November 20, 2012

Assassin's Creed III (2012)

Assassin's Creed III is a terrible videogame. There, I said it.

I hate such high hopes. I adored the original Assassin's Creed despite many finding fault with it. I found it had an elegant simplicity that made it an entertaining sort of stripped-down sandbox game. It was pretty to look at and had a wonderful historical setting. Assassin's Creed II was even better, taking the framework and gist of the original and adding a more complex plot, more varied gameplay and much more charisma. More importantly it retained the open world, sandbox feel. There was a plot to follow, but a lot more besides. It was easy to explore, and have fun. Side missions were abundant. So much fun was in Assassin's Creed II that it received two spin-offs, Brotherhood and Revelations, before the franchise finally wound its way on to a third proper instalment.

And it sucks. It's a depressing, unlikeable, sluggish chore of a game. It's mind-bogglingly disappointing, taking every element that worked so well in the earlier titles and removing them. It did keep the most annoying aspects of the old game, however, and even added a few of its own. Now other opinions are available: the game has received numerous glowing reviews, which are wrong. It's sold millions of copies already, sales that it does not deserve. It's the sort of offensively disappointing experience that doesn't make me want a refund - I demand that the designers and producers involved are spanked.

The historical action has shifted forward from Renaissance Italy to colonial America, which initially seems a good choice but then begins to generate doubts as it becomes clear that colonial Americans didn't build very tall buildings. One of the core appeals of Assassin's Creed is the parkour: see a building, climb it. Short buildings take this satisfying experience away, but that's OK - the game is designed so that you'll hardly have a chance to climb anyway.

The open world gameplay is gone, replaced by a hand-holding, deeply frustrating narrative. More time is spent watching movie scenes of the game's characters than in actually interacting with them. The last time I watched a game more than played it I was playing one of Hideo Kojima's notorious Metal Gear Solid games, but the thing is I expect it from Kojima. I'm prepared for that sort of experience. With Assassin's Creed it just feels like they're wasting valuable assassination time.

Worse still than the rail-roading narrative is the contortions the game goes through to satisfy its chosen storyline. In my play-through I went from one level, where I single-handedly beat a general and his 20-odd soldiers to death with my bare hands, to another, where I was trapped in prison and had to go through 10 hoops of sneaking to escape. Never mind I had the ability to kill every guard in the building and stroll out of the front door, the game didn't want me to do that, and so the "choose the way you play" dynamic that impressed me so much in the previous games was yanked away. This is Assassin's Creed III, not I or II: story is what counts here, and gameplay just gets in its way. This was, by the way, the level where I finally lost patience with the game and finished it via a Wikipedia summary instead of actually playing the damn thing. Doing it that way gave me as much gameplay as if I'd played it through, but took three minutes rather than another six or seven hours. I think I'll use that extra time to play a videogame that's worth a damn.

The worst thing about Assassin's Creed III's all-enveloping story is that it simply isn't that good. It's not bad, but it's not worth the time, patience and frustration it causes getting through it. If you haven't bought this game yet, don't. It simply isn't worth it. It's a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of a great franchise, pissed away down the drain by a development team too fixated on their story to realise that it was the gameplay that made Assassin's Creed the overwhelming success it's been.

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