Game Review: "Assassin´s Creed III"

Platform(s): PS3, Xbox360, Wii U and PC

With the magnum opus that was the Auditore Saga reaching an end, Ubisoft decided it was finally time to skip forward through Desmond Miles’ ancestral memories by introducing the American Revolution as the backdrop and the introduction to Native American Assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton aka Connor Kenway (Noah Watts) who was born to an English father and a Native mother.

Amidst this brutal war between two nations, Connor attempts to unify himself with his identity and the Creed but obviously, this endeavor comes with a heavy price. Of all elements of the game, the inclusion of playing as what is considered the enemy of the series was a massive risk made on the developer’s part but if you ask me, it was a gamble that paid off. More on particular aspect later. In 2012, Desmond Miles has roused himself from his comatose state and now finds himself in control of deciding the fate of the world. No matter what he does, this will be Desmond’s deciding moment and quite possibly the end of his story.

The dramatic cinematic trailer for Assassin's Creed III made the game look astounding. The American Revolution remains one of the most controversial, violent yet unmistakably influential events in history and to set an Assassin’s Creed game during this time was a smashing concept. Not only that, but the player was put into the moccasins of Ratonhnhaké:ton, a bi-racial character, something that even now games almost never have the gall to include in terms of creating an interesting lead protagonist and not transforming the character into a stereotype. The spectacle of Ratonhnhaké:ton/Connor storming the bloody fields of Bunker Hill, cutting down hapless Redcoats all to get to their Templar commander using nothing but his speed, cunning and tomahawk had me absolutely pumped to join our new Assassin on his journey of truth, justice and freedom.

Then there was the game itself. Oh.

Before I launch into a possible tirade of the multitude of missed opportunity this game possesses, I really do want to address the positive elements and there are quite a few that helps this game keep its head above the lake. Again, Ubisoft creates a masterful historical recreation of Boston, New York and the American Frontier lands circa the 1700’s during the Revolution. The genesis of two of the most prolific cities in the worlds have been stunningly realized here complete with showcasing the key events of the conflict- the Battle of Bunker Hill, The Battle of Chesapeake, The Boston Tea Party (because everything about Revolution Boston needs that!), Battle of Monmouth and the Battles of Lexington and Concord but to name a few.

For a first in the series, seasonal changes occur: the deep, sludgy snows of winter, the heat of summer, the coolness of fall and the vibrancy of spring facilitate the sensation that we are seeing days, weeks and years go by. Connor plays a crucial role in all of these by either witnessing these or most importantly taking part in them. In addition to this, Connor finds himself rubbing shoulders or locking proverbial horns with some of America’s Founding Fathers as well as well-known figures such as Charles Lee (WHERE’S CHARLES LEE?!), Israel Putnam, Paul Revere and Thomas Jefferson but to name a few. This has led to many cases of contention, which in turn has had quite a few folks vehemently boycott the game, to which I say “Get over it.”. There is starvation, war, slavery, rape and abuse of human rights going on in the world right now as we speak and those folks went all boo-hoo over a game that had made it positively clear that it was a work of fiction that had been made by people of various faiths and beliefs.

The story itself truly is fascinating. When Desmond steps back in time, we first find ourselves in the polished leather boots of Haytham Kenway (Adrian Hough), Connors' English father, and a Templar Grandmaster. That’s right. This is the very first Assassin’s Creed game that places the player in the role of the enemy and may I just say, Haytham is bar none perhaps the most compelling lead character in the series. Despite having allegiance to the Templar order, Haytham was raised as an Assassin by his father, Edward Kenway who we would meet later in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
This unique personal conflict truly works in the game’s favor considering how much of a risky prospect it was. Up until this point players were mostly concerned with the trials and tribulations of the Assassins but now that Haytham has entered the pantheon, this has changed the perceptions of everybody, me included. Haytham is one of those characters who naturally has his flaws as a person, but subjectively, he grabs you from the get-go with his dashing and debonair personality, his rationality and his intelligence. On more than several occasions he proves he is not some one-note sophisticate villain but a soul with many faces, each of which reveal themselves throughout the progression of the campaign. Everybody he interacts with witness their own facet of Haythams' personality and Houghs' voice work is simply amazing.

