Safeguard the New World and fight in the American Revolution.
PC Release: November 20, 2012
By Ian Coppock
Nothing kicks a gaming schedule in the balls like good ol’ unemployment. You’re no doubt wondering what lateness excuse I’m going to pull out this week, and I plead joblessness. While I’m not in imminent danger of homelessness, this is a rather turbulent time, and it’s been keeping me away from regular contributions longer than I’d like. But, two good things have happened in the time since posting my review of Dead Space 3. One: I’ve decided to make a format change by combining the story and artwork sections (for the two are intermingled and to imply otherwise is to be confusing). Two: I can now stomach another Assassin’s Creed game, so LET’S DO THIS!!!!
Reviewing the Assassin’s Creed series has been akin to reviewing the stages of digestion; it started out warm and yummy with the first Assassin’s Creed but ended up a nausiating pile of poo with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Making this analogy more disorienting is the fact that Assassin’s Creed III is actually a vast improvement over Brotherhood and Revelations, so now digestion is happening in… reverse? Screw it.
Anyway, Assassin’s Creed III, like its predecessors, is split between two storylines. The main story occurs in the modern day and follows Desmond Miles, an assassin who’s out to stop the Templars (think USSR Psych Warfare department) from reducing every human on earth to a mindless slave. This approach will end wars, stop conflict and leave the world generally more peaceful, in the same way that chopping off a limb means that you won’t feel pain when you stub your toe.
To master the skills and find the tools needed to pull this mighty task off, Desmond has had to explore the memories of past assassins using a simulator called the Animus. He ducks into the device once more to explore new memories, this time following an 18th-century Mohawk assassin named Ratonhnhaké:ton.
Thankfully, this guy also goes by the nickname “Connor”.
Before getting into Connor’s story, I’m going to go ahead and get Desmond’s out of the way. I haven’t touched on the modern-day part of the Assassin’s Creed series very much, because it’s incredibly insubstantial. Desmond’s journey is basically just running from safehouse to safehouse, exploring another batch of memories. When the Templars come knocking, he and his pals steal into the night ’til the next AC game. Desmond himself is also a very one-dimensional character. Voice actor Nolan North has a real knack for doing reluctant protagonists, but that’s about the only quality this character exudes. I was far more entranced with his pals, a tomboyish engineer and a snarky historian.
The modern-day component of AC III does add some action for Desmond. He embarks on his own missions ’round the world, but these are short and disjointing. I will say this for Desmond’s story; Templar agent Daniel Cross crosses over from the AC books and comics and becomes a major antagonist in this game. Game universe media crossovers are usually done well, and this one is great until, again, the ending. Ug.
Connor, meanwhile, has a much more substantial tale. After his Mohawk village is burned to the ground by English settlers, Connor opts not for revenge, but for justice.
His wanderings land him a spot in the Assassin Order, which has crossed over from Europe and is now facing off against the American branch of Templars. This conflict simmers behind the scenes of the American Revolution.
The Templars, out to seize telepathic control of the entire world, have inserted themselves into either side of the conflict. It’s up to Connor to root them out and preserve freedom in the U.S. MURICA!!!
As a character, Connor is the antithesis of his brash, womanizing predecessor, Ezio Auditore. He is quiet, fiercely humble, and wants to make life better for everyone, not just his people. Unfortunately, though the game does a little bit with a Native American exploring European culture, Connor is just not that interesting. When he’s not overly quiet, he’s melodramatic. And of course, just like all Native Americans in all American media, he’s fighting to save his people. That trope has NEVER been done before, right?
The game presents an interesting and quirky cast of supporting characters, but I have to point out a lie from Ubisoft. The company claims that this is not a RAH RAH MURICA story. Bullshit.
All but one or two of the game’s American characters are fearless and upstanding, while all the Brits are sniveling, plotting, devious Wall Street types. The game starts out well enough as a noble assault against the Templars, but by the end of the game it’s basically “what if the Revolutionaries had had Native American ninjas?”
The gameplay makes killing people from above funner than ever, with new tools and weapons for doing so. Connor even gets his own ship, and can attack Templar and British vessels with it.
The funnest part of this game is the battles. You’ll get to fight directly or secretly in stunning renditions of major battles from the war, including Bunker Hill, New York and Monmouth.
While the gameplay is fun and pretty straightforward, the menus in this game are anything but. Your weapons are hidden in a bewildering anthology of menu screens that even 30 hours of playtime couldn’t get me adjusted to. Your database, modern-day menu and other features are also crammed here. The poorest system by far is contained within the merchant feature, a fun-sounding mechanic that is grueling in practice. Connor can have artisans build and export stuff from his hometown, but the menus allowing you to do so are counter-intuitive and confusing. When boredom isn’t even allowed a chance to turn you away from a game mechanic, you know something’s up.
Additionally, Connor can complete missions around his little town. These missions explore the lives of people you invite to live and work there. While fun, they have nothing to do with the larger story, to the point where it feels like two separate games: Assassin’s Creed III and Homestead Tycoon.
But, overall, I was satisfied with Connor’s side of Assassin’s Creed III. Ubisoft finally took a hint and replaced useless side missions with an actual story as the focus of an AC game, which we haven’t seen in a while. There were still way too many side quests, but the story is fulfilling and no doubt takes center stage.
The artwork in this game is gorgeous. I was less impressed with colonial America than the sweeping majesty of Renaissance Italy, but I’ll still give Boston and New York “must-see” passes. Both cities are separated by a huge wilderness that Connor can explore and plunder. It’s quite expansive, so you won’t run out of things to do during or after the main story. I think Ubisoft wanted to go more for the power of nature in this game, and I can respect that.
Assassin’s Creed III squanders additional opportunities to make Connor an interesting character. The Tyranny of King Washington, a DLC set in a reality where George Washington goes mad with power, sees Connor lead a rebellion against a fledgling American empire. Somehow, Connor is the only one who has no amnesia in this reality, but he’s still the most boring person on the planet. The final chapter of the DLC gets interesting with a siege on Washington’s New York palace, but brings us no closer to understanding Connor and makes the whole production feel gratuitous. Give it a miss.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed III ends Desmond’s saga on a pretty mediocre note. We have one of the most boring protagonists of recent times, fighting for one of the most rote tropes in our media. It doesn’t help that this game’s PC port is not all that great, with frame rate inconsistencies and bugged quests. If you’ve played all of the Assassin’s Creed games up to this point, go ahead and finish the series. But that recommendation comes from “you might as well”, rather than “this game is exciting”.
You can buy Assassin’s Creed III here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.