In 2007 UbiSoft launched a new IP that took the world by storm. While not perfect by any means, the first Assassin’s Creed was different enough to stand out and make us want more. Now, five years later, numerous sequels left behind the series is ready to wrap up (though I don’t think it will, this industry struggles to let things go). Is Assassin’s Creed III the culmination of all these years of titles and efforts or is it just another effort that falls short and blends with the other so-so expansions from the previous year.
The story, as always, is two-fold. You play as Connor, a Native American assassin in the midst of a revolutionary war with the British. His mother was killed early on and he is on a mission to avenge her, by of course killing templars. Half native and half British, Connor is an outsider in both worlds, unfortunately the game does not play on these themes a lot, losing a lot of the emotional punch. Connor is immediately trusted by all, contradicting some historical events. Other than that, the story hangs in there. It gets a little muddled and disjointed at times because UbiSoft tries a little too hard to tie in historical events and people into the narrative, to ground you in real experiences.
Even so, it is incorporated in an interesting and engaging way. For once, the game also makes you question some of your actions, question the divide and struggle between the assassins and the templar. There are a few pretty poignant questions asked by the game, but it doesn’t hang around them long enough to resonate.
The other side of the story deals with Desmond, and him trying to prevent the end of the world (yes, we had to deal with all those silly expansions just so ACIII could come out specifically in 2012). There are some mirroring themes between his and Connor’s stories, but I just don’t care that much about Desmond. That story has always been an afterthought, its been a muddled mess and continuously failed to resonate emotionally. These parts even feel like they were written by Capcom writers. Seriously.
The audio is great, the soundtrack is not particularly captivating and it won’t match the grandeur of Halo 4 soundtrack for example, but it does it’s job. Where the game really shines is voice over. Nolan North returns as Desmond, doing a stellar job as always, no matter how bad the dialogue may be. The voice actors go a long way to sell the story. A neat touch is also the native tongue spoken by Connor and his tribe. It adds a level of authenticity to the experience.
Assassin’s Creed III looks great. There are a few minor hiccups and glitches, but they don’t happen too often. The game handles various environments and weather changes admirably. The big thing for the series was always a recreation of historic locales and NYC and Boston definitely benefit from this. I can’t speak for authenticity (I’ve never been to 1800s Boston or NYC), but the environments look beautiful. I think the frontier is the most captivating, a great mixture of wildlife and various trading outposts and town. Combine with with constantly changing day and night cycles and varying seasons and you get a very beautiful looking game.
The character models also look good. There is lots of detail that went into anyone even remotely related to the story. Historical figures were also given their due diligence. As weird as it was seeing a digital Ben Franklin at first I couldn’t help but feel he did resemble his currency portrayed self.
The gameplay is where all of this comes together. Assassin’s Creed III successfully ties together everything where old games succeeded, taking the best of every title. Unfortunately, it also takes some of the worst. Traversing is great. In the city, you feel as you always have. Scaling buildings is just as easy and fluid as a it ever was. It’s even better in the frontier. Connor can traverse trees and mountains, making hims a lot more mobile. Within minutes you’ll be moving effortlessly form city to frontier and back, and loving it.
Unfortunately, the move set for both building and tree climbing is the same, leading to some awkward moments when a building foundation resembles that v-shaped tree, and some rope is as thick as a downed tree trunk. The game also funnels you down a certain path, especially in the frontier. You can’t climb all the trees and the ones you can often lead you down a specific path to ascend to the top. Eventually they will also lead you to points of interest, mostly side-missions and random encounters. Try to deviate from this and the game will frustrate you by not letting you climb a certain tree or reach a certain area.
This is a big downfall. You are given this expansive, populated frontier, more impressive than anything else we’ve seen in previous titles and it’s as if the game doesn’t want you to play with it, it wants you to stay away. So many times I felt funneled to a specific place on the map. When you’re given a living, breathing open world that is realized as well as ACIII’s is, you want to explore it, not get punished for trying to do so.
Instead, the game forces you towards repetitive side-missions or mini-games that wear out their welcome after the first attempt. It’s as if the developers didn’t learn from the previous games. Once again, there are management games, trading games and other small things that are no more exciting than looking at excel spreadsheets. This is a game that’s brimming with content, unfortunately, most of it outside the main missions is either not very long or not at all engaging. Even the at first exciting hunting mini-game because a chore after 2-3 tries.
The combat as always is fun, but it’s not a night and day difference between other titles. You will still rely on a mix of attacks and parries (that quickly transition into quick kills) to defeat your opponents, and your foes will wait to attack as not to swarm you. Sometimes, they will come at you in twos, but a well-timed (and it’s hard not to time these well, trust me) parry will result in an auto-kill for both your phones. Enemies will also use rifles and guns now, but Connor can use his enemies as shields without much trouble.
The two notable additions to the game is naval warfare (this years unfortunate version of tower defense) and playing as Desmond. Naval warfare starts out as fun and challenging, but eventually grows tedious by the last few missions. Essentially it is all too simple, but it does take up a lot of time due to navigating in the treacherous sea.
The Desmond segments feel like they miss a point on the other hand. There is no HUD, no radar and no alerts when you’re about to get hit or need to counter, still Desmond behaves too much like Connor. Even your enemies, who carry full on semi-automatic pistols will line up to take a single shot (as if from a musket), and even that action they’ll telegraph from 3 minutes away. This is supposed to be the culmination of everything Desmond learned in the past 4-5 games, all the skills the Animus has given him. Instead, it’s an afterthought that makes you wish there was more Connor stuff instead.
The multiplayer is a lot of fun. The Wolf Pack mode ads a level of co-op to the game as you work to eliminate NPC targets. It eliminates some of the hectic nature of the PvP and lets you feel a bit more like a guild of assassin’s. This is by far my favorite mode because it doesn’t lend itself to idiots running around the map aimlessly. The Assassination mode is still fun, but only when you can find a good group to play with. The human factor is the most negative impact here as a lot of players will forgo being an assassin and jump straight to being a psycho running around the level. When you can get 4-8 people who are genuinely interested in acting the part, there is a tonne of fun to be had here.
Verdict: All in all, it comes off a little too casual and too easy for a grand finale. All of the good things about the game play remain. They are as polished as ever and when all the parts are in tune, the game is a pleasure. Unfortunately, UbiSoft remains reluctant to listen to the fans and they keep bringing back all of the other stuff that just doesn’t work, or bogs down an otherwise exceptional experience.