Assassin’s Creed III Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC
Release Date: October 30, 2012 (PS3, Xbox 360); November 18, 2012 (Wii U); November 20, 2012 (PC)

I’m a man of my word, so I’ll ask you again: Do you still want to stab dudes? After last year’s underwhelming Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, I wouldn’t call you out for being hesitant to once again wield the dual wrist blades just a mere year later. Assassin’s Creed III picks up the increasingly flickering torch but blows out expectations, despite following the series’ new annual slightly downward curve. Moving to a new time frame, starring a new hero, and refining or perfecting franchise mechanics catapults Assassin’s Creed III far beyond being “just another Assassin’s Creed” and into the discussion about being the best Assassin’s Creed game. Sweet, sweet redemption.

Now awake from his coma from Revelations, Desmond’s elongated journey has all built up to the events in ACIII. The world is on the brink of being burned by the sun and opening a vault from the First Civilization found within America seems to hold the only refuge for humanity. Time is ticking.

The other, more ancient half to this story involves Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor as we’ll call him, a Native American born in the plains of 1700’s America. After being traumatized by the Templars as a small child, Connor takes up the Assassin’s Brotherhood in hopes to wrong the rights, exact revenge, and stop other people’s suffering by Templar hands all in the middle of war with the British. A bold set of tasks for a new warrior.

Here’s an unhooded Connor.

The game opens fairly slowly, taking about five hours to legitimately begin, but all of it is graciously done in the name of story. After dropping a megaton a few hours in, the early time with Connor and preceding events are all there to give the story more meaning and context. By seeing the slower actions and prologue, it helps you gather a sense of sincerity about the people surrounding Connor, including Connor himself. Like Assassin’s Creed II, bonding with the characters before the crap hits the fan generates a genuine care for them so when people need saving or others need to be avenged, you feel as passionate about it as the actual in-game character does. Plenty of people might look down upon the slow start, but it services the story in a way that almost no game has the patience to do.

Extra stars go to the opening and introduction, but the game doesn’t let up from there. Picking up the breadcrumb trail and punishing those who deserve it falls in line with ACII‘s legacy, but the game throws curveballs at you frequently enough to stir the plot and serve up something unexpected. There were points where I needed to ignore the secondary quests because I just had to see what was coming next. While the preceding hours are noteworthy, Connor’s finale is a gratifying way fit to end this game. The satisfaction isn’t traditional in its execution, but offers a different mood with a palpable tension and emotion. Endings in this vein are hard to nail, but Ubisoft did a remarkable job.

With Ezio long dead and gone, it gives the series a chance to welcome Connor, our new, brash protagonist. Connor’s personality is something we haven’t seen in this franchise, but he’s up there with Ezio in terms of likability. He isn’t as happy-go-lucky and bubbly as early Ezio, but has different, and just as interesting, traits to fill that void. Connor is well-spoken with an undeniable sense of honor that will stop at nothing to see freedom in the face of the Templars. His will for righteousness can even sometimes blind him, turning Connor into naive assassin that can sometimes get in over his head and scold at ones he considers allies. He has flaws, but interesting ones that help build his character and round him out as a whole. Despite having similarities to Ezio, he stands out and earns his spot as a noteworthy assassin in the Brotherhood.

Don’t expect to be sucking up to G-Dubs every time you meet.

All other Assassin’s Creed games have had a pretty clear-cut line between good and bad, but ACIII straddles an interesting line between the two. Connor is on a mission to stop the Templars, but his mission isn’t as black and white as earlier titles. Waffling in a gray area, lines begin to blur as good guys overstep boundaries and seemingly bad guys step in to help out. In addition to the Templar/Assassin divisions, Patriots and the British are cast in a similar light, especially to Connor. Connor doesn’t shine George Washington’s shoes nor does he side with the Patriots every single time. Our assassin’s mission is stop the people responsible for halting freedom, but it becomes more difficult as most people dabble in a moral area that isn’t well defined. Even when you do take someone’s life, they take their beliefs to the grave with such an adamant stance, it is questionable whether you even murdered the right person for the right reasons. It’s all a matter of perspective and uncertainty and Assassin’s Creed III delivers this uneasy feeling through a brilliantly constructed narrative.

