I started this blog to voice my opinions about the artistic merits and disappointments of video games today. I'm Canadian, so for anyone reading outside the Canada, pardon the variance in spelling. To give you a general sense of my experience, I've been playing videogames for over seventeen years. My primary console is the Playstation 3, though I also own all Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox platforms, along with a Macintosh computer.
Concealment. Corruption. A blade in a crowd. The imagery has become synonymous with the Assassin's Creed franchise, continually intriguing yet ultimately familiar. Pieced together as a travelogue in time, the series provides the player with the beauty of what used to be and allowing them to participate in the events that shaped the world we live in today. Ironically however, with the most recent titles set in an era of renaissance, the series has stagnated and lost its ambition for innovation.
Assassin's Creed III takes you on a journey through Colonial America in which immersion is brought to a height previous instalments aspired to achieve. In Desmond Miles's final chapter, you're thrown into the American Revolution. This odyssey takes place in an open world in it's purest form, allowing you to do what you want, how you want, across eightieth-century Boston and New York. The usual story missions prevail but there's also an abundance of side missions, that include building a community in homestead missions and battling foes and the ocean itself in naval missions. Furthermore, opportunities arise at every turn, whether it's hunting, thieving, fighting, or simply exploring the grand frontier between cities. Though much like the American Revolution, issues carried over from preceding projects are hardly improved upon or entirely disregarded.
The American Revolution unfolds through the eyes of Connor Kenway: a Mohawk assassin of tired origin. After his village was decimated by Charles Lee, Connor seeks the aid of American revolutionaries, namely, Sam Adams and George Washington, as he becomes a symbol of liberty, safeguarding the vox populi and struggling for new order. However, this amplitude of historical figures and events were not enough to develop characters or weave an interesting narrative past the first act. Thematically, there's not much comment on liberty beyond the actual historical implications, the game simply glances over the issues behind the conflicts of the time. None of the roles are fully realized either. You're simply guided from one quest to another never settling on a single character long enough to develop a connection or a comment on their disposition. Even Connor represents nothing of his culture further than his appearance and introduction. He's a plot device himself, revolutionaries simply ask him to perform various tasks so their goals may be satisfied, since Connor blindly complies to their every demand.
Contrarily, characters residing in the homestead are quite charming. Their missions are mere fetch quests and combat scenarios but are often a joy to complete. Seeing this aptly labeled community grow is a delight, as not only do they respect Connor's company, they begin to socialize and build relationships amongst one another. These interactions are coupled with the script's poorest writing, but still a pleasure. A sense of endearment accompanies these brief occurrences that portray a simpler time, when humble, hardworking families would move to the new world and share a modest life with their neighbours.
Variety is the spice of life. And Assassin's Creed III. But not its mission structure. You'll find yourself in different situations: a mixed bag of stealth, traversal and combat oriented objectives. At face value, it seems like you're carrying out a different assignment each time with the freedom to go about your own ways of accomplishing the task. In actuality, you'll be placed in unique situations with every sequence, though the game pressures you to complete tasks by its restrictions. For instance, missions often asks that you remain undetected, but the level design forces you to go in a specific direction because any other path results in detection. For a story that holds so much promise of liberty, it's quite restrictive in how it's executed. Although I should mention that the historical events that occur are thrilling none the less. Running around Breed Hill while bullets fire from every direction and terrain is torn apart by cannon fire, is a vigorous scene that outdoes any set piece from previous games.These gripping scenarios are plentiful and make great use of the gorgeous scenery, though they lack the options offered outside the narrative.
Malleable environments and freedom in traversal are stitched into the very fabrication of Assassin's Creed games. As a result, free running has undergone the most heavy alteration in the series, accommodating for the woodlands and compact cities of Colonial America. Though the lacklustre towns are but a reminder of the grandiose Italian and Turkish architecture. To fill the void of verticality, focus is redirected towards horizontal traversal, permitting you to rush through untouched forestry, an experience nothing short of exhilarating. Fluid animation allows for Connor to effortlessly run and swing about trees, making the exertion require little work and yet still be invigorating. The action is subjugated by a single button which in its simplicity, lets Connor navigate trees with agility, but hinders his momentum while on solid ground. Much like in previous entries, sprinting is mapped to the same button as climbing, therefore demanding absolute precision in what Connor comes into contact with. For example, should you graze part of the scenery while sprinting, Connor will immediately attempt to climb it. This issue is most evident in the many chase sequences. Having to repeat the same sixty seconds a dozen times due to Connor's obsession with climbing whatever seems to cross his path: is one of the most stressful vexations I've endured all year. Outside of these narrow situations, it isn't difficult to recover from these impediments -- though they may prove more than minor inconveniences for some.
Initially, new weapons such as the rope dart and longbow make open conflicts seem fresh. The truth is, combat has remained largely unchanged since Assassin's CreedBrotherhood. There are new ways to stay on the offensive side, even a button dedicated to breaking defence. Be that as it may, as the plot progresses you fall back in that familiar predicament of: wait, block, counter, repeat. It feels like the game is trying to mimic Arkham City's measured fighting mechanics but doesn't quite nail it -- you'll be hearing the clash of blades more often than actually securing an offensive strike. As realistic as they may be, firearms are somewhat of a bother to use. Shooting a bullet and waiting several seconds while Connor frantically reloads causes a gun to hardly be worth the trouble.
