Assassin’s Creed II casts a long shadow. It’s one of the best games of this console generation, and some might argue that it is the best. It was near perfectly crafted narrative that told the life story of a character in a way that allowed the player to bond with him and understand him so completely that people welcomed two more repetitious entries in the game series simply to get their Ezio back on. Assassin’s Creed III would have to stand very tall to get out of Ezio’s shadow.
Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed III isn’t quite the game that two managed to be, but it is still the second best entry into the series. The slow plodding of the story splayed against the fervent speed of the action sequences will keep you addicted as you blaze through the twenty hour campaign, and the well set up multiplayer will keep the disc in your box for a while after that.
Story: Let’s get this out of the way: if you haven’t played ACII, that is requisite for having any idea who the hell is going on in this game (and if you haven’t figured it out yet, spoilers for the past AC games, ahoy). The game begins on Halloween 2012 with Desmond and the modern Assassins traveling to the site of an alien artifact in order to figure out how to stop the sun from figuring out how many licks it takes to get the gooey magma center of Earth. Oh, and there are aliens talking to them.
In case you forgot, Assassin’s Creed got weird. Not to say that it wasn’t strange before, but like season four of LOST, ACII took the big dive into being a hardcore sci-fi tale that also happens to have a historical fiction attached to it. These two narratives play well against each other, and even though Desmond still feels mostly useless for the first half of the game (Brotherhood was the only game he ever felt mildly important in), his part does finally manage to come into its own in a somewhat satisfying way.
On the historical fiction side, the game follows Connor Kenway (not his real name), a half Native American boy who becomes an assassin to avenge his slaughtered mother. His story is far from unique, it’s almost the same tune that Ezio Auditore played in ACII, but it’s still well handled enough that it doesn’t feel stale
ACIII employs a rather bold story telling mechanic of not introducing their main character until a third of the way through the game. You begin by playing as Haytham Kenway, Connor’s father, in a very long (read, three hours) prologue to Connor’s story that I essentially played as “Let’s Spot Who Kenway Will Knock Up” (reading the back of the box sort of ruins the game). The prologue (hell, prequel) is quite unique in that in makes you feel a great deal of empathy for Haytham, which is important when he starts having a great role in Connor’s story. His story is well handled and throws an awesome curve ball at you.
Things get weird once the game gets back to Connor though. You spend a few hours playing through Connor’s childhood, which helps build his motivation (uh, kill everyone), but it feels a great deal like a tutorial meant to teach you how to find other kids when they’re hiding or how to climb trees. This would be fine, and the idea has already proven to work in Fallout 3, except that Haythem’s story is so long and well-rounded that the forward motion the game has coming up to it grinds to a halt.
Once Connor finally becomes an Assassin and begins to get involved in the events of the war, the story starts to pick back up. It was always fun to see your character interact with real people in the Assassin’s games, but it’s a great deal more awesome here seeing Connor woven into events that people are very familiar with. Events like the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party make their way into the game, and they’re played out well enough that they manage to seem organic to the story rather than major stepping points you’ve been building up to for hours.
Assassin’s Creed III does a fantastic job of showing character’s from America’s past as real people rather than the raw ether of American Dream that seems to compose out forefathers in other games. Seeing Ben Franklin as a scatter-brained airhead can be a bit of riot, and watching George Washington march with British Troops as a low level soldier kept me occupied for hours (also, I couldn’t beat that mission for the life of me). It’s great to see that some of the founding fathers also don’t make it out of the game as perfect people either, the Templar story infiltrating every aspect of our society and both Americans and Brits being treated with equal corruptibility.
The Assassin’s Creed games have always had strong stories, and though ACIII isn’t the best of the bunch, it still delivers a good if unimpacting story and ties most of the series up, though I imagine plenty of people will be wailing from the rafters about the ending.
Graphics/Presentation: Assassin’s Creed III sits with me in a weird way. Overall, the game is gorgeous, and Ubisoft Montreal’s recreation of colonial America is nothing short of astounding. On the other hand, it is often plagued with abysmal shadow problems, an above average amount of graphical glitches, and a strange, bland haze that makes it look like the monsters from The Mist are going to start attacking Boston.
The graphical glitches wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t get them so frequently. Whether the game was installed or uninstalled, and on both PS3 and 360, I constantly found that textures on patches of snow or rocks would shimmer like a mirage, no matter how I looked at them. When a patch of land did this, it wouldn’t go away until I left the area, either. It didn’t really cripple the gameplay, but once you see it it’s impossible to not notice it, and really detracted from my running around the woods. I will say that I did not encounter this on the belatedly released PC version.
As for the shadows, I consider this to be a cardinal sin. You can’t graphically fuck up this hard and have it sit well with people. The shadows on people’s faces, on the ground, pretty much anywhere, all look miserable. They’re shimmery and see through and it looks like a shroud has been wrapped around someone. Sometimes they jump and writhe, and they do it in the cinema scenes as well, so I had to actively not think about them to enjoy the game. That’s like telling yourself you aren’t going to think about breathing. The PC version fixed this, but it’s unacceptable on the consoles.
