The DigestVideo

Games Of October 2012: Assassin’s Creed III

The series’ take on the American Revolution has two critics divided.

By John Teti • November 12, 2012

The Digest, our monthly video review series that gives you two critics for the price of one, makes its long-awaited return today! And I apologize for the hiatus. Last month, I was busy putting together The Seeds, and then this month, we had to postpone the usual taping on account of Hurricane Sandy. But we’re back, and with one of my favorite installments yet.

If you’re a regular reader of the site, you already know that I have some bones to pick with Assassin’s Creed III. My counterpart over at Kotaku, however—editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo—gave the game a nice big hug. I invited him to come on The Digest so we could talk it out, and he was gracious enough to accept. We went back and forth for about half an hour; it was tough to cut this one down to The Digest’s usual length. I think you’ll enjoy the counterpoint Stephen provides.

Because I was feeling in an autumnal mood, all of this week’s snacks are pumpkin-flavored treats. We started off with pumpkin muffins. You see these popping up in bakeries around this time of year, but I always question whether anyone enjoys these things, or whether we eat them out of obligation. In the case of these muffins, the latter definitely applies.

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  • Cloks

    Are those WiiU games I spot on the shelves?

    I think the best game featuring Ben Franklin was Day of the Tentacle.

    As for actual topic, I think collectibles in game are crap. I’m a compulsive player – the kind who has to achieve an achievement if one exists, even if it’s for something as boring as collecting every treasure on the map. I hate how a lot of modern games just throw everything in there to keep people playing – New Vegas might be a great counter-argument because it threw in a lot of carefully constructed content rather than just dropping 300-some treasures around Italy.

    • TaumpyTearrs

      But New Vegas had those damn Caravan achievements! I never get into the card-game within a game shit like in this and Final Fantasy.

    • Ghostfucker

      New Vegas actually did drop 300 treasures around Italy, it just never gave you a chance to find it.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I am sort of a completionist in that I like to unlock everything in a game, but I’m never compelled to collect every doodad or whatever. Wandering around looking for one specific thing is no fun at all, even if the rest of the game is awesome. Especially in, say, something like Spider-Man 2 where just moving around is super fun but searching for whatever little things they had in that was just obnoxious.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

        My balloon!!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6JCCDYFXEBXFYQVWX5TDFGPZNQ HAHA H

      Liking this for the Day of the Tentacle reference – I always keep hoping that the reborn Telltale Games would create a sequel to it like they did for Sam & Max and Monkey Island but it seems like they are solely focused on TV adaptions now. Shame.

    • Maudib

      As much fun as Psychonauts was, I loathed how everything depended on collectibles.  Especially levels.  Playing on a keyboard didn’t help, but how I loathed those goddamn imaginations floating around, mocking me because I didn’t pick them up.

  • FartyMcSimmons

    The Assassin’s Creed series was a lot more fun when the gameplay involved assassinating people.

    • Raging Bear

      But the mission that introduces hunting has the optional objective “air assassinate two animals”! (<– not a joke).

      Sure, it looks like that doe is peacefully munching on berries, but she's actually plotting a fascist world order as a templar sleeper agent. And also pooping in your yard.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Though it is fun when you unlock the ability to hire bunny escorts to lure away the doe’s rabbit guards.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

       next you’ll be wanting a GTA game that actually focuses on stealing cars.

  • Effigy_Power

    Several guests, John? You are not making this easy, are you?
    -scribbles sketches-

  • Jackbert322

    Somebody got some Wii U games! Nice to see this again, glad y’all survived the apocalypse or whatever was going on over there. Teti, I really enjoyed the back and forth you had with Steven about Assasin’s Creed 3, but the best part was definitely this exchange:

    “You don’t need all these SSX games-”
    “NO DON’T TOUCH THOSE OH MY GOD.”

    And it seems as though I’m not the only person who despises muffins.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      And Ninja Town isn’t so bad, really. An alright tower defense with some lame attempts at humor, but pretty cute overall.

      You pumpkin muffin haters are all messed up though. I’m down for anything pumpkiny or “pumpkiny” and I love all kinds of muffins. 

