The Assassin’s Creed series finds itself at an interesting point in its lifespan. With three games in as many years focusing on one character, some gamers have definitely started to feel series fatigue. Ubisoft has promised to remedy that with Assassin’s Creed III; a daunting task, no doubt. This is where it becomes a huge challenge for the developers. You want to introduce enough that’s new to make the series feel fresh, but at the same time you don’t want to get away from what made it successful in the first place. What we end up with is a technical achievement that even current systems have a difficult time containing. AC3 is easily one of the most ambitious titles of the generation.
AC3 follows the story of Connor, the latest in the line of ancestors of our modern-day hero Desmond Miles. Desmond needs a key that Connor possesses so he can stop the incoming solar event, and of course, save the world. Like previous games you will switch back and forth between Desmond and Connor through use of the Animus. The in-between segments serve more as the tomb levels from previous games, while the Connor missions can literally go on for hours if you choose to explore. One thing the series has always done well is storytelling, and AC3 is no exception.
I simply cannot go into much detail without giving away one of the best-kept secrets this year. Needless to say that gamers experiencing AC3 for the first time are in for a truly ‘WTF’ moment once they dive in. What I can talk about is the settings that have been so heavily marketed. AC3 lifts the game into a completely new setting and era by dropping you right in the middle of the American Revolution. 18th century America is a setting that really suits the universe; actually much more than I had anticipated. The return of horses and the introduction of vast forests to explore really add to the sheer engagement of the game.
While the story is fantastic, a lot of what makes AC3 special is its ambition. The AC games have always been large in scope, but the latest entry takes it to a whole new level, making it more on par with other open world games. As I mentioned the new forest sections add a whole new dynamic to the playing field. You can literally lose hours in them tracking wild animals, trapping them and collecting hides. This is all part of the living world that draws you into the experience. You also eventually obtain a home on the frontier that you can upgrade by adding new workers, thus giving you access to new items to craft, and upgrades. This could have easily been a game in itself, and is much larger than versions before it.
AC3 also introduces naval battles early on. This was one of the touted features when showcasing the game, and I am happy to say that it holds up much better than the tower defense mechanism added in Revelations (which are thankfully omitted here). Your ship quickly becomes a focal point in the game, and like your homestead, can be upgraded over time with bigger guns and better upgrades. The ship battles are as epic as you would imagine. Having to compensate for wind and objects that could wreck you while attempting to take out other ships is intense. The mechanics work well enough that they are easy to pick up and play, but deep enough to keep it interesting over time. This is one new mechanic that really works well in this series.
This feels like the theme in AC3 for the most part. Keep what works, get rid of what doesn’t and just add more and more of it. The new stuff is great, and while it can be daunting at times, you can skip a majority of it and simply play through the story to get your fix. It is truly an impressive achievement both technically and aesthetically. It breathes new life into the franchise, and honestly I can’t stop thinking about the game when not playing it.
That is why the next part really bothers me to write. We played our review copy on PS3 and technical issues abound. Frame rate constantly dips below 30 fps, and sometimes as low as 15. It is really jarring, and actually had me cease playing it at times. The game is also packed with glitches. Here are a few things I ran into consistently. Characters’ mouths stop moving when they are talking, sound completely drops out, NPC characters run into walls (this happened a lot when tailing, meaning missions never progressed), characters clip through objects and probably the most jarring, groups of enemies and people disappear at random intervals.
A lot of these can be chalked up to open world game design, but I cannot remember the series ever having this many issues. It is bad. In some cases it felt game breaking, which in turn says a lot about what is here because even with these issues, I could not keep myself from coming back. I hope Ubisoft fixes these down the road with a patch, but even with the day one update, the game is a technical mess.
Controlling Connor feels natural for anyone who played the previous games. You can still hold down the trigger/bumper button to free run, and the animations for such are gorgeous. Connor makes his way around, above and under objects with ease most of the time, but then there are cases where things go awry. With so much free-running and animation it is bound to hiccup every once in awhile. Instances where Connor will get his foot stuck on a weird object, or have trouble turning down an alley arise. These are most evident when being chased. I got hit several times when running away due to these issues. It just stands out when so much of the game works so well.
Combat also gets an upgrade feeling a lot like it was taking notes from a certain caped crusader. You can now parry much easier, and perform different moves based on the button presses. In fact most of my combat was spent parrying, unless the enemy had their back turned to me. Crowd control is much easier, and the new kill animations are brutal. I also love how Connor has so many weapons at his disposal throughout the game.
One thing the AC series has done well since its inception is the multiplayer mode. Scrapping the traditional deathmatch mentality, this online feature continues to evolve with each new iteration in the series. All of the old modes, including the highly entertaining Assassinate mode where you try to hunt down real players in a sea of NPCs returns, but the highlight of the package is the new co-op focused Wolf Pack. This allows you and your friends to eliminate a series of targets that expands based on player count. It also opens up a branch of the story featuring Abstergo, the front for the Templars. What makes this mode so special is that it forfeits the idea of having to consistently play to enjoy the online portion. You can just hop in with friends and have a good time.
The unique take on multiplayer the series has taken continues to pay off, meaning fans can enjoy it for months to come without worrying about player count. There is an online pass disguised behind the UPlay passport, but you can still hop online up to a certain level even without it.
There is literally so much content to be found in the campaign portion of the game that it can become daunting. This also means that you have plenty to discover once you are given that opportunity. The pacing of the game suffers from this early on as you are basically held on a leash for a large portion of the introduction. You will spend an absurd amount of time in what I call an extended tutorial of sorts. I mean, did I really need to be told how to lose notoriety five hours into the game? Things like this hold it back, but once it opens up, you really appreciate how much content is there. Side missions and icons on the map beg you to come discover them, and if you choose to do so, the game is vast and offers you plenty of hours of content.
Visually, the game is stunning. That is the best word I can use. The sheer landscape and attention to detail is impressive. Facial animations look great and the character animations are the best I have seen outside of Sony’s famed adventure series. Little touches like the animation for walking through snow or blood spattering on your character go a long way here. Of course, the frame rate issues compounded with glitches really hurt the experience. The fog in New York is troubling and sometimes weird things really just draw you out of the world, but when it works, it is gorgeous.
Sound is equally impressive, with a dynamic soundtrack that sticks with you. Without Jesper Kyd I know some people were concerned, but rest assured, the music in the game is outstanding. Voice work is equally impressive with only a few missteps. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Connor’s voice actor, but most of the cast pretty much nails it.
Assassin’s Creed III is an amazing experience any way you slice it. The story continues down the peculiar path its predecessors did, but it keeps you engaged. The graphics are outstanding when they aren’t held back by technical issues, and the world is so vast and full of interesting content, you can’t help but get lost in it. If you had been growing tired of the series this version definitely brings you back into it. The improvements are impressive, while keeping the same feel to which you are accustomed. I almost wish the game had waited until the next round of consoles just so it could have gotten around the technical hindrances, but I am totally on-board for the next chapter in the series when those consoles hit. Assassin’s Creed III is how you re-ignite a franchise just when fatigue sets in. This is one game people will be talking about for quite some time.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.