Assassin’s Creed III (XBOX 360) Review
In the run up to its launch in 2007 expectations of Assassin’s Creed were huge. Pretty much everything Ubisoft were showing about the game sold it to gamers, especially the ability to roam rooftops and take part in some great looking combat. When it arrived like many titles it would have been near impossible to live up to the hype but that said Ubisoft had delivered an interesting, entertaining and more importantly quality game to market. Sales were great, sequels/prequel followed and the great basis for the game mechanic evolved through those games, each time refining the experience for gamers.
We last saw the Assassin’s Creed brand around a year ago in the form of Revelations, expanding on the characters we had previously seen. As the title might suggest though it wasn’t a main entry in the AC franchise, more an expansion of what we had seen before as we continued to build to key events.
With Revelations filling our AC needs in 2011 and Brotherhood doing the same in 2010 that gave Ubisoft time to focus on Assassin’s Creed 3 which had a development cycle starting in early 2010. Now nearly three years later the game is ready for release and should bring a conclusion to the plot which has run through the main games in the franchise.
What’s it all about?
Before we begin talking about Assassin’s Creed 3 it is worth noting that we are not going to discuss the plot in great detail. Having experienced the game it is clear that it will be best enjoyed knowing as little as possible about the story, other than the basics above, when playing. We are also very much going to focus on the single player aspects of the game with multiplayer to come later.
In terms of the actual gameplay, the main character in Assassin’s Creed 3 is Ratonhnhaké:ton, a boy with Mohawk roots who is also known as Connor. We first meet Connor a few hours into the game (and in the 1700s) after the scene has been set by a prologue of sorts and the fact that nearing doubt figures of game time we hit a mission called Basic Training, it should give some indication of the size and scope of this title. That doesn’t mean that the game is lacking in action, gameplay or content prior to that though, far from it. In fact playing through those early memories/missions is very much what some other developers would consider a full game. During the first portion of Assassin’s Creed 3 we are gaining experience about key game mechanics. Learning the concepts which will apply to Connor later in the game without the need for boring training room drills. This concept of in-game learning very much continues throughout AC3 and rarely do we have a time when a new aspect is introduced without it being written into the plot of the game.
As with other games in the series we have the ability in Assassin’s Creed 3 to roam pretty much wherever we want in our ancestors memories. Due to our skill set we can climb up appropriate objects to the roof, hill or treetops and from there leap from building to building or object to object with ease. In fact this is one key area where Ubisoft have tweaked how the game plays since our last outing. Essentially here we have characters which are skilled free runners, holding down the right trigger switches us to this mode and makes navigation of the game world simpler. Elsewhere in the controls we move with left stick, look with right and aim appropriate weapons with left trigger. Start accesses a wealth of information from the Animus about characters, locations and the like. Select opens the map, complete with the ability to fast travel to some locations. We jump with A, melee with X, interact with B and access tools/ secondary weapons with Y.
The developers give us further control with a quick inventory on the Dpad or more advanced inventory via the shoulder button. All pretty standard so far but AC3 isn’t all about jumping across rooftops, stealth and combat. We also get the ability to ride horses, vehicles (usually on-rails), "maybe" even take flight and more. Button focused events also appear throughout the game as we encounter animals and should we fail to hit the right button or sequence, even frequency it can end up badly for our character. That said, health regenerates and should we die the Animus resets the memory and we continue on from the last checkpoint.
While the main game has a set of missions we follow, each segment has a start and an end allowing us to head off on our own path, exploring or taking on side quests as we see fit. These can be acting as courier, hunting, collecting pages from an almanac for one of the many famous historical characters we come across and more. The content expands further through mini-games early on and after we reach around 10 hours of mission time not only into naval gameplay but also expanding our own settlement and moving into significant trade gameplay.
As we move on through the initial missions, sequences or memories the game continues to impress and Ubisoft have the pacing almost perfect. There is the odd occasion where we have to run from one location to another once too many but on the whole there is always something interesting to do in terms of side quests. For the main missions they are acted out and scripted to a very high level of quality. In the initial Animus segments our main characters voice acting is a real highlight and while there is some rather cheesy or uninteresting dialogue (Desmonds chats with his father for example) or average voice acting from some side characters the quality on the main cast is excellent… that said we also loved little dialogue touches from the minor characters. Their voiceovers are often filled with Irish and Scottish character and as well as providing entertainment also helps to build on the great period feel which oozes from the game. No doubt helped by the great plot and directing.
We were also hugely impressed by the new AnvilNext game engine which powers Assassin’s Creed 3. Boston for example absolutely teems with activity and the view distance throughout is great. This becomes particularly impressive after we move to Connor’s memories and spend some time in the forest or on the frontier and in addition to that some of the ocean based imagery is just phenomenal. In a way it is actually a disappointment that Assassin’s Creed 3 has been released on this generation of consoles, we can only imagine what the developers could have done had they had more advanced hardware to work with.
So far so good then, but all is not well in the world of Assassin’s Creed 3. There are some minor issues with the game which range from distracting to rather annoying. On the distracting front the game is so huge that it is near impossible to play test completely at the development stage which results in the odd issue like floating weapons after enemies die, animals stuck half way through trees or on one occasion a complete hard lock of our game. To be fair we could mark the first two down as glitches in the Animus 😉 but the third is a little disappointing though the regular checkpoints in the game meant we lost very little gameplay. Elsewhere we found the score needed variation in places, especially the early Connor levels and we are not sold on the damage impacts of animals who can hurt us a lot more on their own than a group of 5 soldiers with guns and bayonets can. The button mashing sequences where we need to defend against animals are not hugely needed, or enjoyable either… while some work needed done on the subtitles which are required for those not speaking our language. On multiple occasions the in game colours make the subs hard to read, risking us losing plot information or enjoyment of the dialogue and there is the odd camera angle issue to contend with.
We should also point out that while there is clearly a historical aspect to Assassin’s Creed 3 it should not be played as if 100% historically accurate. The developers have used some creative licence here to benefit the plot and gameplay.
These are reasonably minor points but many avoidable and hopefully some will be fixed in patches as Ubisoft have shown a trend of looking to improve their games. That is why combat here is streamlined compared to previous games and mixed with some excellent action camera work/deaths. In fact Connor is an absolute killing machine when needed and this contrasts well with the more stealthy aspects.
Looking at some of the finer gameplay points, the action and stealth aspects are very successful in AC3 and we liked the fact that the game doesn’t force some of the other tasks on us. We learn how to do most things as part of a mission, hunting for example, but after that we don’t need to wander off and hunt for hours on end, we can continue to play missions though hunters will of course gather more money and have a more successful game. Similar can be said of trade aspects and even the mini-games. Other than the odd lock pick action we can pick and choose what we want, characters are generally highlighted and we can walk up, converse and challenge whenever we want. Design decisions which all make the game enjoyable for the maximum amount of players because some people love hunting, trading and the like… others like this reviewer tend towards action and story based gameplay. For the action gamer the real success of the game is (and will be) naval sections. A real highlight in the game, after a very strong opening few hours (give or take a game of hide and seek) is getting our own ship and then taking to the seas. Once again this is a task which is introduced in the plot as part of a mission and once again we learn with ease and to be fair Ubisoft have absolutely mastered how to give us control of piloting a ship, managing the sails, firing cannons from both sides and backing them up with separate guns too. It takes seconds to master their control method and the ship battles are just fantastic, action packed segments of cat and mouse gameplay.
Quite simply a stunning game.