LURK IN THE WILD PLACES
Did you know, under the streets of Assassin Creed 3’s Boston, there are miles of tunnels filled with cut-throat degenerates and complex jumping puzzles?
That the Headless Horseman stalks the land, wearing a pumpkin on his head with green glowing eyes, decapitating innocent victims by the side of the road? That Sasquatches and Sea Monsters terrify full-grown men?
That an ancient cave holds the robes of the first Assassin to come to the colonies? That a love story plays out in the grounds around your homestead?
That shards of First Civilisation technology lurk in the wild places of the world, waiting to be found and used as personal forcefields?
I didn’t. I didn’t know any of those things, and I finished the game last week.
AC3 is a very, very curious orange. It is very much an open-world game, far more so than any previous title, given the grand scope of the Frontier and sprawl of both major cities, and there is always a lot to do with very little impetus to actually do it. It’s strange to think that this is the fifth game in the series and not the first, because everything seems so thrown-together.
It all smacks of too many cooks spoiling a massive bowl of broth. Let’s pick an example from the intro: the Headless Horseman.
The concept of investigating folk legends and debunking them is pretty awesome, and ties in with the history of the period in a way that a) doesn’t fuck around with politics when it’s supposed to be jumping off a roof with it’s hidden blade out and b) is actually interesting, even to a layman like myself. If the game had let me know that there was the option of doing this, I’d have been on it like a shot.
Except it didn’t. It popped up a box on the top right of the screen saying that maybe I should sit down and listen to some guys round a campfire who would tell me a story about something nondescript, and excuse me have you looked at the front of the box that the game came in it has a man killing another man with a tomahawk on it and NO CAMPFIRE STORIES.
TURNS OUT IT WAS FAKE
I signed up to this party to kill shit and start revolutions; I’m not going to sit down and listen to some guys tell a story. Not when I could be launching myself out of a tree at a bear and kneeing it in the face until it dies.
Even then, when you do sit down and talk to the guys around the campfire, you’re treated to an over-long monologue of a man telling you a story about a Thing He Did while his beard sort of glitches around his face like his mouth means to do it harm, and you’re given another marker to run to halfway across the map so you do and it turns out it was fake.
That’s the plot of every single Supernatural occurrence – you go somewhere, look at a thing, and realise that it wasn’t real after all.
And I can imagine the planning meeting where this all happened, too. I can imagine the happiness as someone pitched a series of missions focusing around uncovering myths and legends, and the ideas that would have sparked off. The chases through dark tunnels after “ghosts.” The high-speed chases to hunt the Headless Horseman. The sailors pulled underwater by the “sea monster.”
I can imagine the project getting laid to the wayside, but seeing as stuff had already been recorded, the team bundled together a few art assets and stuck them in place of a real mission.
This sort of thing keeps happening throughout the game. There are one-shot special missions framed around scripted stealth and action sequences, much like the old “steal something anachronistic invented by Leonardo Da Vinci” missions from Brotherhood, and while they’re a little short they’re excellent fun. Do you know how you gain access to them?
Pegleg – a man with one leg and fewer teeth in a stupid hat tells you that he has letters from the infamous Captain Kidd, which might well lead to Stuff. To see said letters you should get him some of his Trinkets that have been scattered all over the map (presumably by someone who met Pegleg and hates him as much as I do) and he’ll exchange them using a sort of barter system.
Just like before, if I’d been told what collecting the trinkets could have earned me, I would have given it a shot – and enjoyed the game a lot more, to boot. True, I probably would have given up fairly early on, but at least I’d have known what I was missing.
But there is no way I am going to go out of my way to please a character I hate in exchange for nothing specific.
Not knowing what I was missing, then, is the crux of the problem. Sometimes, in the case of the unlockable weapon upgrades, that wasn’t a lot. Sometimes, in the case of the soap-opera Homestead missions, I dodged a bullet. You’d never have caught Altaïr playing a long-winded game of bowls, that’s for sure.
But I keep seeing and hearing about more and more sections of the game hidden away, open only to the sort of player that will explore every option and collect things for the sake of collecting them, and offering little payoff once they’re done. Ideas left half-baked in the game, pushed together to cover up the rough edges.
Even though a lot of them still don’t work, and are explained away with a mumbled apology and some nebulous upgrade that no-one would have noticed had the game not mentioned it, it seems a shame to lose so much potentially fascinating content in a sea of apologies and obfuscation.
I wanted AC3 to be my game of the year. Had it been allowed more development time – a year or so – it could have been one of the stand-out titles of this generation: a rich, multi-layered experience ripe with things to see and do married with a flexible, cinematic combat engine. Especially if they made the economy somehow factor into the combat, but that’s a story for another time.
If Assassin’s Creed 3 was a party, it would take place in a church hall and the booze would always be half an hour away, stuck in traffic. No-one would be talking to each other, especially Economy, who sits at the back of the room with her head in a book refusing to acknowledge the existence of anyone else. Combat would wheel and spin and dance in the middle of the floor, all by himself, and not achieve anything of note, and never pull. And Hunting would bashfully lay out snacks that it thought were good enough at time of purchase but now seem all too small and limp to keep everyone happy.
Had Ubisoft had the time, money and inclination to get everyone together, it could have been a hell of a shindig. But it’s not. And I’m already looking at my watch.