Okay, it’s time to drop a truth bomb. There has never actually been a genuinely, outstandingly good, Assassin’s Creed game. The original game launched to fair-to-middling reviews, and the sequel improved on that somewhat, but it wasn’t exactly ten-out-of-ten material. That’s not to say they’re bad games, of course. They’ve just never had the polish of a true classic, with everything from glitchy free-running mechanics, through to focusing heavily on inane collect-a-thons keeping them down.
What’s always made the series interesting is the way it successfully recreates real historical locations. From the Crusades-era Holy Land in the original, through to fifteenth-century Florence and Venice, and now American Revolution-era New England, the games have always succeeded in creating a sense of place.
One thing that’s always bugged me about the AC series is that the framing story is dumb. What started out as a way of justifying video game conventions in a historical setting has grown into a plot tumour that threatens to strangle the series if it continues to grow. The characters in these modern-day settings are dull and uninteresting, and the fact that ACIII actually forces you to play as Desmond for extended periods is a major strike against it. As always, these sequences are to be skipped as quickly as possible so you can get back to the actually interesting bits.
The big revelation in ACIII, and the one Ubisoft went to great pains to hide from everyone before the game’s release, is that you don’t start out playing the main character at all. In fact, it’s a good few hours into the game before we meet Connor, the game’s main protagonist.
Instead, you start out as Haytham Kenway, an English Assassin who travels to the New World in search of artefacts from the First Civilisation and honestly who cares about the story because Kenway is, by far, the coolest character in any AC game. He’s basically eighteenth-century James Bond. Suave, smooth-talking and able to take down anyone with nary a second glance. His job is to travel around New England and generally be cool and awesome. I’d say more, but that would be a massive spoiler, so I won’t.
Unfortunately, plot happens and we wind up in the shoes of Connor. Connor is way, way less cool than Haytham. In fact, Connor makes Altair look like a well-rounded character. I was honestly quite disappointed when the game switched over to him because he’s just so dull. It doesn’t help that his first few missions are also incredibly boring. I understand the need to introduce the hunting and the new free-running mechanics that allow you to jump from branch-to-branch, but these missions are just so long and boring that I really had to force myself to play through them.
Fortunately, Connor’s story does get somewhat more interesting after that, and while I never found him as engaging as Haytham, he mingles with a cast of cool characters, including well-known historical figures such as Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and George Washington. As with previous titles, the intermingling between real and fictional characters is done quite well, and makes for the most enjoyable aspect of the game.
As with previous games, there’s a home base, in this case a homestead, for you to manage and build up. You do this by completing homestead missions. The advantages of doing this boil down primarily to additional income, as well as making the homestead a much more lively place to operate from. There’s also a new hunting element to the game that allows you to collect furs and meat, which can then be traded along with the other resources that your homestead provides.
Speaking of income, the developers have taken the rather bizarre decision to make the game’s currency be the Pound. This might seem okay, but keep in mind that this is the eighteenth century, and a man with a few thousand pounds on him would be the richest man in New England. Early on, one of your tasks is to buy a pistol. You do this by spending no less than two thousand pounds. I have to wonder why the developers went with pounds and not, say, shillings, which would have made more sense as a single currency for a game set in this time. It certainly punched a few holes in my willing suspension of disbelief.
I played AC3 on the PS3, and it felt very much like a poorly optimised port. Long load times, dropped frames and occasional pauses in the game all hampered an otherwise enjoyable game experience. I also encountered an alarming number of glitches, mostly to do with cinematics not triggering because NPCs weren’t in the correct place. If you have the option, definitely avoid the PS3 version and pick up the 360 version or, better still, the PC version when it becomes available.
For me, as someone who played the hell out of the first two Assassin’s Creed games but skipped out on the two gaiden games that came between AC2 and AC3, this is probably the most disappointing title in the series. Where the game succeeds, it does so quite well. The locations and atmosphere are all great, as are the historical characters. The letdown is that the main protagonist is rather dull, and I could never bring myself to care about his story at all. If you’re a bigger fan of the series than me, then you should be able to draw some sustenance from this instalment. If you’re not, however, then it’s going to feel like a step backwards in a series that so desperately needs to move forwards.
Setting | Knifing random people never gets old
Dull characters | Too much focus on framing story | Lack of advancement