Around this time last year, I had divided my playing time into three major releases: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on the Wii, Batman: Arkham City on the PlayStation 3, and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations on Xbox 360.
I had no particular reason to be excited for last year’s Assassin’s Creed game. I felt I had my fill of Renaissance-era Italy and Ezio Auditore at the end of Brotherhood, released the year before that. In fact, Revelations was the first game in the series I hadn’t gone out of my way to purchase the day of release, and mixed reviews helped decide it would be worth it at a lower price, which it reached that Black Friday. The game is rather forgettable, with Ezio taking his silent killing talents to Turkey, a frankly awful Portal-lite game that slightly characterizes series surrogate Desmond Miles, the mysterious Subject 16, and, perhaps the game’s only highlight, gives a dignified conclusion to Altaïr, the first game’s hero.
Still, I had a particularly slow 2012, so it already feels so long ago I was watching a trailer introducing, finally, the true sequel and billed next step forward in this interesting, engaging franchise. It is set during the American Revolution, a period of history I never tire of reading about, and we’re going to meet Miles’ next ancestor to don the uniform, a Native American who goes by Connor (or Ratonhnhaké:ton, his birth name). It was developed with a new engine, and had supposedly been in development for three years. We would get Assassin’s Creed 3.
Fast forward to two weeks ago. After reading tweets of mixed impressions, Assassin’s Creed 3 would be another game I would happily wait on a lower price. Black Friday delivered, as usual, and secured a copy. I also managed to get my hands on its PlayStation Vita spin-off title Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, set in the south during the French and Indian War. The game comes bundled with the limited edition white Vita, which I’d been coveting for some time.
I’ve only spent a week with both games, and I have come to the decision to take a break from this series for maybe six months to a year, or if I have a strong desire to return. I don’t know how this series became so lazy. I’ve read people criticize Ubisoft for launching the yearly installment plan Activision infamously carries out with their blockbuster Call of Duty games. Assassin’s Creed 3 plays like a game that absolutely could have used another year in development, to fix a number of gameplay and technical problems and perhaps going against the grain and deciding a day one patch wouldn’t cut it. The game has seen one, maybe two patches since release. Its slow beginning serves no true purpose other than to show the player basic commands, and to provide a twist that means nothing emotionally since we don’t know Connor enough yet to appreciate it. Previous games absolutely had more variety in its design than having you simply follow people and maybe kill one or two of them. Its historical cameos are just those, without real contribution to the story, in a way that makes Connor the Forrest Gump of videogames.
I’ve come across one glitch that forced me to reset the game, and a number of smaller ones that kill the momentum of mission success. Traverse in this series prided itself on the heroes’ ability to utilize parkour and maneuver through structures and architecture. The downside of this is the occasional hiccup of someone grabbing the wrong ledge when you mean to go another direction, which can make enemy evasion somewhat problematic. The issue seems to double in Assassin’s Creed 3 already because it’s not a particularly complete game. I will applaud two things this game does: 1) has pretty fun naval missions, so much so that they’re more fun than the offerings of the main story 2) get me to be interested in Desmond again as he, his partners from previous games, and his father look to secure more… Apple of Eden information… seemingly in Manhattan. I have been completely lost in that portion of the overall plot, particularly since some of the story is told through separate downloadable content I have no interest in paying for.
Even when it isn’t working against me, the game is not fun to play outside the aforementioned naval combat missions. Each mission comes with secondary objectives for “full synchronization,” whatever that entails outside a trophy/achievement and maybe a new item, but the only way they’re challenging is because the game doesn’t want you to accomplish them, with controls working against you (sticking to large structures for cover is incredibly counterintuitive; you’d think the developers would assign a ‘crouch’ or ‘stick to walls’ command like many stealth action games do…), and enemy AI that will either ignore you in the open or suspect you no matter what you do.
I’m also sick and tired of cutscenes disguised as gameplay. Follow this person, listen to this conversation, etc. Why does anyone think this is a good idea? The UI in the pause menu is atrocious. Why does the weapon/tool wheel need its own screen when the real-time selection in previous games worked just fine? It’s here where I’m entering into nitpicking territory, but a game like Assassin’s Creed 3, at least for the moment, represents a number of things I dislike in modern game design.
I mentioned owning Liberation, but I believe my frustrations with AC3 are skewing my enjoyment of the handheld game, although I believe the game moves at an incredible snail-like pace. That’s not helpful, since the Vita device has a relatively short battery life per session. I’m not sure if I’m ready to say anything about it, but I’m saying farewell for now.
And for the record, I’m playing the PlayStation 3 copy of Assassin’s Creed 3. I have no idea how that compares to its other platforms, but it needed more time in the oven.