If you’ve listened to our podcast, you’re almost certainly aware of the fact that here at Midnight Resistance, we’re not fans of Ubisoft’s billion-selling tedium simulator. The popularity of the games baffles us, and the dull structure and progression in them is starting to bleed out into other series. Troubling.
Here’s the thing though; I personally have only played the first two Assassin’s Creed games, so it’s a bit unfair for me to damn the whole lot, especially considering that many find Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed 3 to be the best and most interesting titles in the series. So, I’ve spent the last few months playing through the remaining titles instead of things I’d actually like to play so I can, finally, put the boot into this bizarre, massively overrated set of games. In doing so, I’ve had a few ‘revelations’ about the series. Ahem.
Here’s my fundamental issues with Assassin’s Creed. I had these going in, and for the most part, my opinion didn’t change.
- The free running controls are too simple. Sure, when they work, holding down the buttons to stick your character into free run mode would occasionally allow for some great, superbly animated leaping from building to building. However, because that’s all you need to do, if you weren’t perfectly lined up, you usually found yourself running up a wall you didn’t want to, or awkwardly hopping onto a ledge that is completely off the path you want to take. If you wanted to change direction - no chance. This control scheme does not allow for quick adaptation to the surrounding area. From game one all the way through the 'Ezio' games, these controls remained the same. Ouch.
- The combat is awful. Sure, you’re not supposed to get in massive sword fights, but there are a handful of moments when it is mandatory, and the controls feel awkward, lacking in any feeling of weight or impact, with a generous window for counters that really removes any skill from it. The toughest challenge you’ll face is with the terrible angled camera that indicates you’re in ‘fight mode’, which spends most of its time flipping between giving a crap view of the action and getting stuck behind almost every available piece of geometry. With Assassin’s Creed 3, the controls were simplified to allow for quicker access to ranged weapons, which made things a bit a snappier. Ultimately, it is still a bit rough, especially when compared to the similar but far superior Batman: Arkham games that it is clearly trying to ape. Why don’t they just steal it wholesale?!
- The actual core gameplay is absolute pump. People grill the Grand Theft Auto games for having supposed tedious missions, but how these people let the Assassin’s Creed games get away with countless ‘tail this dude for five long, boring minutes’ or ‘literally walk between these checkpoints for a bit’ is absolutely wild. The main story assassination quests are usually much better, but agonizingly scripted, usually failing you for tackling it the ‘wrong way’. In an open-world game, this lack of freedom is absolutely baffling. Checkpointing is also all over the place, with some missions being generous and some allowing you to hide in a bush for ten minutes before getting caught and having to repeat the entire ordeal all over again. A lot of the story missions are powerfully dull, too. There is a mission in AC3 where you have to walk to a building, watch a short cutscene, walk to a barn about 50 feet away, watch another cutscene, then walk BACK to the building once more. Guess what? You then watch ANOTHER cutscene, then have to walk BACK to the barn! Then you fight three guys and the mission is complete. I don’t even know what the fuck to say about that. Poor checkpointing, boring escort/follow missions with instant failure states, cities that are ultimately lifeless outside of the missions and many other issues - I would go as far as saying that Assassin’s Creed makes absolutely every possible mistake an open-world game can make.
It wasn’t all awful, though. In playing through the rest of the series, I actually found a lot of stuff to like. Unfortunately, a lot of it is extra stuff, all added on top of the rotten foundation of the series, like cherries on a cake made of dogshit. Here’s what I enjoyed when I played the remaining Assassin’s Creed games - Brotherhood, Revelations and... ‘Three’.