      • Effigy_Power

         http://i.imgur.com/MaAJx.jpg

      • BROedipus

        I’m suddenly really torn on whether or not I like this site. On one hand there are tons of well written and interesting articles, but on the other hand, John Teti hates pumpkin muffins. I need some time to think.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I’m really tempted to ship a crate of pumpkin muffins to John’s place, just to convert him to the orange side. (By which I mean I’m going to airdrop pumpkin muffins all over Brooklyn, since I don’t know where he lives.)

        • HobbesMkii

          I, too, feel as though Teti has crossed the invisible snack line with his pumpkin hate.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Luckily, without a letter-grade, we’ll avoid the total shitstorm of the comments being invaded by irate MetaMuffin commenters.

        • Electric Dragon

          @Merve2:disqus  : In order to protect the rest of Brooklyn from a rain of pumpkin muffins (haven’t they suffered enough recently?) I will point out that there is a mailing address on the “Contact” page.

          I made some parkin at the weekend – a wonderful dark oaty ginger cake.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @google-6108c5611fbc5b86af5df565c4b4b048:disqus: I’m pretty sure that’s the mailing address for Soupy’s Palace. It must be where @paraclete_pizza:disqus and @Effigy_Power:disqus have been sending all their bribes to get into Keyboard Geniuses.

        • Effigy_Power

          @Merve2:disqus: You take that back or I’ll use my considerable financial influence to make Disqus buggy and awkward to use for you!

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          This thread has been cracking me up. Let me just say in my pitiful defense that this particular pumpkin muffin came from a bakery nearby that is not so great (even if the locals rave about it — overrated!), and there were chewy nuts in the middle of the muffin, and they put these pumpkin seeds are top that are not tasty at all. The pumpkin seeds are really just there to remind you that hey, this is a pumpkin muffin! I just can’t abide a muffin with an agenda.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Like “carrot” cakes and “zucchini” breads, the “pumpkin” in pumpkin muffins is largely an excuse for some seriously delicious sugar and spice (and everything nice?) to go into my mouth. While I trust Teti’s opnion on the game, I’ll have to side with My Neighbor Totilo as far as the treats are concerned.

        • Electric Dragon

          Liked for “My Neighbor Totilo”.

        • The_Misanthrope

           Yeah, the pumpkin is usually just the carrier for the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. 

          I do love a good pumpkin pie, but I will agree that they get a little crazy with the whole “pumpkin spices” thing this time of year.  My least favorite iteration has got to be pumpkin cheesecake, which just makes no sense; The subtler undertones of a good cheesecake merged with the assertiveness of the pumpkin spices just ends up dissonant.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @The_Misanthrope:disqus: I do love a good pumpkin cheesecake, but I think the key thing is to go easy on the spice and let the subtler flavour of the pumpkin do most of the heavy lifting in that case.

        • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 Bryan Reynolds

          If you got that “My Neighbor Totilo” nickname from the Insert Credit podcast, then you have double good taste!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @twitter-85465361:disqus : I did! My taste is double-plus-good!

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

        Those muffins look like they were rushed to market in order to make the holiday season. I mean, the seeds on top look raw, not roasted. They would taste terrible. 

      • Ack_Ack

        I was absolutely fine with John disliking Assassins Creed III, although I’m enjoying it thouroughly. 

        Disparaging pumpkin flavoured delicacies is where I draw the line, however.  It was a horribly wrong-headed thing to say, and has made me question his judgement about everything. 

        #unfollowed

        • TaumpyTearrs

          I hate pumpkins but love muffins, so i was conflicted but when he said “This game will scene-set the shit out of you!” I laughed, so he won me back over.

      • Jackbert322

        Hey, hey, hey y’all. In case you think I’m hating on pumpkins, pumpkins are the shit. It’s muffins that are janky. I love pumpkins. Some of my friends are pumpkins. But screw muffins.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    I guess the game creators must have thought an adorable, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew personification of Franklin was more palatable than history’s actual syphilitic fart-enthusiast.   

    • HobbesMkii

       Now I’m imagining Ben Franklin as portrayed by Roman Bellic from GTAIV.

      • Citric

        “Heyyy Connor, want to see some big American titties?”

      • Effigy_Power

        I was more thinking along the lines of Ezio’s uncle Mario.

        “Hey, it’sa me, the fatso who according to myth discovered electricity!”

      • lokimotive

        I’m just imagining this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Newton_Bull_farts_G3.jpg

        Fart proudly indeed.

  • Citric

    Interestingly, I find that Totilo’s defense is somehow making the game sound worse, or at least more like something I’d hate.

