Assassin’s Creed III: A Whole Lot of Average
After annualized releases following Assassin’s Creed II, there’s been no shortage of criticism leveled at Ubisoft and the franchise for being stale and suffering from fatigue. Looking to remedy that, developers introduced an all-new adventure in Assassin’s Creed III. Is it enough to revitalize the franchise, or is it more of the same?
Assassin’s Creed III boldly goes where few games have gone before by using the American Revolutionary War as its setting, incorporating realistic takes on the landscape, citizens, and historical events that took place during the time period. It’s a setting not explored often in gaming outside of the occasional strategy title, making for yet another interesting take on history from the franchise.
And in many ways, it works well; although it is at times a bit unrealistic, it’s interesting nonetheless to interact with familiar figures in history and play an active role in important events such as the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s midnight ride.
The game’s story, however, isn’t necessarily as compelling and airtight as it could have been. Pacing is terrible, including a slower-than-slow opening that sees you playing as a completely different character in a long-winded introduction lasting anywhere from four to six hours. While it is important to know a bit about the history of this particular character and his connection to the game’s main protagonist Connor, the whole idea of spending multiple hours elsewhere felt cumbersome and unnecessary.
Connor is the all-new character debuting in Assassin’s Creed III. Being half-Native American and half-European, the initial setup of his life and his story is unique, but any sort of interest is quickly lost in his personality. He’s the complete opposite of the franchise’s iconic character Ezio Auditore. Where Ezio was a bit more suave and humorous, Connor is brooding, naive, and angry. It’s a shallow blend that doesn’t lend many layers to add complexity to our friend, and he is much less compelling because of it. There are moments where you feel for him and his predicament, but without any sort of redeeming qualities, he’s nothing more than a typical video game character that you won’t feel much of a connection to.
While the writing and story elements are interesting, the story itself tends to be a bit sporadic, jumping from event to event without much in the way of connecting elements to make for a more seamless experience. And while Ubisoft went out of their way to ensure no bias toward any people or nation in the game, it still feels somewhat like they went a little too far to make everyone in the game a shady character in order to avoid offense toward anyone, making Connor ever the victim in nearly every circumstance.
Desmond gets his fair share of game time as well, and his narrative is a much more well-realized one that sees him traveling the globe and even infiltrating enemy bases in order to reach his goal of saving the world. Without getting spoiler-heavy, both the narratives of Connor and Desmond reach a relative point of completion that both satisfies the ending and still leaves enough loose ends to suggest that (surprise!) another sequel is on its way.
While it borrows certain elements from past Assassin’s Creed games, III also incorporates several changes that mix up the overall gameplay. Controls themselves have been overhauled a bit, including mechanics like climbing and running, which are now handled using one button rather than holding down several. Both the actions of sprinting and climbing are handled using this scheme, and while it works well 90% of the time, chase sequences can be a bit frustrating, as you’ll often get sidetracked when you start climbing barrels and walls rather than running straight ahead. Other than the occasional hiccup, however, the controls and platforming are fast-paced and satisfying, making it fun to climb around the cities of Boston and New York while chasing targets and running from enemies.
Combat in Assassin’s Creed III has taken on a whole new feel with a counter-based system not unlike the one found in Batman: Arkham City. While it doesn’t have the same button combos or complexity of a game like Batman, the game uses several animations for kills that are brutally satisfying and fun to use. Enemies are surprisingly varied, with some that will only respond to button prompts that break their defense in order for Connor to move in on the kill. Shots can be fired, and new weapons can be obtained, but it won’t put you at a disadvantage to use the tomahawk and pistol the game initially equips you with.
Different missions give you varied tasks and objectives, whether it’s completing a non-lethal playthrough or even killing a certain number of enemies. Main missions are also varied enough to keep things interesting. However, it also suffers from one of the game’s biggest drawbacks: failure to explain things to you time and time again.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need an in-depth tutorial for every mechanic encountered throughout the game; what it means is that the game does a lousy job of explaining what it wants from you, how it systems work, and why you’d want to interact with them in the first place. There are several times during missions you’ll get confused over whether or not you need to remain hidden from guards or if you can attack, systems like trading run deep and don’t necessarily yield anything worthwhile or inherently important to the game, and things like new weapons are introduced, but there’s no explanation for why it’s useful or how you need to implement it in combat. There’s a lot of trial and error in the game, which can lead to multiple frustrating playthroughs as you try to figure out exactly how to tackle missions.