Comparisons to Red Dead Redemption will arise with any discussion of the game's prolific wildlife. However, Assassin's Creed III enhances the mechanic by the variety of ways in which you may hunt. Should you perform a clean kill with a tomahawk, the pelt recovered will increase in worth. But if your dark heart feels the need to tear apart a hare by means of a musket, expect to lose half the value. You can use bait, set snares, throw rope darts, or stalk your prey from a tree. Coming face to face with a predator delivers a less satisfying encounter, a mere quicktime event to determine success. These instances provide an exciting animation but get old quickly and lack proper engagement, leaving little sense of accomplishment. Working for the hunt by setting traps and hiding from prey is an ideal way to go about business, as watching Connor struggle to land a knife in a cougar's neck isn't as satisfying as diving off a tree to do so.
Unfortunately, this well designed hunting system provides little substance in the game itself. Viscera gathered from a kill can be sold to merchants or used in the reinvented crafting system. Recipes collected allow for animal parts to be combined with materials bought from artisans of the Homestead. Weapons, ammunition upgrades and decorations for Connor's home are the only products of value output from crafting. Promising as it may sound, the entire arrangement is disappointing to put it lightly. A byzantine interface and demanding process leaves the system worth little experimentation. Even for these minor upgrades you must possess the proper recipe, a particular artisan in your homestead, a certain amount of their missions to be completed, and the materials for the product itself. Other crafted items require the same amount of busywork and merely exist for the purpose of being shipped off on convoys as a primary source of income. Mind you there is also a limit to how many convoys you may possess, the amount of time before one can be sent out again, and a risk of robbery that corresponds with the value of the goods. This whole setup is a step backwards and a tedious process for nothing more than subsidiary improvements.
Needless to say, Ubisoft decided not to bring back real time strategy -- but I'm sure no one minds. Instead, a fresh route is taken with naval missions. In these escapades you're tasked with protecting or destroying a particular vessel. The controls are accessible and the ship's functions are as lucid as can be. Cannon fire requires you to sail parallel to your target, keeping in mind that the crew needs to reload with every shot fired. Speed is dictated by how much of the main sail is exposed. With that comes a challenge of its own, in how you must account for wind direction, pay attention to the the environment, and keep guard from waves crashing onto the ship. Throw enemy boats into the mix and now you have to balance when to fire your cannons, as proximity influences the amount of damage dealt to your targets. There's even a variety of upgrades to refine your craft. This may sound overwhelming, but honestly seems more complex than it really is. These voyages handle well, and the game does an excellent job of easing you into more difficult endeavours.
In the present day, Desmond and his pals are globetrotting, trying to find power cores to help them access a vault. These short adventures lack direction and mostly consist of moving from point A to point B. It's clear that they exist merely for creating some kind of conflict in the present-day narrative.The conversations you partake in are well written, but some less frequently visited characters are poorly developed and leave the diegesis not too long after their introduction. The Assassin's Creed fiction has lost a lot of the mystery and intrigue that it once had. Having abandoned much of the mystique and subtlety of the first two titles, this instalment relies on established lore. Except when it comes to the ending -- which seemed a bit rushed, throwing in some plot twists and leaving some aspects entirely unexplained.
Finding yourself in the animus with each iteration is always exciting. It's particularly fascinating how the art direction always reinforces a sci-fi element, while maintaining the magnificence of the era. A new triangle-like web dominates most of the game's onscreen indicators, reminiscent of the rhythmic verticality of Assassin's Creed II. There are a lot of nesting menus, which may complicate things at first but are easy to adjust to. Watching transitions between chapters are even more stirring than before -- environments falling apart and rebuilding piece by piece has never been as mesmerizing.
The score is great, though not as memorable as previous titles, lacking much of the ominous electric undertones that were so well implemented in Jesper Kyd's work. Although the main theme is jubilant and patriotic, something that you might catch yourself humming.
The eighteenth century is well detailed and beaming with colour. The cities, forestry, wildlife and characters all carry examples of impressive animations. Connor himself moves smoothly yet still depicts a weight to his walk with changes in environment adding further variance. Even weather has an effect on characters, such as them commenting on the heat in the summer or trudging through snow in the winter. However there were some instances where bugs affected how enemies would traverse a blanketed field. The frame rate also slightly declines in high action sequences -- doubtfully a problem on any platform besides Playstation 3.
The game is a well researched trek through Colonial America, filled with some clever concepts, though many of them miss the mark on execution. Missions in the game are compelling in subject matter but are limiting in choice and offer little reward for optional objectives. Fans of the series should enjoy the overall presentation, even with the third act being rather unsatisfying. However, audiences looking for major innovations may be disappointed -- it's simply a change in venue with some interesting ideas. Nevertheless it's an entertaining experience and anyone who's fascinated with the setting, invested in the series or appreciates a well designed open world should be well at home.