Friday, 9 November 2012
Assassins's Creed 3 Review: A Revolution to Ignore
Assassins's Creed has always been an inconsistent series. The first game didn't live up to its own the potential, the second one and Brotherhood were both great and then Revelations was made pointless by its terrible ending. If Assassin's Creed 3 was a good game then the series would be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, if it could give a great ending and finally give Desmond a campaign that is. However if it didn't do those things and was therefore a bad game the series would never be remembered as great, rather it would be remembered for two great games, two terrible ones and one ok one.
So is Assassins's Creed 3 a good game?
Rob: The first thing to say about this game is it packs a lot of gameplay into it, everything has been tweaked and there has been a ton of new things added. The fighting system is simplified so you no longer have to hold a button to lock on to targets, you also dual wield and can even dual wield pistols. New weapons like the bow and arrow make ranged fighting a real option in this game and new tools like the rope dart let you hang enemies from trees (Alan: you can also sling them round an enemies' neck and drag them to you) whilst you stalk through the Frontier like the Predator.
Climbing has been changed and is now more streamlined and simple, Connor and Desmond have more moves open to them so getting from building to building is easier and more fluid than it was with Ezio or Altair. Climbing through the forested and mountainous regions of the frontier is also an absolute blast and is surprisingly easy to pick up. It does suffer from the occasional problem where Connor doesn't do quite what you want him to but every Assassins's Creed game has had these issues and it really isn't the end of the world to have Connor occasionally not climb something the first time around. There is however a new issue with the climbing in that sometimes Connor will be perched on a tree trunk or ledge and will refuse to move forwards unless you really struggle trying to force him to jump forwards rather than run. It really interrupts the flow of climbing, which is a problem because with the added moves they have clearly striven to improve the flow. Even outside of climbing they have made changes to the flow, adding the ability to dash through open buildings to escape from guards. It's a shame then that other mechanics work against these new additions and ruin the affect.
Alan: I don't like the new climbing systems, I think they fail a lot more than the old versions used to with Conner randomly jumping onto things or trying to full on scale a wall when really its just a knee height ridge. Some of the new escape options are really cool though, such as running through buildings as Rob has mentioned or the ability to jump over fences rather than jump onto them then jump off.
Rob: Apart from these basic mechanic changes there have been new elements added. The first you'll discover is hunting, you analyse the frontier for clues before either setting up snares to catch smaller animals or stalking deer, elk, wolves and all manner of other beasts through the forests. You can then skin them and sell their meat, pelts etc. at general stores for a profit. My only problem with hunting, and it is a massive one for me, is that when you fight a bear head on you do so through a quick time event, if you sneak up on them you can attack them how you please but if they see you coming its all done in QTEs. The same goes for wolves and elk sadly and this really takes the fun out of hunting for me. Red Dead Redemption featured some great bear fights and I was really looking forward to having some here but instead of that I just press a couple of buttons when prompted to and watched as Connor kills the bear. I get no sense of being involved and no fun from doing so. This was a big mistake on Ubisoft's part. Hunting is ruined by it.
Alan: I really liked the hunting and didn't mind the quick time events, however the problem is the hunting got very annoying very quickly because animals run at ridiculous speeds and will sometimes notice your there for no apparent reason.
Rob: As well as hunting their are also Homestead Missions, you'll have to help someone in need, usually by killing guards/thieves/poachers etc. and then they'll open a place on your homestead so you can get supplies and crafts from them, eventually building a town which crafts goods and sells them through trade convoys. The missions are fun but I can't help but feel that the Homestead and the management of it just isn't as cool as Ezio's Uncle's town was or as Masyaf was. Also the craft system mainly allows you to craft things to sell for money but it is not fun to do and the menu for it seems clunky and cumbersome. It is far easier, and far more enjoyable, to simply hunt animals and sell their skins to make money.
Alan: I've done all the homestead missions now and they are an amazing new system which can provide you with loads of money very quickly and later on your crafters can make the best weapons in the game for you.
