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Assassin’s Creed III

Assassin's_Creed_III_Cover

I finally beat Assassin’s Creed III two nights ago. Had to stay up until almost midnight on a work night, but I couldn’t stop myself once I knew the end was nigh. I’ve been playing it since Christmas, and I think I clocked in around 30 hours. It’s hard to say when my video games spend more time idling or sitting on the pause menu while I entertain my infant or take care of his needs than actually being played some nights. In that span of time I managed to do an impressive job of clearing out the Frontier, Boston and NY maps. When these new areas unlocked I spent most of my time doing all of the obvious tasks. I also did all of the naval missions. And, since I am playing on a PS3, I downloaded and played the Benedict Arnold missions as well. I haven’t dabbled in the online multiplayer just yet. I may do that in the next couple of weeks. Multiplayer is hard for me because I can’t pause it to tend to the immediate needs of my infant. And I’m really not that great against real life people who have quicker reflexes and have more time to practice and play online.

I’m not going to pretend I didn’t enjoy most of my time with AC3. For the most part, I looked forward to my play sessions. However, there were many aspects of the game that seemed like a step backwards or left me scratching my head…Not including the incredible glitchiness of my experience.

Unlike some other gamers, I thankfully did not experience any game breaking glitches. But I did have some that were more annoying than others. Characters would open their mouths but no words would come out (I always play with subtitles on so I happened to not miss any dialogue in those instances), or vice versa . One night I had a terrible echoing, explosive noise that would drag on for a minute at a time whenever someone fired a gun. I got some annoying desynchronizations because the events loaded before my objective statement did. For example, before I received the “Chase this moron” objective, said moron had already escaped out of my allowed distance. Awesome. It is unfortunate that nowadays us consumers are expected to pay full price for a half-finished product, but I suppose that is a topic for another post.

Before I start nitpicking, I’m going to give my general observation/complaint with the direction the series is going. Ubisoft seems to have taken the “bigger is better” approach. More missions, more fetch quests, more pointless items to collect, even more pointless items to craft to get money that you don’t need for anything noteworthy. Yes, we need more bang for our buck (though I’d rather take a game where my character doesn’t permanently glitch into a floor, forcing me to reload…) but ONLY if it adds to the experience. In my opinion, most of the extra crap they tacked onto this game takes away from being an “assassin.” I mean… what kind of “assassin” belonging to a covert brotherhood walks around New York inviting anyone with a skill to his homestead? “Oh, you’re a blacksmith? We could use a blacksmith!” No, you don’t need a blacksmith. You need a worthwhile pickpocketing/looting incentive. I’d think, as an assassin, when you kill large profile targets, you should be rewarded with their gear and a sack full of pounds. When killing people, you’re lucky if you loot a dozen pounds off of them. Instead, the game wants you using your homestead friends to craft items to trade with merchants via convoys in order to obtain money to turn around and buy weapons, consumables, and maps. Dumb-o. There should have been a lot more kill and stealth contracts.

The other large scale part of the game that reviewers raved about that I find rather pointless is the whole hunting aspect. I really don’t see what killing helpless wildlife has to do with being an assassin or assisting with the American Revolution. Of all the boring realistic things thrown in, hunting was the complete opposite of realistic. You can somehow run up and kill rabbits and does. Wolves, male elks and cougars are “predators,” so when you’re trying to go from point A to point B you’ll be needlessly assaulted by animals who want to kill you just because. Unless it is rabid or starving to death, a wild animal is going to do no such thing, FYI. The only justification I can think of for adding all the hunting was to get the player more in touch with Connor’s native heritage, but I’ve been under the impression Native Americans did not kill animals for sport. In fact, when you play as young Connor I believe he says something along those lines while teaching his friend to hunt. You must thank the animal’s spirit for giving itself up so you may use it for nutrients, clothing, etc. Not killing animals to get on the white people’s good side.

