Friday, November 16, 2012

Off Topic: Assassin's Creed 3 Mini-Review

In my time away from work, after I've hammered out the day's word count for NaNoWriMo (for those who care, current word count is just shy of 40k) I've been playing Assassin's Creed 3. Yesterday I finished the game, and felt it might be good to give a bit of a mini-review as a change of pace. That said, let's begin.

The Series
to start with, I'm a fan of the series. I've always liked stealth action games, and while Assassin's Creed isn't necessarily stealth action it is close enough that I've liked all of them. I started with 1, and have beaten - and own - every game in the series save the 2 that came out for the PSP (I don't own any hand helds.) Gameplay wise the series has always been a little weak compared to other games, but the whole package has always been nice. I mention this to let you know that this review is coming from a fan of the series.

The Story
Honestly, I don't care too much for the Desmond part of the story. I like Altair's story in 1. I liked Ezio's story in 2, Brotherhood, and Revaltions. I don't particularly care about Desmond and while I appreciate the story as a framing device for these other stories, it has always come across as the weakest part of the games. Mostly because it is the area that makes the least sense with the AIs, gods, and the use in them of the artifacts that are present.

That said, I think Connor's story is my favorite in the series so far. This is personal bias, but there is something to be said for the 1/2 native american idealist who is fighting not only for freedom from tyranny - for all people - but also for the survival of his people. As the story goes, Connor is tested time and again and constantly sticks to his ideals in an almost naive fashion that is none the less remarkable and endearing. It also makes it even more painful since we know from the beginning that there is no right way to go in Connor's quest to preserve his people. Whichever side wins, that part of him is going to lose.

I don't want to give away too much in details, but the game starts off with you not playing Connor and does a good job giving you a taste for a non-native american perspective. Ubisoft also knocked it out of the park in terms of remaining neutral on the American Revolution and shows that there were scumbags and shady misdeeds along with political compromises on all sides of the line. All tied up with a main character who is fighting for where he's from and still trying to find out exactly who he is.

The Gameplay
The gameplay is the weakest area. Honestly, in my - slightly biased opinion -AC3 has the weakest gameplay and lowest amount of polish of any game in the series since 1, and 1 had the excuse of being the first game out there. The change in controls, while intended to help streamline things, actually feels clunky at times. The controls fight you in key places, and some of the mission objectives and bonus objectives are more frustrating than challenging (i.e. "don't jostle anyone while chasing target through crowded street with an AI that constantly seeks to get in your way")

While I will admit that some of my experience may be soured by the last mission (an exercise in frustration all its own) the game play in some places is just...not fun. The game still holds up for the most part. This isn't Ubisoft's first rodeo with the Assassin's Creed game play, but the change in controls have cost them the years of refinement they'd already done with 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations. Because of this, Connor simply doesn't move as smoothly as you feel he should at times and gets hung up on obstacles that at other times he, or any other Assassin's Creed protagonist, would nimbly leap over without breaking stride.

I'm selling it short, and I should point out that for the most part the game works well, but if the controls have put you off on an AC game before, expect more of that in 3.

Overall the game is good and worth playing, especially if you're a fan of the franchise. The controls have issues but mostly work. Connor is significantly less charming and appealing than Ezio, but that's also because he's a lot closer to the stoicness of Altair than the charismatic leader and flirt that Ezio was. Fights are as brutal as ever, perhaps moreso thanks to the default weapon style being hatchet and dagger instead of just sword or knife.

If you're new to the franchise, honestly I can't recommend starting here. For connor's story it'll work, but Desmond's story is so far into it that you'll likely be lost without doing some research. Shy of going back to 1, the best starting point is 2. Though, starting at 1 or 2 and moving forward from there will help see the technology progress as the games come out.

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