Rob: Fortunately the Naval Battles offer no such faults. Steering the ship and switching sails is done with a few button presses and the use of the sticks to steer is really easy to get the hang of. Combat is also easy and broadsiding an enemy ship looks, sounds and feels amazing. There are different types of cannon shot, such as chain shot, to use and they all have different effects on other ships. You can also upgrade your ship with more cannons, some reinforcement and even a ram! The naval battles are simply a blast and on some missions they are made even better because you can board the enemies' ship for some close up bloodshed. They are a fantastic addition to the game and provide hours of fun. The missions are mostly optional but I would highly recommend doing them. Also Connor looks badass in his captains outfit. It is a shame though that you can only board in certain missions and not at will.
Alan: I have got to say the naval battles are where Connor shines. I've done them all and not one is disappointing.
Rob: Other features sadly don't fair so well. The new liberation missions take too long and involve too much back and forth to be fun. In one I had to free a prisoner, go get a contract from an inn, free another prisoner and then repeat the process. It was dull, repetitive and drawn out and was no near as fun or easy as liberating and getting new recruits was in Brotherhood or Revelations. Sadly the new Fort Assault missions seem equally dull. There doesn't really seem to be much point in doing it and they just seem tacked on, as if the developers wanted to simply make the game last longer without having to actually think about it too much. What was wrong with the Templar towers from the other games? Oh yeah, nothing.
Alan: The liberation missions are very tedious and provide little reward and the forts are useless you free them by doing all these annoying things and the reward? A fast travel point, thanks Ubisoft.
Rob: They took other old features and managed to ruin them too, for example the Assassins's Guild is nowhere near as cool as it was. The Liberation missions make getting new recruits boring and when you do, although they have different abilities such as causing riots, they don't wear Assassin robes and there is no sense of accomplishment or ceremony for them. This is something that the older games had and I cannot even begin to comprehend why Ubisoft would remove these things and make these changes.
Alan: I despise the new Assassins guild, mainly because they are not assassins, Connor never mentions the creed or what they are now the recruits just say "you can call us anytime" or something along those lines. You also can't choose the new recruits there are six and they are all just set characters and its just annoying. And yes the assassin recruits do have special powers but I never use them because assassinate is still the best.
Rob: Also a lot of the attacks are more violent, like stabbing legs and throats, but don't kill your opponent. This just makes combat look ridiculous. I know most games aren't realistic with their combat but Ezio never used to do much damage outside of his killing blows. Connor and Desmond though will stab a guy in the knees and throat several times, with him still being fine, before they land a killing blow, this just seems like lazy design and really is not acceptable in a series that has had always had great combat in the past.
Alan: Conner also seems reluctant to kill people even though he's an assassin, because most of his finishing moves are non-lethal.
Rob: Along with the other little changes Ubisoft also decided to modify the HUD and sadly it didn't quite work. Things are less clear than they used to be and sometimes the indicators show that the pistol is frozen in its reload even though you can still use it (sometimes you can't use it though!). There is also the problem that the notifications that appear in the top right hand corner cycle through very slowly which means waiting for important information can take a painfully long time.
Desmond on the other hand features absolutely no HUD which, at first, makes things very challenging but, after a few moments, becomes quite interesting. It makes the game more immersive and combat seem more real. It almost makes me wish that more games would remove HUDs, or at least make it an option.
On the whole then the gameplay isn't very good, only a few of the new mechanics (an socially the Naval Battles) are actually worth any of your time and the other ones are so dull and/or pointless that the so called freedom the Frontier provides is mind numbing. The campaign itself isn't too bad, the linearity of it can be at too much at times but its mainly good fun gameplay wise.
Alan: I often think when I'm playing that they've changed things that didn't need changing and not for the better and far too often the new elements are glitchy.
Rob: The historical side of the story starts off brilliantly with Connor being set up really well with clear motives and intentions right from the get go. You see virtually Connor's entire life unfold, from young child to troubled teenager to determined adult. The historical setting is also used more here than it was in previous games, with events unfolding throughout Connor's life that make the story all the more engaging. The Battle of Bunker Hill is a brilliant example because it puts Connor in the centre of something famous and really makes the story all the more enjoyable and immersive.
