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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Assassin's Creed III

You know, there has been a lot of part threes released this year.  We’ve had Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3, The Dark Knight Rises, Diablo III, Skyfall and I’m pretty sure that there are a few others that I’ve missed.  But today we’re here to talk about the latest third installment of a franchise, Assassin’s Creed III.  As I’ve mentioned before, the Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that has walked a bit of a rough path.  The first game was an unexpected hit, selling millions of copies worldwide but received mixed to average reviews mainly citing the repetitiveness of the game.  Part two, on the other hand, was incredible, giving us a fantastic story, great gameplay and compelling characters.  The next installment, Brotherhood, actually managed to improve on the gameplay and still told a great story with compelling characters even if it was less compelling then IIRevelations on the other hand, was not a great game.  In a nutshell, it was just a rehashing of Brotherhood with buggier gameplay, and a story and supporting characters that completely failed to get the gamer invested and just felt like a final attempt to milk another game out of Ezio’s storyline before moving on. 
            Assassin’s Creed III, however, promised something different.  In the months leading up to its release, the game showcased a setting in colonial America during the Revolutionary War, the ability to run through tree tops like a Predator, wild animal threats, and the ability to command your own ship!  Now if that isn’t enough to get a fan excited I don’t know what is.  So has the game lived up to its hype or is a franchise that’s on its last leg, desperately clinging to life?  Time to find out.  This is the Illusive One’s Review of Assassin’s Creed III.

The Plot

            The plot is a little…difficult to describe because it’s a little needlessly complicated.  During the present, the game once again follows Desmond Miles as he battles modern day Templars and tries to prevent an apocalypse from befalling the Earth with the help of technology left behind by the first civilization, (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about I suggest playing the other games again to get some grasp on it).  However, in order to access this machine Desmond must find a key and they only way to find its location is to go back in the animus and relive the life of his native American ancestor, Connor Kenway, (who also has a native American name that I won’t even try to spell), during the Revolutionary War.  In Connor’s storyline, he must become an Assassin and rebuild the Brotherhood in the New World while taking down the various Templar leaders, led by his father, who would see the world oppressed under their tyranny.
            Now, I have to admit that the whole overarching plot dealing with Desmond and his attempt to save the world never really appealed to me.  I’ve always been of the belief that the storylines involving the battles between the Assassins and the Templars should have been enough to tell a good story and the games have often proved this to be true.  However, in this game, the overarching story was probably the more compelling of the two.  Unlike the last few games, we really feel the tension and sense of impending doom which was sorely lacking in previous games.  Unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games we also got to see a bit more of the Templars, and see what goes into their thinking and how they do things.  In the process we find that their goals really aren’t all that different from those of the Assassins, and the game goes out of its way to show that the Templars are human and not necessarily pure evil.  In fact some of the best parts of the story are the sequences where Connor and his Templar father are working together towards common goals and it’s really interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two.
Unlike previous games, this one is very adult in the way in portrays certain things.  Washington for example is not without faults and often does things that directly conflict with Connor’s goals and need to help his people.  As with the Templar portrayal, the game goes out of its way to show that the lead members of the Revolution weren’t in the right all of the time and in some ways were just as bad, if not worse, then the British.  It also doesn’t take the fairy tale ending approach to things as many of the underlying issues with races and ideologies in the colonies are never fully resolved in the game’s storyline and show the dark sides of what independence untimely does for the colonies and Connor’s tribe.  And quite frankly these ideas and themes are brilliant and we honestly don’t see enough of this ground covered in videogames.
            However, despite all of these good ideas, the game’s story has some big problems.  For starters, it’s not a very well told story as the narrative is all over the place.  You play the first three sessions, (chapters), as Connor’s Templar father, (how his bloodline is connected to Ezio’s and Desmond’s is never explained), and then spend the next two as Connor training to be an assassin in a game with a story that lasts twelve sessions.  In other words the gameplay time of the main story is already halfway through before you even put on the assassins hood.  Even ignoring this, the rest of the story is not well told.  Whereas previous games put you in the middle of a war between the Templars and assassins, in this game it’s just Connor against the organization in America making it feel similar to the original Star Wars trilogy was with the Jedi if the narrative had been a lot less compelling.
It also doesn’t help that the time frame of the game is all over the place and you often find yourself questioning why Connor is at certain places at certain times.  Unlike the previous main characters, Connor really doesn’t have any reason to be a part of certain historical events such as George Washington being named Commander in Chief of the Continental Army or the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Often entire years will pass off screen and you never get any explanation as to why he waited so long to do something or what happened in the years in-between and makes the narrative feel choppy. 
The final negative thing to note is ending.  I won’t say too much but trust me when I say that the ending was just stupid and lazy.  Whereas the failure of the ending of Mass Effect 3 was more than likely due to bad writing, this ending gives the impression that the writers just didn’t give a shit and just wanted to get the series over with.  Easily one of the worst endings I have ever seen, but to tell you the truth by this point I wasn’t even surprised.
All around, the plot is a bit of a mixed bag.  Desmond’s story is surprisingly good and Connor’s story is full of great themes and puts fourth ideas that we honestly don’t see enough of in videogames these days.  However, it’s bogged down by an un-compelling narrative and a crappy ending so unless you really want to see a game that takes place during this era, I have a hard time recommending it for the plot and it’s certainly a far cry from the plots of II and Brotherhood.

