It’s hard to believe that just five years ago we knew nothing of the joys of sliding a hidden blade into the kidney of an unsuspecting victim, but with the latest installment into the main Assassin’s Creed series we finally see if all of Desmond’s time in the Animus was worth it.
Following the briefest recap possible for the story so far, we find Desmond and his modern day cohorts moving locations once more. As we guide Desmond and his sweatshirt that continues to phase through his backpack, the inability to pause pushes us forward to a key that cues up the lights in this underground temple. But before we can make ourselves at home, the pesky otherworldly beings decide that our slow walk isn’t going to present the results they’re looking for as speedily as desired. We’ve got a key to find.
With the bleeding effect triggered, all Shaun and Rebecca can do is drag us over to the Animus, where a software update is waiting with a retraining program to help us through the geometric shapes until they eventually lead us to our newest historical adventure, and Desmond is replaced by a middle aged British fellow. That’s right, those of you, like myself, who have been itching to get your hands on a tomahawk have a few hours of the game to get through before you can slice and dice with Connor’s culturally relevant weapon of choice. Instead you’ve got a while of story set up, until eventually inhabiting the memory of Desmond’s British/Native American ancestor.
Connor has his own reasons for fighting during this period of American history, and this search for vengeance (“Where’s so-and-so?” “Tell me where so-and-so is!”) will take him through many key moments in the Revolutionary War. Previous games spoke to me through the architecture I recognized from my Art History courses in college, as opposed to any historical truths about cultures and events (what can I say, it was my worst subject), but this time around the game pulls players in through easily recognizable events and figures (though Shaun will gladly fill you in about anything and everything in his own special way for those who need a refresher course). From the Boston Tea Party to Paul Revere’s ride (in which no one told be that he and his horse stranded themselves on a rock in the middle of a stream), Connor is there for it all.
In order to see to our survival in this bloody patch on the timeline, the combat has been redone to make things more fluid, though it might not seem that way at first. I don’t know about you, but if I am countering with B then A seems like a more logical choice for my thumb functionally to attack someone, but that’s just me. Before long the combat does become as easy as ever, blending close combat and ranged weapons with ease (think Fable 2, but with a slower reload speed), as well as the occasional environmental takedown when the moment arises. Not only that, but the cinematic triggered when countering two men at once leads to some pretty gruesome take downs.
Just don’t get me started on the chase sequences. I don’t remember ever really having any trouble with these in previous games, but this time around they felt as if they were made to fail. Take one misstep, or god forbid a soldier shoves you, and there is a good chance that you will see the desynchronization animation enough times to make you go mad. Heck, even the moving assassinations that are now a part of the game still slow you down too much. Not to mention the one chase in which there was an optional objective to air tackle the person being chased. No matter how hard I tried or perfectly lined this up, correct person highlighted and everything, Connor would turn completely around to tackle someone else. Eventually I calmed down enough to give up on the optional objective (after I lost count of how many times I attempted to succeed) and was able to progress with the story, but I will never forget this rage filled 20 minutes.
A lot of upgrades to the fluidity of the movement through these worlds have been promised, and though they are greatly felt in the trees of the frontier (after first being able to find a tree that allows upper level access, that is), and movement over and under fences, a lot of these new elements performed by well practiced members of the AC3 team in gameplay footage are much harder to reproduce when the controller was in my hands. For starters, not once did I run past a gun rack while in combat, grab one, and then air assassinate someone below with the bayonet. This was the one thing I so desperately wanted to do besides tethering someone up into a tree as I use his weight to counterbalance my journey back onto the ground, but it never naturally came into play during my numerous combat sequences. I still got through them regardless, but they were usually just the straight up fights, which were sometimes hard to transition out of as the camera seemed desperate to keep its aim at goodness knows what when I begged it to turn so I could see my path of escape. The other main upgrade was the ability to run through buildings, but again the availability to do so seemed few and far between as more often than not I was unable to find these paths while running away from Redcoats.
With Boston and New York as the two cities open to free roam, it is easy to get caught up in the side objectives away from the main storyline. Many hours can be spent discovering all of the entrances to the hidden passageways under the city, and if you’d like to be able to fast travel within these locations I’d highly recommend taking the time to do so. Then there are the countless collectibles to find, locks to pick (they didn’t seem to factor in the high difference of certain tables when deciding where the lock picks would rest in these minigames), and civilians who will give you their everlasting gratitude if you help them, some of which will offer up their services to your cause as eventual assassins if you so choose to train them up in a separate mission menu.
However, the biggest distraction is the frontier itself. Those who have played Red Dead Redemption already know what it is like to lose countless hours hunting animals for trade, and Assassin’s Creed 3 succeeds in creating another world full of life. And cougars willing to jump out of nowhere and attack. Just don’t try chasing a squirrel up a tree; they’re just there for aesthetics (as opposed to the badgers that stand no chance as they slowly waddle away from their demise). Now top this off with recruiting people to join the community of your homestead and you’ve seriously got the making of a game with far more to do than the hours dedicated to the actual story. Especially if you take to the seas (luckily the majority of the nautical missions aren’t forced on us. Don’t get me wrong, they’re done really well and are enjoyable in short doses, but there comes a time when it is just a whole bunch of pivoting).
But enough about the gameplay, time to get back to the story. We have spent a handful of games following Desmond’s progression towards stopping the end of the world, and I can only describe what we’re left with as something rather disappointing. I won’t give away what happens, but all this build up interwoven through the stories of the past never reaches a climax, there really isn’t an awe inspiring closing cinematic, it just hangs there without the closure that the historical storylines managed to obtain. It just ends. Brotherhood did it so much better…
There is plenty to complain about in this game that is far from perfect: Connor still manages to get caught on things on the ground sometimes, instead of interacting with a door he often likes to whistle, and enemies still sometimes fall through solid objects, but there comes a point when these legitimate complaints still feel like nitpicking because of how fantastic the game still manages to be on the whole. Maybe Desmond’s story disappoints after everything we’ve been through, but it’s still Assassin’s Creed, and that means a whole heck of a lot more.
Final Grade: 8.5/10