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REVIEW: Assassins Creed III

Assassins Creed III marks the closure of the originally announced and then extended to five main game trilogy and a further three handheld spin-offs by taking players between the American Civil War and Present day in an effort to stop the sun melting the planet on the 21st December.

A few of you may remember my scathing review of Assassin’s Creed Revelations from last year so to be fair, AC3, had an absolute mountain to climb to get me back on board with this franchise but quite frankly I feel this entry never really left base camp.

My first problem with Creed stems back to Revelations where they decided to change the main character and not weave that into the story, in essence, just casting someone else for the role.  It’s caused me distress comparable to having a Dr Who fan be given a new Doctor midway through a series without him dying.  That kind of distress.

Now, I know it’s not just going to be me who can spot the correlation between when the Assassin’s Creed franchise hit a slump and how Desmond’s face has changed to reflect that.  Has the engine that drives Creed been updated so significantly they needed a new face for their main character?  I’d wager no seeing as the overall game has remained largely untouched.  If Desmond’s face can change this much I’d worry what else was in his gene pool other then a lineage of white robed murderers.

Enough about Desmond’s face and more about the highly anticipated wet blanket of mixed ideas that is Assassin’s Creed 3.

The first thing you’ll notice about 3reed is how responsive the action on screen is to the movement of the analogue.  Previous Creed games would throw crowds of people at you and limit your options to either mow them down or take to roofs.  Moving the analogue from side to side as you run allows you to initiate a weaving motion which allows for increased fluidity while free running.  This subtle improvement is used consistently and proves invaluable when trying to maintain speed making you wonder how you ever coped without it.

The story begins with you, as Desmond and the crew, sifting through some more old ruins in hopes of preventing the end of the world by once again speaking with the gods as you did at the end of Brotherhood and pretty much trying to sort out whatever it is you need to do to avert the disaster.  Standard trip to the animus to find out what it is you need to do to progress further ensues which is where you take the role of the game’s first main character Con-Haytham Kenway!

People who have followed Assassin’s Creed up until now won’t appreciate spoilers so I’ll be leaving out major plot points and just generally talking about progression from here on out.

Haytham serves as almost a tutorial character, although at a later stage when you play as Connor, you are tutorial-ed all over again.  Up until at least the start of chapter 6 you WILL have you hand held which equates to about five hours of game time, which, after a while feels tedious and is presented in a way that is irrelevant and stagnant to the senses.  The biggest example of this is when you are taught how to track and hunt wild game.  The game will have you believe that you will need to bait, snare and follow clues to hunt game when in reality, all you need to do is sprint at whatever it is you need to kill and stab it.  The animals rarely react quickly enough to your approach leaving you all the time in the world to kill them.  So, you’ve killed your first animal and you’re feeling pretty chuffed with yourself and rightly so.  You’ve collected some hide, beaver teeth and a deer heart!  Cool.  So what do you do with them?  Well – you can choose to set up trade routes and recruit people to work at your farm which in turn enables you to make better equipment.  Or, like me, ignore this completely as the game doesn’t require you to put any effort in to complete.

In previous titles Ezio would systematically need to  upgrade his equipment to better his killing ability and health.  Following the completion of every main story sequence, shops would acquire a fresh inventory and you’d have to go off making money to buy it all. This not only allowed you to see more of the world, as gaining money quickly would have you restoring parts of the city that had fallen into disrepair, it also felt like Ezio and the Brotherhood were turning the tide against the Templars by reclaiming land.  By comparison, I didn’t buy a single item in Assassin’s Creed 3 because the game’s difficulty never left easy street.  It was plain sailing all the way to the credits and while I’m sure there are awesome weapons out there, I gained no pleasure from galavanting from one side of the Frontier on what I like to call “Whim Missions” for nothing but a pat on the back.

There is, obviously, a quicker way of travelling.  After a few laps of the frontier you will have accumulated enough markers to fast travel to.  This fast travel system doesn’t come in the form of underground tunnels or anything quite so imaginative, it “just is”.  Fast travelling between locations is an easy way to rack up some serious time spent on a loading screen, my highest count was five back to back loading screens which literally must of had me avoid 70% of the game between me and my objective though at this point I would count that as a plus.

The majority of travel will be in the Frontier unless you are a sadomasocist and love multiple loading times so you’ll be able to hunt to your hearts content.  If you follow me on twitter you may have seen this:

This isn’t me trying to be funny, this is accurate.  The frontier is SO big that  Cabelas Creed 3 fails to populate it with anything but inane wildlife and trees for the most part.  Trees.  Now that’s another another problem entirely.  When the whole tree running thing was announced, coupled with the – you can now run through buildings – statement, straight off the bat I said “Nightmare”.  Running at speed  on anything narrow with a child operating the camera as they so often do in Creed is disastrous.  You will either walk through the trees slowly or you will fall off.  Very rarely is there a middle ground where you are able to traverse them effectively, especially when the development team assign the run at high speed button to the magnet on to anything that is a right angle button.  Run past a ladder?  You’re on it!  Run close to a hay bail?  You’re in it!  All these flaws have been present throughout the franchise and no one has seen fit to fix them.

