Assassin’s Creed 3 or Of Unfinished Greatness

[Careful, many spoilers ahead! Oh, and in the game itself …]

Okay, Rabidgames has finally finished Assassin’s Creed 3. Now is not the time to talk about the bugs or some gameplay details (be they good or bad); this has already been done. This time, we’ll talk about some of the achievements and some of the integral shortcomings of Assassin’s Creed 3.

First of all, Rabidgames lied. Assassin’s Creed 3 is not finished yet. Yes, the main story is finished, Desmond’s story has come to a questionable end, and yet, while the clock is at 51 hours, the completion display stubbornly says 85%. Even now, there’s still a ton of stuff to do: 100% synching of all missions (although this is a no thanks from Rabidgames), collecting the last almanacs, completing deliveries, the fight and hunting clubs, hunting down some of the amazing pivots, and more. In terms of content, Ubisoft delivered – not exactly a matter of course in today’s gaming world. Mind you, the multiplayer of Assassin’s Creed 3 is still untouched, and with the possible exception of the promising cooperative Wolfpack mode, it’ll quite likely stay that way (unless the MP storyline is worth trudging).

Thankfully, the story of Assassin’s Creed 3 returns to the moral grey areas of the first Assassin’s Creed game: Are the Assassins really right, and are the Templars really that bad? What is more important – freedom or order? And why can’t we have both? And finally, we get to witness some irony in both times: Connor has been fighting for freedom, but what freedom did he end up with? While Connor chose freedom, Desmond chose order. Both come at a price. Most amazingly, the epilogue clearly shows that even if the Patriots were striving for freedom, it was just theirs, not freedom in general. Poor Connor. And on a grander scale, Assassin’s Creed 3 is satisfying as well: The Patriots are not solely depicted as noble gentlemen, the British and the Loyalists not as tyrants. On the contrary, both groups (and the French, of course) are hinted the be greedy white men who want to take the land from the Indians. Thank you, Ubisoft, for speaking out the truth Rabidgames once had feared would not be addressed.

Sadly, Assassin’s Creed 3’s dense story seems too twisted for its own good at times; if Haytham has known before that Washington gave the order to attack Connor’s village – why the hell did Haytham not tell Connor when he tried to seduce him to the dark side? And even worse, Washington is responsible for killing Connor’s mother, but Connor still supports him? Come on!!!! And then, there are amazingly good details to be found in Assassin’s Creed 3 (just go to Achilles’ grave and read the name of his son), but there are also stupid stories like that one: Achilles tells Connor he could pass as a Spaniard when walking throughout Boston – erm, a Spaniard with the name of Connor, dressed in Indian garb? Really? And honestly, how on earth is Connor supposed to be walking around town unnoticed in a classical fucking Assassin gown anyway – in 1770? It’s moments like these when Assassin’s Creed 3 loses immersion and credibility – it seems the scale was just too big, and some obvious details might have been taken care of if someone had taken just a step back and taken a good look at some of the trees in the woods …

The Desmond situation, joy … His sequences feel rushed – especially putting an end and to Vidic and disrupting Abstergo definitely felt rushed and bring sup the next question: Why sneaking and searching through Abstergo HQ instead of just using the Apple all the fucking time? And then, that Assassin’s Creed trilogy ending. Granted, it is not as abysmal as that Mass Effect 3 disgrace, but come on – another dea ex machina? And then Juno and Minerva are trying to convince Desmond to do what they want. And while we get to see exactly what happens if Minerva gets her way, what about Juno’s way? Nothing? No explanation, no premonition, just a muttered warning! And for fuck’s sake, give us a fucking choice (hint: Desmond is an idiot)! And honestly, Ubisoft, what about that “we bring Desmond’s story to an end”? Technically, you do – but seriously, another huge cliffhanger? Have you ever heard of the word “closure”? Look it up, please. Sorry, an ending which has only been designed to be a cliffhanger for the next game is pure bullshit, and definitely not worthy of the story arc and the artistic integrity of the games (yep, our favourite word is back once more).

Then again on the upside, there is a huge mystery: The end game of Assassin’s Creed 3. You collect some pivots (which was fun), and all of a sudden, “you’re (as in your gamertag) synchronized with the cloud” and you overhear some conversation outside the Animus. Also, there’s the sequence 5523C2302553. And the best part … no one knows what it means. Sure, the pivots main function is to unlock cheats and such, but is there more to it (remember you must be online in order to get that message)? Is it Desmond’s consciousness, somehow thrown into the Animus similar to Subject 16 aka Clay? Or have we just played a video game within a video game within a video game now (remember, there is no game over when Desmond dies, it’s just like when Connor gets desynchronised)? Or is it some organisation hacking into the Animus? And why?

