Ubisoft’s ambitious mess proves that more is often less
By Adam Tatelman, Contributor
I wanted to like Assassin’s Creed III (released October 30). I’ve enjoyed the series since it began, and was proud to see the quality of each sequel improve upon the previous. I even liked Revelations (2011), despite it feeling like a rethread of Brotherhood (2010). Why? Because Ubisoft listened to the fans, scrapping whatever didn’t work and trying new things each time. But this new installment sinks all of that.
I’m not averse to change; Creed is all about change, which is why the American Revolution seemed like a logical step in the franchise. Sadly, these changes are not for the better.
The game is poorly paced from the get-go: an overlong, plodding opening act replicates moments we’ve already seen in the last few games. The opening credits aren’t shown until over an hour into the game, and we are left wondering where this Connor person from all the trailers went. Although the opening does play into a well-done first act plot twist, the story ignores “show, don’t tell” to the point where you will find yourself walking behind a supporting character for five minutes while he spouts exposition, watching a cut scene for five minutes explaining why that exposition matters, and then being led to the place the guy is talking about while he gives you yet more exposition on your target.
Creed used to say: “This evil guy is somewhere around here—find him and do the business.” It was up to you. Now, there’s so much spoon-feeding instruction that the tutorials obtrude on your progress a good five or six hours into the game. The control scheme was altered, resulting in even more tutorials. It’s like being in assassin grade school.
There are few options besides the massacre, which rarely fails because the combat system is the best it’s ever been in the series. The game seems proud of that, because it forces you to get ambushed and fight your way out constantly, leaving stealth barely in a supporting role.
The wide-open plains of the Frontier are very pretty, but nowhere near as towering and majestic as Rome, Florence, or Constantinople in the games before it. Gone is the beautiful Renaissance architecture I loved to scale, replaced by the two-storey shacks of Boston.
The environments have expanded outward at the expense of height and depth; you might as well just run everywhere at ground level. So much of AC3 is spent running from place to place that by the time you get to the Boston Tea Party, you’ll have forgotten why you were going there in the first place.
That’s the design flaw of the game: more stuff and less depth. Throw everything at the wall whether it sticks or not. How does hunting for animal skins, collecting Ben Franklin’s missing memoirs, fixing up your homestead, and recruiting settlers help you liberate America? Much of the game is spent introducing these concepts but not incorporating them into the narrative, leaving them as diversions during the few-and-far-between free-roam sections. Main missions feel like busywork, delivering messages and searching for stolen goods when we should be doing assassin stuff.
Everything about the game was good on paper: we have a beautiful setting that is historically detailed, and yet a pain to traverse. We have a story full of moral ambiguity and political intrigue, but it’s delivered in a ham-handed, awkward way. Maybe we should have bitten the bullet and paid for the tea.