Connor’s story within his time period is gripping with plot turns and twists happening frequently enough to keep you engaged, but Desmond’s present time journeys don’t inspire the same awe or interest. His missions outside of the Animus are different, but they aren’t as free or as in-depth as the ones inside of the Animus. They have some fights, climbing, and chases but their relative linearity weakens their impact. They don’t drag down the experience as a whole, but when the other parts of the game are so free and open, anything less sticks out.

“Your face… it’s different… again.”

Desmond’s ending also didn’t hit the right chords with me. Mass Effect 3 came to mind in subject matter, presentation, and overall “meh” feeling. I don’t expect an “Extended Cut” to flesh out the final scenes, but, even though it ends a lot of present-day story threads, they leave themselves open enough to squeeze out yet another sequel. It has a little closure, but not enough.

Assassin’s Creed games have always relied upon free-running, combat, and assassinating as its core gameplay pillars, but each has had problems that failed to improve over each sequel. ACIII takes each back to the drawing board and streamlines all three for an easy, more accurate approach. Finally.

My biggest problem with the parkour was overly complicated control scheme needed to run and jump. The “Assassin’s Creed claw” was dubbed from players having to use the left stick to move, the X (PS3) or A (360) button to sprint/jump/climb, and R1 (PS3) or RT (360) to move into high profile mode. This setup allowed players to move but severely limited camera control. Think about it. If your right thumb is on the face button, what is moving the camera? Nothing. It was far to easy to blindly jump and die under distress and poked gaping holes into the free-running aspect.

It’s like his own nature-made jungle gym.

ACIII remedies this by just requiring the high profile shoulder button for free-running, climbing, and sprinting. By freeing up your right thumb, this allows the camera to be controlled and allows faster chases through more narrow pathways. Not only that, but Connor won’t make any dangerous or more risky jumps without your consent (by pressing the X or A button), making accidental leaps to your death far less common or even extinct. You might still do some actions without meaning to, but I found myself taking the responsibility instead of blaming the controls. Even with addition to tree traversal, the climbing has been expanded and been made exponentially more pleasurable. Mission structure can still be a little strict, but since the controls have adapted, it isn’t nearly as frustrating. I felt in complete control and these simple changes allowed for such grand results.

The counter-heavy combat has also been reinvented. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood kicked off chain killing with a solid foundation, but Revelations took it a few steps backwards by slowing up the process and failing to add or fix anything of interest. Similar to climbing, combat has been revitalized and expanded, far surpassing the series’ high points in this area.

Enemies gather around for the slaughter in a classic fashion, but Connor’s controls, tools, and responsiveness have been dramatically stepped up. Countering has now intelligently been placed on just one button, allowing for split-second reversals to be made. When countering, time slows and offers you four options, with each face button yielding a different result. Counter attack (the classic counter kill), counter tool (counter with your selected ranged weapon), disarm (which is required for advanced enemy types), and counter throw are the four options given to the player. Combat doesn’t grow stale because of the moves at your disposal along with the randomness of enemy formations and attack patterns. Fights are fast and everything dies in a wonderful chain of blood and metal.

Let me red up that redcoat for you.

Besides uprooting familiar systems, new, smaller aspects have been improved or added. Foes now have better tells when preparing for an attack, double counters have been added, some enemy types require different strategies, environment-specific counters are new, assassinating can happen while moving, human shields can seamlessly be taken, combat is now much easier to escape from, and more have been layered in and all help support an all-new and improved combat system (even if the counter icons don’t show up sometimes). Batman: Arkham Asylum laid the blueprint that many games have failed to even learn the basics of. With all of these improvements coalescing together, Assassin’s Creed III is one of the few rightful heirs to the Arkham throne.

Even though sword fighting and parkour are the two major gameplay elements, there are myriad of extra components that all come together and make an absolutely gigantic game. Connor takes up the helm of a naval ship, making him deadly on both land and sea. What could have been a throwaway addition, actually ends up being one of the unexpectedly cooler aspects of the game. Naval missions often lead to chases or dogfights that require strategy, planning, and spinning multiple plates at once. Buying the absurdly expensive upgrades for your ship enhances your moveset and makes you even more deadly, all while adding to your bucket of battle plans. Each fight balances the cinematic nature, difficulty, and strategy well enough and lets this aspect of the game become more than a fun diversion.

Sadly, you can’t drink whisky, have a peg leg, and wear an eyepatch in the game. Feel free to do so while you’re playing though.

