it's fast, vibrant and feels more natural. Basically what you have to do, is press the circle button when you're about to be struck, and then either press X to disarm them or press square to wail on them. No need to hold the guard button and press X these days kids. Also, the redcoats seem to be a bit smarter by attacking more in droves than as singular units. Now you have to *gasp* pay attention to what's about to ruin your day. The combat is still easier than a pre teen hillbilly, but at least Ubisoft ironed it out. On another note, I was ecstatic that with muskets and trees, there'd be more emphasis on ranged combat or using the trees to your advantage. Nope, not quite. I mean you can use a bow and arrow and a rope with a pointy thing at the end to make their daily walk through the forest more painful, and you can jump from a branch onto them with your hidden blade dealing a killing blow, but you could also go up to them, maybe take a hit from a bullet if you're far enough away, and then wreck them. They're only remotely tricky if they have guys with swords distracting you while they line up their shots, and even then... you can simply restart from the last checkpoint that's like 10 seconds away and make sure to cleave them in the face, forcing them to use the pointy end of their muskets instead of being able to shoot you. But again, I at least appreciate the fact that Ubisoft ironed out the combat because it was easy to see it being a big thing in the game and I'd hate to use that clunky piece of shit system from the other games.
Another cool thing is naval warfare. You set sail for the vast, open oceans to fire your cannons at redcoat ships, collect their stash and there you go. There are two storyline missions that require you to do this, and needless to say, they're easily two of the better ones out there. You'll have access to swivel cannons that are operated with one shoulder button and a group of bigger cannons operated with another shoulder button. Swivel cannons are used against smaller ships, which you aim using the camera; the big cannons are used against big ships and are more in line with what's 90 degrees either left or right of your ship. The only means of defense is to call for your men to lower themselves down and you'll take half the damage you'd normally take if you don't call for them to duck. Sounds simple enough, and you know what, it's a hell of a lot a fun because of its simple approach to warfare! There are some nice little effects like wind, rainstorm and waves that affect the ships' movement and even interfere with cannon shots, which can turn the tide of battle in a different direction to what it'd be without these weather effects. This also helps to immerse you into each battles as it looks and feels real. Terrain also affects battle as crashing into islands can damage your ship... it can also damage the redcoats' ships, so cornering them towards islands could prove to be helpful. Really, the only issue to be found is that this is mostly optional content. There's nothing resembling assassinations here - just some good old fashioned team deathmatch between teams of boats that only sneaks into the storyline by way of making trips to other parts of the world. That's a minor nitpick of a very fun aspect of the game.
Finally, there were a few fine, fine moments. There's one moment where you have to listen in on a couple of guys talking about their war and political plans while keeping yourself hidden on a rooftop. From the moment they stop talking, you have to get back down to ground level, snoop around and kill some redcoats without anybody knowing. Another moment has you rushing through a battlefield, making sure not to get shot while you make your way to the target. Moments like this manage to get the adrenaline pumping as you rush through from cover to cover, making sure you don't die before your target. Another moment is when you're infiltrating a boat while making sure nobody noticed you. Now, there are a few moments involving this, but the last one in the game is where it gets it right by having you shimmy across boards while eavesdropping on conversations through windows, all the while sneaking through and around cargo so that the redcoats don't spot you. The final chase scene is also pretty good as, like with the battlefield scene, adrenaline is running through you to make sure you catch the guy without the burning building taking you with the burnt wood. If this didn't have the Assassin's Creed name, it was shorter and there were more moments like this, I'd be quick to say that this is one of the best games of 2012. Instead, these moments are few and far between, serving to disappoint you further when you go through tedious “walk around town” moments and engaging in combat that's easier than the high school slut, among other moments that, try as they might to do otherwise, are just boring due to how little risk there really is as well as how small the challenge is. You can breeze through a lot of this game and get nothing out of it except for regret that you've wasted so much time trying to beat it.
In reality, this game is a very, very splendid case of one that goes through the motions. Ubisoft went through the motions making this game, and goddammit, I went through the motions playing it. There are other sorts of sidequests to engage in, but after a while, I was more than willing to shove my private parts into a meat grinder than to engage into a time waster. See, while sidequests serve as a fun distraction, they're also a means of extending game time, and given that I'm more than willing to place my head inside a lake of fire than waste any more of my time playing this sack of shit than I need to, the sidequests were simply not worth the time. Then again, what I did experience either had me hunting for certain animals (which really consists of laying down traps and bait or stalking them in the treetops) just for a few pounds (money), killing a certain bigger animal, escorting some guys to certain areas, taking over forts and collecting almanac pages. There's also a homestead, where you can develop new items, send out convoys and earn riches beyond your wildest dreams. Folks there give you missions after you find and rescue them like fetching items and ambushing their enemies (usually redcoats). All for what, a couple of pounds, which I can use to purchase hunting equipment and some extra shit that I really don't need anyway? You can seriously beat the game without anything more than your tomahawk. So really, sidequests are just there so you can rack up achievements. None of them outside of naval warfare is particularly engaging anyway due to the fact that they basically hold your hand. Like I said, it ties into whether you want to elongate your experience with the game - not much point in extending your session with a game that just isn't very good, especially one whose sidequests barely have any ties with the main game or any rewards worth reaping the "benefits" of.