First of all - Ezio. Ezio Auditore Da Firenze. Playing Brotherhood and then Revelations back to back actually made me care about the Italian fellow. Altair was a bit faceless and dull, but Ezio was a real character, from his fall from grace and rebirth as an assassin in AC2, to his rise to leader in Brotherhood, all the way to seeing him as an ageing man in Revelations, trying to finish what was started all those years ago. You follow him through his entire life as an assassin, and seeing him as a weathered old dude far away from home, following in his ancestors footsteps in Constantinople, you really feel like you’ve lived the adventure with him. Unfortunately, it’s tarnished by the daft real world sub-Dan Brown Scooby Gang Animus bollocks, but it wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game if it didn’t balls up a great idea, would it?
Brotherhood and Revelations also have a smart little RPG-lite in them, where you rescue civilians from soldiers while you’re pottering about the cities, who then join your stable of assassins in training. You send them off on missions around the world, levelling them up and acquiring new armour and skills in the process, slowly making your very own army of trained killers. What is brilliant is you can then fire them off in the single player game with a jab of the shoulder button, causing a gang of assassins to suddenly appear out of the shadows and jack any soldiers you’ve targeted, or, if you’ve got enough assassins waiting, you can cause them to unload a barrage of arrows from afar, killing every enemy currently in sight. It’s like the dude in the police car in Streets of Rage, who drives up and fires an RPG for you, and that was bloody rad. In the third game, this is taken even further by allowing you to unlock new moves for your allies, so as well as just the standard assassinations, you can use them to incite a riot that can cause a major distraction in an area, or the ‘marksman’ ability, which turns one of your assassins into a rooftop sniper! Managing and advance your teammates is something that has gone from strength to strength since it was first introduced and will hopefully continue to do so. I LIKED THIS A WHOLE LOT.
Then there’s Assassin’s Creed 3. What a frustrating game this is! For the most part, it is a game that actually does improve on almost all of the issues I have with the series, but then proceeds to create a whole bunch of its own! As touched upon earlier, the combat controls are far better, and the free running has been tweaked to allow for much greater control, allowing for lines of more varied directions to be taken, especially when you’re cutting through the treetops in the new, more open areas between the more traditional city areas. The setting is great, and the graphics are among the very best of this generation. Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed 3 is a buggy mess, with countless bizarre issue cropping up during almost every play session. The missions vary wildly from being some of the most interesting the series has to offer to almost acting as a ‘best of the worst of Assassin’s Creed’ at times. Then there is the tutorial, which is about (and I am not making this up) about SIX HOURS long. You’re about HALFWAY through the main game before you’re even playing as the dude on the box, and you’re still unable to do things like crafting until sequence eight - for some perspective, there’s twelve sequences in the entire game. You’re being told how to do things until you’re two thirds of the way through. Maddening.
Speaking of dudes on the box art, Connor is bloody rubbish, too. Playing through his entire backstory means that you’re a little more attached to him than say, Altair, but he’s just a bit bland. A bit too much of a straightforward righteous hero dude. After Ezio, he’s a costume and an occupation; nothing more.
Assassin’s Creed 3 does have one big ace up its sleeve, though. The sea battles. Good grief, these are fantastic. It’s like a super fancy graphics version of the combat in the brilliant Sid Meier’s Pirates! and is by far the standout moment in the game. You control your sails to adjust your speed and position, get parallel with your rival and unload a wall of cannonballs into their ship, sending splinters of wood flying with a satisfying crack. It is a great mix of simple but satisfying controls, mastering the skill behind getting your boat into the best positions and brilliant graphics that capture how fucking ferocious a massive metal orb tearing through a wooden structure is. The mere fact that the next game is set in the Caribbean during the times of all thing pirate has genuinely piqued my interest.
So, am I optimistic about Black Flag, this forthcoming generation-straddling fourth installment proper? Yeah, maybe I am a little. The games have improved with each title, there’s no denying that, and with the sea battles from the third being clearly pushed to the forefront of this new title, perhaps is the one where they really, truly, get it right. Playing through the series hasn’t entirely changed my opinion of them, only now I know there’s enough in there that I wish they were just that little bit better. I used to hate them, now I WANT to like them.