Thursday, November 8, 2012

I did not like Assassin's Creed 3

Assassin's Creed 3 stinks, I'm sad to say

I have been a fan of the Assassin's Creed games since the first one. A open world platformer/stealth game? Hell, yes. By the time AC3 came out, they had four games to figure things out, too. Which it looked like they had. AC2 was a huge improvement on AC1. The post-assassination sophomoric explication was very much cut down, the personality free Altair was replaced with the extremely likable Ezio Auditore and the lengthy fight sequences were dramatically shortened by Ezio's incredible ability to kill a person. Ezio also got a laundry list of nifty gadgets, a hidden wrist gun, dual hidden blades, a crossbow, more weapons to choose from, poisoned daggers and darts, the ability to use ziplines and gadgets to climb faster, parachutes and eventually bombs and grenades, too. He was like a Renaissance Batman. Additionally, Ezio got three games and you could see him transform from a callow, but likable youth, to a serious and mature man who accepted responsibility and taught others his arts. Ezio was a great character, fun and likable  who matured believably (in a video game sense) without the tedious monologues of AC1.

In Assassin's Creed 3, they decided to fuck that up.

First, the combat regression. In short, the AC3 protagonist, Conner, is not nearly so well armed as Ezio. First, they removed throwing knives. In the four previous AC games, the protagonists could throw knives quickly and accurately. Most foes fell after one knife hit. Conner can't throw knives. Sure, he starts out with a gun, but it is in all ways inferior to Ezio's gun – when someone was targeting Ezio with a gun, Ezio could generally shoot them before getting shot. Conner draws much slower and is likely to be shot before he can do anything (well, he can grab people to use as a human shield, and it's cool when there's someone around for it to work on, but there often isn't). I have no idea why Ezio's gun is technologically superior to Conner's, or why knife throwing is out, but it is. Sure, Conner has a bow but it's no better than Ezio's crossbow and since Conner has fewer arrows it is in some ways worse.

Additionally, when on a ledge, Conner has no ranged weapons he can use. Both Altair and Ezio could knife throw from ledges, which was useful.

In the AC2 games, they made combat shorter and more interesting than in AC1. In AC3, they regress by making combat less interesting (difficult to use ranged weapons in combat, elimination of dodges) while radically increasing the number of people you have to fight. In AC2, a guard patrol was between two and four guys, generally. In AC3, a patrol is a dozen people. It also takes Conner longer to counter-kill someone than Ezio, which means combats take longer and you're less likely to get a combo kill going because you'll be taken out of it by someone stabbing you when you're engaged.

The game will also, for no good reason, fairly often put you on the highest notoriety. The British couriers will sound the alarm even if you've got no interest in them, so you'll be minding your business and suddenly you'll be surrounded by literally thirty guys. So, there are random fights that are either extremely long and tedious or chases where 2/3rds of everyone around you is a guard, making it hard to get away.

And on the guard note, apparently the colonials work with the British in chasing you. This is baffling but whatever.

So, there is more combat, it is longer and less interesting, and your weapons suck compared to Ezio's – they do less damage and take longer to use. Didn't Ubisoft learn this lesson from The Warrior Within?

Let's move on to Conner, himself. First, the simple one. He's boring. He's incredibly dull. It's like all they could think of for a Mohawk character was “noble savage”. The liveliness they introduced with Ezio vanished in AC3 and Conner's stoicism. Conner does not smile, he, nor does anyone about him has the least sense of humor.

Second, there's the racism. He is a noble savage, which is a stereotype. It's painful to watch. This is mixed up with the atrocious writing, generally, which I'll talk more about in a bit, but Conner's stereotypical noble savage motive is to save his village's land from British expansionism . . .

Which is also a complete reverse of actual history. The Indians were overwhelmingly on the British side because the Crown had started limiting intrusion into Indian lands. An English High Justice had even opined in a newspaper that he saw no reason why England's white subjects should be allowed to steal the land of England's red subjects. In the Revolutionary War, around 13,000 Indians fought for the British. Around 1200 for the colonials. The knew that the colonials were no friends of the Indians and, of course, they were not.

But Conner is just so painfully boring. Combined with that noble savage bullshit and the idiocy of proposing the colonials were better for the Indians than the English, ugh.

The writing is generally awful. One of the things I learned is that no one in colonial America is either pleasant or attractive. And the pedantry that was so awful in Assassin's Creed 1 returns in full goddamn force. Many “missions” are Conner walking around protecting some famous historical figure as they ramble on about the sad plight of rich white men.

I mean, I'm an American, but I honestly don't know what side I would have been on during the Revolutionary War. When the war started, it was not obvious that the US would become a republic and usher in a new global democratic era. But it's hard for me to have too much sympathy for the colonials. The whole “taxation without representation” business wasn't some cruel trick of the English, but a fact arising from the fact England and the Americas were two months travel time apart. The trip, in addition to being long, was dangerous. It is a bad idea to let the weather hold a government hostage.

Second, you look at the “tyranny” of the English and it's really . . . not that tyrannical. It's mostly very modest tax increases on items on paper and tea. Tea! It'd be like rebelling because the government taxed Coca-Cola!

