Good writing can make a game great. Bad writing, however, won’t necessarily sink a game, though, if the mechanics are good and the game itself is fun. There are many badly written games that are classics.
Which brings us to Assassin’s Creed III, a game which is not only hampered by bad writing, but by bad writing gone amok. This is a game where the story actively fights your attempts to play the game, that demands your attention when you couldn’t care less. Ubisoft is, for some baffling reason, absolutely convinced you have paid $60 to play a movie.
Good thing that the real fun in the game comes from pretty much ignoring it completely.
I can sum up the problem very simply: The very opening features a cutscene. And then you slowly walk to your mission objective. Which is another cutscene. Then to the next mission objective. Which is still ANOTHER cutscene.
This is your first introduction to how clunky this game is, in service to its story. That would be fine if the story were any good, but it isn’t. The sub-Dan Brown conspiracy stuff has always been the least compelling aspect of the game, and here it’s not only front and center, it actually takes precedence over gameplay.
You’ve got to do each mission exactly the way the game dictates, sometimes down to using the exact route it wants, because you need to hit these specific story beats that are jammed awkwardly into the mission. It destroys any real sense of agency on the player’s part, especially when a cutscene ends and you walk to… another cutscene. Worse, these cutscenes are almost always fat that could have been trimmed. At times, the main campaign makes you feel you’re a monkey pressing buttons so the game can stuff another cutscene in your eyeholes.
That said, when the game actually lets you play it, hand-to-hand combat is fluid, logical, and most importantly, fun. Messing somebody up has never been easier or more entertaining. Platforming has also been heavily tweaked to be much more engaging and logical. Unfortunately, you still have to hold down buttons to move more quickly through the world and climb things because apparently to Ubisoft gaming controls have not changed since 2004.
That said, the core mechanics of the game, the jumping and the stabbing, are great, but they’re hampered by bad pacing of both story and mission.
Fortunately, if you want to ignore the main game completely and just screw around in the vast, gorgeous, open world that Ubisoft has put together for you like a playground, you can, and I heartily recommend you do. This is where the game becomes worth every penny of the $60 you pay for it.
Particularly, the naval combat stands out. I admit I was skeptical for just about every reason you can name, but Ubisoft has turned naval combat into an exciting, engaging, and clever action game. Hunting seems tacked on at first but rapidly becomes engaging and challenging. Even chasing after Almanac pages gets your attention. There’s literally hours upon hours of things to do in this game from blowing ships out of the water to herding pigs to training other assassins.
Normally, I’d say Assassin’s Creed III isn’t worth your money, and the main game is frustratingly dated and broken in many respects. But considering that you have something like five or six other really fun games in here, games that will absorb you for hours, it’s well worth the money. It’s just too bad the side dishes are so much better than the entree.