Aside from the problems, the game looks good. Not as good as Assassin’s Creed II since everything has a foggy filter over it, but still good. The character models are sharper and better looking now (though Desmond now looks like a hawk), and the trees and snow really help with the immersion in the game. Trudging up a mountain through waist deep snow is crazy and fun to do. The sea battles on the Aquila can be straight up jaw dropping. Sadly, for as many times as the games looks great, there are an equal number of times it makes you want to claw your eyes out
Gameplay/Controls: Much of what made Ezio’s story great involved the incredibly fluid free running system that worked like a charm in Italy. It translates alright to Connor and America, but not as well as it should. Running over the Venetian rooftops was fantastic because the geometry was clear, and you went, normally, where you wanted to. If you jumped at a wall corner, you normally made it, but sometimes you’d jump to the wrong little window hanging or leap off in the wrong direction (to your death, inevitably).
Every problem that II had is exacerbated in III. Barely missing the corner of a roof is understandable. Missing a tree branch is infuriating. The game seems to sway between heavily guiding your path so you feel like Connor is moving without consulting you and simply sending him where you sent him, which often results in death. Sometimes you go to make a jump you’ve made a hundred times before, but this time you miss it, leaping off in the completely wrong direction, and having to head back to where you started to get back up into the trees. Nothing in Assassin’s Creed III seems to be quite as fluid as it was in the previous trilogy.
I personally encountered a great deal of bugs and glitches as well. On one of the early missions, I was tasked with climbing on a ship and freeing some prisoners, but as I got close, the guard would stare directly at me, no matter where I was, even when I was behind a wall and we’d never made direct contact. The second we physically saw me, the mission restarted from the beginning. I also had Connor get stuck in a stairway he could never get out of without a restart, I had characters not spawn when they should, and I once became invincible, but unable to shoot anyone else. The game could be pretty buggy.
One of the biggest new gameplay mechanics is the ability to have large scale naval battles in your ship, the Aquila. This is one of the things that works best about this game. The last few Assassin’s Creed games started bringing the idea of strategy into the series, but I’ve found this to be the best example of it. Controlling your ship is like playing a mini-strategy game, but it works so well that you really don’t notice it. Having to keep track of the ships, your men, the wind direction, the waves, and any rocks in the water is both difficult and rewarding, and this part of ACIII really works well.
Controlling Monteriggioni from ACII also returned in the form of The Homestead. Once again, you are given control of a chunk of land with the ability to add people and buildings to make it nicer. It’s a step up now, but I found most of The Homestead activities to be slow without much purpose. You get new items to sell on shipping lanes through a very complicated UI, which gets you money to do more of that. Unless you’re a huge completionist, there isn’t too much to do there. Well, except play Nine Men’s Morris.
Sound: Assassin’s Creed soundtrack is subtle. You aren’t often faced with sweeping orchestrations, though they’re there. More often, you find yourself moving silently though the snow and listening it crunch beneath your feet, or stalking through a crowded city as the din of people going about their everyday lives wraps you up like a protective Assassin’s womb.
There’s a lot of greatness to be found in the audio work for this game. The “shinck” sound of putting your hidden blade into someone is one of the most recognizable sounds in videogames, but beyond that there are plenty of period sounds like flintlock pistols or people singing sailing songs on ships that really put you back in the 1700s.
The voice work in this series continues to remain fantastic as well. Nolan North reprises his role as Desmond Miles, and even though he still sounds to me like a whispery Nathan Drake, the voice work is solid. Noah Watts voices the main character, Connor Kenway, and does a bang up job at sounding Native American. Another standout VO comes from Roger Aaron Brown for his work as Achilles. All of the voice work in main game is pretty good (the Abstergo voice over for the multiplayer is pretty ear grinding) so it’s saying something that these actors rose above the rest.
Replay: This game is huge. There is a ton to do in the game, with copious amounts of side quests, a very long single player campaign which took me about twenty two hours, the homestead missions, aquatic missions, and board games to play. If you can get through the bugs and glitches, there’s a lot of fun to be had, and that’s only in the single player.
Once you’re done there, you can take the game online. The online in the Assassin’s Creed games has always been unique, and that’s no different here. The game still plays like lethal hide and seek, except now you can only kill your designated target and you only have one person coming after you. It makes it interesting when you’re right next to someone you know is a real player, but you can’t hurt each other. There is also a team mode, but I found the individual experience to be much more enthralling. If you’re into the multiplayer, it’s there and it works well, but I found it to not be interesting enough to pull me in for more than a few matches.
Pefromance: Assassins Creed III performed on the Wii U as one would expect, good. The Average frame rate held around 30 FPS, but there were some areas that did fall slightly below that threshold. Although the frame rate wasn’t perfect, there was absolutely zero screen tearing to speak of. At the end of the day, the Wii U proved once more it can handle anything the other consoles out there can. Below are the average frame rate and screen tearing percentages.
|Wii U Frame Analysis|
|Clip 1 info:
Length of clip: 1898 frames
Average FPS of clip: 28.8
Percent of torn frames: 0.0
|Clip 2 info:
Length of clip: 1989 frames
Average FPS of clip: 27.36
Percent of torn frames: 0.0
|Clip 3 info:
Length of clip: 4582 frames
Average FPS of clip: 29.42
Percent of torn frames: 0.0
|Global percent of torn frames: 0.0
Global average FPS: 28.64
Wii U Analysis Video Below.
PlayStation 3 Footage Shown Below.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed III could have been better. Considering how near perfect ACII was, it could have been a lot better. The story is interesting, but it doesn’t feel as vast as the others, Connor is cool, but not as unique as Ezio and it feels like his story is recycled. The graphical glitches on the consoles really detract from the experience, and the multiplayer, while good, is pretty thin in terms of depth. Well, maybe Ubisoft will fix it up for the next ACIII entry.
Written By: D.R. Maddock