There are however some problems with Connor himself. His personality is awful. Ezio was an incredibly likeable character but Connor is not. Connor is, at first understandably naive but after his training his naivety turns into pig headed stubbornness, anger and arrogance. He is rude and suffers ludicrously dramatic mood swings and really just makes you dislike him and wish you were playing as Ezio. Also his motives don't develop to include the Assassins's Creed after his training, he doesn't really seem to care that much about Assassins's goals, despite the fact that he says he does. Rather he just wants revenge and to protect his people, these aren't bad motives but the lack of Assassins's Creed really cripples the story. The worst part is that at one stage you play briefly as someone else and they are far more likeable than Connor is. Fortunately the supporting characters are fantastic with developed personalities that are mostly likeable and if they aren't likeable then they are interesting. Of course there are many evil people but even they have some motives with which you can sympathise, indeed the most damning indictment of Connor is that I sympathise more with the Templars in his time than I do with him and his Assassins, they seem like better people with better goals and they talk more sense. Seeing as they are supposed to be the bad guys this is a serious problem with the games story.
Alan: I find the really big problem is the main enemies in the game are far more compelling than Connor and thats just a recipe for disaster.
Rob: Sadly this isn't redeemed with Connor's ending, obviously I won't spoil it but his final mission is disastrously unsatisfying and the conclusion to his story leaves countless questions. The thing is that this is compounded by a certain lack of care. Though there are questions and this is of course a problem there is a bigger problem in that I don't care about the answers because Connor is not a character that I grew even remotely attached to.
Desmond's story also gets off to a good start with him and the team setting up shop in a Precursor site looking for a key to open it so that they can (hopefully) save the world and also provide us fans with answers to the near endless list of questions that we now possess. The problem is that Desmond is the series' main character. The story of Assassins's Creed is the story of Desmond Miles, not Altair, not Ezio and not Connor, they are all merely a means to an end and Desmond is the main character. The problem is Ubisoft are unwilling to accept this, this game does feature Desmond's most enjoyable missions but they aren't good enough, they are too brief and there are too few of them. Desmond needed a full fledged campaign but didn't get one and so his story seems disappointing.
As for its ending well it answers one or two questions but leaves most unanswered and is grossly unsatisfying. Also it doesn't make sense thematically with the rest of the series and game considered. I won't go into too much detail but its even worse than Mass Effect 3's original ending, and that says a lot! Next week I will discuss spoilers and go more in depth here.
Alan: One thing I noticed is when Connor is with his native people he speaks his native language and subtitles translate what they are saying, but in all the other games the characters were speaking foreign languages and the animus was translating it all for Desmond so why the sudden change?
Rob: Assassins's Creed has always featured great music, speech and writing and this is no different. The script is fantastic and is delivered well by all of the cast and the soundtrack is just as stellar as always. Weapons sound fantastic as always. Swords clash wonderfully as you fight off guards and the blades slide out with a brilliant sound and pistols, muskets and cannons roar with a thunder that makes it sound as if you are really firing them. The sound effects for this game really are second to none and the sound team have done a brilliant job of bringing the world to life through sound.
That said even this area of the game is not perfect, there were a number of occasions where people would be talking but making no sound, this isn't a huge issue if, like me, you play with subtitles on but if you didn't then you could potentially miss vital pieces of information or plot, Again this just seems like another element which has been rushed and not done well.
Rob: This is a really mixed bag in terms of graphics. Ubisoft have really pushed their engine to the brink and their ambition is mind boggling. It is also their undoing. You see when everything comes together, the bustling cities, huge forest, the characters faces, the explosions of cannons, this game looks amazing, absolutely top of its class. The problem is it rarely comes together. There are very few moments where everything on screen looks good. There is almost always an instant of major pop in, more so than any open world game I've played in the last few years pop in occurs at an alarming rate. Also, although the streets are bustling and well designed the buildings are dull and repetitive. The architecture in previous games has been amazing and has made cities memorable and scaling the rooftops fun but this time around its a dull experience that isn't memorable in the slightest. I know the cities are based off of less architecturally adventurous settlements than those of previous games but still, the design here is boring and a bit lazy with some buildings being repeated on opposite sides of the street!
