Assassin’s Creed 3 Review: New world, old problems. 2

When we look back on this generation of gaming, what will undoubtedly be seen as one of the standout series is the Assassin’s Creed saga. This ambitious project has taken players to fully realized historical periods and cities and literally letting them run around and do as they please. What is most astonishing is the level of quality brought forth by each sequel despite the yearly release window. Assassin’s Creed 3, what is technically the fifth installment in the console cannon, bills itself as a fully-fledged sequel, complete with a new character and new time period.

Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Published by: Ubisoft
Genre: Action-adventure
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
What works: Fluid gameplay | Enormous mission variety | Beautiful environments
What doesn’t work: Poor main character | Shallow combat | Lack of polish
★★★★☆

The newest character in Brotherhood is Connor, a half-Native American, half-British apprentice. The Briton part serves mostly to tie him to the previous game’s European roots, seeing how he is born and raised in the North American wilderness. The story is epic in scale, starting around the French and Indian war in the 1750’s, continuing through the American Revolution and the beginning of the new nation. For that reason, it is a really slow burn. You will not get your assassin’s suit until roughly eight hours into the game, leaving fans who wish to simply wreak havoc with a good portion of the game to get through before total freedom is allowed. Even then, the story is much more scripted than previous games, with mission structure much more similar to the first Assassin’s Creed than its more improved predecessors. Story missions will often have you eavesdrop, tail, and gather intelligence before you even figure out where your target is located. Once you are placed face to face with him, it is usually surrounding a major historical event, like the Battle of Bunker Hill. In these segments the illusion of freedom is very present, with wide open areas and several paths to exploit. Unfortunately, this illusion melts away as the game is quiet clear on what the “right” way to get things done is.

While a long and scripted story is not a bad thing, it does seem that the team at Ubisoft Montreal wanted to emulate the saga crafted for Ezio over the course of three games into just one. Too bad then that the new character of Connor lacks the likeability of his Italian ancestor. While Ezio, was a bit of a jackass at time, he was too charismatic for us to really get mad at him. Furthermore, he grew as a character, developing into a true protagonist of a shattered plot. Connor is understandably upset with his situation, but he comes off as an arrogant brat most of the time. He is unable to see the big picture and always talks back like a spoiled child. It is interesting when they have his native customs contrast with the assassin code, but these moments are few and rarely played out. To top it off, the majority of the voice acting is spot on, but the traditional Mohawk spoken in the game is clearly off beat. It is really cool to listen to the language as it was spoken back then, but it is obvious that Ubisoft had trouble finding good actors that were also fluent in Mohawk.

Desmond receives more attention than usual thanks to the urgency of his situation in the present. In between chapters, a small, mandatory mission will usually take place expanding his story. These act as a cool “what if,” letting the player use his assassin’s skills in the present day.

Previous AC games always struggled in the combat department. While superficially stunning, stabbing Templars in the gut always came down to holding the block button and countering when attacked. This time around, the combat has been improved, but not completely fixed. Enemies are slightly more aggressive, making you change your stance and counter in different ways when prompted. Furthermore, the addition of muskets to every guard’s armory forces the player to be more aware of enemies forming firing lines and disrupting any awesome combo you had going. At its core, you still are pressing one button at the right time to counter an enemy, but the variety of encounters and fluidity of the combat makes up for most of the lack interaction.

Ubisoft was clear from the beginning that you were going to be playing a new character with brand new animations and they kept their promise. Free running has been improved and now features the ability to climb trees and rock formations; exponentially increasing the cool value of stalking your prey. Moving seamlessly through the woods like Disney’s Tarzan is ridiculously awesome and just how organic the wilderness looks adds so much more to the experience. Connor can also peek when he gets near a corner, run through open windows and doors, and use items in the environments to combat his enemies. New stalking zones allow for context sensitive hiding and lurking. As a matter of fact it is much more difficult to hide from pursuers this time around. You will really need to implement social stealth to not be seen; standing in between two people pretending to shop or leaning against a wall. Gone are the handy gazebos of Venice, the new world requires new tactics. The controls have all been streamlined to account for the changes, and while there are times when context sensitive actions will make you slam your head on the table, it is mostly a joy to use.

The original Assassin’s Creed came out in 2007 and while the graphics made everyone and their mom drop their jaws on the ground, by the time Revelations came around they had started to show their age. AC3 touts a brand new engine, and the changes are noticeable. While the main playable cities of Boston and New York are much smaller than previous games, the standout area is the Frontier. What is meant to be a connector between towns can easily stand with Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption as one of the most realistic and complex outdoor areas in gaming. Side missions abound in this expanse of forest, from hunting and selling animals to interacting with random characters. It is the unexpected standout of the series and demands any would be explorer to get lost in it.

Problems arise when these massive areas suffer from unavoidable technical difficulties. Pop in a constant annoyance and enemy AI will often times shift to brain neutral and completely avoid you. I fell through the game world twice during my playthrough and the game straight up and crashed once on the 360. I think the game could have used a couple of more months in the oven rather than rushing to make the deadline and keep the series as a yearly iteration.

What is undoubtedly the most impressive thing in AC3 is the amount of things to do. Aside from the lengthy main story, you will have hundreds of side quests from helping out needy citizens, to sending assassins on contracts across America, to rebuilding your homestead. There is an entire side story dedicated to the impressive ship combat that can rival Master and Commander when it comes to recreating the battles of the time. Clubs litter the game, each with their own little missions and achievements. Throw in the entire multiplayer suite and you have hundreds of hours of gameplay guaranteed. Unfortunately, while unique, the multiplayer is entertaining for the first hour and then becomes a sort of grind fest. Upgrades unlock painfully slow and there is a severe lack of game modes. It is worth trying, but don’t expect to come back to it in a couple of months. Either way, completing the main story will only yield about 60 percent of the game, ensuring you are getting more than your money’s worth with this game.

Blast Factor: When you break it down into individual parts, Assassin’s Creed 3 is a massive game. The amount of things that can be done and the scope of the game as a whole is staggering to comprehend. It is perhaps this that caused many of the flaws that are present. The story is slow to pick up, the combat is still relatively shallow, and graphical glitches do take you away from the experience. In the end though, it stands as an appropriate end to the tale, a compilation of the very best, and worst, the series has to offer.