13 November 2012

Assassin's Creed 3 & Series Review

Before I played Assassin's Creed 3, I decided to replay the first two games and speak of my experience with the entire series as a whole. I can't speak for the quality of any internet online play as I don't play online. (Warning: Some spoilers for all Assassin's Creed games follow...)

- ASSASSIN'S CREED: Okay, I admit the side quests in this game are repetitive but a good story and interesting visuals carries it through and the mechanics of leaping from rooftop to rooftop and up the walls was a whole lot of fun for me. Despite its repetitiveness, I still enjoyed replaying this.

- ASSASSIN'S CREED 2: Improves on the original in almost every way, great environment for a game, interesting to look at and explore, and it features a very strong and likeable protagonist and support cast for Desmond. Speaking of which, Desmond doesn't get a lot of story in this one but that's okay because Ezio Auditore's story is far more interesting anyway. The ending does tend to dismiss Ezio a bit as the story's focus goes back to Desmond for the final scenes but still this is overall, my favourite of the series and definitely worth checking out even if you haven't played the first game.

- ASSASSIN'S CREED: BROTHERHOOD: Now, unlike the first two installments, I didn't replay this or Revelations before playing Assassin's Creed 3, partly because I didn't want to be burned out too soon. But I have played Brotherhood through a couple of times before and I can say that I didn't enjoy it as much as 2. One of the main reasons for this was the introduction of the Full Synchronization gameplay mechanic... let's just say I HATE IT, HATE IT, HATE IT, HATE IT, HATE IT!!!

From this game on in the series, with every mission you do, you receive a score depending on whether you did certain things in a certain way or within a certain time limit, etc. You can complete these optional requests or ignore them, but if you ignore them, you are subjected to an obnoxious red coloured 'FAILED FULL SYNCHRONIZATION' message that made me feel like I failed the entire mission even when I succeeded.

I wouldn't have had as much of an issue with it if you could turn the mechanic off but since you CAN'T, it's extremely annoying to me and rather demoralizing after beating a tough mission only to get that 'FAILED FULL SYNCHRONIZATION' because I didn't finish the mission exactly the way the game wanted me to.

The second reason I hate this mechanic is because it hurts my overall immersion when I'm constantly reminded that I am, in fact, playing a game. Finally, one thing I admired about previous Assassin's Creed games was that how you went about completing an assassination was entirely left up to you with a variety of methods and approaches to use. Forcing you to do things a certain way or be subjected to the RED TEXT OF FAILURE destroys the feeling of complete freedom I had in previous games.

"Nothing is true, everything is permitted... but if you don't do it our way, you obviously SUCK!" ^_^;

- Now there were a few new elements added to Brotherhood, but for the most part, it felt more like an expansion than a sequel, despite its length, and near the end, I just wanted it to be over and done with as opposed to 2 where I couldn't wait to replay it and discover new things.

- The new Assassin Recruit mechanic was fun for a while and it was cool to see the ceremony that make them full fledged assassins but the whole mechanic gets too repetitive after a while and got more streamlined and pointless with the next two Assassin's Creeds.

- To be fair, Desmond's story does pick up more in this one and his supporting cast continue to be entertaining. There are a few exciting sequences for Eizo such as the chase through the church roof and he finally get to use an Apple to kick some ass, but ultimately, it wasn't enough for me to replay this title again.

- ASSASSIN'S CREED: REVELATIONS: I only played through this game once and frankly, that was enough. While I appreciate the fact that Revelations brought some closure to Altaïr and Ezio's stories, and gave a little more background into Desmond, the sequences on the beach with Subject 16 were just painfully dull and Ezio's world had more than worn out it's welcome by this point. Again, it tried a few new things and this time most of them were a complete bust. The bomb making was completely pointless, the vertical Tetris sequences were just stupid and punishing. Finally, the hook mechanic just seemed out of place somehow and I'm not surprised they dropped it.

And now we come to the latest game in the series...

- ASSASSIN'S CREED 3: We have a new ancestor for Desmond and a new setting to play in. For all my griping about Ezio's story and Italy getting old and tired by Revelations, he was still an interesting character and great fun to play as so any replacement for him would have their work cut out for them.

So we're introduced to Haytham Kenway, a well-spoken yet menacing character in a similar vein to Altaïr from the first Assassin's Creed. We follow this guy for the first few chapters, which has a slow and deliberate pace, too slow at times for my personal tastes, but it serves its purpose as we get to know the character or what we think we know of him.