Speaking of Connor and white people, am I being overly cynical for spending over half the game saying to myself, “When the hell is Connor going to wake up and realize all the old white men are just using him?” Because they totally were. Connor’s main objective is to ensure the safety and independence of his people. He isn’t shy in letting anyone know about it, either. Yet somehow he lets himself get talked into doing all sorts of silly things which really only serve to help the Patriots achieve their goals. Like the Boston Tea Party, for example. He lets them convince him it would indirectly result in so-and-so no longer harassing his people for their land because he’d be broke. Riiiight. You don’t need me to tell you that’s not how it ends up playing out, and the whole scenario was a convoluted way to take part in one of the American Revolution’s most historic events.

Aside from talking about saving his heritage from the intrusion of white men, Connor doesn’t have much to do with his Mohawk family. From time to time you can go have a chat with your old friend and clan mother, but after Connor goes to get his assassin training he gets too involved with the revolution and trying to usurp the Templars to effectively stick to his word. He ends up disagreeing with his clan mother and best friend because he thinks he can somehow fix it all, while they’re more pragmatic about their situation. During some of the “Interactive Conversations” (and by “Interactive” they mean you sit and watch the conversation) I was waiting for his native family to be like “Da FUQ you wearing?” I had him all decked out in Captain Kidd’s uniform with the sword, and no one said anything about it. Disappointing.

I was hoping for a bit more from Connor’s character. Granted, I had three games to get attached to Ezio. But even the chauvinistic Italian playboy had more depth than Connor. When certain spoiler-riffic events happen, we’re treated to disappointingly little to no reaction from him. On one hand, Connor lectures Haytham about needlessly killing innocent people, but on the other hand he seems headstrong enough to do whatever it takes to get his revenge on Charles Lee. I’m one of those people who aren’t convinced that it’s okay to slaughter every poor chap wearing a uniform. They’re just doing their jobs, they don’t pull the strings. You’ll spend a lot of game hours being a Good Samaritan and bending over backwards to make your homestead comrades happy. But despite it all the conversations feel hollow, and the bond between Connor and Achilles never seems to develop past the awkward stage. I guess there’s uncertainty as to whether future games will feature Connor or not. If they do, I fear he will be even flatter than he was in this entry. He was a ‘driven by revenge’ character type. Now that he’s achieved his raison d’etre, they’d have to come up with something pretty creative and meaningful to give him the spark he desperately needs.

Now it’s time to nitpick. I’ll start with one of the changes I actually liked. The way you recruit and level up assassin recruits was for the better, I think. I wasn’t a fan of how assassin missions were handled in previous installments: If your recruits managed to fail a mission (and that happened to me a couple of times, even with a 80-90% success rate) they would die, which meant you’d lose all the progress you made with that character AND you’d have to go do a mission to recruit a replacement. When a mission fails in AC3, that character goes into recovery mode and is unavailable for a set amount of time. You never lose a character, because there’s a set amount of assassins due to a more structured recruitment system. There are different tasks to perform (called “Liberation Missions”) in the districts of Boston and New York. Usually once you succeed this task 3 times, you speak with your contact in said area, perform another mission, and that contact joins your merry band of assassins and also grants you with a new Call Assassin ability. At this point you’ve also liberated that district from Templar control, apparently, even though it certainly doesn’t feel like it because the soldiers are still everywhere and will chase after you if you so much as smirk at them.

The assassin abilities you unlock, as well as the weapons and distraction devices Connor gets, never apply to enough situations for me to get much use out of them. I got the Guard Escort assassin ability WAY too late in the game (This is sort of a side note, but I couldn’t figure out how the heck to get back to Boston because, unlike NY, there isn’t a fast travel icon on the stupid map like I assumed. Thankfully there’s Google and other dumb gamers who aren’t afraid to ask questions on the internet). But aside from Marksman, I couldn’t be bothered figuring out how to get the other abilities to work to my best interest. Like Smoke Bombs and Trip Mines. I tried luring guards around corners into Trip Mines a few times. Either they walked completely around the damn thing or I got blown off my feet as well, so I stopped trying. The games don’t really reward you for experimenting and thinking outside of the box, so I stick with what works. Therefore, the battle system gets stale rather quickly.

