November 6, 2012

Review – Assassin’s Creed III

Assassins Creed III
After five entries I imagine it’s easy to overlook the level of craft in the Assassin’s Creed series. Meticulously rendered locations and historical accuracy is par for the course at this point, but thankfully Assassin’s Creed III brings these elements back to the forefront by leveraging the most interesting setting, backstory, and secondary characters in the entire series.

The American Revolution is explored with a balanced perspective, and historical information is poured on in such a way that even the most oblivious player will be compelled to think critically about the stage and the motivations of the actors.

This is not Assassin’s Creed: SUPER PATRIOT EDITION. Bad people and bad choices are everywhere; compromise is ubiquitous. The game begs you to look deeper into the conflict, and it works. That most players will have a stronger working knowledge of the history here than in previous entries is a massive boon to the story being told; it’s easier to grasp opposing viewpoints when the nature of the disagreement is easily understood, allowing the game to more deftly elaborate on the moral struggles the series has always tried to illuminate.

Assassins Creed IIIConnor Kenway, as compared to Ezio and Altair, arrives somewhere in the middle in terms of protagonists. Though without Ezio’s charisma and raw motivation, he remains more likable than Altair and possesses, by far, the most compelling and well-mined background of the three core protagonists. 

Similarly, the time period is exploited to elevate this entry above its predecessors. The introduction of the Frontier, initially reminiscent of the stale overworld from the original game, is a significant success—such that I wish more of the core story took place there. The forest is an exciting place to navigate, providing new opportunities for attack and ambush, while including the best ancillary quests the series has seen, in addition to the satisfying new hunting mechanic.

Developing the Homestead, Connor’s small village, through activities on the frontier ties into the over-arching economy, an idea that finally feels as if it has taken hold after several attempts in previous titles. Hunting, buying, selling, stealing, and contract missions all feed the economy, while Connor’s exploration reveals new trade options and missions reduce risk and taxes on key trade routes. Strategy can be employed to maximize profits by clearing trade lines, liberating cities to reduce taxes, and harvesting cheap resources that can be converted into expensive product. For the first time, the satisfaction of using the economy is about more than financing the next axe you need.

Sadly, the Assassin Guild mechanic hasn’t seen such sweeping refits. It remains simplistic and largely detached from other core gameplay elements; there’s no real reason to exploit it, except to make your recruits less feeble. The recruits themselves, however, have acquired some interesting unique abilities that make them more than blunt instruments, such as the ability to incite riots or designate ambush points.

The last area of note is sailing. Initially, I was wary of this; traditionally, I have not been wowed by attempts to incorporate such mini-gameish sidequests into the series. Flying DaVinci’s glider was tedious, tower defense was simplistic, and don’t get me started on cart riding.

Assassins Creed IIIIt was a pleasant surprise to find that the sailing missions are some of the most exciting in the game. Navigation and ship-to-ship combat are simple, compelling mechanics that demand quick thinking and observation of one’s surroundings to excel at. This is all leveraged in a beautifully designed graphic and audio package that makes sea-fairing absolutely thrilling. Perhaps my favourite moment in the game was smashing an enemy fleet and boarding their lead to battle the crew aboard.

Amidst all of this, several missions as Desmond round out the mission structure. Increasingly exciting, these finally provide the present-day gameplay I’d been craving since 2007, and do a better job of hammering home the key plot points than past attempts.

Other areas remain largely unchanged from previous entries; combat has seen some revisions, but these are minimal. As has been the case in the past, efforts have been made to streamline, and some changes work while others introduce new complications into the mix. Assassin’s Creed continues to exist in some weird purgatory between precision and clumsiness, where which condition you encounter seems mostly random.

A handful of bugs complicate matters; the usual climbing glitches are accompanied by characters flashing in and out of existence and some cosmetic flubs. More frustrating is the rare occasion where a mission may not appear or an event may not trigger correctly, leaving the player to wonder if there is in fact a glitch or if some mysterious condition has not yet been met. Though nothing gamebreaking is involved, these remains frustrating.

Multiplayer returns, of course, and for the third year in a row I must remind players that this is the way to play Assassin’s Creed. 

I don’t feel I need to detail the usual trinkets that have been thrown in to enhance class customization; suffice to say, there are new abilities, and you will find use for them. The significant update is Wolfpack, a new co-op mode that pits the player team against AI opponents under time constraints. 

If you’ve enjoyed Assassin’s Creed multiplayer in the past, every part of that sentence should feel wrong to you, and with good reason. Time constraints and the limited intelligence of AI opponents makes this Assassin’s Creed: Run and Gun Mode. I’m not sure why I’d want to play that way; I can massacre the AI in the single player; I come to multiplayer to hunt and be hunted; to find the pure expression of social stealth and careful, deliberate strategy against live opponents. I can’t dismiss the possibility that Wolfpack will appeal to someone, but it’s a departure from the core tenets of the series—and not in the “new and interesting” way.

Assassins Creed IIIThe “Assassinate” mode remains, as in Revelations, the best of the multiplayer set, offering a dynamic, well balanced cat and mouse game. Still, I can’t recommend this title to series adherents on the merits of multiplayer alone; if you played Revelations, there’s no revolutionary new content in the multiplayer component to compel another purchase.

Since Brotherhood, these games have mellowed into a comfortable position on the scroreboard, so it might be easy to think they beaked with that title. In fact, each entry has surpassed the previous, with the reality being that five games since 2007, progress has simply been gradual. If you make the same basic game every year, you’re bound to get better at it.

The series has long since ceased to innovate, but the most compelling story in the series combined with the greatest variety and most cleverly designed world and mechanics make Asssassin’s Creed III worth the increasingly precious sixty dollars, with the caveat that players tired of the series might not find enough new here to lure them back.

Ubisoft Montreal


PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows PC, Wii U (PlayStation 3 Reviewed)

Singleplayer, Multiplayer

Release Date
October 30, 2012 (Wii U November 13th, 2012)

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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