Strapping yourself back on the Animus to relive the memories is one way to spend your time, but if you’re expecting the ride to be one wholly good then you might be in for a disappointment. Assassin’s Creed III keeps the story of our modern-day Assassin, Desmond Miles, going forward to the inevitable conclusion that players will reach at the game’s end. This final stretch, however, brings along many technical problems, pacing issues, and a lack of focus leaving the game unpolished. Even so, the game is ultimately an enjoyable experience overall with a few gems that truly shine bright.
As Desmond et al finally arrive at the site where Those Who Came Before have been guiding him ever since Assassin’s Creed II they come to the realization a key is needed in order to activate the mysterious complex which will save the human race from a solar flare. Juno, who inhabits the walls of said complex, forces Desmond to visit the memories of another ancestor in order to find the key. What starts out as a simple problem that must be overcome quickly escalates into a web of conspiracy during the times of the American Revolution. The idea is fairly solid and while a simple revelation of where the key would suffice, Desmond must unravel the mysterious tale of his ancestors Connor and Haytham Kenway.
|Chasing down your foes is fun.|
In addition to ACIII’s narrative pacing problem, the game has an extremely lackluster protagonist. While Haytham is charming, charismatic, and cool Connor is completely devoid of personality. Simply put, he’s idealism manifested in human form. Connor’s naivete knows no bounds and throughout the entirety of the game he fails to have any distinct characteristics that stands out. Often times he’s so busy being someone’s lapdog it’s hard to find out why you’re even playing as him. The way Connor speaks is just as disappointing as it hardly feels like there’s anything passionate or emotional in his dialogues leaving him feeling like a robot at times.
However, that’s not the only problem that Connor has. While Connor does have the abilities to back up his Assassin pedigree, he fails to intelligently analyze situations. He constantly does things as he pleases without heeding the words of his master, Achilles. This places Connor in a variety of tight situations forcing the game’s story to take a certain direction, although it could be avoided entirely. In the end, you end up partaking in missions that have no importance at all to the grand scheme of things. Speaking of no importance, many of the crucial events during the American Revolution make appearances in the game but none of them feel like they matter. It’s almost as if the developers threw darts at a wall full of events from the Revolution and decided to stick Connor in them. The game fails to keep the historical and fiction aspect of the story in a cohesive manner.
The overall story also takes a hit as AC3 tries to juggle many plot threads but does so poorly. The focus of the game’s narrative leaves you scratching your head wondering what exactly you’re fighting for. Is it to kill the Templars? To protect your village? Assist the British? The colonists? It’s hard to know where exactly the game wanted to go and it clearly shows. The jumbled mess simply feels like a means to an end - getting Desmond the key.
|Gruesome kills are such a treat.|
While the story is poorly executed and not thought out, the gameplay delivers for the most part. Combat, being one of the pinnacle aspects of the series, has undergone a major revamp changing how one executes his moves on a poor soul. Rather than having an offensive and defensive stance the previous games utilized, AC3 combines the two streamlining it. The defensive actions are all relegated to one button allowing you to counter and parry attacks while the remaining face buttons act as your offensive or tactical assets. It’s an interesting setup one that tries to keep things simple while maintaining the fun of fighting enemies. If you’re familiar with the Batman: Arkham series then you will be right at home. Countering takes only a simple button press and the animation that follows is a joy to watch, and trust me there are a ton of kill animations to enjoy.
Sadly the trade off in the new combat system is the relative ease in skirmishes. Rather than going on the offensive it’s extremely easy to just wait until your opponents attack and simply counter them to death followed by a series of combo kills. It’s disappointing that fights can boil down to a matter of mechanical abuse, and while this is mostly up to the player, you can’t help but feel that it was poorly designed from the get go. The abuse doesn’t end just there as you can throw enemies at each other until they fall down. Then you can subsequently kill them at your leisure.
|Try to figure out where to go next. Seriously|
Roaming through town streets, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and just traversing a variety of levels is a trademark to the franchise. AC3 is no different in this aspect considering it forces Connor to move a ton whether it be by foot or on a horse. Oddly enough you’ll find yourself on a horse as much as you would traveling around on foot. Myriads of problems make it easier to maneuver Connor around in cities using a horse. One such problem is the janky controls when running around. Instead of using a combination of two buttons to jump, run, and perform other acrobatic feats AC3 uses a simple touch of the shoulder buttons. This allows Connor to do everything pervious Assassins could in the past games. While this may seem like a good change it isn’t the case at all. Often times Connor will end up climbing things that you don’t want to or jump on top of things that should be ignored. Due to the running and climbing feature all being tasked to one button and the way Connor will interact with any object he is in range of, there are a lot of frustrating situations where you wish you could control him differently.
Another problem that arises from traveling on foot is due to the layout of the town and the overall level design of various areas in the game. The buildings in both Boston and New York are so far apart from each other that it feels very inefficient getting around town using rooftops. As a result running around through streets and pushing people out of the way or using a horse is the best way to get from place to place. The buildings also pose a problem as many of them are laid out in a way that it’s annoying to run away from pursuing foes. The layout just isn’t as clever or as useful as the previous games making it feel like the game is often times working against you.