Thanks to the actor’s talent, you can really feel the character believes in the cause that he fights for, but alternatively, he realizes that he could never become an Assassin because he has traveled down the Templar path for too long. If you ever get the opportunity to read Oliver Bowden’s written adaptation of Haytham’s story Forsaken do so because you get an even further insight into this brilliant character. As a result of his brilliant work, Hough was nominated for a BAFTA and no wonder.

Ugh. You're so awesome I want to vomit.
What was I saying? Oh yes, story.

As with all games in the series, the narrative as a whole takes places over many years starting from our formal introduction to Haytham before switching perspective to Ratonhnhaké:ton who grows up in the American Frontier only to be struck by a terrible tragedy in which his mother perishes and his people scattered. Determined to track down those responsible, the boy hits up Achilles Davenport, an old recluse and a disgraced Assassin who has shut himself up in his rundown homestead on the top of a hill.

Davenport is highly reluctant to take in this young Native upstart, but when some errant Redcoats come knocking to collect, Ratonhnhaké:ton wastes no time in laying waste to the lobster-backs which finally convinces the old man to open his doors and introduces the youth to his tutelage. From there, Ratonhnhaké:ton adopts the Christian name of Connor and embarks on a relentless trail of retribution as well as allying himself with the tyro General George Washington who stands for all Connor wishes to fight for… apparently. In terms of telling a story, Assassin’s Creed III is highly respectable to the time period despite being a work of fiction and most importantly, Native American culture (specifically the Mohawk nation) is not mocked or pigeon-holed but is portrayed with decency and sensitivity, same goes for practically any of the other ethnic groups portrayed in this game. In terms of Connors' personal journey, boy oh boy does he have it rough. Throughout the narrative, Connor is faced with difficult choices, hypocrisy, lies and betrayal and it’s not too difficult to feel for his plight. Now in terms of likeability as a character, we’ll get to that in a tic.

Another impressive addition to the franchise thanks to this game are the naval contracts. My goodness, I don’t think you have felt power until you are on board a fully locked and loaded brig while taking on a fleet of enemies as well as adversary galleons. Connor has the ability to pilot the Aquila on a dozen (not enough!) missions that involve escorting allies, distracting and eliminating threats and of course, assassinations. Pairing up with this, Connor hunts down Captain Kidd’s treasure by visiting several shipwrecks in order to obtain a piece of a map that will lead him to the legendary booty. My favorite locale being a ruined man ‘o’ war that has been trapped in an ice pack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Connor braves the biting winds and the threat of falling into below sub-zero waters before he even boards the remains of the ghost ship. While there, he sees several corpses that have been literally frozen in time all to protect a small piece of paper. The stage looks incredible not to mention haunting and just a little bit melancholy especially when you see that Connors' breath is notable as he ventures through the wreck.
Now all of that has been said, it’s time to get down to the brass tacks of the matter, starting with our main man himself.

Although my appreciation of Connor has skyrocketed over three years, personality speaking, Connor is perhaps the one who most alienates players. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand Connor is the way he is, but just so, the writers could have given the character a little more humor. I never expected our main Mohawk to crack wise like Ezio or be the stoic hard case Altaïr, but considering you spend a quarter of the game playing as his father, you’d expect him to carry the occasional bout of levity. Consequently, it’s not until Connor makes an uneasy truce with his dad much later that you do see some source of sarcasm and wit being dragged from the depths of Connor even then, it’s glossed over.

If I may be honest however, after recently playing the game again, I found myself appreciating the character a little more. I don’t want to not like a protagonist, but making a character possess a sense of affability is half of the job done and I can’t say Ubisoft succeeded in terms of first impressions. Broadly speaking, two of Connor’s arguably best moments are when he learns the truth of the tragedy that set him on his path. He adorns his face with warpaint and cuts his hair into a literal mohawk, all of this acting as a metaphor of Connor screaming “ENOUGH!; the other toward the end is when Connor says nothing at all, but allows his actions speak for him. I won’t reveal any more because it is a spoiler and it really is too good to give away.

I also want to bring up Connor’s involvement in some of the big affairs during the Revolution, or well, rather one in particular that I just didn’t like. In what is ultimately a boring mission, Connor rides a horse through Concord and Lexington with Paul Revere riding bitch behind him. I can’t say I’m offended by this (considering you know, I’m not American), but the assignment felt like a waste of time plus a waste of character. Why couldn’t Connor have acted as defense for Paul as he made his perilous ride that night? Stealthily riding ahead and cutting lobster-back throats, ambushing patrols who lie in wait, doing ASSASSIN things. Not steering a horse while Revere barks directions from behind you.