As the story progresses and you learn more about Connor you’ll realise he doesn’t actually give a monkeys about the Templars and is more interested in saving his Shawnee tribe.  Which is fair I guess.  Ezio had a valid reason for revenge against them but in the end he saw sight of the bigger picture and as Ezio grew, he learned to be a better Assassin.  Connor is a violent thug who isn’t born into the brotherhood at all.  He doesn’t look anything like Desmond which is something I liked about Ezio as it provided that story link between past and present.  Connor’s dialogue can be summed up at almost every main plot point as “Me go kill X/Y/Z now”.  As a main character he was appalling.  You’ll notice as well that the main story objectives are relatively vague.  “Stop the attack on the village” also means take the scenic route and don’t go through the red zone otherwise you’ll have to go through it all again.  Couple this with a replay-ability factor being mainly due to missions glitching and you have a recipe for a rage quit – which –  I might add, I almost did.

Within the first 40 minutes I had 3 main story quests glitch on me.  For some reason I was unable to shoot, the character I was supposed to protect got stuck on a shed and then proceeded to just walk off the map and lastly I was unable to attack in combat.  When I became Connor, the only bear I saw in the entire game failed to react to me after shooting it twice:

He looked at me – I shot him.  He looked at me again, I shot him again.  Nothing.  You’ll find as well that normal enemies, after a certain amount of time, will loose interest in attacking you altogether and would rather engage in a staring contest to the death.

While this screenshot is above I’d like to point out the new look hud.  You see the map – bottom left right?  That white bar to the left is actually your health.  No more animus symbols in the top left.  This health bar will just refill on its own so you don’t need to worry about visiting doctors anymore.  You know, I liked visiting doctors as that is what you do when you’re hurt.  Apparently during 1753 people had found a way to regenerate health which sadly seems to have been lost to this day and age.  I assume this was implemented to “Keep you in the action”.  Action.  I have a problem with “action” in what is essentially a game about Assassins.  The word assassin by definition is “One who murders by surprise attack”.  If all your planning goes awry surely the ensuing shit storm should cause you problems and result in you needing some sort of doctor.  Nope – just wade in and regenerate.

More glitches for you, this time almost game crippling as if it wasn’t crippled enough.

This ladies and gentlemen, is how I was introduced to New York.  The camera was locked so high in the sky I couldn’t see what I was doing and with no way to adjust it I was forced to reload.  Upon re-loading, again, I was greeted with this although this time it told me to “Mount a horse”.  I’m hardly spoiled for choices of horse here.  Fortunately when I reset the whole PC I was able to continue.  It was at this point I thought – I can’t play this anymore.

I went over to Wikipedia and read the plot synopsis just in case I couldn’t bring myself to finish it and found myself wondering why I bothered in the first place.

I was skeptical when Assassin’s Creed got the gods involved.  I could see this spiraling out of control and yes, quite frankly it has.

Never the less I carried on battling frequently disappearing people and objects and quest failing glitches. The last of which was in the game’s final sea battle where after destroying all of the enemy I was left floating  around for 10 minutes before checking youtube to see how it was supposed to end.  Sea battles look really good, but that’s about it.  The battles are actually cleverly disguised making them seem more interactive then they are.  Truth be told you will just circle each other until someone is able to get a killing shot off and hopefully it’ll be you as there is no skill involved at all.

Generic hand to hand combat is again as you’d expect with no real change made to the system.  The system works even if it’s biggest criticism is that it over simplifies things.

The one and only thing that impressed me about Assassin’s Creed 3 were the facial animations and detail on the character models.  Main characters had the most realistic facial movements and lip syncing I’ve seen since Heavy Rain.  Kudos.

Assassin’s Creed took me a whole 7 hours to complete.  It’ll take you longer if you want to finish all the fluff tacked on for good measure.  The problem with creed, since Revelations, is they’ve failed to keep any of this fluff relevant.  I spoke before about the necessity to upgrade which significantly increases game time, hunting for special armour or completing the assassins crypt missions.  They were awesome.  Collect this, delivery that – come on.  You can do better then that, and you have.

I previously said on twitter that this installment was better then Revelations.  I take it back – it is worse.  It’s worse because they have had a significant time to plan and work on this one and yet no real improvement has been made.  The development team have removed everything that was good about Assassin’s Creed and replaced it with a more streamlined hack and slash adventure, probably in an effort to make it more accessible.

I don’t even know who I would recommend this to.  If you were a fan you’d be disappointed, if it’s your first time playing – you’d be bored.

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