Lastly, there are a ton of technical problems such as clipping, framerate drops, and other bugs that makes travelling around town a detrimental experience. While it doesn’t occur often there were numerous instances where I phased through an entire building, got stuck on the ground, and had invisible walls blocking my way. It was both annoying and put me in situations where I had to fight though I desired to run away. The framerate seems to drop consistently where there are a lot of objects and details that draws on the console’s power. It’s understandable considering the game’s graphical prowess. However, it’s annoying when a solid 30 FPS dips to an erratic back and forth of 15 to 25 FPS. While I don’t have motion sickness, it did make my head a tad doozy.
|Sprawling cities. Well.. two at least.|
The missions that Connor partakes in is arguably the best and worst part of the game. Most of them have simple main objectives but have optional ones that ramp up the challenge a bit. It’s a nice touch and I’m glad that it’s one of the few features that transitioned over from the previous titles. Whether it be an assassination missions, freeing hostages, or stalking a contact they all stand out to be quite the joy. Almost frustratingly so, some missions have aspects that are absolutely criminal. Stealth isn’t handled extremely well in the game at all and it’ll take clever positioning to silence enemies or follow someone.
Welcome to the Frontier! It’s an extremely huge zone abundant with wildlife, trees, and other mysteries hidden in its green - or white depending on what season you’re in. This zone serves as a primary hub for traveling to major locations but also a way to distract yourself. While traveling in the wild there are a variety of quests you can undertake whether it be hunting animals, navigating through various trees to find stunning vistas, or just checking off the things on your list of extras to do. It’s no exaggeration when I say that there truly is a multitude of things to do and while the extras may seem repetitive at times, the types that you’ll encounter mix things up quite a bit never leaving you bored.
|Watchu looking at?|
Hunting is one of the newest features in AC3 and let me tell you that it is no easy feat. Every once in a while you’ll find some clue that’ll lead you to where a game is at. By tracking these games you can collect the material from killing them which in turn leads to a lot of money. While tracking them is relatively easy, actually catching/killing one is another beast in and of itself. By cleverly positioning yourself in bushes or raining death from treetops, you’ll find success - patience is also needed. This is mostly for the larger animals though and the little ones will take a measly arrow or a gunshot to do the job. Hunting is a cool idea in concept but sadly fails to be anything more than just doing the motions to earn money. There isn’t any real reward from killing animals and the steps becomes old quite quickly. Although the magic of hunting does wear off, it’s an interesting system built to keep players busy in the Frontier.
The Frontier is huge as I mentioned but feels unnecessarily so. While there are many things to do in it, a smaller sandbox would’ve sufficed. It would allow ease of navigation, a focus on intricate traveling methods using treetops, and more monumental landmarks. Even so, the Frontier is by no means a horrible place. It’s quite a marvel and the amount of lush greenery around you is absolutely baffling. Combo this in with the great graphical presentation and you have a recipe for something amazing.
Speaking of amazing, AC3 features ships that you can control and take out to combat. It sounds horrible at first but once you give it a go it’s truly quite a marvel. While the system isn’t intricate considering you only have three designated speeds to maneuver your hunk of wood, the game manages to make best of what’s there. Moving around in water is extremely fun with the various wind speed and directions affecting your ship keeping you always on your toes since you can’t afford to hit any obstacles such as rocks. Try to manage moving your ship then with enemies that are firing upon you. Positioning is key when winning a naval battle and AC3 takes this to heart. By controlling the speed of your ship to put yourself in an optimal position you’re able to blast enemy ships with a single volley of cannon balls. It’s extremely thrilling and it disappoints me that there isn’t a race or a deathmatch of naval combat for multiplayer.
Of course, when not being a badass Assassin from the past, Desmond dons his hoodie to become a modern-day badass. In between certain sequences, Desmond will have to retrieve power sources that will keep the complex in working condition. While these segments are extremely short they offer some fresh breath of air. Rather than being bogged down to a location from the olden days, you’re exploring more modern architecture and experiencing the modern-day threat of the Templars. Although the gameplay segments feel no different from something that Desmond’s ancestors did, the new coat of paint is nice and gives a fresh take on how an Assassin in the present would go about handling missions.
|Is that a match?|
In an effort to also flesh out Abstergo and the conflict between the Templars and Assassins, the Desmond missions act as a catalyst of sorts to wrap up pre-existing conflicts while introducing new ones. Unfortunately, just like the rest of the game, the execution isn’t there. The new character Daniel Cross appears out of nowhere, gets a negligible amount of exposition, and is simply left out in the dust. Also it appears that the conflict between the two groups is trivialized by the conversations with Those Who Came Before essentially making the entire narrative of the franchise pointless. The narrative elements of the modern-day world certainly had some charm and mystery in the previous games but how it unravels in the trilogy’s conclusion is a major disappointment.
Multiplayer makes a triumphant return and while there isn’t anything new that will completely reshape the formula, it still remains to be entertaining. There are numerous modes to be had but they all essentially adhere to the core idea of identifying the enemy and assassinating him. It’s simple but actually assassinating someone is rather difficult because often times you’re a target of an assassination as well. This means you must blend yourself in a crowd of NPCs in a map so that you aren’t noticed while maintaining a lookout for your target. This game of a circular cat and mouse is something unique to the franchise and for an industry ridden with first-person shooters, it’s refreshing. The modes will change up how you approach your assassinations or add new mechanics - or remove them. For instance you might have a compass that will help you to find your targets rather easily in Wanted but have it removed in Quick Deathmatch. All in all, the modes are all fun and will keep you busy for a long while.
Assassin’s Creed III is ultimately a good game bogged down by the failure to execute great ideas properly. While the need for change in order to improve gameplay is understandable, changes that fail to address the problems it has had keeps the game from reaching greatness. This doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t deliver in what it attempts to do, however. If you’re looking for the same formula found in the previous games then you’ll find it here but for something revolutionary, or even evolutionary, look elsewhere.