Then abruptly there's an admittedly cool twist with Haytham that I didn't see coming, and before you know it, we end up getting introduced to a whole new character named Connor to play for the rest of the game. You know, cause that idea worked SO WELL for Metal Gear Solid 2. ^_^;

Now granted, Connor isn't nearly as whiny or annoying as Raiden but his character is so straight and rigid, it was hard to take him seriously and it hurt the story a lot. If there's one word I could use to describe Connor, it would be STIFF. You could argue that because English isn't his first language it would make sense that his English sounds stilted and wooden but if that's the case then it still hurts the story because it makes it nearly impossible for me to get into his character when he sounds like such a tool. Some of Connor's interactions with famous historical figures makes him seems more like Forrest Gump than the assassin he's supposed to be.

I honestly wish we'd stayed with Haytham for the entire story as playing a character from his point of view instead of the Assassins would've made for a compelling story and given an interesting and fresh new twist for the series.

Desmond is almost as bland as Connor, though that's the usual MO for him, and he's outshone once again by the supporting cast, especially Shaun who is undoubtedly the funniest character in this series. We are introduced to Desmond's father, William, voiced by John de Lancie, but unfortunately he isn't given much to do with the role. After one tense argument with Desmond early on that turns physical, he apologizes and... that's pretty much it. He mostly just stands there saying stuff like 'We have to get back to work' and expressing regret for being a bad father. It might have been more noteworthy has Desmond not met the fate he did in the game. Honestly, I felt it was kind of a waste.

- One thing I've always enjoyed about the Assassin's Creed series was the historical settings they took place in and the Revolutionary War, while not quite as interesting to me as the Italian Renaissance, is still compelling. The vast amount of detail and historical content given to you is amazing, especially with Shaun's hilarious snarky editorializing and blatant pro-British bias with his descriptions of various people, places and events. However, if you're not a history buff like me, you'll probably be unimpressed if not bored to tears by all the educational content here and it may be a bit too much for some people's patience if they prefer action above all. Also, I have to say that I was disappointed by the music in this game, especially compared to Jesper Kyd's scores in previous titles.

- Another thing that I'm seeing more and more that has me concerned and disappointed is the continuing trend of dumbing down sequels to popular game series in order to appeal to the widest possible demographic. Assassin's Creed 3 dives into this trap headfirst with simplified yet awkward controls and gameplay.

One glaring example of this is the Assassination Missions. In previous Assassin's Creed titles, you were given a mission to kill someone, the reason for the killing was explained to you in detail. Once the mission starts, you first had to track the target(s) down with your Eagle vision in a yellow circle and then you usually had to overcome some extra difficulties such as getting to the target behind a row of guards or killing them without being detected and/or you had to kill them within a certain time limit. It made for challenging and enjoyable gameplay.

In Assassin's Creed 3, you're told to kill five people. No reason is given other than they're Templars. You go to each target and... you kill them. No searching an area, no guards to get past or time limit to beat. You just kill them and you win. That's it. It's easier, yes, but it nowhere near as fun.

- Another one is combat, which is smoother and more dynamic than previous AC titles but a bit too easy at the same time once you've learned the enemies patterns and it won't take long, believe me. You can easily defeat almost any enemies you face right from the get-go and there's no armour to buy and very little variety in decent weapons. I ended up buying one sword and using it for the rest of the game along with my standard assassin blade. I think I fired my musket two or three times the entire game, and one of those was during a tutorial. The interface, despite being simplified, is more clunky than previous games as well switching around several of the controls that I'd gotten used to in previous AC titles and it just seems unnecessary.

- One of the new elements introduced in Assassin's Creed 3 is hunting, although really it's been done before in games like 'GUN' and 'Red Dead Redemption', though I will give AC3 credit for letting us SKIP the skinning animation unlike RDR. You investigate clues that enable you to determine if an animal is in the area to hunt, though really if you wander around these spots, you more often than not run into these animals casually sauntering by anyway.

You can then either be methodical with your trapping or just try to run them down and through with your blade. Some of the animals fight back, resulting in a quick time sequence to defend yourself or put them down. You skin the animal and sell its various parts for cash or for a scavenger hunt mini-game. I guess it does it's job and maybe it's just I have little interest in hunting animals but I lost interest in it quickly.