The Gameplay

Now, the Assassin’s Creed games have always been decent in this department for the most part and this game is no acceptation.  For the most part.  Like previous games you really feel like you have been transported back to the time period the game takes place in.  Everything about the environments just says the colonial period and anyone with a fascination with this time period is going to be in heaven.  The game also really makes you feel just how long it takes to reload a gun in this era and how useless they are in close quarters combat and how deadly they can be if someone gets a shot off.  The wilderness environments surprisingly make for a great change of pace from the other games that took place almost exclusively in cities.  The stuff you can do with your homestead is also worth noting.  Whereas in other games it just amounted to buying buildings and collecting revenue, in this game you have to actively maintain the homestead in order to get money, bringing people in to make a village and buying their wares and selling them at a profit in places all over the map. 
The main story missions are a bit of a mixed bag but when they are good they are really good, particularly the battles you fight in the war, such as Lexington and Concord, being part of the Boston Tea Party, and getting past the British lines to kill the British commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  The last good thing worth noting is Naval Combat, and good god is it awesome.  It feels like you’re in Pirates of the Caribbean or Master and Commander as you fight other ships with cannons or ramming and boarding them and battling the weather to stay afloat.  I don’t know how exactly to explain the appeal of it but if you’ve played the game you should know what I’m talking about.
However, the gameplay does have some pretty big flaws.  For starters, the controls sucked and were incredibly buggy.  Gone is the fluency of ACII and Brotherhood and you‘ll often find yourself pressing a button five times in the middle of combat and your character will not react.  This was a bit of a problem in Revelations as well but here it could give Fallout: New Vegas a run for its money on unresponsive combat controls and assassinating and combat is often unfairly difficult because of this.  Adding to this is a horrible camera control that will go all over the place and you’ll find yourself asking what the hell is going on as it spins all over the place and you’re unable to tell where your character is.  The original weapons and equipment layout is gone and replaced with something else that works well enough but doesn’t work nearly as well.  For some god unknown reason they decided to remove block from your characters abilities making damage very easy to obtain and the damage you will take just feels cheap.  On a completely parallel note, the original health bar is gone in favor of regenerating health which cuts back on the difficulty factor in a negative way. 
As I mentioned above, the missions a bit of a mixed bag but are ultimately not as challenging as they once were and usually don’t involve assassination so much as it does fighting in battles.  The assassination missions that do exist however are underwhelming in difficulty and execution and I found myself longing for the walls of Venice and Rome of the previous games before too long.  There was also a very ill-conceived choice to have the Native Americans talk in their own language, and considering the subtitles are white and much of the game has white backgrounds it makes it almost impossible to read.
Finally, the multiplayer sucks. It consists completely of stealthily stabbing people and occasionally teaming up to stab other people stealthily but it just lacks any real speed or tension and to be honest I found it completely boring.
Overall, the gameplay is the very definition of hit or miss.  The game is the most fun when you are participating in the Revolutionary War, other historical events, or sailing on your ship but is dragged down by less than impressive assassination missions and controls that are sometimes unresponsive and a layout that is inferior to the original.  However, if you can get past these things, and like the time period it takes place in then you’ll probably love the gameplay.  Odds are that the control problems will be taken care of in later patches, (if they haven’t been all-ready), so take all of this for what it’s worth.

The Characters

Like most of the other things in this game, the characters are a bit of a mixed bag and range from the dullest characters in the series to some of the more interesting.  For example, Connor’s father Haytham is actually a really interesting character and playing the first three missions as him shows that the character probably has one hell of a backstory to him.  As I mentioned before, this is the first game where we actually see that the Templars in a more human light and with this character you really see that they are people to and not the monsters they were portrayed as in previous games.  And again, some of the best moments in the game were when Haytham and Connor worked together to achieve the same goals. 
In Desmond’s story we actually get to meet Desmond’s father and for the first time get a sense as to why he left the Assassins and see a flawed character but one who obviously cares for his son and people.  In fact the father/son moments of the game in both Desmond’s and Connor’s storylines are actually some of the best in the whole game.  Connor’s mentor, Achilles is a decent mentor figure, if not very remarkable and Shawn and Rebecca are about the same as they were in the previous games. 
However, the other characters don’t fare as well.  For starters, Connor is a boring protagonist.  I really hate to say this but the guy just isn’t that interesting and this is one of the biggest problems with the game.  Outside of his interactions with his father, and a few instances where he questions the role of the Assassins, there really isn’t anything worth noting about him.  Historical figures aren’t really worth noting either as their appearances usually don’t amount to much more then extended cameos and most of them aren’t very well voiced.  Despite the more humanistic approach to the Templars in this game, most of them show no signs of depth of complexity after you get past the first three sessions.  The rest of the minor characters are entertaining in their own ways but they’re the kind of supporting characters that you’ll probably forget about in the long term.  And that’s really all I have to say about them.

The Verdict

All around, this is probably one of the more disappointing games that I have played this year.  Now granted, a lot of this is in comparison to AC II and Brotherhood but I honestly can’t believe how underwhelmed I felt by the story.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as Revelations in this regard but still can’t hold a candle to II and Brotherhood.  The gameplay aspects and characters were identical in this regard and I can honestly only recommend this game if you are interested in seeing a game in this time period or want to see how the story ends.  But either way, I’m done with this franchise.  While it’s not nearly at the level of betrayal that Resident Evil 6 was, it’s obvious to me that the game developers don’t give a crap about the franchise anymore and I honestly don’t see any reason why I should either if they don’t.

All Around

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