This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Assassin's Creed 3.
I had to mentally prepare myself before diving into Assassin's Creed 3 colon Look At What Big Assholes You Are, British People. I now live in Australia because Britain is as miserable as you'd expect for a place whose residents have to keep stealing other better countries to live in, but I still get narky when other people slag it off and hey America! People who live in glass houses should probably get around to closing Guantanamo Bay one of these days! And I was afraid Ass Creed 3 would do what most fiction set in the War of Independence does: paint the redcoats as a bunch of powdered wig rapists and the foundation of the United States as some destined final puzzle piece for all civilization, like America is the tail and Planet Earth is the donkey.
But wait! Thank you for reminding me, loading screen. This is a game created by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs. So the history is portrayed fairly neutrally. Yes, the native people pretty much got bent over a pommel horse either way. Yes, George Washington was a bit of a dozy cunt when you get right down to it, so that's fine. Doesn't make the game any less boring but there you go. It's the choice of setting I think: Colonial America has very little fabulous base-jumping architecture like the Italian Renaissance, nor even the knights in armour smashing each other about all over the place like the Crusades. It's just a largely political dispute in two very similar colonial cities and a load of trees rather suspiciously laid out in frequent free-running paths.
The new protagonist's rather bland as well. Connor is the son of an Indian woman and some smug British cunt, who was raised by an oppressive Native American tribe, joins the Assassins because a glowing cricket ball told him to and helps out with the American Revolution for want of something to do in the weekends and which of the three factions he's most devoted to shifts in service to what the plot feels like making you do next. And a lot of the plot plays like an episode of the fucking Magic School Bus, where you can't walk ten paces without bumping into someone famous doing the thing they're famous for. Connor even witnesses the signing of the Declaration of Independence for no apparent reason. As much as watching some old people writing on a piece of paper thrills me down to the taint hairs, I'm kind of in this for the stabbing.
The question I ask myself is this: What is the core gameplay mechanic of Assassin's Creed at this point, 'cos I'll tell what it isn't: Assassinating people, compared to Assassin's Creed 1 where everything led up to the next stabbing of someone stab-worthy after which you get another ability to help you with future stabbing. For all its faults, the game was inarguably about stabbing. Each game has added more junk and now the stabbing has detached and flown away while the rest of the game wobbles about like its trousers are about to fall down.
A large percentage of the plot missions are either gimmicky mini-games, many introduced then and then immediately dropped like the cannon-firing one, or just have you chase someone which is always bloody annoying because running and climb are on the same button so if you veer too close to a wall, it's like you're piloting a man made of Blu-Tack. Where are all the missions where they just give you a target and leave you to figure out your own way to stab him with all the gadgets you've unlocked? You're taught a new assassin ability for each of the optional territory liberation missions when you use it to kill the ringleader, but then you never use it again because you've already liberated the place!
You could make a good case for the core mechanic being "highlighting something on the map and then running to it". The sandbox map gets absolutely Bukakked with collectibles and side-quests, but what's it all in aid of, Assassin's Creed 3?
"Well, at your home base, there's this ongoing thing where Connor enlisting specific craftsmen to recreate his own personal theme park version of Little House on the Prairie."
"You use the money and recipes that it seems every activity in the game rewards you with to craft everyday goods and items and the friendlier you are with the craftsmen, the more things you can craft."
Alright, I have successfully crafted a sofa. What do I do with the sofa?
"You sell the sofa for money!"
Okay, now I'm a millionaire East Coast sofa baron, what do I do with the money?
"Well, the most expensive things in the game are upgrades for your ship which make it easier to complete the naval missions."
Well, that's something I suppose. What benefit do the naval missions provide me?
"More trading routes for you to sell sofas on!"
Sorry, when is this going to get back to stabbing people?
"What is it with you and stabbing people?"
What is it with you and NOT STABBING PEOPLE?!
If you do go through this process, side-missions to sofas to seafaring to sofas again, then the reward you're left with at the end of it all is lots of money. Wow, you made a global variable in a video game increment significantly, have a fucking round of applause. Now if we could spend the money on say, a rocket-skateboard to get around on or a lawnmower to use in combat to reenact the final scene from Braindead, that would be valid. But your running and fighting ability is as efficient at the very start of the game as it's going to be. You wait until someone tries to attack then you press counter and stab them so hard that their nipples pop off like champagne corks. It all seems so arse-backwards to me.
"Yeah yeah, here's the fun bits, whatever," The game seems to say. "Here's the stealth and the free-running and the combat if that's all so fucking important to you. But if you're very very good, then maybe one day you'll unlock the privilege of doing something completely fucking tedious!" Don't be Farmville, Assassin's Creed, be Assassin's Creed. We've already got a Farmville, it's called Farmville.
I thought I'd be getting pissed off at the anti-British stuff, but really I'm just bored which is kind of a first for the series. This is the risk you take as you get closer to the present day and history becomes more about politics and less about hitting each other with spiky balls on the ends of sticks. Regardless, it really doesn't help when you make a game mechanic out of buying eggs and milk from the corner shop.
But speaking of closer to the present, I should mention Future Desmond, who more and more resembles a teenage sulky cunt being dragged to a museum by his parents, as his story actually gets some pay-off at last. You even do some brief extremely linear missions with him as some last-minute attempt to make him less bland than a sheet of blank printer paper. Actually, especially towards the end, the Future Desmond plot fucking stampedes towards a pay-off, hastily throwing out lurching plot turns like confetti as it goes, but Connor's story is both boring and barely connected to the overarching stuff so it hardly seems like grand finale material. Maybe we're just gonna move on from Future Desmond and relive the racial memories of someone more interesting like, I don't know, Ken Dodd? Or a really historically significant goose?
Escaping over the rooftops: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Hey strange hooded knife-covered man on a bench did you see a strange hooded knife-covered man run through here
I stabbed the law and the law won