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Assassin’s Creed III

Assassin's Creed III Box Art ReviewI’m not going to lie. I was a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, up until the launch of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, the fourth iteration of the game in five years,  and three consecutive years. It was at that point that I found myself tired of the series, but Ubisoft’s promise of something new and great resurrected my interest. The trailers made Assassin’s Creed III seem rather fresh. With hopes that the new title might revitalize the decaying series, I entered the title into my PlayStation 3’s disc tray.

Assassin’s Creed III is the penultimate title in Desmond’s story. The world is nearing its end, and the present day Assassins are nearing the end of their quest to save it. Unfortunately, a key stands between them and salvation, and the answer lies in Connor’s memories which can be visited through the Animus device. Connor is a half Native-American and half English Assassin who played a significant role during the American Revolution.

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Action-Adventure, Historical, Science-Fiction
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360 (Related), Wii U, Windows PC
System Release Date:  October 30th, 2012 (NA); October 31st, 2012 (EU)
Rating: 18 (BBFC)

As expected from Assassin’s Creed, the narrative is incredibly strong and complex, but also feels rather disjointed. The title also suffers from its open world environment. Typical in such videogames, Assassin’s Creed splits the various plot points into separate missions of which are loosely connected within one of twelve sequences. Despite this, the sequences more or less result in their own specific story arc, for both characters, which expose or resolve key plot elements.  It is often the missions–the player’s method of interacting with the story, as well as progressing it–that lead to the disjointed nature of the narrative. Consequently, Assassin’s Creed III feels like a tale in which the story may have been better expressed via slightly more linear gameplay or in another medium entirely, such as a novel. This has been an issue through-out the series.

The story of Assassin’s Creed III does an excellent job of portraying themes regarding family, liberty and personal beliefs, amounting to a rather complex narrative.  In Assassin’s Creed III, Connor fights for the liberty of his people, for their freedom. Meanwhile, Desmond is also faced with his own dilemma regarding liberty, conflicted between both opposing ideals of the Templars and the Assassins.  ACIII is filled with many exciting twists and turns; an early twist in particular prevents the discussion of one of the most prominent plot elements to the title. Regrettably, the conclusion is also the cause of a major disappointment not because of the underlying idea behind it (which was actually a great concept), but rather in the execution of the final twist. It’s a shame to see Desmond’s retirement as the series’ protagonist so lacking.

Assassin's Creed III Review

Connor wasn’t taught the difference between the colour “Blue” and the colour “Red”. Oops.

Gameplay has been polished to a level which is to be expected of a sequel, something that the previous Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Revelations failed to achieve. Combat has been overhauled and, while still accomplishing similar results to previous iterations of the franchise, the controls are now far more intuitive. The degree of challenge in the combat has also been enhanced, but still manages to fall short. This lack of challenge can result in the gameplay feeling tedious and unrewarding on frequent occasions during random fights.  The series’ protagonists are often comparatively described as “tanks” which is rather appropriate. Connor can overpower an entire squad of soldiers if he must, something that defeats the purpose of the stealth elements in the title and can also break immersion–the player may often question why the protagonist doesn’t storm the gates of a fort, for example, rather than sneaking in. The blame can be placed on the enemy AI, which often focuses on one-on-one fights as other units surround the protagonist. It makes sense for Connor and Desmond to be greater fighters than their opponents, but there seems little consequence in fighting larger numbers.

As a depressing, but understandable design choice, the player may no longer attack innocent civilians–or the air. Targets are required before initiating attack. No longer can the player attack annoying characters to get rid of them. Previously, the player could attack civilians at the cost of their “synchronisation” (read: health). Presumably, this feature seemed unnecessary, and also enabled the inclusion of children characters.

Assassin's Creed III Gameplay Screenshot Review

The previous assassination clearly went horribly wrong.

Freerunning has also seen improvement, opening up new objects to ascend and new methods to do so. The frontier and Connor’s upbringing lead to the ability to clamber up trees. Unfortunately, there is little to no challenge remaining in scaling buildings. Assassin’s Creed III uses the parkour element as a tool at the player’s disposal to be used freely. The protagonist has mastered this art, and can apply it to escaping. Rather than the climbing being challenging, the application of the ability is the challenge. Should the player escape to the rooftops, hop between trees that other characters cannot climb, run along the side of the building where it is quickest, or disappear amongst the bustling crowd on the ground? These are the challenges that the player faces instead of platforming challenges.

Micromanagement has seen a return, but in an entirely new form. Instead of purchasing new establishments, Connor must complete a mission related to the land in which he lives. New resources and individuals will reward the player for the completion of these tasks, which allows the player to trade for more money to spend on improving equipment. The entire mechanic is more complex than the previous two iterations in which it also made an appearance, but is ultimately more fulfilling through the player’s increased involvement from before.

Assassin's Creed III Naval Warfare Gameplay Screenshot Review

The enemy ship is … snigger … under “fire”.

Assassin’s Creed III doesn’t just improve on previous game elements, but also includes new mechanics as well. The title introduces naval warfare into the franchise. Connor acquires early access to a ship in which he becomes the Captain of, allowing the player to participate in raging battles on the sea as they duck under fire, launch their own attacks and even invade enemy ships. Despite being newly introduced, the naval warfare mechanic feels incredibly well polished and keeps up with the standard the rest of the game sets. Additionally, taking advantage of Connor’s Native-American heritage, the player may hunt animals using various tools for resources which can be further sold off. Seasons may also change, implicating the player and their foe’s maneuverability.

Visually stunning for a current generation console game, Assassin’s Creed III‘s rendition of the frontier is beautiful. The towns are also aesthetically pleasing and  relatively historically accurate in appearance. Sound quality is great, with the voice acting standing out spectacularly. Characters are brought to life by their voice actors and animations–the latter of which is now far more fluid than before. Unfortunately, PlayStation 3 players may witness game objects vanishing most likely due to the system’s memory.

Assassin's Creed III Hunting Gameplay Review Screenshot

The fur is dear so we’re hunting it.

As a sequel, Assassin’s Creed III delivers spectacularly–especially when compared to the Revelations specifically.  It is a fun and exciting title with visible flaws. Ubisoft Montreal may have still failed to improve the connection between the story missions, and the AI may still hold the core gameplay back, but these flaws aren’t enough to ruin the experience.

Edit: Re-located the sentence referring to the PS3 glitch. Fixed sentence order in concluding paragraph; seems I had a great idea for the conclusion, but executed it poorly–just like Ubisoft Montreal. Maybe that should have been left in as an ironic joke that nobody would have understood? (Also, “consecutive” instead of “consistent” in the introduction.)

Videogame reviewer and student videogame developer, located in Scotland. Founder of the Gaming Advance blog.

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4 / 5 stars