While I’m at this, quite a few of the missions have ridiculous optional objectives: stay within 50 meters of a running enemy, don’t shove anybody during a high-intensity chase, don’t be detected while stealing an officer’s uniform in the middle of a crowded street that is being patrolled by enemies. Like, why is the game bothering to ask this when it’s either almost impossible or inappropriate for the mission?

And then there is the terrible lock-picking mechanic. FOR THE LOVE OF GOAT CHEESE, WHY? WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GREAT IDEA?! I remember spending 10 minutes trying to navigate one single lock with my little pick and wrench because the controls were incredibly sensitive. Considering picking locks were for all intents and purposes a mini-game here, they should have the mechanics a lot more forgiving.

In fact, generally speaking I found the controls in the game to be incredibly fickle and fiddle. Maybe it’s because of how much bigger the world is and thus the digital data, but my goodness, controlling Haytham and Connor took some getting used to. As a result, I found when it came to physical combat, I stuck with a general strategy using general weaponry because the other skills that Connor obtained were either a little too complicated or useless (most of the time it was that second one).

Finally, the Redcoats. Dear God, those Redcoats. While I fully understand that since the Redcoats are ruling America with an iron fist and the fact they were incredibly paranoid about Native Americans, they will get all up in Connors' grill over the smallest of unintentional trespasses. For example, guards stand in front of particular builds that one would assume are their headquarters and Connor will just be walking past, completely minding his own business before the bastards leave their post and start chasing him across the city. Grenadiers will throw their special explosive surprises, gunners with snipe you from rooftops, agiles with tackle you. I found I had to stick to the far end of a street in order to avoid incurring that bullshit.

As an additional note, while I would not say it is a criticism, the whole notion of building the Homestead was a bit of a missed opportunity. As Connor travels from place to place, he meets up with oppressed individuals who are finding it incredibly difficult to make ends meet. Connor offers them the opportunity to come back with him to Achilles’s estate where they may trade freely and safely. This is a great idea that hearkens back to the economic and liberation system of Brotherhood that unfortunately does not reach its full potential. Occasionally members of the homestead are threatened by an outside force or trouble occurs within their circles, all of which are issues Connor must solve. I found all of these affairs to be quite dull and far too short-lived to really create a massive impact on the game.

Likewise, the crafting system from Revelations returns, but in this case it feels a lot more natural, not to mention fundamental. I do love the fact that creating food, clothes, inventions, supplies from the materials that Connor or the Homestead residents have gathered/made correlate to the economy and well-being of the stronghold. My only quibble is that you really do have to wait around to obtain the materials that you require when you want to make something of particular interest and value. One simply doesn’t halt in their assassinating schedule to wait until the are able to make some linsey-woolsey!

One last minor issue: I found the mini-games could be very annoying. Throughout the Frontier, Boston and New York, taverns and lodges offer the player the opportunity to play games of Bowls, Fanorona and Nine Mens' Morris with the computer as the opponent. All three can be played in varying stages of difficulty and unless you have the mind of an analytical genius, you will wish Connor would get up and stab his opponent in the neck. You can expect further anger when you see that one of the game’s achievements expects you to win all three games... on hard. At the Homestead. Again, Ubisoft, what were you thinking?


So, all of that ranted and raved, how do I feel about the official third chapter to Assassin’s Creed? It’s good. Most of what keeps it back the fact it has found ways to sabotage itself which in turn sabotages our collective enjoyment of the piece. The story is worthy, and the intentions are noble, but thanks to janky controls, lack-luster character work and a general sensation of being anti-climatic, III did not live up to the potential it promised. Over time the experience can gain more positive points, but in terms of making a good first impression, III is uneven. I wanted to be fully invested in this game as a whole, but it all feels like an ouroboros: impressive upon the first gaze, but it eats its own tail. You want it to break the cycle, but it’s just too involved in its end that it doesn’t bother to take initiative and break free of its curse.
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Fallen Botticelli Angel/Elightened Eldritch/Lunatic Fringe
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