    • Asinus

      That’s what I thought, too! Oh, I get to chase the paper scraps instead of just finding them? Joy!

  • lokanoth

    I hated this game and had to force myself to finish. Getting bogged down in side missions is the worst thing you can do, just push that rock through to the end, (I had to since I’d played the 4 previous games). The Besties has a perfect take down of it. I hope the series bounces back, but it won’t happen with these people designing it. And I hope Fassbender got play or pay, cuz this movie isn’t being made.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    In my experience, there are good pumpkin muffins and there are bad pumpkin muffins. The good kind are the really expensive ones you can find at artisanal bakeries. The bad kind are the ones you can pick up for cheap at Dunkin Donuts. I’m speaking as someone who loves the taste of pumpkin, though. It’s too bad that nursing a pumpkin habit would be so costly.

    I came away from this edition of the Digest feeling that John and Stephen were both right. My only experience with AssCreed – I refuse to call it anything other that AssCreed – is playing through the first game (and an hour of the second, so far). If AC3 is in a similar vein, I can see why it would be alternately thrilling and frustrating. Narrowly evading a bunch of guards to climb to the top of a tower and see the entirety of Acre laid out before me? Breathtaking. Having to play through a series of repetitive mini-games to unlock the next mission? OH MY GOD FUCK THIS GAME.

    I think that’s what holds back the first AC from greatness – it essentially reduces itself to mini-games. All open-world games do, to some extent, even my favourites like GTA: San Andreas and Sleeping Dogs. But AC is particularly egregious about it. The mini-games are given names and are repeated in ever-increasing levels of difficulty. Moreover, playing through a certain number of them is a requirement for advancement. John said in his review of AC3 that it was “gamified,” but that’s really been the case since the start of the series. I’ve never played a current-gen AAA release so intent on reminding me that it’s merely a video game.

    Still, there’s something about the gorgeous period detail and the lovingly-recreated history that makes me appreciate the level of craftsmanship that went into the series. The buildings and other structures are amazingly detailed. Swinging from ornate posts and bars to pursue a target is exciting. Unfortunately, repeating it five times is not.

    • hastapura

      I feel like this series comes up with the richest settings with vast potential: the Crusades? In a fully-fledged 3D world with freedom of movement? The Renaissance? Colonial America? Just mentioning these time periods conjures millions of tantalizing possibilities.

      And then they plug in fetch quests, Forrest Gump-esque historical shoehorning, meaningless trinket collection, poopy combat, janky freerunning…basically everything that can get in the way of enjoying the setting gets lumped onto the disc. There could be a really taut, complex stealth game in the first AC, playing with racial and religious tension as well as the simple pleasure of a well-placed blade. But the designers seem to have it in their heads that the overarching sf narrative is just bitchin’, and that the main appeal of twelfth-century Jerusalem was the long unskippable cutscenes. I think the second game and Brotherhood were admirable evocations of Renaissance Italy, but then the silliness was ramped up in equal measure to the graphics – look, it’s Da Vinci come to outfit you with a nifty new flying machine! Press X to summon a horde of assassins! Thrill to the endless series of menus!

      Maybe my desire for a contemplative, ornate thriller set in the Middle Ages just isn’t marketable? Impossible!

      • Fluka

        I would like to play a stealth/puzzler/whatever Name of the Rose: The Game.

        • Effigy_Power

          The experience might be lessened without freezing your genitalia off wearing robes in winter.

        • Fluka

          @Effigy_Power:disqus Perhaps some kind of New Vegas-style Hardcore mode?  Where you have to periodically eat / warm yourself up next to an auto-da-fé / attend prayers at the canonical hours or risk death or excommunication (or both!)?  In my brain, the game will also require knowledge of Latin.  

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          That would basically be the homicide desk of L.A. Noire. You would use your keen senses of logic and reason to deduce whom the perpetrator of various crimes is, only to discover at the end that your deduction was wrong because your method was flawed.

          (Actually, it’s not really the same, because L.A. Noire’s homicide desk is about the failure to apply Occam’s Razor, while The Name of the Rose is about how adherence to dogma, even dogma rooted in logic such as Occam’s Razor, can lead one astray.)

