Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One Hour Playthrough: Assassin's Creed 3

I'm playing through my vast game collection one game at a time, one hour at a time.

Game: Assassin's Creed 3
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Published in: 2012
Genre: Action
Rating: M

I have mixed feelings about the Assassin's Creed series. I bought the first game when it came out and while I really wanted to like it - especially the historical aspects of the world and story, I ended up hating the controls and camera as well as the long horse rides between cities. I didn't even finish playing it. Since then several AC games have come out and my friends have told me "It got better with Assassin's Creed Brotherhood." So now I'm looking at Assassin's Creed 3 and once again the historical setting has caught my attention. Will I end up enjoying the experience or will I want to hire an asssassin to end my pain? Let's game up and find out!

The cover features a character that looks like Enzio but is wielding a tomahawk against a colonial-era British soldier while American minutemen charge about in the background. Doesn't look much like a stealth game to me. Inside, I find the most pathetic excuse for a manual. Not only is it in black and white, but the Assassin's Creed 3 manual doesn't even qualify as a manual... there's no control scheme or information about the game... just the same legal information repeated in multiple languages.

After the requisite PS3 code update, the game informs me that my hard drive is out of space. Excuse me while I clear some files up. OK, here I am again. The first thing upon selecting "play" is the longest loading bar I've ever seen in a game. And we're waiting... and we're waiting... and we're waiting...

Seriously. That bar is redonkulously long

Five minutes laters we're finally at the title screen. Now I have to enter my Uplay passport and download more content. It's a mercifully short process. I enter my Uplay password (I hope I remember it after all these years!) and I finally am able to select and start a single player game. Did I say game up!?

The opening cutscene doesn't start with Washington's troops charging across the battlefield or a mighty British warship sailing into Boston harbor - instead I get a background cutscene about Desmond and the Animus. I guess it's good to get brought up to speed, especially since I haven't played an AC game in years, but to be honest, I didn't buy this game for the sci-fi plot, I want to be an assassin killing Revolutionary War-era soldiers! By the way, I know I'm late to this game so it's pretty funny when it says that Dec 12, 2012 is the end of the world. Hooray! I survived! The game startes with four people driving in a van and then another cutscene where we're re-introduced to Captain Hoodie himself as well as three other characters that must be from the previous games 'cause I don't recognize them. My exciting trip to the Revolutary America begins in a cave with a glow-stick. Maybe I'm going to a Revolutionary themed rave?

Dude, c'mon. at least carry the box for your dad

All I can do is walk and move the camera around in this first area. Another cutscene starts and the "apple" - some sort of physic artifact - is used to activate and open a mysterious chamber. The controls now lets me run and jump (no tutorial on this) and after sliding down a dirty ramp (accompaying by a nice little rolling physics from my glo-stick) we reach our destination - a secret lab and a gate to... I don't really know. I guess I should have played all those other games first. Desmond passes out and ends up on the set of the Matrix. As I run through the tutorial mode, the abstract cyber-shapes start to take form into colonial-era buildings - a nice touch that slowly creates the world around me.

Sweep yer chimney for ya, Govn'r?

I am finally someone else, a tricornered hatted man who is going to the opera house. While the opulent environment is beautiful, it's a shame I can't really interact with any of the characters milling about. There are some nice touches, like lovers hiding in the corner of the lobby but it would have been nice to have the NPCs give me a bit more information about the world like in Bioshock Infinite. As I "fast walk" my way to my seat, I see that AC's patented "pushing through the crowd" technique is in effect. I become gaming's rudest character as I shove everyone out of my way, regardless of race, creed and social standing.

I know I'm a bad-ass assassin, but in my head, this is playing.

At some point, I hit somesort of boundary and everything around me becomes dark and I become ghostly - looking like I've escaped from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. Is this some sort of "Detective Vision" ala Batman: Arkham Asylum? The game is certainly keeping it a mystery as no tutorial information is accompanied by this change. I find my seat and learn that "ghost mode" is "Eagle Vision" where I spot my gold colored target and start climbing. OK, I know I'm in a video game, but I'm a large man climbing around in interior of a theater and NO ONE NOTICES ME.

...Ebennnnnneezer Scrooooooge...

A lockpicking mechanic allows me access to a backstage door and more jumping over the top of the theater stage and to the box of my gold target. One square button press later and my target is dead. A kid sees me and I tell him to be quiet. Yeah, I'm not going to regret killing that kid right now, am I? The alert is raised as I calmly walk out of the opera house to a waiting coach and make my escape. I reach the hour mark at this point.

Press square to murder

So is Assassin's Creed 3 a target for assassination or will it survive this playthrough?

What would I do differently? It seems that many of the controls are enabled before the player is told about them. I didn't like being confused about the Eagle Vision though other than that, the pace at which the controls were presented was good. I would have liked a little more tension while clambering through the theater when I make my escape. It doesn't have to be a full-on chase scene, just a moment or two where I doubt that I might actually get out of the theater. Minor quibbles (other than load times) in the grand scheme of things.

Would I keep playing? Absolutely. The controls seem much better than the first AC, I barely got to assassinate anyone and I still haven't had a chance to play the sea combat gameplay that drew my attention when I saw this game at E3. I can only hope the potential that I see in AC3 is an indication of quality of the upcoming pirate-themed Assassin's Creed Black Flag.

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