Similar to Red Dead Redemption, many animals inhabit the frontier that let you relieve them of their pelts and goods provided you can catch them in a friendly game of tag. These games of tag end in more blood, but the recovered merchandise adds another layer to the economy that regular bloodless tag cannot. Animals can be fun to outsmart, sneak up on, and kill in their own right, but they help with selling and crafting. Objects can be crafted from what you’ve gathered and sold for an even bigger profit or you can craft swords, bigger pouches, or firearms with the right combination of items and workers.

Workers can be recruited in the homestead, which is basically a blown-out version of the villa in ACII. These outcasts set up shop on your giant set of land and offer unique services, dialogue options, missions, and items. It’s staggering how much work went into personalizing these secondary characters and their product output will depend on your input. They can be ignored, but for someone who wants to get the most out of their games, the homestead is a great place to sink some time into.

Homestead missions are just among the many different sidequests and optional objectives to tinker with. Fleeing almanac pages can be snatched, trinkets can be found to exchange for secret missions, chests can be lock picked, and feathers can be gathered in the wild, but there are factions that offer more substantial missions and challenges. While frontiersmen tell you of neat supernatural occurrences that you must check out, the Assassin’s recruits have gone under the most changes. By stopping Templar influences, you can unlock up to six special missions to recruit six specialized helpers. Rather than stock abilities, each has a different service in store for you. One can covertly escort you, one can assassinate, another can set traps, and a few more of these focused helpers give you aid on your quest. This approach gives everyone a specialization and evolves past the core formula founded in Brotherhood.

Trying to out-NPC each other is still tense fun.

Speaking of starting in Brotherhood, the multiplayer is back, but is mostly the same with a few improvements. Brotherhood laid a great online foundation and Revelations revised every facet and mechanic. Such a leap isn’t found in ACIII, but it remains as fun as usual. Disguising yourself as an NPC and murdering/stunning unsuspecting prey is a formula that still works excellently, especially since no one else is trying to emulate it. A co-op focused Wolf Pack mode has been added, giving a team the chance to gang up on NPCs under a time limit. It’s a fun mode with a minor deviance from the core multiplayer formula and might be right for people willing to stab with a friend. I found the standard Deathmatch to still hold my attention the most, even if players starting out are considerably less powerful than those who have leveled up.

Online of off, Assassin’s Creed III is an utterly visually astonishing game in almost every way. All environments have a painstaking amount of detail thrust upon them, be it wilderness or urban area. The frontier is packed with wonderfully textured trees and mountains, while the cities feel lively with beautiful buildings containing the same staggering amount of detail. Animation also deserves props. Characters move fluidly and convincingly, with facial animation far above anything else the series has tried. Connor’s movements are the most astonishing, mostly because of how natural his many diverse movements look. The framerate can drop very slightly in hectic situations and there are a fair amount of cosmetic glitches, but given the scope and amount of things it gets right, every technical mishap can be matched by a dozen impressive moments.

Assassin’s Creed III is quite a jump for the series, as indicated by the number’s prominence in the name over a subtitle. With all of the new additions, improvements, and streamlined mechanics, ACIII remembers what made the series stand out and adds remarkably to each facet. I was on the verge of falling off the series as a whole, but it takes a game with such remarkable quality like this to get me right back in the Brotherhood. Assassin’s Creed III takes place during the Revolutionary War, making it revolutionary for both America and the franchise as a whole.

Stabs in the Neck:
+Absolutely filled with many side missions and peripheral tasks to extend play time
+Multiplayer, while mostly unchanged, is addicting and fantastic
+Gorgeous visuals including lush environments and wonderfully animated and detailed character models
+Connor’s story is rife with twists, turns, and a solid ending
+Controls have been dramatically improved and streamlined
+Combat reaches a new high, along with stealth and the Brotherhood getting more care
Stabs in the Back:
-Minor bugs and glitches
-Some mission still have stiff fail states
-Desmond’s ending leaves a little to be desired

Final Score: 9.5/10

Platform Differences: The PS3 version comes on one Blu-Ray while the Xbox 360 sits on two DVDs. Also, every new PS3 copy comes with a code for four exclusives missions that let you take care of famous American traitor Benedict Arnold. The PS3 version also connects to Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation on the Vita, unlocking some exclusive content for the Vita title and an ACIII wallpaper for your PS3.

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