The lights are on
This is going to sound like a hyper fanboy talking about the best game ever. Everyone knows the downsides of ACIII by now, whether you’ve experienced it first hand, read about it in countless magazines and blogs, or heard about it from friends who have already played this game. ACIII has some bugs and glitches that just won’t go away, and some plot holes and jumps that could have easily been addressed by the devoted fan base. I had major criticisms of the previous entries Brotherhood and Revelations, to the point where I almost wrote off this series as broken and hopeless. But to my pleasant surprise, this review is very top heavy in the praise department, and I can’t help it. When a game is this fun, all the other stuff doesn’t matter. This is about entertainment, and it’s offered in abundance here.
I still can't believe how much fun I had taking out legions of redcoats. The combat, if nothing else in the AC series, has consistently improved over the years. I have spent entire gaming sessions doing nothing but fighting crowds of redcoats, multiple days in a row, thanks to the improved combat engine. With the added bonus of being able to traverse the forest canopy and throw rope-darts, on a foggy night in a swampy area, I slowly and stealthily hanged an entire squad of marching redcoats from the trees like ornaments. And to the dismay of the terribly out-of-touch news media today, it was a blast. This is a testament to the action and freedom of ACIII.
With all of the praise some critics gave Dishonored, being a stealth game which claims to give you choices, and AC being a more action-oriented, open-world, exploration game, I found it to be quite an achievement for ACIII to have more realistic AI detection and deeper stealth offerings. With the multitude of choices you have learned from previous games, as well as some additional aspects like the simple act of leaning against a wall, I felt you had more choices and freedom in ACIII in regards to stealth than Dishonored. Walking above the street or in tree branches, blending in crowds, sitting on benches, hiding in hay or small buildings, and breaking line of sight—all of these methods are a very effectively implemented in ACIII, then there's all manner of options in becoming incognito after raising your profile. Most of these tactics have been present in previous entries, but ACIII really polishes what it does best.
And to those points, Dishonored won almost universal praise this year during end of year awards for its “advances,” creativity, stealth and action which are better displayed Deus Ex: Human Revolution and even older games, and ACIII was repeatedly passed over for everything from Action to Game of the Year. I don’t believe anything else held a candle to the action exhibited in ACIII this year. So it is an ironic shame for other games to have gotten the glory this year, when in past years AC has won what it hasn’t deserved. Sure, the Batman Arkham games have better technical input and a mesmerizing combat engine, but that wasn't a contender this year, and ACIII truly delivered an entertaining experience unlike any other action game this year.
Beyond defending ACIII’s losses during the end of year awards, ACIII has more to offer than standard genre tropes. There are great gameplay treats during the course of this game, that are not worth spoiling here, that really take you out of the standard mission-to-mission, running and fighting experience. Outside of those unusual, one-off experiences, there’s the much talked about naval missions which are as they have been praised—simply amazing. It is so rare for a game to have a decent naval simulation, let alone this well implemented in a game that has no reason to work so hard to get it right. The score is very immersive and has been greatly understated, fitting the American Indian atmosphere and Revolutionary time period perfectly. Simply exploring the wilderness in ACIII, discovering a greater range of traversal and combat, had me enthralled from beginning to end. It is worth noting that you are able to climb surfaces you never would have thought to in the past, including 90-degree rock faces that look to have nothing to grip, until you look closer, and massive trees to use as synchronization viewpoints. The majesty of the American frontier rivals that on display in Red Dead Redemption, which, unlike ACIII, was solely focused on delivering an immersive, open-world experience. This is a serious accomplishment. Trudging through deep snow in such a large environment was an experience unlike the excellent but smaller instances in Uncharted 2, and the much less impressive northern region in RDR. The weather changes are just beautiful. And the fact that the system actually tracks how much you have traveled in such conditions? Ubisoft really sweats the details in this game, which brings to question all the more why the glitches and plot holes were not examined or remedied .
One of the things I kept hearing about in the positive reviews of this game was the open-ended nature of the ending, and how there are so many places AC could go from here. This is where my freight train of positive praise hits a dead stop, as I differ entirely with that sentiment.
The following will spoil the essence of the ending of ACIII, without getting into plot details.
When Dan Ryckert questioned whether series creator Patrice Desilets should work on the Assassin’s Creed series again, as his company has been purchased by Ubisoft, I responded that if it were 6 months ago, I would say I hope so. But as far as the AC series is concerned, it's too late. They have essentially obliterated the essence of the series as we knew it going forward. And this is a major disappointment capping off an otherwise excellent entry in an unreliable series. Unless we are to go back and explore other assassins in history, there is nowhere to go but sci-fi shooter territory, which I don't want in an AC game. Exploring other story arcs in history knowing all along that the Assassins and the Templars have been practicing an exercise in futility, squabbling over the remnants of the previous civ with little to show for it in the end, does not give me a big drive to push forward. It will turn into a more localized, alternate sci-fi history study, than a struggle throughout the ages towards a final, shared goal. And how many alternate sci-fi histories do we really need to experience these days? Every other film, TV show and book has their own explanation for historical events.
What I wonder is if Desilets had this as his original idea for the arc of the series, or if those he turned the series over to simply put it into high gear in the wrong direction in order to make a profit on a series they knew they couldn’t sustain creatively.
So, in a stroke of irony, I opened this review stating that the poor entries in this series almost had me writing it off, and as I finished possibly the best entry of the series, I have gotten closer than ever to writing it off, but for a completely different reason. This series needs to be put to rest because the last few minutes of it have jumped the shark and there is no salvaging it without some embarrassing changes that would essentially label it a reimagining. That being said, if you jump off of this series before experiencing what Assassin’s Creed III has to offer, you are doing yourself a great disservice.
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