GAME NAME: Assassin’s Creed 3
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montreal
PLATFORM(S): 360, PS3, PC
RELEASE DATE(S): October 30, 2012
Oh, the things that I have seen. I have spoken with Founding Fathers, cozied up to the great Samuel Adams and rubbed elbows with George Washington. I have hunted deer, getting so close as to stab them through with my trusty blade. I have witnessed a soldier, struggling to remove his quickly gyrating body from a block of wood… wait. That can’t be right. Let me start again.
Oh, the things that I have seen. I have ducked away from massed firing lines of Redcoats, using their brethren to shield myself from the massive hail of lead. I have stalked the streets of Boston and New York, witnessing authentic colonial life. I have wandered the wilderness, and seen waterfalls and tall mountains. I have beheld mid-cutscene loading screens and… damn, it happened again. One more try.
Oh, the things that I have seen. I have ambushed columns of soldiers, entering swirling melees with my trusty tomahawk. I have slipped into ship cabins unnoticed, doing away with captains and clerks with my trusty hidden blade. I have commanded a man-of-war, unleashing broadsides into my hapless foes. I have ordered assassins into battle, and have seen them get trapped between a corpse and a fence, breaking the code for the level and forcing me to reload to the last checkpoint.
Yes, this is the world of Assassin’s Creed 3. It is a fantastic game, in many ways the highlight of the series. It includes a compelling narrative, a massive open world with plenty to do, interesting multiplayer, and a host of new weapons, companions and even naval combat. This would be one of the best games of the console generation, if not for a variety of issues that frequently break the level of immersion the game constantly struggles to maintain. The Revolutionary world of Assassin’s Creed 3 is one to get lost in, save for the steady reminders that, yes, you are indeed playing a game. This is not to say that Assassin’s Creed 3 is bad. It is very much the opposite: I enjoyed it quite thoroughly. But a number of problems knock it from its pinnacle, leaving me wondering what might have been had the game been developed a few months further.
AC3 returns to Desmond as he and his modern-day Assassin’s struggle to prevent a coming apocalypse. They are forced once again to turn to the past for information, putting Desmond back into the Animus. Now, Desmond must relive the memories of his ancestor Connor, a half-English, half-Native American thrust into the upheavals of the American Revolution. I have always found the Desmond narrative to be forced, distracting from the more interesting events taking place in the Animus. This was the first game in the series where the modern narrative came close to interesting me as much as the past events. There are certainly some interesting twists in that modern story. If you’ve found the Desmond portions to be frustrating, this game might change your mind. You’ll play as him a bit more, but you’ll be in interesting, more modern-Assassin type situations. You’ll sneak through crowds, battle well-armed security forces, and generally have a much more well-rounded experience.
The Connor narrative, on the other hand, returns the series to more of an Assassin’s Creed 2 type development. Instead of the constant action of the last two games, the game develops slowly to its final crescendo. It eschews a breakneck pace in favor of a more well-measured and well-thought out plot. The plot includes some fantastic twists and turns (I have to admit being taken completely off guard by the twist at the end of the prologue), pulling Connor into some of the Revolutionary War’s most compelling engagements. The game also develops (for the first time in the series) an intricate and appreciable villain, making him less a shouting madman and more a suave anti-Bond.
It is the backdrop for the game, however, that is the real star of the show. Revolutionary America is shown here in full glory, with New York and Boston given the full electronic treatment. The environments are beautifully authentic recreations (though my wife, who has experience as a period re-enactor, criticized the outfits for being inaccurate) of the 18th century areas, from the Old North Church to Breeds’ Hill. The wilderness is also modeled, though not to scale like the cities, and includes a variety of famous settings (Valley Forge, to name one). Wandering around the environments experiencing the birth of a nation proved to me that this era was much more compelling than the settings of the previous games. Perhaps this was pro-American bias, but re-enacting the Boston Tea Party was much more poignant than restoring the Medici to power. It draws you in, in a way that no game ever before has, to those events that shaped our very nation. Standing on Breed’s Hill and being urged on by Israel Putnam: “Don’t Fire Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes!” was an awesome spectacle. There are numerous similar experiences in the game.
But for all that greatness, the game keeps getting in its own way. It’s not simply the loading in getting in and out of the Animus and between Sequences (though that is a dream come true), but now that game has loading issues mid cutscene. There is one scene where you burst through a wall, and there is a good 20 second wait until you see what happens on the other side. This is with the game installed to my hard disk (woe to you who do not). There are also odd cutscenes which force you to push a button in the middle of the scene. It’s just one press, not like a quicktime event, but I suppose to make you feel involved instead of simply watching. There are odd glitches as well. I was forced to reload several checkpoints (and a couple very near to the beginning of the game) due to weirdness like not being able to pick up a rifle sitting at my feet (and I couldn’t move away because the tutorial had frozen me) or the aforementioned ally who needed to be standing in a certain place for me to continue but, in his battle with a foe, had trapped himself between a dead body and a fence.
Despite the odd glitches, the game plays like a dream. The combat includes a more-intricate counter system, and mixes enemies in ways that force you to plan your attacks more than ever before. Connor is still terribly deadly, but the plethora of firearms (and the ability of enemy troops to fire concerted volleys at you) force interesting considerations (and the use of close enemies as cover). Connor in a column of Redcoats is a force to be reckoned with, however. His hatchet is quite effective, and he can also pick up fallen weapons and use them to great advantage. Nothing can stop an Assassin armed with his trusty musket.
The stealth and movement in the game has been revamped slightly. I think the systems are helped by the less vertical nature of 18th century America, as you’ll spend more time on the ground and less time getting caught on odd pieces of rooftop. You’ll also frequently travel by horse. Stealth action has been augmented by a variety of brush areas that allow Connor to seamlessly take cover in plain sight. This makes approaching your targets (or hiding from pursuers) a much different and better experience than in previous games.
The game includes a ton of content. Besides the campaign and the multiplayer, there are a huge number of side missions and activities. The game includes a strong naval element, where you’ll be able to take a ship on quests as a privateer, earning money (which you can then use to upgrade the ship in various ways). You also manage Davenport Homestead, settling people on your land, trading with them, and unlocking new trade items and weapons. There are many animals to hunt, and the game includes a very full-featured hunting system. And, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the collectibles, which include tracking down lost pieces of Ben Franklin’s almanac as they blow away in the wind.
Multiplayer this time around includes “Wolfpack mode.” This was the mode Assassin’s Creed multiplayer was sorely lacking: cooperative play. While the competitive modes were unique (if not popular), the game seemed suited for a cooperative mode. It is also done in an interesting way, presenting the mode as a product of Abstergo with a separate storyline. For people who want to play the game with a friend, it’s certainly worth checking out.
Assassin’s Creed 3 is a fantastic effort that can’t help but stumble over its own feat. The game reaches for greatness, grazes it with its fingertips, and then gets trapped in its ugly inventory interface when reaching for its fruit picking gloves. Maybe a few patches are all the game needs to obtain perfection. For now, I know it falls short of that highest tier, but only just so.
Note: This review was done using the Xbox 360 version of the game. It is also available on the PC and Playstation 3.