Assassin's Creed 3: The Tyranny of King Washington - Part 3 Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii-U and PC
Oh. Thanks for that Ubisoft. Now, go away and learn how to end a story before coming back with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, ok? With this third part in the Tyranny of King Washington DLC story serving as a companion piece and alternative to the main Assassin’s Creed III narrative Ubisoft have provided closure in an action-packed eight missions but failed to make it satisfying with regards to what is actually happening, why it’s happening and how it all manages to remain canon. It probably wouldn’t have mattered quite so much had the on-paper missions and new mechanics worked well but despite this episode brimming with invention and excitement it’s all enveloped in a field of poor execution leading to multiple counts of player rage.
Recall we last saw Ratonhnhaké:ton in Boston having defeated General Putnam and setting sail towards New York City in search of King George. That’s where we pick things up this time as we are immediately put into action onboard the Aquila in a naval battle as entertaining and full as any in the main game. It’s terribly good fun. Then on landing in New York you immediately drink some more of your tea and go on your third, and final, Skyworld journey - this time meeting a bear and coming out the other side with the frankly overpowered bear might. By equipping this power and pressing Triangle you turn into a translucent crystal bear, get up on your hind legs, and bear-smash down, destroying all in the vicinity and delivering a shockwave moving outwards. The balancing act is that such a move takes a big chunk of your health bar but my word, is it worth it.
The missions come thick and fast. You have the option of exploring this alternative New York, with a great big stone pyramid being constructed in its middle - with an awful lot of lingering looks on the all-seeing eye and nods to the Templars - but will be unlikely to do so given its relevance purely to one trophy out of three in this DLC episode, and the desire to get on with the meat of the game. The missions within this episode are varied in that you have to tail someone then assassinate him, do things around town to bring civil unrest or help some rebels escape a bluecoat stronghold. It is all mixed up in terms of the objectives and how the game wants you to achieve each one, but in reality it all pretty much degenerates into a massive fistfight which if you win it is because no-one else is left around to stop you. Even when it seems the game wants you to infiltrate, kill and exfiltrate without making a sound the way this world is setup makes it seemingly impossible - yes you can fly in using your eagle powers, hide using your wolf’s invisibility cloak and so on but then the dog sniffs you, the guards catch you and so on. It must be possible not to end up in a great big brawl but it’s highly unlikely that will be what you find.
The bear might power is a basic if fantastic addition to the existing animal powers obtained in this three part episodic DLC. It’s entirely possible to just entertain yourself by going around pressing Triangle and screaming “Hulk Smash” all over the place it’s that powerful a weapon, but when combined with you starting out invisible, flying above the target and then jumping towards them before deploying your bear might, well, it feels rather fantastic. It’s a shame then that doing that kind of thing repeatedly is so hard. Chaining together eagle flight in this episode is hit and miss depending on where you have to be looking for an obvious target to be activated as such. This happens all too often. As you progress through the missions you need to use all your animal powers, or just get caught up in reams and reams of fights. Animal powers are newer and more exciting but everything seems rushed. There’s no elegance to the solution or solutions to each objective. There’s not the fluidity of Assassin’s Creed past, nor the ease of execution modern day third person action games demand. If Ubisoft are to lead this franchise into the next generation they’ll have to move it on again once more as the novelty of the changes introduced with Assassin’s Creed III has worn away through that and this extra chunk of game such that it feels very dated in the way you move, the animations you need to complete before continuing (the recovery once downed is particularly slow and ponderous with no way to accelerate things) and in truth the ideas behind the missions and their objectives. Yes it’s all quite in what we have in this particular episode but really it’s just mixing up the few types of mission from any Assassin game, and adding a bit of extra brute force action to make things a little more bear-like, a little less elegant. Ubisoft have realised the need to freshen things up and are seemingly bringing us more of a charmer in Edward Kenway with the fourth numbered iteration - and a focus on the sea - but more is needed to keep things relevant and vibrant as we move further forwards.
The best thing about these three episodes is Ubisoft’s willingness to embrace such episodic ways of providing gamers with their interactive entertainment. The Walking Dead showed how brilliant it can be to get that time to reflect, discuss and think about what’s just happened, similar to the way people consume television historically. Here it shows similar promise. The time between each episode has allowed us to think about what’s going to happen and what we want to happen. Some of it has come true, some hasn’t happened and some has failed spectacularly. The model is there and works well but as mentioned earlier from Ubisoft's point of view they need to learn how to actually finish a story first of all.
The two-three hours spent with this third and closing episode in the mini-series offshoot from the third game proper, and the similar amount of time spent playing the first and second episodes, has been well spent when in the moment. That is it’s been intriguing and different enough to warrant playing and if you chose to do so you’d find yourself moving onwards pretty quickly to get to the next bit. It’s compelling in that sense. But on reflection the satisfaction with what you see happen is minimal, if present at all. What little there is comes from the new things, specifically the animal powers and how you use them to make your way through the missions but also how you can play about with them to make the killings and more killings that bit more interesting. It’s a good thing too as the further things went the more broken it all got. So it feels like a very mixed result in the end and that’s a fair assessment of things. It encourages us that the seemingly annual Assassin’s Creed will bring new things to the table but equally even for fans who devour every piece of content out there things need to move on - not just in the what, but the how and the how well, too.