The most useful thing to consider when deciding whether or not to play an Assassins Creed game is the Desmond Ratio. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, allow me to explain. The Assassins Creed games are split between two stories – there’s the main story, in which you play as a badass assassin, doing various assassin-y things in different historical time periods. This is the stuff that gets onto the box and is shown in the advertisements because it’s awesome. But there’s also a metastory, taking place in the present, where you play as a whiny douchebag named Desmond who is actually reliving all these historical parts in some kind of virtual reality simulator by accessing “genetic memories” embedded in his DNA, because that’s how science works, right?
Anyway, the Desmond Ratio measures how much of each Assassin’s Creed game is spent playing as Desmond. And because those portions of the game inevitably suck, the Desmond Ratio can be a pretty effective barometer of how much the people making the game hate you. Lower ratio, better game; for example, the best game in this series, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, had a miniscule Desmond Ratio. Now don’t get me wrong, a high Desmond Ratio isn’t the cause of an Assassins Creed game’s low quality, it’s an indicator. The same factor that causes the Desmond Ratio to be really high in a game (designer incompetence), also causes other problems in the game as well.
Unfortunately, the Desmond Ratio in Assassins Creed 3 is pretty high – not only does he star in the game’s painfully lengthy intro (which, by the way, won’t make any damn sense to anyone who hasn’t played the three AC games prior to this one. That’s either a vast overestimation of how closely people follow the series or, more likely, a tacit admission that nobody is paying any attention to this stuff so why even bother explaining it?), but you also cut back to him between levels, including one sequence where you take a break from being a kickass assassin who is almost single-handedly winning the Revolutionary War to jump back to modern times and… sneak into an MMA fight. That actually happens.
Eh, have a hand in the creation of a new nation, or try to save $200 on tickets – both have about the same level of dramatic tension, right?
I will say this much for the Desmond missions, though – at least they make the game harder. Let’s face it, all of the Assassins Creed games have been absurdly easy, but Desmond scenes at least add a unique challenge. I generally spend so much time during those parts being annoyed and making a jerking off hand gesture that when it’s time for the rest of the game to start again, my arm is already pretty tired and I start making mistakes.
Unlike better games in this series, though, things aren’t much better when you’re playing as the assassin. Far too much of the game is spent in cutscenes, or perhaps more annoyingly (because you can at least skip a cutscene), in missions that don’t contain any actual gameplay but just have you walking around while someone explains the plot to you. Look, I’m as big of a proponent of “show, don’t tell,” and telling a game’s story through its gameplay as there is, but “walk next to this guy while he talks to you” isn’t gameplay. Well, except for in an Assassins Creed game, apparently.
Even the more action packed parts of the game are still underwhelming. Traveling through each stage is often simply a matter of holding down the right trigger and running in the direction of your target, with the occasional moment where you accidentally jump off a roof – a handy reminder that the designer’s decision to assign the “sprint” and “jump off things” action to the same button was a terrible idea. Also, aside from a few missions that explicitly forbid detection, the risk/reward ratio for sneaking vs. open assault generally favors attacking, and the fighting in the game is repetitive and overly simple. It looks great when you see your character block an attack from behind him, then spin around, take out his opponent’s legs, and then land three fatal blows on him while he’s down, but that entire sequence comes down to one not necessarily well-timed button press. AC3 is a largely non-interactive acrobatics and combat watching simulator.
Perhaps nothing can illustrate the problems with Assassins Creed 3 better than a quick recap of the last hour of the game (warning: contains spoilers):
00:00 – 1:30 – Final mission, where you chase the bad guy through some obstacles. This is accomplished by holding down the right trigger and steering at the guy, because that constitutes gameplay in this series.
01:30 – 2:30 – Cutscene. We find out that Connor has received a serious wound, which will cause him to walk around very slowly for the rest of the game. Whee!
02:30 – 3:45 – Walk VERY slowly down to the end of a dock, because that apparently also constitutes gameplay in this game.
3:45 – 5:00 – Cutscene in which you kill the last bad guy, because apparently killing the last bad guy does NOT constitute gameplay.
5:00 – 10:00 – More cutscenes, interspersed with some more edge-of-your-seat slowly walking around action.
10:00 – 35:00 – We return to the present, and spend the next 25 minutes or so as Desmond wandering aimlessly through an underground complex, while holograms recite insane conspiracy nonsense at us. Slowly, we learn that the plotline to the Assassins Creed series makes whatever is going on in Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy X (or most Tea Party message boards for that matter), seem completely sane and logical by comparison.
35:00 – 58:00 – The end credits. They go on for at least 20 minutes and you can’t skip them, because fuck you, player – you need to know who did the sound testing for this game.
58:00 – 1:00:00 – Return to the newly independent United States, where we learn that Native Americans and black people are still being treated poorly. This is treated like some huge revelation, because apparently AC fans have only ever used their history books as a disguise to help them blend into a crowd after fleeing an assassination.
1:00:00 – Throw game out window, revoke Seal of Quality.