Another dispitable issue are the characters. There are way too many characters in Assassin’s Creed 3, and the game has a terrible way of introducing most of them briefly (“hi, that’s my uncle’s father’s second grade nephew from Liverpool) and then neglecting them altogether for the next 10 hours – until they return out of the blue, leaving you wondering “so, who’s that guy again … let’s check in the ADB”. Then, there are guys like LaFayette – you talk to him (around sequence 9) and wonder “who is that guy now?”, checking faces with French names in the database. Speaking of the database: rarely has Rabidgames seen a game ruining itself by fucking up spoilers big time. Don’t read stuff turning up, please don’t. Except the existing database doesn’t make any sense if you don’t use it, but then again, if it contains a motherload of spoilers, you shouldn’t …

In terms of gameplay, it is surely a good thing we have much freedom in general, but why on earth is there basically no freedom in the story missions anymore? Remember the first game where you could really plan your assassinations? Speaking of them, why is a game called Assassin’s Creed, but then, not only play the Assassins and the Order a minor role in Assassin’s Creed 3, there are only a handful of proper assassinations to plan and execute. For fuck’s sake, what about meaningful assassinations sidequests (those 5 walking targets in New York don’t qualify, dear Ubisoft) at least? Why do you neglect the assassin in Assassin’s Creed? It’s where the fun is!

Yes, we should not forget the historical setting; assassins in the classical sense have kind of gone out of style, and freedom must be limited in the Animus since we’re not free to change history (well, we couldn’t anyway – remember, we’re reliving memories). While this might explain all the historical setting stuff and bonus objectives and such can be seen as “this is how it happened” – it is no excuse for a linear level design. Why is there only one single way, one linear corridor to reach the target unnoticed? Remember Assassin’s Creed 1 – granted, it was the same stuff 9 times all over, but the assassination missions granted you many different options and choices.

Let’s talk about fun (after all, fun is the most important thing in games): Again, a double-edged sword. Some missions in Assassin’s Creed 3 are plain boring. Yes, Rabidgames looks at you, you turkeyfucking chase missions. First, they are frustrating, second, they are boring, and third, they are frustrating AND boring. There is only one way to reach your goal, and it’s all about trial & error. In an open world game, such blatantly lame trial & error chores should be a big no-go area. Another funkiller looms as well; it’s the sort of  the “dramatic” Ubisoft threw in sequence 12: You’re hurt, so you can only walk painfully slowly. Well, except you can run and fight all of a sudden again for no reason, but then it’s back to limping again. But the point is: It sucks. It sucks to be forced to need a fucking minute to reach a fucking house in order to progreess. That’s not drama, and reaching a climax does not mean slowing down mere seconds before you reach it. Okay dramatic stuff and artistic integrity aside, the missions vary from “this is awesome” (huge naval battles, brawls, duels, shooting cannons) to “fuck off, you fucking piece of shit game, die, all of you” (scripted missions requiring the fucked up stealth system, or battles with and unlimited amount of soldiers, and, last and definitely least, those fucking chases).

Main missions aside, Assassin’s Creed 3 offers tons upon tons of optional content: Building your homestead and the accompanying missions are mostly fun, the economical factor is amazing in theory yet lacklustre in execution: You only need a handful of recipes, and sending convoys with that botched interface is a huge pain deep in the ass. Assassin recruits are back in Assassin’s Creed 3, but they have to be on a top level to be useful. Their special abilities come in handy here and there, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, the amazing Mediterranen Defense minigame (by far the best thing in Revelations) is gone, and you simply send your Assassins on completely irrelevant and insignificant missions to gather stuff, money and XP. Sad.

We were talking about fun, right? The most fun to be had in Assassin’s Creed 3 is the sandbox part. In cities, it means thinking of creative ways how to send your Assassins into battle most effectively, creating huge fights: At one point, it was 6 Assassins plus Connor against 30 redcoats. Connor won. In the Frontier, hunting down enemy patrols is fun as well (free-running in trees is what makes it really great), but the true destiny there is hunting. Stalking prey or suddenly becoming prey is by far the best gameplay experience in Assassin’s Creed 3. It’s a shame there are only a couple of hunting missions, too.

Rabidgames despairs: Assassin’s Creed 3 is rollercoaster lucky bag – you never know if the game will make you laugh or cry in the next 5 minutes. Then, you have a story which stumbles upon itself a couple of times, and the irony that a game about freedom does not grant you much of it in its main missions … But that’s not even the worst part; the worst part is: Despite its many achievements and the fun to be had dispatching guards and animals, despite succeeding in telling a morally ambiguous story in a mature way, Assassin’s Creed 3 is stuck in a cloud of arbitrariness:
In the battle between art and commerce, art loses in the end. All greatness is compromised by marketing constraints – not too much freedom so players can’t get lost, the release of an unfinished game (look at them bugs and glitches!), logical loopholes the size of a mass relay, no conclusion to the story so the sequel stays hot, … it’s a shame. Assassin’s Creed 3 could have become an amazing game, a figurehead next to Red Dead Redemption that gaming can cross its boundaries; but the way it has turned out, it is just another good game which raises some philosophical questions here and there, but it won’t be remembered for much more – as opposed to Red Dead Redemption. Maybe the next Assassin’s Creed will have left puberty.

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One Response to “Assassin’s Creed 3 or Of Unfinished Greatness”

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