Then there are the reasons few people talk about – particularly England's growing unease with slavery (the English would outlaw it altogether in 1820, forty-five years before America got around to it) and England's limits of colonization westward. Many immigrants came to America for land, equating Indian lands with free lands. The English court system was starting to rule in favor of the Indians. This was unacceptable.

About the worst thing the English actually did was housing troops in private dwellings without getting the consent of the owners. The English and French were doing a fair bit of fighting in the Americas and the colonies wanted protection, but barracks were in short supply. So the English quartered troops in private houses, forcing their way in.

Mind you, they paid for the soldiers being quartered. And heavy knows I'd hate it if I was told that four guys were going to move into my house and I would be responsible for feeding them, no matter how much I was paid. It would really piss me off. There are also canards of the English troops behaving badly to their landlords, but there are no specifics. I'm sure that more than one soldier seduced more than one wife or daughter, and that would also fuel my rage, but I don't think that revolution is the answer, there, more like . . . build some damn barracks.

The real reason the Revolution happened is a growing sense among Americans that they weren't English. Many of them had been there a while and the American experience was so little like the English experience that the divide between the two places grew large, particularly during the period of Salutatory Neglect. The English had unintentionally allowed the colonists to grow more attached to local government than the English government, so after the French and Indian War when the English came in and treated the Americans like subjects, when the English started to pay attention to the colonials, again, it heightened the feeling that the Americans weren't the English. But that reason is pretty hard to sum up in a game about running through trees and knifing people.

In the game, this manifests, like I said, with Conner being nattered at by various figures, pontificating in the most tasteless ways imaginable about the causes of revolution. Case in point, Conner is walking around Boston with Sam Adams, and Sam is mentioning the unjust nature of British soldiers being quartered in private homes. Conner says, basically, “Well, you keep slaves.” Then the game has the fucked up audacity to equate quartering troops with owning human beings. There is a scene with some British soldiers behaving badly to the people quartering them and Sam Adams smugly says that it proves his point about the quartering soldiers is worse than slavery.

I mean, I almost stopped playing right there that shit is so fucked up. Slaves were flogged, raped, humiliated, mutilated. They were owned. No, they did not quarter troops. They didn't have homes, after all. The idea that the struggles of a land owner being inconvenienced is the same as the savagery of chattel slavery is racist and detestable. I understand where it comes from – there has to be a justification for rebellion and the real reasons aren't, like I said, that good or defensible. But it's horrible to suggest that anything is as bad as slavery this side of genocide.

Plus there's the whole Indian thing. The idea that the colonials would be better for the Indians is farcical and obviously untrue. Sure, some Mohicans fought for the colonials, but as mercenaries. Not exactly high-minded motives, there.

For additional racism, Conner's mentor is black. So, we have an Indian and a black guy who are involved with the Revolutionary War? Like the Revolutionary War improved conditions for black people in America? It's boggling, just boggling.

The game is also not about Conner. As far as I got, the main missions were about people like Paul Revere or Sam Adams, with Conner being their ethnic sidekick as they accomplished various historical acts. While I understand how things got there, I don't know why someone didn't notice. If they wanted the game to be about Sam Adams, they should have made him a goddamn Assassin. (Which would have been wicked, come to think about it. It would have provided motivation sorely lacking in Conner.) But the supporting cast, who are actually the stars, go on at great and tedious length about everything. None of the characters are interesting or even personable.

Other gameplay issues . . . the game has a lot of tedious bits relative to other games. So in AC2, the Assassin's become capitalists. Ezio goes around buying land and businesses to get the money he needs to do what he needs to do (including buying art). But the way it's handled in that game is . . . Ezio goes up to a shop, buys it and every so often money is deposited in his account. Every so often he had to go get it. That's it.

Conner, on the other hand, has to actively take a hand in transactions. He has to manage the estate's affairs – personally selecting what is made and where it is sold, and to whom. If you don't go into their menu intensive trading interface, you don't make any money.

Well, you can by hunting. The glories of hunting. You spread bait near a snare. Animal goes into snare. You skin the animal. Exciting!

Also, something that vexes me a little bit, is the wolves. Wolves will attack you pretty much on site. That perpetrates the canard that wolves are man-eaters when, in North America, there are zero unprovoked wolf attacks. Zero, as in “none”. Gray wolves are endangered, for crying out loud!

You also go around performing a beaver holocaust. There's good money in beaver pelts and they're more or less helpless. But, c'mon! Assassin's Creed III: the Extinction!

Funniest moment for me – the man-eating black bear. I . . . laughed aloud when I heard that one. Black bears are famously cowardly.

So the game has a lot of tedious gameplay. Some of it, like the trading, is reasonably important to the game. You need to buy things to succeed in the game so you have to use their silly trading interface to make money, rather than trade being something that just arises from your estate's growth. Hunting is amusing for about ten minutes but then it's a drag.

There are some improvements over the AC2 games. Well, one improvement. The freerunning – which is the core of the game – is greatly improved. And, yet, they seem to want to use it less, there are far fewer jumping puzzles than in previous games, at least as far as I got (and since I was about halfway done when I gave up, it would be a long stretch otherwise).

Mostly what AC3 did was make me want to play AC2, Brotherhood and Revelations, again. Which is okay since those games are great.