Also there are a ludicrous amount of graphical bugs. Sometimes people will talk but their faces will not move, you can be writing in a book with pages already full, your costume will not change in cutscenes if you are not wearing the default robes, characters and objects can sometimes fly up into the air, horses get stuck on things, Connor gets stuck on things, objects get suspended in the sky, your robes disappear into things such as horses and, most annoyingly, in one of the last missions the man you are after freezes, forcing you to restart the checkpoint. (I am the only person I know that has had this last one happen, if it happened to you leave a comment letting me know).
Ubisoft's intentions here are good and their ambition great its just that they went too far and did more than they were capable of, if they had just reined themselves in a little bit then the game could have looked great, previous games in the series managed it so why couldn't this one?
Rob: I've always liked that Assassins's Creed has unique multiplayer but its never really gripped me all that much and sadly this game is no different. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with it, the menu's work, the modes are mostly fun and the chapters and maps are good, it just isn't very fun outside of a match or two. The only real big problem outside of that is that Wolfpack, the game's newest mode which has you and a partner working together to kill targets in a time limit, seems a bit gimmicky and just not very fun after a few rounds of it.
The slow pace and methodical nature of the game just mean that isn't action packed enough to sustain interest, I like fast paced multiplayer that is intense, this so too slow for me and just bores me after about ten minutes.
In case you hadn't noticed I do not like this game. There isn't one single element that isn't flawed and sadly every element has at least one flaw that is major, whether its the awful story, the broken speech that means you miss information, the boring multiplayer, the broken graphics or the myriad of dull/broken/ruined gameplay elements that have been tacked on.
Over the weekend I downloaded DC Universe online, a fairly run of the mill, ok but not great action MMO that's free on the PS3, its nothing like Assassins's Creed but, if you want a new game, I'd get that and save the money you would have spent on this game for the Ezio Trilogy whilst Googling a list of spoilers for this or just checking back here next week for them.
The most frustrating thing about this game is that. If it had delivered on all that it needed to, if Desmond had a full story, if Connor and his story were great and if the gameplay, sound and graphics were also good then the game, and the series, would be remembered as one the best of all time, up their with the greats like Metal Gear, Zelda and Halo. Unfortunately this is not the case and, at least for the foreseeable future, the series is destined to rot in the quagmire of mediocrity that it has so mindlessly stumbled into.
I haven't said a whole lot in this review mainly because I agree with everything Rob has already put, but I felt the need to add something here, We've slagged the game off a lot in this review and I just need you to understand that there are cool things in the game but rather than making up for all the bad things and helping you see past them, it makes the bad things even more evident and shows how good the game could have been. The other Assassins creed games I loved but this one has practically ruined the franchise for me and thats just soul destroying after everything with Ezio. I've got 92% completion so far and yet theres still nothing to redeem the game even slightly, my advice to anyone thinking of buying this game would be to buy the previous games and then at the end of revelations make up your own end for Desmond and the games because it will be better than the one this game provides.
Point of View of a Girlfriend
My girlfriend (Amy) likes gaming, she is not a massive gamer, her interest has so far been limited to Red Dead Redemption, LA Noir and the Assassins's Creed series but I'm sure you'll agree that she has great taste.
Now, its important to understand that I would say she is probably a bigger Assassins's Creed fan than either me or Alan and I have to admit I expected her to enjoy this game pretty much no matter what. We played it separately so as not to ruin it for each other but I was at the end of the game and she wasn't enjoying it so she watched the story conclude and decided she didn't want to finish it. Like me she hated Connor and missed Ezio, she finds the side missions boring and she has always achieved 100% in the games. Most of all though she just has the sense to realise that the story is awful.
To be honest Ubisoft should probably hire as a QA tester, if she doesn't like the game then it means it sucks, trust me. She plays these games to the death, doing absolutely everything, usually several time over. She didn't like the Homestead missions or the Hunting, she didn't touch the Liberation missions and couldn't even force herself to finish the main story missions, she thought it was that bad.
Her verdict? Buy the Ezio Trilogy instead.