Assassin’s Creed III is finally upon us and with it comes size but it’s at the unfortunate expense of focus and structure. The end result is a game that sometimes reaches the highest heights of the series yet also manages to reach the lowest lows but ultimately still leaves a lasting impression that’s worth experiencing.
Numbering in the Assassin’s Creed titles can be a little confusing if you’re not familiar with the series, it basically boils down to Brotherhood & Revelations being games that expand on the story of the previous assassin. Ezio’s story came to an end with Revelations it’s now time for a new setting alongside a new assassin. In addition to a new assassin the III in the title also serves to remind that this is a sequel that aims to push the series forward rather than slightly tweak the experience.
As per usual these Assassin’s Creed titles take place in the modern era where you play as Desmond Miles, an everyday man who is connected to a machine called the Animus that allows him to revisit the memories of his ancestors which in the world of Assassin’s Creed is stored within your DNA. It’s an interesting concept and a fantastic excuse to visit all sorts of different time periods whilst having one main overarching narrative holding it all together across a number of games.
For Assassin’s Creed III you go back to the 1700′s to revisit a time when the American Revolution took place and along your travels you’ll even encounter George Washington himself. This time round you’ll be playing with a new assassin by the name of Ratonhnhaké:ton or Connor as the game ends up calling him. Much like Assassin’s Creed II we’re treated to a character who is not yet an assassin but will become one and here is where we encounter our first problem.
Assassin’s Creed III is a game that is in no rush to get things going, it’s opening is interesting enough but during the first six hours you will do everything but play as the character you see on the box art. I’m all for slow starts but I found myself playing through earlier parts of the game more because I was assigned to review the title rather than I was enjoying it, I was actually somewhat bored rather than intrigued by Connor’s back story.
I’ve played all the Assassin’s Creed titles so yes part of me just wants to be let loose as I’m already acquainted with the series but even so the first six hours you spend in a “tutorial” stage are somewhat of a waste. The reason is that I’ve gone on to finish the game and there’s still plenty of things the game has not made clear to me, in fact Assassin’s Creed III does a horrible job of explaining most of the stuff you can do within the game which is a shame because there’s plenty to do in this vast world Ubisoft have created.
The “tutorial” basically only works from a story telling point of view rather than have the player learn the game as Connor himself is learning. You can hunt animals in the forest if you want but it never really explains why you might want to do this, it’s only after you finish the game and randomly explore that you start to learn. Even then it’s still a bit of a hassle because all the menu interfaces that worked in previous games are now gone and replaced with new ones that do nothing but confuse.
Some of you will remember the fantastic weapon wheel from Assassin’s Creed II, well you can forget that ever happened because Assassin’s Creed III does away with it. Instead you get a version of a weapon wheel takes you to a menu rather than pause the action briefly and you have some strange half wheel were some items are on the left, some on the right. It’s not so much don’t fix what isn’t broken but rather don’t break what’s fixed to begin with.
The in-game HUD has also been changed even though what Ubisoft had in the previous games were perfectly fine and needed no tweaking. Your life bar is now randomly blended with the mini map and the face button actions now limited to A & B. In the past each face button represented a limb which was actually an insanely smart idea but it’s all been streamlined now. You can pretty much just hold the right trigger and the game does everything else, you’re no longer required to hold A to make jumps or hold B to tackle your way through crowds.
So far it comes across like I hate the game and at times it does feel like “one step forward, two steps back” Assassin’s Creed III is still pretty amazing at times. Unlike the past two Assassin’s Creed games this one is no longer limited to just one big city but rather Boston & New York in addition to plenty of forest environments. These areas are also not static either as you progress through the game seasons come and go affecting the weather in the game. It’s great returning to an area only to see it covered in snow, it really helps make the game feel more varied than it actually is as it’s basically a re-skin of what you’ve already seen before.
As always with Assassin’s Creed visually it can be pretty amazing at times, this truly is a living and breathing world. You can also go pretty much anywhere you want, you can still climb anything so long as there’s something to hold on to, the level of freedom in these games should never be overlooked. Changes to the engine have been made so it’s able to render far more characters on screen than in past games though it’s only for certain scenes, I would of liked to have seen more of these moments throughout the game as I rather found it thrilling when I was in the middle of a war.
Sadly Assassin’s Creed III also serves to show that we are truly reaching the end in terms of what is possible with the Xbox 360 & PS3. The frame rate is all over the place and from my experience it appears that Boston surfers worse than any other area which is a shame but thankfully it gets choppy rather than slow which would affect the game. Naval battles also deserve to get a mention, these battles look incredible.
In fact let’s talk about the naval battles because out of all the new things Assassin’s Creed III attempts the naval battles are by far it’s biggest success. Going into Assassin’s Creed III I pretty much assumed the naval battles were going to be a silly gimmick much like tower defence from Revelations but they are pretty much the best part of the game actually. The reason it works so well is because it actually feels like I’m navigating a ship across sea.
Connor is the captain of the ship therefore he yells commands and is also responsible for steering. The camera sticks fairly close to Connor during naval sections so you have a good view of the ship and everyone on deck which ends up being awesome because you can see all crew members race around the ship doing their jobs. I LOVE having Connor stream “GIVE ME FULL SAIL” and then watching everyone run around to make it happen.