One of the game’s high points, however, are its naval missions. New to the series in Assassin’s Creed III, the naval combat missions are exactly what varied gameplay elements need to be; fast, fluid, and interesting, with simple-to-learn controls and enough complexity to provide a challenge. You’ll take control of a ship, manage its speed, and combat with enemy units on the water while firing cannons, ramming hulls, and even boarding ships to launch a takeover.
Naval missions only surface a handful of times throughout the main campaign, however, instead being reserved for side missions. Other side missions in the game include the Liberation missions that help you secure parts of cities by helping citizens and recruiting trainees for your group a la Brotherhood, and the Homestead missions that build up Connor’s essential HQ. Side missions offer far-reaching results in the game’s overall arc, but don’t necessarily change the narrative in any major way. They’re interesting enough, and there’s something to be said for how powerful you feel when you successfully complete them. Still, there’s not a ton of incentive to pursue them over the main story, leaving side missions to feel like something that will be attractive to completionists and die hard Assassin’s Creed fans. In this sense, the game lends itself well to all manner of gamers in a very broad way.
Multiplayer sees a return in III as well, pitting players against each other in a fun, fast-paced deathmatch within an arena filled with look-alike NPCs and enemies. Also new to the multiplayer in the game is the Wolfpack mode, a co-op based mode not unlike Black Ops zombies in the sense that it teams up players to hunt targets within time limits and see how long they can stay active in the world. Multiple abilities are available for use in the game, and you’ll be able to play as one of several different players from the start. It’s not necessarily the most engaging multiplayer setup, but it is fun and a bit nerve-wracking nonetheless, dropping you in an arena as both the hunter and the hunted and leaving you to deal with your target while always watching your back.
Assassin’s Creed III is probably one of the best-looking console games released this year. Environments are well-crafted, the world is busy and alive with fantastic crowd mechanics and busy NPCs, and textures and structures are well-researched and designed to really immerse you in the historical setting and experience.
But for all its aesthetic merit, the game is plagued with bugs. You’ll fall through the world, get stuck in environments, sound occasionally cuts out, textures frequently pop in, and I even encountered a bug that rendered me unable to complete a mission, forcing me to start over from the game’s previous checkpoint. Ubisoft has announced an incoming patch to fix some of the game’s problems, but it’s still a bit disconcerting to see so many issues running rampant within the game itself. Whether or not the amount of bugs are due to a rushed development cycle or are victim to the bug curse of open-world games is unknown, but the sheer number of them is inexcusable for a day-one release.
Character models and cutscenes are a bit hit-or-miss with models appearing stiff and awkward in some scenes and fluid in others, sound doesn’t always sync successfully with facial animations, and some of the game’s voice acting felt a bit awkward or goofy in their situations. The soundtrack complements the game well, but doesn’t necessarily rise to the same heights as Jesper Kyd’s scores in games past.
One of my personal disappointments was the Frontier, an all-new environment introduced into the game for III. The frontier is beautiful and well-realized, with varied terrain and more than a few things to climb on. But for all its beauty and depth, there’s little to no reason one needs to explore it. Hunting and some collectibles can be found out there, but unless you’re crazy about collecting cash for a relatively unimportant commerce system, there’s not much reason to run around out there, making the game’s Fast Travel option a welcome one for traversal.
Assassin’s Creed III is good, but not great. Bugs, poor story pacing, an uninteresting protagonist, some goofy controls, and vast system s with little or no explanation all work with some great aesthetic and interesting set pieces to make an entirely so-so game that doesn’t necessarily revitalize or revolutionize the franchise, but stands on its own as a completely average installment nonetheless. Fans of the series should add this to their must-play list for the sake of following the story of Desmond, but it might not be the best jumping-on point for newcomers or those not acquainted with Assassin’s Creed as a whole.
Assassin’s Creed III is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, and eventually the Wii U.