Top critical review
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Reasonably fun but embarrassingly unfinished
on November 25, 2012
It's safe to say that Assassin's Creed 2 set the bar very high for this series - a great mix of creative storytelling, good writing and excellent parkour and combat mechanics made it a real knockout of a game. Unfortunately, Assassin's Creed 3 falls short in pretty much every department. It's not a bad game, and there are a handful of positive additions... but it's a little pathetic to see it fail to meet the standards set even by AC2's expansion games.
The biggest flaw is definitely that the game feels woefully untested. AC3 on the PC has a ridiculous number of bugs, from epileptic horses to menu freezes that make it impossible to proceed, and I've been encountering them in virtually every mission and quite often while just running around. There are also a lot of bewildering things that somehow made it past playtesting; I was killing bears with a hidden blade that was apparently coming out of my bare arm for quite a while before the plot got around to letting me have it, and at one point I was wandering around and completely by accident captured a British Templar fort, which replaced the flag and all the troops there with American revolutionaries... in 1770. In-game tooltips display at very weird moments, like a prompt telling you how to lower your notoriety at a time in the game when none of the methods described are available to you, and every cinematic has a prompt saying "PRESS E TO SKIP" plastered across the corner for the duration. It's not just software bugs, basically - this game feels like it was never tested.
That extends to the writing, too. I'm not far in enough to make a definitive statement about the plot, but it looks like the story level is still reasonably in line with the series' quality so far... but the script is just horrific. Scenes just drag on, especially in the very beginning, with voice actors doing their best with lines like "what's true and what is aren't always the same." And it's not just dialog that's a problem, either; the story structure and pacing are badly out of whack. We're given no reason to care about any of the characters until several missions into the game, and when we do finally meet our protagonist, our introduction to him is watching several scenes of mediocre voice actors monotone their way through extremely lengthy speeches in Mohawk. (I can't express how bad the Mohawk acting is, it's literally like hearing someone reading a technical manual.)
Gameplay itself isn't nearly so problematic, but still suffers badly from a lack of thorough testing. The developers made a big deal about the ability to pick up weapons on the fly, but I had trouble picking them up even standing completely still with no enemies around. The new lockpicking minigame is a perfect storm of unnecessary, no fun and unreasonably picky about precise mouse movement. I had problems constantly with getting stuck on the end of beams unable to move forward, having to realign to the precise right angle to climb certain objects, and attempting to climb impassable barriers that are completely indistinguishable from climbable surfaces. Lip syncing frequently turned into muppet-style flapping with no connection whatsoever to the sound (sometimes not even opening their mouths during dialog at all). Elites deflect attacks and counterattacks pretty much 100% of the time, which makes combat pretty repetitive (counterattack grunts, disarm then attack elites... every time). Several of the optional mission objectives are almost impossible to understand unless you've already played the level once. It's just rough, basically. The difficulty is a huge mess - I had no trouble taking on entire forts simultaneously from the very beginning of the game, but failed other missions constantly thanks to pointlessly capricious layouts for stealth sequences and unpredictable cutoff points for achieving secondary objectives. Even the historical hooks are pretty lackluster, and none of the characters are particularly interesting. And it's been painfully obvious for a few installments that they didn't plan for Kristen Bell's leaving the series, and they've made no effort whatsoever to fill the gap in the narrative left by her character. One entire component of the game (the economic/crafting system) is only usable with an XBox controller and will freeze if you so much as move the mouse. Almost everything about the game feels like a rough draft, basically.
It's not all bad news, of course. The new naval sequences are outstanding. Graphically the game looks pretty great, and the new weather system is attractive (especially localized effects like fog). The nature areas look particularly good (and are massive!), which was a wise decision - colonial America was perhaps not the best choice for this series, considering its lack of gorgeous, huge landmark buildings to climb on, but the game seems to be making up for that by going for knockout natural environments instead. Although a lot of the previous installments' RPG elements are gone, the new hunting system is pretty engaging. Animation's enjoyed some high-quality additions too, especially the run cycle and a whole slew of fancy new combat flash. The world is enormous, there's a ton of stuff to play around with and climb on. And I actually did find a couple (non-mandatory) minigames that were surprisingly fun, where you play old-timey board games in taverns.
Overall, though, I'd only really recommend this game to people who are already in love with the series. It does a reasonable job of bringing us more of the free-running madness that made the first several games so much fun, so it's a good buy just to give you more stuff to climb around on once Italy starts feeling a little too familiar... but it really doesn't stand up well on its own.
-Excellent and exhilirating naval combat
-Very attractive, albeit not (ahem) revolutionary
-Pretty much anything you do out in the woods is great
-Highly cinematic combat
-The engine can support huge numbers of NPCs simultaneously (crowds are, well, crowded)
-It is still pretty fun, when everything's working
-Mediocre story editing and script, very poor story pacing
-Absolutely overrun with software bugs and continuity errors
-Combat, while beautifully choreographed, is essentially a combination of a reflex test and rock-paper-scissors
-Possibly the worst mandatory lockpicking minigame ever made (it's not nearly as bad with a controller, but it's maddening with a mouse, and purposeless either way)
-The setting is not well-suited to the more appealing gameplay elements
-There's a well-documented bug that completely prevents you from progressing past a certain point without an XBox controller, which wasn't fixed in the recent patches.
-Very, very slow first few hours