Review - Assassin's Creed 3

Posted on November 8, 2012 - 10:30pm

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Assassin’s Creed III

With Assassin’s Creed III being the fifth title in the franchise proper, Ubisoft had a myriad of expectations from their fairly large fanbase. Luckily, it turns out they easily rose to the occasion. With this latest installment, Desmond Miles dives deeper into his family history by exploring his roots in the American Revolution through the first Native American assassin, known as Connor. With the story now shifting from long-time protagonist, Ezio, the formula been tweaked to keep the experience fresh for loyal fans. However, Assassin’s Creed III feels even more approachable than ever before for newcomers to the franchise.

The look and feel of America during the eighteenth century has been masterly crafted in Ubisoft’s new engine, Anvil Next. And out of everything the new engine boasts, environments are what Anvil Next has truly excelled with. While you have big cities like New York and Boston, the Frontier is more entertaining in its authenticity. The forest swells and creeks, animals move about freely, and the dynamic weather system immerses players in a new playground for the franchise. Platforming through trees looks as great as it feels. Even particles of grass and pollen hang in the air during spring, while the cold of winter chokes the life from the world it blankets. Characters react to these changes accordingly, but the results can be a bit frightening at times.

The “uncanny” valley has always been striking in Assassin’s Creed games. However, while in one pre-rendered sequence you might be swept up in the quixotic storyline of the Templars,  at other times your immersion will be jarred by visual faux pas. It is disappointing that every cutscene renders Connor  in the standard white outfit despite your Connor wearing something else. Models are often repeated due to the nature of the world being so open. And there is a fair amount of jankiness that comes with an open world. So whether textures pop, animations fumble, or specific parts of the environment disappear or appear at whim, it is par for the course. Ninety percent of the time, everything works as promised, making the 10 percent more glaring. A.I. behavior also does a great job of capturing the aesthetic of a nation on the brink of revolution, but the bugs hurt the experience far too often to be completely ignored.

The sound design rarely suffers from the same limitations, with each area feeling unique. Bostonian rabble-rousers riot on street corners about taxation, New Yorkers reflect on the British devastation in the city, and the nature of the Frontier speaks with distinction. Domestic animals such as chickens, cats, and dogs are also audible in the big cities, backed by the drum rolls of local militiamen. The dialog is well written as various characters are fleshed out through their actions and opinions. One of my all-time-favorite conversations in a video game came from speaking with known philanderer Benjamin Franklin, who gave me eight reasons why it was better to bang an older women, over a younger one. And you wonder why I enjoy this franchise so much.

The story of Assassin’s Creed III isn’t a stroll on the waterfront. It’s  a narrative-driven platformer that incorporates a variety of metagames, however, it is still one of the most complex action games to date. One wrong decision can lead to a domino-effect of consequences, derailing you from the the task at hand. Tasks such as building up your Homestead for trade, crafting equipment, managing notoriety, collecting loot, recruiting Assassins, and platforming. All of which are the same in essence, but in the overall package, manage to feel different. While none of these are crucial to completing the game, they’re some of the best parts. Your Homestead holds your entire league of craftsmen, complete with hideout. It is here you will spend a lot of time in the new crafting and trading system--if you want to get rich, that is. Money is harder to come by than in games past, making the process of upgrading your ship all the sweeter.

Naval combat missions were a surprisingly enjoyable experience for me. While some Ubisoft’s past experiments in different combat mechanics have fallen flat, the Naval combat is easily approached and actually left me wanting more. Smaller ships can be torn apart by ramming them, but bigger vessels require precisions shooting to break apart the hull. Limiting the number of ways you can interact with the ship does make the combat accessible and entertaining. Hunting, on the other hand, is prominent and made fun by adding a twist to existing mechanics. Elements like high grass or trees allow you to hide and set traps for animals, exercising your patience, with bears and cougars being the exception. Engaging them can be just as bloody as any encounter with the Redcoats. However, as far as the story’s concerned, you’ll be required to participate in a rare mini-game or two that end up being terrible. Give me sealegs any day.

Landlocked combat has also gone through some adjustments, adding new weapons like muskets or hatchets, along with a more simplified combo system. When countering an attack, the combat slows down to give you more time to choose the next step in a combo. Opponents are also more easily identified, so you learn quickly which combos will or won’t work. The addition of the firing squad adds a new element of strategy, as does the rope hook. Verticality is reduced, so disengaging from combat is more difficult that in games past. And muskets suck! But that was what they had back then, so authenticity trumps fun. However, Connor happily brings his axe to any gunfight, with great success.

But who is Connor? We’ve spent so much time with Ezio, it is hard to think there would be a new protagonist, but here he is, Connor -- who’s motivations may be more mysterious than his personality. Fans of the franchise will notice that this game’s storyline speaks to the earlier Assassin’s Creed installments, by spending the first few hours learning about Connor’s past. Your journey with Connor begins pre-conception, playing as his father. Ten years after his birth, you assume the role of young Connor and follow him though childhood, teenage years, and into his prime. He is arguably the strongest of all the protagonists thus far, but equally as cold. His lack of a father-figure carries into his relationships, creating a tension with his teacher and his would-be friends. Ironically, Connor’s internal struggle crosses generations as Desmond is dealing with familiar issues on the other end of the Animus. His father has also joined him in his search for the final pieces of the puzzle and Desmond isn’t exactly thrilled. The parallels between Connor and Desmond’s daddy issues are purposeful and maintain an underlying theme of misplaced aggression.

You will also spend time with Desmond outside the Animus, furthering the story of the future and unlocking more secrets behind the ones who came before us. The most interesting bits follow a doomsday scenario and Desmond’s little stints in the real world let you have a taste of what an Assassin’s Creed  game might feel like in the present. Between these two characters, Connor’s father, and everything there is to do, you can easily spend 30+ hours in the single-player portion of the game. Then there is the multiplayer, which is largely the same, but includes a robust tutorial and new game mode called Wolf Pack. It is easily one of the more intelligent versions of Horde mode I’ve ever played and is very addictive. You won’t be disappointed if you’ve enjoyed the multiplayer of Brotherhood or Revelations.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed III is more of the same in the best way possible. Everything is, at its core, what you love about the franchise, yet each item feels different in this unique package. New tasks like Naval Warfare and Hunting are fun, even if some of the one-off story missions are not. The Frontier is the right sort of departure for the franchise, bringing new platforming mechanics and locales. Every mechanic has been made approachable, without losing its respective complexity. The open world jank cannot be ignored, but won’t overwhelm. It is only a frustration when a glitch results in a momentary delay in getting to the juicy goodness that is Assassin’s Creed III. If you’ve never had the pleasure Assassin’s Creed, this is the most approachable installment yet. And for returning fans, I say welcome home.

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