Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Game Review: Assassin's Creed III (PS3)

Brief intro: Fragrant Husband kindly bought ACIII for me when I mentioned that I accidentally skipped past it because PIRATES. Thanks, babe!

Assassin’s Creed III (ACIII) takes the series to a whole new level. Apart from the now-famous plot twist, ACIII features even more world to explore: the untamed woods of New England, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – aka the Frontier. The sidequests are absorbing, the history lessons so much more interesting due to your personal involvement, and the protagonist Connor is likeable and grows during the course of the story.

One-sentence summary: ACIII follows Connor, a Mohawk Assassin (double threat!) as he helps the Patriots repel the British during the American Revolution.

Gameplay: 8/10

ACIII boasts the same high standard of action/adventure as its predecessors. The standard CLIMB EVERYTHING mechanic is present, of course, but it’s really the little things that make ACIII shine, like being able to call a horse at any time, recruiting new Assassins, and getting nice bonuses when you complete sidequests. Speaking of, these mini-missions are so fun that it’s easy to get sidetracked into, say, finding and conquering every fort, or hunting for Captain Kidd’s secret treasure, or solving the mysteries that puzzle/frighten hunters.

Hunting features heavily in the game, since a lot of the ground Connor covers teem with various wildlife such as rabbits, beavers, elk, pumas, etc. The animal skins and parts can be traded or used to craft useful items such as cartridge pouches. Crafting in ACIII is a pain in the butt because of the controls, which requires players to scroll all the way from the top of a long list if they want to craft multiple items.

As an aside: I confess to depopulating the bear population in New Hampshire by accident, or really because of…

Glitches!!! ACIII is a very glitchy game. In one instance, I was tracking a man-eating bear and had to lure it out of its cave – except the bait never appeared. I had to go to a message board to realize that it was a bug. Happily, I completed the mini-quest on my third try. But not before killing at least a dozen bears in self-defense, alas.

The sucky controls make everything worse. The worst offender is my perennial complaint about every AC game: during melee combat, my Assassin won’t obey my frantic button-mashing in the direction of someone I just put on the ground. See, I approach fights logically: attack the weak! Instead, the AI will hit an enemy until he falls to the ground, and rather than go for a finishing move, it’ll target the strongest enemy still standing. So then the fallen guy gets up, and the cycle continues.

The other issue I have is how awkward the controls are. Like, to call Assassins you have to tap L2, but to get to their menu you hold L2. The weapon wheel (R2) is a mess, and don’t get me started on that map. And then when I got a ship – excellent ship, might I add, it really elevates the gameplay – the controls were non-intuitive. I’m just glad they worked it out for the next seafaring adventures of the series.

Minus two points for them bugs and controls!

Soundtrack: 7/10
I guess…there was music? Like a mezzosoprano keeps going, “OooooOOOOOOooooOOOO, oooooOOOOAAAAAAAAA!!!” to accompany your typical assassin-y scene. The OST didn’t really grab me, but mostly because I had to keep the volume down because I only play after Junior’s gone to bed. So what I’m saying is, the above score is entirely arbitrary.

Story/Characters: 9.5/10
The story and characters are fantastic! The main characters are compelling and the supporting players are equally interesting. You start the game as Haytham Kenway, and since I had skipped ahead to AC Black Flag before playing this game, I was like, “Haytham, I know your dad!!!” He does kinda boring missions, before, er, having relations and then…[SPOILER REDACTED]

Meanwhile, in the real world, Desmond and his friends from the first AC games are trying to stop the coming cataclysm predicted by the First Civilization. The key is diving into the genetic memories of Ratonhnhaké:ton, aka Connor, the fruit of the aforementioned relations between Haytham and legitimate hottie Kaniehtí:io.

What a time for Connor to be alive! The British are being increasingly tyrannical against the colonies in the New World, and the (land-owning, tax-paying) residents are pushing back and rumbling for independence.

ACIII is a special treat for Bostonians like myself: whenever Connor wanders around town, Hubby and I would read the in-game notes about the locations, like Old North Church and the Boston Neck. Truly a game for history buffs with an affinity for pretend sword fighting! There's a revisionist undertone in the explanatory notes, too. Didjer know that George Washington was not a saint? Oh my!

Excitingly, the player gets to participate in historical battles such as the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Monmouth, and witness key events such as the Boston Massacre. The battles are no cakewalk; for example, in the defense of a town, Connor has to ride back and forth among gunners and order them to shoot at precisely the moment when the enemy troops are preparing to fire, to catch them off guard. In another case, Connor has to run from cover to cover as an entire army shoots muskets and cannonballs at his and his allies’ position. The challenge makes the victory so much sweeter!

Villains: 9.5/10
Connor’s main enemy is a man who believes just as strongly as he does in saving others, but the aims and methods are different. One advocates freedom and a measure of chaos, the other prefers control and order. Fundamentally, it boils down to trust: the Assassins trust people to do the right thing when given the choice, while the Templars leave nothing to chance and impose their own idea of social order. Both Connor and Haytham have been indoctrinated in these viewpoints from a young age, but at least players see how Connor stands resolute in his principles no matter how they are questioned by his fallen foes. Haytham is more of a mystery.

As for the present Big Bad, Juno is such a creeper that it’s intriguing to see what she’ll try next. She also monologues a lot, which is mandatory for bad guys, so good job there.

Minus half-point for anticlimactic end to the bad guys. If you played the game, you know what I’m talking about.

Visuals: 10/10
OH MY GODDDDDDDD IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL. I could wax rhapsodic about the lush greenery and pristine rivers of the Frontier, or the menacing cliffs of the east coast on a foggy night, or the waist-high snows impeding movement. The visual effects team deserves all the stars, they did a spectacular job.

Bonus Category: Voice Acting: 10/10
Connor’s voice actor Noah Watts nails it. Connor sounds young, stoic, and DREAMY when he orders his crew around. Le sigh. Haytham is the perfect aristocrat, and Achilles is on point as the elderly Assassin Mentor.

Perfect, perfect, perfect.


TL;DR: A game that lives up to and improves upon the Assassin’s Creed series.

This post brought to you by homemade chewy chocolate cookies!