The big thing, however, is actually assassinating your targets. It honestly feels like you're just stealthily taking them down because hey, it says “Assassin's Creed” on the cover. I mean, the only assassin-like thing Connor has going for him is his agility, but given the massive overhaul of combat not to mention the fact that every single fucking redcoat and big bad historical figure in this game can be taken down all the same, there's hardly a need to go in for stealth kills unless the mission arbitrarily fails you for getting noticed. See, the only reasons you'll bother to be stealthy range from “because the mission fails if you get spotted” or there's an optional objective that tells you not to get spotted, and you guys know how I feel about optional objectives in a game that's not even good to begin with. Other than that, you're more likely to assassinate some random redcoats than folks like Charles Lee as you can simply wail on him with your tomahawk and wind up progressing through the game once the redcoats stop chasing you down. Now, yes, you can do it the stealthy way, but... would you really want to? Admittedly, Assassin's Creed never had the best stealth mechanics in the world, resting somewhere above Metal Gear Solid and every game's stealth segments but below Thief and Hitman, but at least there were ways to utilize their environments to use stealth in a way that makes it fun and exciting, yet give off a feeling of tension. Altair and Ezio weren't exactly combat aficionados and the staggered combat mechanics made being spotted undesirable, especially early on in their respective debuts. Meanwhile... ooh, Connor can hide in conveniently placed tall grass, around corners of conveniently placed tents and in hay stacks that just so happen to be there. But hey, what if there aren't any means of covering up bodies within a short radius? Whoops, you're fucked! Well, you would be if Connor wasn't so strong that he could win in a two on one handicap match between Chuck Norris and Rambo while kickboxing with bengal tigers and taking breaks to impregnate your mother!
That's something that really drove me insane while playing this game. What further drove me to want to just finish this so I can see how my should've-been-favorite series “ends” is the fact that it only really applies to like a couple of your targets. Those few at least have area designs that can be utilized for a stealthy approach to their demise. Everybody else... nope, effort was clearly not in Ubisoft's dictionary during development of this game – the 2012 apocalypse was upon us and dammit, we don't want Ubisoft to look like idiots who rely more on some shitty sci fi story than a boring retelling of America's history with some half black guy in a hood hastily shoved into it because why not. A lot of the time, the assassinations will either consist of inexplicably slamming them in the face or watching some flashy cutscene where he jumps down and plows a musket down their throat. While these scenes look “cool”, what feels more satisfying is when you can immerse yourself into the experience via the use the environment in a variety of ways that you see fit and surprise your target with a bladed kebab or a literal stab in the back with grace and subtlety – after all, this is called Assassin's Creed, no? Not Errand Boy's Creed, nor Sandbox Game With Shit Story? Now, excuse me while I play the first Assassin's Creed and immerse myself in the well designed levels that allow you some liberties with your methods of assassination, or the second to immerse myself into a story that's great!
It's really a waste of time to delve into graphics and sound design because Assassin's Creed is normally known for having strong production value for the most part anyway. But hey, let's dive into it anyway by mentioning that Assassin's Creed 3 looks great, has detailed textures, runs smoothly for the most part (I've noticed some framerate issues when too much is going on in towns or on the outskirts) and the animations are mostly hypnotically smooth. The townsfolk still look a bit muddy, but when the landscapes and main character models look exquisitely detailed, it's a minor problem. The soundtrack STILL does little for me – it doesn't really make the subtle moments any more subtle, nor is it exciting when it needs to be. It's just there, really. I don't mind listening to the songs on their own on Youtube or whatever because they don't sound bad, but for the sake of ambiance, it does nothing, and memorabilia is nowhere to be found either. It's just big for the sake of being big. The voice acting is mostly good, especially Connor's – it perfectly suits the fact that he has literally no personality whatsoever by sounding robotic as fuck, even more so when speaking his native Indian language. But for legitimately good performances, everybody else manages to sound the part with a lot of bite behind them and all that.
Wow, I don't usually get into this much detail whenever I review a game – instead preferring to talk about parts of games that stick out to me and itemizing why they're good or bad - but it goes to show how much this game disappointed me because all of this shit stood out to me. Assassin's Creed 1 had great ideas but not quite with the rosiest of executions, while Assassin's Creed 2 is a fine piece of work with a captivating story and mostly excellent gameplay. I love those games and all Assassin's Creed 3 did was serve to make me more grateful for them because it's so incapable of making you out to be a real assassin. Instead, you're an errand boy who'll occasionally be a ship commander and maybe sometimes be an assassin. It's all tied to the plot, which is so poorly thought out that it never really sucks you into the story. Whether it moves at the speed of a tectonic plate or sails on waters choppier than Dragon Ball Z's animation, it never, at one point, even allows you to give a shit. In short, this game is crap. I've made the point before that if it wasn't tied to the Assassin's Creed name, was shorter, had better plot pacing and had more cool moments, this would be game of the year material. Instead, it drags the tedium on longer than this review and will entice you to play the older games as a palate cleanser.
Same time next year Ubisoft?