Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3 Recap, Part 4: Fighting Templars

In case you wondered why I omit the present-day-storyline around Desmond from my recaps: I will do it in one final part, since it seems to me it would disrupt the flow of these recaps. That being said, let's rejoin Connor on his way to New York. When I played, I encountered a nasty bug, preventing me from entering the city. So, I took my sweet time to explore Boston and the Frontier and to perform some naval missions, something I didn't do later in the storyline. I have the feeling that the game should force you a littlebit more to do these things while playing the main storyline, preferably by making money useful. I did the game without ever buying any new weapon or stuff in the shops, and I only used money  to improve the ship, which didn't seem to have such a great effect at all. It would be cool if you really needed money to solve some plots. 

New York's best days clearly lie ahead.

I could be wrong on this count. It could just be tedious then. But in its current state, I lack the motivation for it. I want to know the story, damn it! When I finally have the relaxed state of mind necessary to do all that stuff, there's no end to it anymore. Perhaps the developers should think about this a littlebit the next time. Anyway, in New York we're trying to get for a guy named Thomas Hickey, a gun-for-hire in service of the Templars. Before we can cut his throat, however, we are arrested - alongside Hickey. This of course is courtesy by Charles Lee and Haytham Kenway, whom we meet face to face, bereft of our weapons and gear. Connor is thrown into the local prison, which isn't exactly the place you want to be.

But you can still sneak around.
What happens now could have been a great sequence: we need to find a way from our down-to-the-earth cell to the lofty accomodations Hickey has been confined to. How do we do it? A series of cutscenes. In between, we do exactly what the game tells us to do. This is frustrating. Assassin's Creed 3 does this way too often: you're offered exactly one thing to do, and what it is is displayed right on the screen. Press "E" to do X, then press Space to do Y. We're instructed to use Eagle Sight (press V), then press E to talk to someone (Cutscene), then we have to beat up somebody (constructed fight scene), Cutscene, sneak around for one minute, cutscene. Then we're out of the prison. Man, why not build some riddles in at least? Why not let me explore the prison, which consists of only two accessible rooms anyway, and if I don't find anything after five minutes tell me to use Eagle Sight then? It's dumbed down too much for its own good sometimes. Anyway, it was a rouse for some reason. Hickey's cell is empty, and instead Lee and Haytham get another chance smirking at us before we get an execution scene, Robin Hood style.

Does this fool anyone? Connor isn't voice-acted by Sean Bean.
Of course the execution is interrupted by our fellow assassin's, led by the wise sage. He gives Connor a tomohawk, which we use to get rid of Hickey. This lightens things up a bit: Hickey tells us that the Templars don't interest him at all. He's in for the money, something he can hold at the end of the day, and tells Connor that in the end, he will have nothing, chasing an ideal that can't possibly be reached. That's something to chew on. Unfortunately, Connor doesn't, so it's left to us. But the scene must somehow have given ambition to the designers, because now it's off into the snow-clad frontier of 1776, where Washington needs supplies. Valley Forge! The coat of history blows in the wind. While we search the guys responsible for the sabotage of supplies, we have an unexpected encounter: Haytham Kenway. At a church, it comes to a standdown. The designers really did a good job with Haytham. He's interesting and multi-facetted, not a clear villain like Charles Lee. So it comes only natural to work together, since a guy named Benjamin Church is stealing all the goods and Haytham doesn't want the revolutionaries to lose neither. Suddenly, the interests of Templars and Assassins are intertwined. Interesting!

I have been waiting for stuff like this since the prologue ended.
Finding Church and disposing of him is business as usual, although there's a nice and well orchestrated mix of challenges to overcome. Church escapes and must be pursued into the Carribean, finally giving the naval sequences importance for the story part instead of only using them as nice distractions. And boy, they are cool. After finally getting Church, it's back to New York, where some redcoats need to be interrogated in order to learn of their plans. This sequence really is the heart of Assassin's Creed 3 in my eyes, since in the cooperation with Haytham, we see the differences between Assassins and Templars without being explicitly told so in clumsy cutscenes. Haytham is all efficiency. We interrogated the redcoat? Kill him, he's no use anymore and dead men tell no tales.

Why do the two British guys look like twins?
Finally, we also get a little payoff for the native-storyline: Haytham, aware of Washington's intentions, uses the revelation that the colonists are fighting the natives in general and Connor's tribe in particular to really unbalance his son. The agenda seems to be that Connor now doesn't prevent assassination attempts on Washington anymore, but I guess by now Lee is spoiled goods anyway. It works, however, and Connor tells Washington to fuck himself before he prevents further bloodshed by turning on his own, being forced to kill his boyhood friend. Unfortunately, this doesn't really resonate with the next part of the game, where we fight yet another battle for the colonists at Monmouth, shooting a cannon at clusters of redcoats for boring three minutes.

The cause is more important than this, obviously.
Now it's on to the endgame. We have to finally get rid of Lee, who has retreated in a strong fortress in New York. We need the French fleet to create a big diversion in order to get at him, but for this, we first need to win the battle at Chesepeak Bay. If you kept tabs, it's 1781 now. Wow, that went fast. And really, there are some big time lapses in this part of the game, which feels a bit disjointed, particularly because it isn't reflected in Connor, who doesn't really change over the course of the game. By now, Altair had learned the errors of his youthful, rash ways and had become a valued member of the community, and Ezio had put his former dandy life behind as well. Connor, however? He's a stern Indian, same as before. Anyway, the battle on the Chesepeak Bay is great, as all the naval missions are, providing some really big cinematic action before we sneak into the fortress to seek out Lee. This goes sour surprisingly fast: Connor's wounded, Lee's not there, and instead we encounter Haytham and kill him in a rather anti-climactic duel.

Both of them wounded, McLane-style.
Not that this is a bad thing: making Haytham not the final nemesis is a good move and gives us the time to let this be a personal moment for Connor instead of the effect-laden finale. Haytham's departure from the stage is, as all scenes involving him, beautifully done and provides a satisfying ending, again showing us the futility of the Assassin's cause. Not that Connor would make anything of it. He's on a revenge trip, after all. And so, we have to finally chase Charles Lee. Again, the ending is done very well, albeit a bit cheesy in terms of Connor's badass war paint and Irokese hair style. Both he and Lee are grievously wounded in the final chase, and Lee seems to be able to escape. But no, we can find him after a short cutscene in a tavern, enjoying what he knows will be his final drink. In a surprisingly tender scene, Connor shares the drink with him before finally killing him and returning to Homestead, a somewhat broken man. His wound will prevent any future assassin adventures, it seems, and since his whole motivation always was revenge, this seems like a natural end which will hopefully not be revisited.

And I think this is the main problem: Connor's motivations never get past taking his revenge out on Charles Lee. Interestingly, Ezio started with the same motivation, trying to avenge the murder of his father and brother, but he concluded that business fairly early and went then on to discover the bigger picture and to take part in it. Connor, on the other hand, stumbles into the big picture practically from the beginning. Several people rub his nose in it, but he always brushes them off and goes about his business half of the time. In the other half, he engages into the struggle without a clear motive. Don't get me wrong: revenge can be a strong motivation and easily fuel a game like this. But the designers couldn't really decide whether they wanted to make this a fairly linear affair of a man on a mission, like the first Assassin's Creed was (not unsuccesfully), or if they wanted to go for the broader themes, like the other three parts did. This incoherence and indicisiveness stands in the way of true greatness.

So much for Connor's storyline. We will explore Desmond in the last part of the series, as well as a final review of the game.

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