With pretty much every enemy you fight, you can apply a simple formula to kill them. Counter/Attack or, for the trickier guys, Counter/Block Defense + Pommel the crap out of them. That’s it. They threw in a Human Shield ability which is cool when you can get it to work. And the death animations are as gratifying as ever. Outside of that, the fights in this game were pretty predictable. A Rope Dart weapon was added as well, but it’s shining moment is when you can hang people with it which you can only do if you’re in a tree or on ropes suspended between buildings–again, situational.

The AI for guards in this installment was one of the biggest set backs for me. I felt the same as I did while playing the first AC game. Frustration, mainly. You can’t look at them sideways without getting chased. As you try running away, they’ll tag every one of their friends who seem to be stationed on every corner and roof. Effectively running out of their sight and hiding took more time than stopping and killing them all. Their AI seems backwards to me. They’ll stop to investigate the hay bin you’re hiding in if they’re in chase mode-and Connor will jump out without being commanded to do so, starting the chase all over. BUT-if you are incognito, hiding in a haystack and decide to kill a guard with your hidden blade, I don’t care if there are a DOZEN guards standing around, they somehow won’t notice. Doesn’t make much sense to me. They also have dogs that will bark at you and alert their masters if you have any notoriety.

I found the quickest route to be killing all the guards I initially aggroed by making the mistake of getting on a rooftop to collect an Almanac page, then stopping by a herald or printing press (another neat addition) to bribe them. You can remove Wanted posters as well, but they aren’t as prevalent as in the other games, so save yourself time and do the bribing instead.

I really hate how walking on rooftops gets the guards after you. It has always been a pet peeve of mine in these games because of a few reasons. It is the quickest way to travel without weaving around street corners and pushing past crowds of people. You also can’t get away without climbing on rooftops if you want to collect the Almanac pages floating around. Once you get close enough to an Almanac page, a mini chase sequence triggers. If it blows away you have to try again later. Chasing after one of these things is severely annoying if you aren’t incognito because you’re guaranteed to catch a guard’s attention (and the attention of all his buddies) while you’re running across rooftops in pursuit of an errant piece of paper.

Did I mention I strongly dislike chase sequences in this game? You’d think, being on the fourth home console installment, they would’ve found a way to avoid making your character do the total opposite of what you want him to do. As all the other games, you’ll call Connor a moron because he’ll insist on climbing a building when you really just wanted him to run around the corner. You can also climb the sides of cliffs and such in this game while exploring the frontier, but the rocks you can and can’t grab onto all look rather similar to me. Thankfully, most of the time you aren’t timed while doing those sorts of things. The most frustrating chase sequences are on horseback. Riding a horse is not even worth it half the time. Unless you stick to the worn down paths, your horse will often get stuck on seemingly nothing, or refuse to jump over some rocks or fences, or just stop moving period. Actually, that happened when I was controlling Connor a few times. He’d come to a dead stop and just press himself against a wall or fence for no discernible reason. The block would be perfectly climbable, because I’d turn around and get a running start and have no issue the second or third attempt.

Oh, and did I mention that I had to restart a Homestead Mission twice because the stupid characters I was supposed to be escorting decided to not get on their horses, or their horses would get stuck on nothing too?

Because I hate the chase sequences, the creators decided it would be a great, epic end to finally killing the enemy you spend the entire game trying to get revenge on. Really? A stupid chase sequence? He gets a great running start, and if you get pushed by ONE of his cronies you’re screwed and have to start over. Then, after you chase the jerk down through a burning building, you don’t even get the gratification of ending his miserable life. It’s all via cutscene. Very anticlimactic.