During the naval sections as mentioned you have the option of three sails, no sail, half sail and full sail which are all pretty explanatory. You’ll obviously have to slow down the ship in order to make tight turns or to maintain control when those random gusts of strong wind pushes your ship in a different direction than you’d like. During the battles you have access to cannons or if you want just straight up ram the other ship not you lose life so it’s no worth it but none the less satisfying. The naval battles work very well and not that I would know but appear the capture the essence of ship battles perfectly, it sounds like an insult to the developers but naval battles are better than the actual main game.
When you’re not enjoying naval battle you play as Connor who usually plays errand boy as is the case in most open world games and participate in missions than range from great to rubbish. Some of the better ones are where you’re involved in the middle of a war, you’re not engaging every single enemy head on but I just love it when stuff is blowing up around me. The not so great parts would involve stealth missions which end once you’re detected, there’s not many of these but they just end up being frustrating and it’s always a relief to see them completed.
Chase sequences are also rubbish, again it’s just more annoying that it is fun because someone thought it would be a good idea to have you do laps around the city until you finally catch up to your target. When you do you’ll probably end up killing the target you’re chasing because hey you’re an assassin but sadly the game wanted you to catch him not kill him even though the scene beforehand shows Connor getting his blade ready. Also you’re supposed to press B to catch someone but as mentioned the game never really explains much of anything.
One area that the game does take it’s time on is story and it certainly shows, the Desmond stuff is sadly once again kicked to the curb in favour of Connor’s tale which is a shame because I find the Desmond stuff fascinating and hope one day we get an Assassin’s Creed that takes place in modern times. Just imagine an Assassin’s Creed title for the next generation that looked like Watch Dogs, the potential is incredible but it seems there is no rush to make this happen.
Without getting too side tracked the characters in Assassin’s Creed III are easily the star of the show here with plenty of memorable faces as you work your way through the story. Connor himself is actually bit boring and no where near as charming as Ezio so it’s kind of hard to get behind the hero so to speak especially when he is out shined by the other characters he encounters along his journey.
Two characters deserve a mention, Achilles Davenport which serves as Connor’s mentor and Haytham Kenway who I’ll leave you to see for yourself. Both characters steal the show with the voice actors giving a superb performance on both accounts though I favour Haytham ever so slightly. Haytham is a remarkable character and outside the naval battles he is the next best reason you should play Assassin’s Creed III. The rest of the cast also put on a good show with solid writing leaving only Connor to stand out like a sore thumb.
In the past the combat in Assassin’s Creed basically came down to counter attack, once you knew how to do it you could pretty much win any battle without a scratch. Assassin’s Creed III aims to fix this and it does but combat is still less than satisfactory. It’s extremely slow, clunky and for some reason objects within the environments usually block your view requiring you to do some camera control on the fly in the middle of combat. It’s never been a strong point of Assassin’s Creed and it’s easily the best the series with the third game but it’s not going to rival a Ninja Gaiden anytime soon.
Pacing is main part where Assassin’s Creed III struggles with most, here you have a huge game with a huge development team working on it for years. In theory this sounds great but the problem is that it leads to game that isn’t focused but rather a combination of ideas scattered around to the point where it even makes this review feel scattered and disjointed. As mention the begining of the game is too slow of a burn, Assassin’s Creed II handled the idea of telling a the story of how Ezio became an assassin far better and didn’t put me to sleep doing it.
The story does get better towards the latter half of the game, you’ll actually start playing the game to see how it all unfolds rather than because it’s a hyped title and everyone on the internet is playing it therefore you feel like you have to as well. The ending which I won’t spoil obviously is actually somewhat of a joke on the part of Ubisoft, they are happy spending six hours getting things started but barely spend five minutes giving you some kind of closure at the end. After the abrupt ending you’re then treated to the credits which take a good twenty minutes to go through with no option to skip.
Included on a separate disc is the multi-player portion of Assassin’s Creed III and if you’re familiar with it from Brotherhood and Revelations then not all that much has changed. The traditional modes like Wanted make a return in which you attempt to identify targets amongst crowds while being targeted yourself. It’s pretty funny watching someone run away as you get close because they noticed you’re going to attempt to assassinate them. The idea is to try to blend in, personally I walk around and get stuck on objects on purpose so other players think I’m a glitchy AI.
New to Assassin’s Creed III multi-player is Wolf-Pack and Domination. The former is a mode where a small group of players team up to coordinate assassinations across sequences which brings a group like element to Assassin’s Creed’s multi-player. Domination however is less exciting as it’s basically about controlling territories. If you’ve not played Assassin’s Creed multi-player then it’s worth a look, there isn’t anything else like it and it’s pretty thrilling running away from someone attempting to assassinate you.
It may be one of the biggest titles of the year and my favourite new IP this generation but I have no fear in calling it like I see it, Assassin’s Creed III a great game buried under a lack of structure and a ton of glitches. The biggest problem is that it has great ideas but has nothing holding it all together leaving you with a game that has no flow and ends up feeling somewhat bloated too. The obsession with creating the biggest Assassin’s Creed game yet ultimately is what hurts the final product.
Despite the three years in development Assassin’s Creed III ends up feeling rushed even down to the packaging, I went out and bought my own copy of the Limited Edition HMV Steelbook version of Assassin’s Creed III on Xbox 360. The silly thing has room for one disc even though as far as the Xbox 360 version goes it’s a two disc game. Assassin’s Creed III certainly aims much higher than Brotherhood or Revelations ever did, being ambitious is certainly a noble act when one could simply pump out another by the book Assassin’s Creed title but in the case of Assassin’s Creed III it’s a flawed masterpiece.