- Naval Missions were one of the best new additions to Assassin's Creed and I wish more had been done with it as it was a blast commanding my own ship and having sea battles blasting ships into splinters in both calm and rough weather. I was a little confused as to why I didn't earn any money for most of the missions though but regardless, this was my favourite new addition to the series and I hope this type of mechanic can be used again in future AC titles and expanded upon, rather than dumbed down for a change.

- Homestead Missions were just sort of there, not bad but not really interesting either. The characters were too one dimensional to get attached to with the exception of Achilles. Completing their missions gives you resources which you can buy and sell for money but I couldn't figure out how to get that mechanic to work for me more than once. The in-game manual provided is sketchy at best and needed a lot more fleshing out. Apparently the historical data got top priority. ^_^;

- Assassin Recruiting Missions the same as previous two AC titles except even more streamlined with no armour or weapons to buy and no ceremony when an assassin reaches his peak. It's just busywork, like most of the side missions I found.

- Abstergo, despite us being told over and over again in previous games how powerful they are and how they virtually control the world as it is, seems so bush-league, especially here. The character of Warren Vidic has always come off as a middle management villain at best and yet he continues to be the face of Abstergo and makes them look weak and pathetic.

I realize there was a reason why they were keeping Desmond alive for a while but once it was clear that things had gone wrong, Vidic should have called in death squads with machine guns and attacked the Assassins with everything they had. Instead we get more generic useless security guards with pistols that might be able to kill Desmond if you stand still long enough, not to mention the fact that they were using these pistols against Desmond earlier in the game BEFORE Vidic gave them authorization to kill him. Oops. ^_^;

- But even more pathetic than Warren Vidic is the newly introduced character of Daniel Cross. We are told that Daniel was a former Assassin turned Templar who nearly wiped out the Assassin Order in the past. However his best days are clearly behind him as when you meet him, he's a drunk screw up and virtually no threat to you at all, even armed. This may be a more original concept for a villain but it doesn't exactly make him a compelling adversary, especially when very little is told of him overall and you kill him later in the game almost as an afterthought. Honestly, he seemed more like filler than anything else. Maybe future DLC will explain him better but I really don't care at this point.

- Getting back to Desmond, his final confrontation with Vidic, while admittedly awesome from a badass and poetic justice point of view, was just so simple in its resolution that it was ridiculous. Likewise his final fate at the end of this game was almost comical in its casualness. The conflict he is confronted with is tense and compelling, make no mistake, but his reaction to it reaches almost David Duchovny levels of blasé. All jokes aside though, I truly believe the series lost something when Lucy was killed off and it never quite recovered.

Perhaps it's best the series start fresh with a new protagonist that's hopefully a little less bland, and an ancestor to follow that's a LOT less bland in future Assassin's Creed titles.

- Before I played Assassin's Creed 3, I heard people griping about the ending and I braced myself for another Mass Effect 3 disappointment but no, the story's ending did make sense and set up the next game well enough. There was a bit of a WTF moment at the very end of the epilogue missions but it ended up being another mini-game, this time earning cheats to use in replays of the game, so I doubt it was meant to be taken seriously.

- Now that I've talked about the game's mechanics for a while, there's something I need to address that further hampered my enjoyment, and that's the bugs. And there are a LOT of them.

This is probably the buggiest game in the entire AC series and despite installing the Day One Patch (and really, having a Day One patch is pretty telling in itself) the game crashed on me several times, the sound skipped in cut scenes and sometimes didn't play either music or voices at all, I actually fell through the floor in a couple of spots and there were a few infuriating moments when a mission simply refused to trigger due to a character or object not being where it was supposed to be and I had to run away from the area and then run back until it triggered or reset, which kinda takes me out of the whole experience. ^_^;

- Horse-riding was a great deal more frustrating than previous AC titles, I was constantly getting caught on scenery in town and in the wilderness, making my horse jiggle like crazy and become unresponsive until I had to leave him behind. Levels that involved racing through the forest became a real chore and I found myself running on foot more and more often, despite taking longer, because it simply wasn't worth the aggravation. I had similar problems with riding horses in Red Dead Redemption but this game took those frustrations to a whole new level.

- So, can I recommend this game? As a rental, probably, but as a buy? No, I really can't. It didn't have much replay value for me and while I did want to see the story through to the end, I didn't want to play anymore when it was over and I don't really care about any future DLC either. There are some bright spots to be sure, the Naval missions alone make it worth a rental and if you find the Revolutionary War period interesting, you'll probably get a big kick out of it and Shaun's snarky descriptions. Overall though, I feel there's simply too much wrong with this game to be something I want to add to my permanent collection.

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