in Review

Assassin’s Creed III

When the first Assassin’s Creed came out, I was a freshman in college. I remember the day my copy showed up from GameFly, because I was playing it in my dorm room with the door open and two guys came by and where all, “Woah, is that the Assassin’s Creed game?” And I was like, “Yes.” And later, to myself, “I should close that door.” That first game seemed so cool and cutting edge, with its unique controls and neat features like the ability to bump into people. I really wish Ubisoft hadn’t made this an annual franchise, because I really liked that game. And the second one. And the third one, too. The fourth one was OK, I guess. Wait, why is this called Assassin’s Creed III?

Despite the last game being called Revelations, not too much has changed since the second game. Desmond and the Assassins are still trying to use ancient technology to save the world and defeat their centuries-old enemy, the Templars. This storyline, which was once so mysterious and cool, does finally move toward a bit of a climax, but it all feels pretty tired. Honestly, this game should have been set entirely in the modern day if they wanted me to care anymore. Everything since the end of Assassin’s Creed II has been a disappointment in the present. But that’s OK, since once again, the real game takes place entirely in the Animus, that amazing device that lets people relive their ancestors’ lives.

This game’s ancestor is Connor, the son of a British man and a Native American woman, in Colonial America. His childhood is ruined by a tragedy caused by the Templars, so Connor sets off on a bloody journey of revenge that takes him right through the Revolutionary War. Along the way he becomes an assassin and plays a key role in most of the major events of the war, such as the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. But the revolution is secondary in Connor’s mind, his main focus is the Templars. He’s an angry man, not nearly as charming as Ezio, but a solid enough protagonist.

The heart of the gameplay is much as it always was. You can expect many free running chases, escapes, and many vs. one battles. Connor has some neat new weapons, such as a tomahawk and snares, but don’t expect much to be different. This game set it sights on the little tweaks that come from iteration, and so it does feel like the best running and fighting in the series so far, but the newness is gone. It’s lost its luster, or at least is lost it for me over the course of the story. Like all Assassin’s Creed games, this story is fun to watch unravel, but the game is simply too long.

Of course, Assassin’s Creed III is an open world, and you can spend your time between New York, Boston, a Homestead you establish, and the frontier inbetween – which includes locations such as Lexington and Concord. In the two big cities you can spend your time reducing the Templar’s influence and recruiting new members for the brotherhood, a nice evolution of the recruiting mechanics from the last couple games. Instead of simply upgrading your house, like in Assassin’s Creed II, you turn your homestead into a bustling village by helping out people who in turn decide to set up shop on your land. This enables the game’s crafting system, which has a terrible interface and is hardly necessary to your journey. But both of these pursuits do flesh out Connor a little better and make the game better.

Connor also has a ship, which marks the biggest addition to the franchise: naval warfare. It sounds like a terrible idea, but it turns out the game’s extremely arcadey approach to boat-on-boat combat is really fun. Plus, the stuff at sea is easily the best looking in the game. If you’re still looking for side missions to do, there are tons more on the land: hunting quests, assassination contracts, mail delivery, there’s a lot to do. Plus the game includes a bunch of different kinds of collectibles, from the familiar synchronization points to pages from Benjamin Franklin’s almanac, which can be turned into craftable recipes. If you like spending time in this world, there’s plenty of reason to stick around.

But I don’t really want to anymore. I’ve done this whole song and dance routine four times already. Yes, it’s a different time and place, and yes, I can jump in trees and kill animals now, but it feels basically the same. Five years of doing the same thing. Call of Duty gets away with it, so why shouldn’t Assassin’s Creed, right? After all, this game has a robust multiplayer mode too.

I’m terrible at Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, but I respect it for being different. This time around they’ve added a new mode, Wolf Pack, I assume as a move to cash in on the success of both Gears of War‘s Horde Mode, and The Hangover. It’s a cooperative take on the deathmatch mode from multiplayer, you and friends try to stealthily kill a bunch of targets in an arena. It’s not for me, but I still think it’s cool that this works and is out there for the people who dig it.

I’m not sure I dig it. It took me over a month to beat this game. In the time since release, two patches have been released, and yet still I saw many bugs. Most notably, Desmond seems to have a weird hump in his back that clips through his backpack the entire game. There’s a lack of polish that shouldn’t be there, that makes it feel like the game was rushed out. And when you’re getting as long in the tooth as the Assassin’s Creed series, the last thing you want to do is rush it.