    • ToddG

      Merve, you will be glad to learn that only in the first game are those annoying minigames required to advance the story.  In every subsequent game, the next story mission is always clearly marked on the map and is almost always immediately accessible without any hoop-jumping.  Doesn’t mean that you won’t find there to be a lot of hoop-jumping WITHIN those quests, of course, but I feel safe claiming that few would find the non-optional quests in any of the subsequent games overly repetitive as compared to other open-world games.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        That’s good to know, @BreakingRad:disqus. Already, from the hour I’ve played, I can tell that AC2 is a much tauter experience.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       I think the problem with most video games today is that they require such an incredible amount of technical expertise to make, so the vast majority of people involved in them are technical minded. Unfortunately, this means that gameplay tends to end up being very technical (obtain x units of object Y) instead of emotional (this man is indoctrinating crazy people into his slave army. Do something about it), which is why a lot of games, AssCreed especially, feel very “gamified.”

      It definitely seems like Totillo is a technical minded person (I’m increasing productivity in the trade routes!), which is why he enjoyed it so much. Personally, I think this trend is a rut which story-based games really need to get out of.

  • SonOfMechaMummy

    I managed to watch this entire ten minute video whilst the end credits for Assassin’s Creed III was well underway. It is still going. Man.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      But the part-time accountant in Ubisoft’s Japan office must be thanked!

  • TheVisibleMan

    John Teti: Ship Fiend.

  • Andrew_Ryans_Caddy

    The weirdest thing about AC3 is I could spend half a day talking about what I love about it, and the rest of the day complaining.  It comes down to very personal preference thing about whether the flaws detract significantly from your enjoyment. 

    It’s like with Skyrim: personally I thought the shallowness of the story and characters and glitches everywhere made it not worth the time, but there’s sure as hell plenty of people who disagree. The weird thing is, AC3 is on Skyrim/Red Dead Redemption levels of glitchy, but it doesn’t make it any less fun to me.  I can forgive a lot for a game that lets you play bocce with George Washington. 

    Hell, I’m even still playing it days after finishing the main story missions, and I hardly ever do that. But then, I’m one of the half-dozen people on the planet who likes the modern day frame story, so I’m weird already. It’s a very personal preference kind of thing. I completely understand people not liking it, but I’d encourage anybody to give it a try to see what side you fall on. 

    The point is I love it even though all I really wanted was more batshit puzzles from the crazy dead guy and I didn’t get it.

    • Raging Bear

      I know what you mean. There’s a fair bit I like about it (roaming in the wilderness, combat when it works, etc.), but also quite a bit I actively dislike or just have no interest in and didn’t appreciate spending the entire length of some other games being totorialized senseless about.

      That’s the danger with this throw-everything-against-the-wall approach. Even if your game has everything, not everything works for everyone. Is that better than going strongly in one direction, which definitely won’t work for everyone? I have no idea. However, I also totally wanted more batshit puzzles.

      • john_wayne_newton

         and what is with the hand-holding never ending cut-scenes? when did this become de riguer for ac?

        I agree whole heatedly with your post.  They are just trying *anything* at this point because they have a guaranteed audience; i feel like they are almost doing market research – seeing what components we respond negatively and positively to modify future games and increase revenue. I want a finished, polished game for 65 bucks!  This game is glitchy as hell and the AI is not where it should be for the technically 5th game in the series.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I actually quite like the modern-day story too. Lucy, Desmond, and Vidic are all interesting characters. I can’t say the same for many of the people I meet in the Animus.

  • Piper312

    You’re both so ugly and pretentious.  Sheesh.  

    • lokanoth

      piper at the gates of yawn.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      It could be worse. They could be individuals whose lives and minds are so empty that they anonymously post comments with literally zero useful or thoughtful content on video game websites.

    • hastapura

      What I believe Piper312 is proposing, in their own lovably abrasive fashion, is a makeup artist and dialogue coach for The Digest! Why I think they’ve made the first donation! Thank you Piper312! 

  • duwease

    Bringing in a counterpoint now suddenly makes me want to play AC3.  Is it true?  Could Teti have been wrong??  So many emotions!  Is the word of the Church of Gameologicalology open for debate?!

    ..I’m starting to wonder if all those mandatory Thetan-zapping minigames are really worth it in the long run..

    • Drew Toal

      He’s a Patriots fan. I think that answers your second question.

      • HobbesMkii

        That he’s extremely right, all the time?

