As regular readers of PS4 Attitude’s weekly PlayTime feature will know, I didn’t particularly care for Assassin’s Creed III; in fact, I thought it was a boring, bug-ridden mess. To be frank, I was ready to give any future AC games a miss, but then Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was announced, and I couldn’t help but hold out a little hope for it. This is the fall and rise of Assassin’s Creed.
WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Assassin’s Creed III, and minor spoilers for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Although I enjoyed 2011’s Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, by the time I completed it I was dying for a shakeup of the old AC formula. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Ubisoft promised with Assassin’s Creed III and, encouraged by the positive reviews, I picked it up on day one.
Things started well, with a thrilling opening set piece involving an assassination at the Royal Opera House in London. I also appreciated the early twist that the start of the game is not played as Connor, ACIII’s main protagonist, but as a second playable character, Haytham Kenway, who it eventually transpires is Connor’s father.
However, things swiftly went downhill from there. During the sequences played as Haytham, I actually grew to quite like him, and so the eventual reveal that he’s a Templar, while unexpected, was a bit of a misfire from Ubisoft. For four games, we’d been led to believe that all Templars are inherently bad, while the Assassins are the world’s only hope; but it had just been proven that this isn’t strictly true. Indeed, as if to then reinforce the idea that we’re supposed to dislike the Templars, from then on Ubisoft backtracks and goes out of its way to portray Haytham’s fellow Templar, Charles Lee (as well as many other British characters, for that matter), as an exaggerated caricature of evil, almost like a comic book villain.
But these introductory chapters also posed another problem. Due to the fact that you play the first three sequences as Haytham, and then another as young Connor, the game proper arguably doesn’t start until Sequence 5, a third of the way through (and several hours into) the game; and even then it still takes a while for the training wheels to come off completely. It felt like Ubisoft was stretching the story as thin as possible, in order to increase its overall length. The result was that, by the time I finally got to play as adult Connor, I was already bored.
It doesn’t help that the resulting story is completely uninteresting, and more often than not I found myself rooting for the Templars. Whether it was the poorly written script, or just the fact that he isn’t Ezio, I utterly failed to warm to Connor as a character; Haytham is admittedly a bit of a bastard, but at least he has some personality.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Assassin’s Creed III without mentioning how ridiculously glitchy it is. As well as the usual pop-in and other (mostly forgivable) graphical issues of previous AC games, it also features more overt bugs too. For instance, during a modern-day section I was talking to Shaun in the Temple, when he suddenly cut off mid-sentence and vanished; I couldn’t find him anywhere and he only reappeared the next time I exited the Animus.
Another memorable example is near the beginning of the game, when a character is speaking during a cutscene, while his lips remain tightly shut. It’s only a momentary blip, but there’s no way this could have got through to the final release without anyone at Ubisoft noticing. This means they either couldn’t be bothered to fix it or, more likely, simply ran out of time. In truth, a general lack of polish is present throughout the entire game, which suggests it was ultimately rushed to meet the launch date (despite reportedly starting development in early 2010!).
When it comes down to it, Assassin’s Creed III is a mess of broken promises and wasted opportunity. It offered so much, but delivered comparatively little, and at times felt like a major step back for the series. A boring story, uninteresting characters, an abundance of glitches and rehashed gameplay all came together to create what is by far the worst game in the series, and possibly the most overrated game I’ve ever played.
After I finally completed ACIII (which, by the way, took me a year to force myself to do!), I’d basically decided to draw a line under my time with the series; much like I did with Call of Duty after the original Black Ops. However, when the first details of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag were announced, I was forced to rethink my original decision.
Even though it didn’t make much sense within the context of the game’s story, the one thing about ACIII that felt at all innovative was the naval combat. It was genuinely new and exciting, unlike anything else in the game, so when it was revealed that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag would be set in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, I was instantly sold.
I’m now a few hours into ACIV on PS4, and my opinion couldn’t be more different to how I feel about ACIII. For a start, we’re introduced to likeable protagonist Edward Kenway straight away, so it’s far easier to identify with him than it ever was with Connor. Similarly, after the first 20 minutes or so, I’d already participated in my first naval battle, survived a shipwreck, explored an island and arrived in Havana; it’s certainly a far cry from the tedious and needlessly long opening of ACIII.
I also haven’t encountered anywhere near as many bugs in ACIV as I found in ACIII; not bad considering this is Ubisoft’s first shot at releasing a title on PS4. It’s also obvious that the company has made a real effort to take advantage of the hardware, with 1080p visuals, anti-aliasing and other graphical improvements such as dynamic lighting and weather. All these little details add up to make a significant difference.
These enhancements are even more impressive considering the sheer size of the game’s world, not to mention the fact you can travel from one side to the other with no loading screens. After Sequence 2, you are given a ship and the freedom to traverse the Caribbean Sea at will, exploring any island you come across (and there are dozens of them to discover).
However, perhaps the biggest achievement of ACIV is that, after six attempts, Ubisoft has finally made the modern-day sections not only tolerable, but actually enjoyable! Playing as a new Abstergo employee has proved to be a lot of fun so far, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes. The idea that the Assassin’s Creed series actually exists within the game’s universe is an incredible concept, and one which opens up some interesting possibilities for future AC titles.
For the first time in years, I’m genuinely excited about playing an Assassin’s Creed game, and I can definitely see it becoming the first game in the series since Assassin’s Creed II that I 100% complete. Good work, Ubisoft – thank you for restoring my faith in the Assassins.