Happy New Year!
I now have some time to return to my Satyricon commentary before my teaching starts for the new quarter, but I also wanted to add some new content. So while I ready the next bit of Fellini, here is the first of some video game commentary.
I love historical video games, and played several this past year. My biggest disappointment, however, hands down, was Assassins Creed 3.
I really wanted to like this game. AC2 was fun (if you jettisoned all connections to reality and ethics and went along with the ride). AC Brotherhood was more of the same but had a (mostly) faithful recreation of Renaissance-era Rome, allowing you to imagine- and climb around- still ruinous ruins of ancient Rome. Plus you got to climb the Pantheon repeatedly. The main story lost its steam way before I lost the novelty factor of running around Rome.
I was excited for Assassins Creed 3. I’ve not much experience with American Revolutionary history, but have recently been doing some ancestry research that has led me to this era, so I was eager to explore it. The game was a huge let down.
Playstyle was more (and less) of the same. Controls seemed dumbed down (just hold trigger and run forward, no need to aim any more to swing like a super-powered monkey through trees and along branches). Where one could *just* about accept climbing on ornate Renaissance buildings in the earlier AC’s, this felt very artificial in a Colonial setting. Plus, no one seemed to notice or care about my gymnastics much, but if they’re already purposefully ignoring the very obvious protagonist dressed very differently and conspicuously than everyone else, then maybe that’s the (lame) answer.
Combat was stupid. Get wounded in a fight? No matter. Just hold down the B button until you regen health. The bad guys will still attack, but you’ll be able to magically parry every incoming attack. No skill needed. And missile combat, usually my favorite in a game, is very poorly implemented. I found only the ship vs ship combat enjoyable, albeit brief.
As for the Main Story… Bravo for an early, clever plot twist, but thereafter it went rapidly downhill. As other reviewers have said, Connor is a vapid and passionless hero. The daddy-issues seemed forced. It was like the devs took every tired cliché of the calm, centered, in touch with nature native and ramped it up while adding kill moves. Conflicted genealogy? Check. Avenging village destroyed by white men? Check. Communes with nature? Check (plus a “spirit journey” as an eagle…. really). Trying to save your native village from bad guys who want to seize the land? Check. Tomahawk? Check. And it sadly goes on. His mentor also resurrected the unwelcome “magic Negro” cliché.
And can we highlight developer shame for having the native protagonist take part in the Boston Tea Party (in a very tiresome and lame encounter level by the way) but COMPLETELY IGNORE the historical fact that some of the participants donned Indian costumes!?!?!?! In fact, playing this encounter through, you won’t be reminded of that fact unless you read the pedantic “historical summary” that pops up as an option. And even then it is mentioned and then dropped. This was one of the many, many chances the writers had to actually make a comment, or do something, ANYTHING to lift the writing from abysmally schlocky pastiche to something nuanced and layered. How would the native charged with saving their lives feel about them mocking his culture? The worst thing is that the writers probably thought they were doing something nuanced and layered just by trotting out historical clichés with kill moves. The writing of Assassins Creed 3 is atrocious and unworthy of a million dollar franchise.
And let’s just ignore the Desmond narrative as a mercy. That was always the weakest part of the whole shebang in the AC games. Here it’s an even more ludicrous mix of static cut scenes and aimless wandering without a radar window. Best forgotten about.
The “pieces of Eden” puzzles in the previous series were interesting. They appealed to that “what if things had gone differently in history” notion and the puzzles were clever, even if at the end what you got as a reward after all this faux-“Lost” cryptic narrative was some warmed over Erich von Däniken nonsense. But this time in Assassins Creed those puzzles are gone and replaced with… seriously… Mayan Calendar doomsday prophesy. I have a dent in my forehead where my Xbox controller hit it during my facepalm.
I know I’m going against the grain focusing so much on the writing (as opposed to the hack and slash which is what most of the players want), but after hours and hours of play, I was still waiting for any excitement to kick in. I was almost a third of the way through the game and I was still in training missions learning how to do basic things. With a main character I did not care about, shaking my head at his blandness. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
Apart from bragging rights, there’s no real reward for doing a good job in AC. You have optional objectives for the mission, but really it doesn’t matter if you achieve them or not. At best you might get some lame “trophy” that pops up somewhere in your house (though not in any obvious way), but apart from that, no reward to skills or leveling or abilities means another reason not to care about Connor or doing anything but rushing through the latest mission.
And if you fail a mission? Don’t worry. The same target will be back at the same place saying the same dialogue to the same NPC two minutes later so you can try again.
The lip sync seems very sloppy, and completely out of sync in some cut scenes. The overly enthusiastic random gestures NPC’s do in staged dialogue are also laughably bad. An NPC will be telling a story about his family that is supposed to be touching while on screen he is swinging his arm back and forth and rocking in his chair like his breeches are on fire.
Some of the foley sound is very bad too. The thunder sound in particular is horrible and fakey. And I’m still trying to figure out what one sound is supposed to be when I’m riding a horse. I can account for the sound of hooves on various surfaces well enough, but there’s another noise that is very off-putting because for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is supposed to be.
And the wolves. The freakin’ wolves. So Connor can take on an entire regiment of redcoats with just a tomahawk and slaughter them all, but if he’s out in the woods and is surprised by a wolf, said wolf can tear out his throat in one move if I don’t bash the x key fast enough? Stupid and pointless.
The only, miniscule praise I can give is that nature-loving native Connor can “pet” almost all of the animals in the game, including dogs, cats, cows, pigs, goats, and even turkeys. It is a pointless gesture I admit to taking full advantage of, if only because it allows me to, contrary to what the game wants, resist killing deer and elk and rabbits out in the wild. Although the devs gave Connor that useless petting ability, it has become my way to give a middle finger to the devs for urging Connor to treat the wild animals in the same disposable way as the armies of blank-faced soldiers. Want me to kill them? Nope, gonna pet every single one of them.
The multiplayer? Pretty much the same as AC Brotherhood. Minimal differences and less appealing character models. One big welcome difference is they seem to have bought faster servers finally so no more long waits while the servers try to connect you that plagued AC Brotherhood. But ultimately, meh. Plus the unwelcome addition of “taunt” gestures so the 13 year old who kills my guy can now graphically express his disdain for my existence and his superiority. Thanks Ubisoft.
Assassins Creed 3 is a mess. As I said, I really wanted to like it, but I could not get past the sloppy, incoherent, trite, and ultimately unabsorbing writing. The gameplay was pedestrian and devoid of any skill (or logic where wolves were concerned). The atmosphere of the Colonial world, which held so much potential for greatness and uniqueness, was continually undermined by things that took you out of the moment and reminded you of the sub-par accomplishments of the dev team. There were so many better games out in 2012 that I found much more enjoyable, and I’ll treat them in subsequent posts. In the meantime, sorry Connor. We’re not going to spend much more time together. I have great reservations.