        • Drew Toal

          That’s an interpretation, I suppose.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         It would explain his displeasure in a game were you spend a lot of time knifing dudes who look like the Patriots logo…

  • Drew Toal

    “I respect your opinion, John, but… ::Totilo jumps up and strangles Teti with his tie::

  • ToddG

    I enjoyed this video quite a bit, but the jumps were a bit jarring.  Any chance of a longer version of the conversation being posted?

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

      or just the audio, podcast style.  I liked this, but I hate internet video in general when its just two people talking to each other.  Give me a transcript so I can read it at my own pace or audio so it its easier for me to listen to it on the go.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    I know Totilo is the editor-in-chief at some website people love to hate but to me, he will always be the guy who played Soulja boy in Super Street Fighter II… and lost, I think.

    • Fluka

      He was a good guest, and this was a good (feisty!) conversation, and I’m looking forward to Evan Narcisse tomorrow.  My animus (relevant!) towards Kotaku is 95% towards the idiot commenters who sprout like poisonous fungus in the fetid soil of Gawker’s comment system – the writers themselves seem like decent, thoughtful folk.  (‘Cept for the Kotaku East dude who posts all that orientalist crap.)

      • Effigy_Power

        You seem on the down low with Kotaku. My question:
        Are all their writers clones or am I gonna have to decide between multiple images or snubbing people?

        • Fluka

          Well, Evan Narcisse has graced this website before (in the very first Digest!) and I regret to tell you that he is decidedly not a clone of Monsieur Totilo.

        • Effigy_Power

          Drat.

        • HobbesMkii

          Press “Older” Eff. You’ll see Evan was indeed the first Digest guest.

      • Guest

        No comment.

      • conditionals

        In much the same way that some people love ACIII and some hate it, I love Kotaku. I love Brian Ashcraft’s “orientalist crap”. I never want the site to change. The key to this is that I never read the comments. I refuse to scroll down past that last line of Kotaku author text. Maybe there aren’t even comments. How would I know?

        • john_wayne_newton

          Dude, i was a true believer like you but…kotaku has changed.  I mean when Crecente left, i knew it was over but even before then…I dont know it just took on a faux air of sophistication that I do not feel is earned.  they started taking their brand waaay to seriously.  I mean “THE Kotaku review”? like its the only one worth reading?  When did Kotaku become the Beckett, the zagat of video games? and now they are reviewing snack foods and cheeseburgers? wtf? I am waiting with bated breath for “air conditioners: THE kotaku review”

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      He DID say on NeoGAF afterward that he would try to learn the basic mechanics of the genre for his New Year’s resolution.  So, http://kotaku.com/5854819/he-asked-about-misogyny-in-street-fighter-and-the-games-caretakers-didnt-dodge hopefully that happened.  It was like watching my mom fall into the 1st pit on Super Mario Brothers 1 1-1.

  • Jackbert322

    Teti, I am greatly disturbed by the advertisements using such phrases as “encycolpedophile” and “sex house”. I’m sorry, and I realize maintaining a awesome free site like this is really tough, and you need funds, but holy shit those ads are scary. Even the assault of Borderlands 2 related propaganda was better then that. Honestly, can the phrase “sex house” ever lead to anything good? (Relevant: http://xkcd.com/1101/)

  • john_wayne_newton

    totillo looks just like paul scheer from The League.  sweet hell, that man needs a baseball cap stat

  • RonFingSwanson

    Ugh… I have always been a fan of this series: liked the first one enough to buy the second one; liked the second one; loved Brotherhood; hoped Revelations was an anomaly… But now I’m afraid it wasn’t. I’ve played through a few hours of ACIII, and I just can’t get into it. I don’t like the story, I don’t care about Connor’s father, and I don’t like the changes to the combat system. Not to mention some of the lame voice acting and odd bugs that make this game feel rushed despite how long it’s been in development (having a conversation in a cutscene with a guy whose mouth never moves, etc.).

    I really don’t want to be stuck in the past, but I really can’t help but think this series peaked with AC Brotherhood. Can someone tell me why I should give this game more time?

    • ToddG

      If you’re not having fun yet, I don’t think playing more is going to win you over.  There are definitely some truly awesome missions, but they are mostly in the back half and, while I’m really enjoying the game, I agree about the combat.  It’s so obvious that they decided to just swipe and simplify Arkham Asylum/City’s system instead of sticking with what they had, which was perfectly fine the way it was.