Assassin’s Creed 3 Review: One Step Forward, Two Back
However, by rights, Assassin’s Creed 3 should have been the banner title in the series, especially with the huge area you can explore, the historical actors you can meet and influence, and the new ways you can hunt and eliminate your adversaries.
Instead, Assassin’s Creed 3 falters and actually detracts somewhat from the series. Much of it is a step in the wrong direction.
The first major issue is Connor himself. Stoic and soft-spoken, he’s constantly pitted against the much more dynamic Templars. He’s no Ezio: His motivations make little sense, especially as the story unfolds, he’s actually a bit dense in terms of intelligence, and he’s routinely thrown up next to much more interesting characters. I wish the game was about his mentor, Achilles, or members of the Templar conspiracy whom you’re tasked with dispatching.
And Ubisoft’s treatment of the epic setting of the American Revolution actually manages to render a number of exciting historical events, such as Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, rather boring if not confusing, and the longer the game goes on, the less incentive there is to keep moving forward. It’s great that Ubisoft wants to paint the Forefathers as flawed characters who had faults as well as virtues, but there’s never a point at which I like the characters enough to buy Connor being railroaded into joining the Boston Tea Party or the Battles of Concord and Lexington.
But beyond a few mishandled set pieces — balanced by an equal number of well-conceived ones that give Connor new things to do to break up the pace of the game — the real issue is in minor but ubiquitous design decisions coupled with corner-cutting that detract from the moment-to-moment experience.
There were a number of instances throughout this purportedly open game in which I was presented with not-so-open scenarios. For example, one had me sneaking around a British officer’s command camp in order to assassinate him. While players were free to approach the camp however they wished, there was only one way to do so that didn’t result in open combat with 25 enemies: Sneaking in the low underbrush, then climbing a tree and attacking from above. This was the game’s path through the situation, and this moment and many others in which I tried to forge my own path to the objective were met with failure. It was as if the developers were saying, “Sure, you’re free to do it ‘Your Way’ — as long as it’s our approved ‘Your Way’.”
That would be a minor criticism except when other issues collude with it, which cause Assassin’s Creed 3 to feel like a title that needed more time in development. In that same instance, as I was trying to sneak around the British camp, a bug would randomly kick me out of my underbrush cover, causing Connor to stand and present himself for whoever was patrolling nearby. Add to that Assassin’s Creed 3’s incredibly sensitive stealth system that makes it nearly impossible to go anywhere or do anything without getting spotted (especially when you’re “Notorious,” which means enemies are spotting you almost constantly), and the result was failure after failure after failure.
I ran into many points in the game built like this, and I never felt like skill was the requirement for making it through; only luck and a hope that all the game systems would work as they’re supposed to.
Being a flagship game, Assassin’s Creed 3 still has a lot going for it despite these issues that seriously detract from moments being fun or feeling like it deals on a basis of skill. Set piece moments like the Battle of Bunker Hill, for example, were rather phenomenal (ironically, that set piece immediately preceded the assassination debacle I just described). Paul Revere’s ride might have been lame, but other moments made up for it, like infiltrating and destroying ships firing on Patriot positions. One section that takes place in the present and includes scaling a building under construction was not only phenomenally well-built, it was also gorgeous from a graphical perspective.