Fast travel locations still exist, but to unlock the bulk of them in Boston and NY you need to spend time wandering an underground maze doing puzzles. Sounds like the complete opposite of “fast,” I know. I cheated and used my walkthrough which had a map, the locations, and how to solve the puzzles. Even then, it still took me half an hour to an hour to unlock them all. I didn’t dislike doing it, because they were fun in a way, but it felt more like an optional task I should’ve been rewarded for with money or weapons… Not being “rewarded” with the ability to accomplish tasks without spending all my time running back and forth. Even after you have all the Fast Travel locations unlocked, during some missions you aren’t allowed to use them. The developers seem to think you haven’t already spent an ungodly amount of time exploring the nooks and crannies of colonial America. I think every mission marker should be a Fast Travel spot. The viewpoints and collectables should be the only things you walk to on foot. Another Fast Travel thing that irked me was traveling between different maps. In certain locations when you click on a marker to take you to a different city or to the frontier, it doesn’t actually put you in said location. The game drops you in front of the marker. Then you have to walk into it, and AGAIN tell the game you want to go there, effectively sitting through two load screens. Call me impatient, but it drove me nuts.

Another bittersweet addition in this game were the naval battles. Connor becomes captain of the Aquila, and you can partake in naval fights to remove Templar influence over the seas, secure routes, and uncover the secret of Captain Kidd’s lost treasure. Pretty neat stuff and a nice change in pace from the rest of the extra missions. Don’t make the mistake of doing every available mission in a row like I did. The cumbersome controls and slow pacing will start getting to you. There’s swivel guns and cannons available for weapons. The swivel guns don’t do much damage against other large vessels, you need to wear them down with cannon fodder first, then you can exploit an exposed weakness with a swivel gun if you so desire. The swivel gun controls are easy enough. But in order to fire your more powerful cannons, the ship has to be positioned in a certain angle with the enemy ship, and turning the bulky Aquila around gets to be rather time consuming. I also wish it was possible to cancel out of cover. To reduce damage taken from enemy fire and rogue waves, you can hit a button to take cover. When you do so there’s a set amount of time before Connor picks up his head and you can issue commands once more. I found myself hastily pressing the cover button then sighing while waiting for Connor to stand back up. Or, as was most often the case, ducking cover over and over again because I was going up against 5 or more ships. Once I got some upgrades for my ship I was able to shrug off the attacks and make them wish they hadn’t messed with me. It’s quite ironic that upgrading the Aquila was the only feature I spent a significant amount of money on, yet when you do the naval missions you don’t get much monetary compensation. In comparison to some of the other additions to the series, I’m willing to give the naval battles a positive nod. At least they let me kill things instead of being reduced to a mail courier. No, I’m not exaggerating.

The graphics, music and voice acting certainly didn’t feel like an upgrade from the last AC game. In the beginning sequences when playing as young Connor, I remember saying “Those leaves look cell shaded!” A reaction I certainly never had while gazing upon the beauty of previous AC backgrounds. A lot of accents were terrible, and Connor’s performance felt flat and forced at times. I rather liked Achilles’ voice, though. The city background noises and environments were pretty good, but not as interesting as Italy. The music (or lack thereof) is completely forgettable, and in a game that should have impressive immersion, it is disappointing. The modern day characters all offer the same performances we’ve come to expect.

The modern day plot got pretty ridiculous, to say the least. it certainly signifies the end of this AC arc, though I highly doubt Ubisoft will be giving up their primary cash cow anytime soon. It does pave the way for a powerful potential villain, but makes the whole Assassins versus Templars struggle null and void. Yes, the ultimatum Desmond was given did suck either way, but it seems to me he spit on his Assassin predecessors with his decision. I just knew they couldn’t put a fork in the now “done” franchise, because that would be graceful and wouldn’t allow for them to continue milking it. I’ll keep my other opinions on the ending to myself to avoid spoilers. The interwebs have plenty of AC3 ending synopsizes and speculations already you can delve into if you’re interested.

In closing, I’m also going to suggest you do yourself a favor and watch the Zero Punctuation review on AC3: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/6516-Assassins-Creed-3 I usually watch his reviews for fun because he is rather merciless, but in this case I agree with most of what he says. Now it’s time for me to move onto Assassin’s Creed: Liberation!

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