Tuesday
Nov132012

QCF: Assassin's Creed III

The science -- scratch that -- the entire concept of genetic memory is something that exceeds top levels of comprehension; a notion with so many dimensions encompassing the theory of history inscribing itself into our very being. And while such speculation is largely dismissed in the eyes of parapsychology, it’s still a possibility. Assassin’s Creed has always focused on the theme of such an idea and, in some aspect, metaphysically manifested it in many ways beyond its science fictional approach. All of the subsequent titles have played off each other and attempted to retain traits that worked versus that which didn't, and evolve mechanics within the core elements of the overall design.

Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the principles of Ubisoft’s action-filled open world venture. With prior entry Revelations having struggled to justify its relevance within the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed III shows its age despite the effort it makes to reinvigorate the formula and sets the bar even lower for the series.

The aforementioned tropes of the Assassin’s Creed formula are the life blood of the gameplay’s veins. The implementations of these tropes are essential and yet, while they serve to amass most of the appeal the titles provide, they’re flawed by their limitations to significantly innovate. The main dynamic that suffers from change in this entry is the nature of travel. Though authentic and beautifully rendered to emulate the look, visuals, and environment of 1700s colonial Boston and New York, the architecture and overall structured layout doesn’t resonate as seamlessly as it should with Free-running. Familiar points of interest like stacks of crates, swing poles, and rope-pulleys help ensure that the transitions to wider environments aren’t entirely abrasive, but the change of setting forces you to approach the nature of travel choice with more trouble than it should, and doesn’t achieve the seamless flow of the prior titles. The sense of smooth Parkour isn’t completely lost, as the woods of the frontier often make up for the short comings of Colonial America’s urban settings. The arrangement of branches on trees or the V-shaped trunks manage to pull off a unique balance of both being easily identifiable for their intended positioning for free-running and are still portrayed as natural as they can be in their role of being trees within the forest in same clever illusion that Brotherhood accomplished with Rome.

Combat has also been refined with a fine tuned interface favoring defensive tactics such as countering or disarming by rendering different enemy soldier types weaker to certain tactics while immune to others. Along with this comes the ability of multiple counter kills against two enemies, who you successfully counter at the same time. The second new dynamic to fighting foes is the ability to use a human shield maneuver when the fight contextually demands it, allowing you to take a hapless guard hostage in order to take the brunt of enemy squad fire. The multiple foe counter technique is gratifying when successfully timed, and will help start kill streak to better your odds and improve the combat experience. However, human shield grabs don’t match up to the same pedigree. While novel the contextual sensitivity to trigger a human shield is much harder to utilize than it should be and possible hostages will often rebuff your lethal embrace, leaving you to be the bullet sponge. It’s a shame, too, because this feature has so much more potential to liven up the combat significantly, had it been better implemented in practice. Brotherhood mechanics are also improved with the return of previous abilities that have been refined to allow more practical opportunities of use, along with some new ones as well. While calling in for assistance during open conflict, your allies can now switch out between ability preferences, such as direct attacks, which help overwhelm brute class enemies or switching up to marksman when you need to shed some numbers. As long as the points are there, you’re open to call upon your friends more than you were ever able to before. Additional techniques are significant when used properly and prove themselves to be pragmatic in application instead of some halfhearted gimmick.

The Covert escort talent has you feign capture and walking around in custody by you allies under the disguise of the enemy. The ability is integral when capturing territories and catching enemies off guard when entering strongholds. You’re also given the opportunity to start riots amongst crowds of three or more which proves to be a great deal of assistance when trying to escape to lower your notoriety. The change of combat elements surrounding defensive tactics enhance certain factors of engagement when holding your own in a scrap, but also ensure that the situation quickly goes to hell the moment more numbers of enemy mobs and their reinforcements appear, and all because of the rock-paper-scissors formula of defensive countering. This helps deter against the reckless arrogance towards fighting that the series has made so easy for players to fall into the habit of, but it hurts play when you’re thrown into a gauntlet of fighting in order to advance story missions. Without the option of running (lest you desynchronize), and finding yourself without any assist points from your brotherhood abilities, you’re forced into a test of your patience instead of skill during certain points of the main missions and the manner can cause needless frustration.

Nautical exploration is both the most successful and the most innovative of the newest additions in Assassin’s Creed III. The nuances involved with sailing and steering are emulated effectively; between physics of waves crashing against your hull or a rogue wind rushing towards your mast, they test your ability as a captain to delegate sailing preferences against certain obstacles. Commanding broadside cannons and gunner turrets amidst the madness of steering and evading retaliation from your naval opposition connects responsively, providing an intuitive and enjoyable element to the game that's surprisingly fun.

Resource management is also handled differently. Instead of restoring businesses, you’re settling your own little colony with optional missions that bring settlers to your community to provide a vital role in your town's prosperity. Certain characters are artisans within their own field of agriculture or other crafts, and finding these individuals and the recipe for goods that the appropriate citizen can construct in order to barter in General stores via resource ledger will keep you busy. The user interface involved is a bit clumsy and doesn’t do a good job at all in explaining the finer points of creation. But when you do take the time to experiment with the recipes, you’re given a surprisingly deep synthesis system that isn’t even found in most MMOs.

Hunting is another key element in the game, since animals provide pelts and meat that act as ingredients to craftting. Hunting itself has its own mechanics that allow you to be stealthy and efficient with snares and bait lures, which all play a significant part in your success with game. Bigger, more aggressive prey like Elk or bears will attack, but you’re treated to a lazy QTE sequence that you’ll have to complete to subdue the animal instead; this kind of spurs the possibilities of different combat all together, which downplays the element to its disadvantage.

The bigger issue at hand with Assassin’s Creed III beyond the perfunctory approach towards the mechanics is just the premise itself. The liberties with the narrative of the American Revolution don’t have the same elegance like ones taken with the Renaissance or even the Crusades for that matter. Instead of the carefully stitching the fiction of Assassin’s Creed to the fabric of history concerning the American Revolution, AC III chooses to parade the premise and embellish the era in a fool-hearty manner. The pacing does nothing more than pander to a list of significant events in order to remain authentic, but it works to do the opposite instead. Paul Revere’s Midnight ride, the Battle of Lexington, the Boston Tea Party, they’re all there but none of it really feels fluid. The newest protagonist to the story, Connor, is more or less a robotic proxy for the majority of the game and doesn’t really bloom into a likable character until near the end of the campaign. Other than pandering, the pacing suffers from exposition that’s patronizing at times. Missions and objectives that serve to flesh out Connor’s character and ascension to the brotherhood of Assassins don’t possess the same appeal and charm of Ezio’s personal struggle into the Assassin life. What we get instead is a vapid character, wrought from nothing more than an attempt to justify the setting of early America and it instead results into the regression of boorish trappings of shallowly portrayed personal growth reminiscent of Altaïr. The ending also features some of the most anti-climactic finales ever seen or played in a story this grand. Multiplayer was unfortunately unavailable at the time of this review and will have to be touched on in an addendum.

It sounds like the critique here may be harsh but there’s a high bar to be met, even if it is the fifth entry into the series. Many elements resonate well and fared better than other attempts at enhancing the experience but this game just fell short of the ambitious mantle it took on in order to cater to a unique historical premise that was poorly catered to begin with. The reality is that Assassin's Creed III isn't a bad game overall, it's just a really bad Assassin's Creed game, and that’s what makes the experience so frustrating.

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