I’ll be the first to admit my expectations for Assassin’s Creed III were ridiculously high, perhaps unrealistically so. But after being more-than-impressed with the dynamic story, gathering action, and general commitment to improvement that prior titles in the series showed off, I pretty much expected AC III to be the equivalent of the Virgin Birth of Gaming (even though there have been so many Assassin’s Creed games already on various platforms that the Assassin’s Creed birth-canal would be more like a waterslide at this point). Assassin’s Creed III, in its own right, is a phenomenal game, make no mistake of that, but it misses too many of the little details that make phenomenal games masterpieces.
First off, if you’re a fan of the series and haven’t played all the games up to this point, stop reading this review and don’t touch AC III until you’re caught up. One of the largest feathers in the Assassin’s Creed cap is its story, and you may not appreciate the gravity of the inevitable spoilers you’ll encounter. Multiplayer does exist in AC III, the same modified hide-and-seek the other games offered, but the story of the new Assassin, Connor, as well as the story of Desmond Miles in present-day, pays more attention to character development and personalities than before. The single-player is where the beauty’s at, and you owe it to yourself to be fully caught-up in the AC storyline so you can fully appreciate the plot twists and other developments that take place.
Even if you just take on AC III for the combat you’re still in the right place. Combat is more brutal, more visceral, and requires more skill than ever before. The old “left-hand X/square, right-hand B/circle” control scheme’s been ditched for a simple, two-button combat interface. They’ve also raised the complexity of combat; most enemies require a particular type of counter or disarming tactic to deal damage; I died quite a few times from trying to just counter-kill, counter-kill like before. There are tons of different combos for each of the different weapons, and the new slow-motion camerawork shows off the violence of final blows, blood spraying from the wounds and staining your clothes. There were a few times I almost felt like it got too violent, if that’s any indicator of how intense the fighting is.
Combat’s frenetic and fluid, with a solid combination of ranged and melee.
The two largest-scale additions are definitely hunting and sailing, both of which rely on the inclusion of new environments. Sailing is an absolute blast and could almost be a game all its own; dynamic weather conditions and adverse winds make assaulting enemy ships even more exciting. Hunting takes place in forests, and tracking game by finding clues to their location is also great. But it’s the environments themselves that deserve the rewards, especially the forests and trees that lend themselves to the new, enhanced free-running. If you felt agile and stealthy before, just wait until you’re jumping from tree to tree, or from Bostonian rooftops to the perfect tree branch to launch an aerial assassination. Connor moves fluidly in a way neither Ezio nor Altair could, and perhaps this makes sense because of Connor’s Native American background and intimate familiarity with nature. But it speaks more to the advances of the AC game engine and the improvements its staff has made over time.
I’ll preface the following by saying this: nothing in this review should prevent you from buying and playing Assassin’s Creed III. That being said, Assassin’s Creed III is not without faults. Perhaps in the quest to take on so much new territory (pun slightly intended) the Ubisoft team forgot a couple of basic points, first of which is “Keep the game engaging at all times, particularly at the beginning.” The game uses Hatham Kenway’s story to show off its new features and introduce you to the colonial world, but DAMN IS IT BORING. The story behind Kenway’s actions is so disjointed in many points that you simply don’t care why you’re performing any of the assassinations or missions. The achievement (or trophy, if that’s what you’re into) you gain at the end of the first sequence ALMOST justifies the 3-5 hours of torture you’re subjected to, but I hated the beginning so much I likely would have put the game down a couple times if I didn’t have to play it for review.
Connor’s real motivation for revenge: having to sit through the first 5 hours of the game.
AC III’s other unforgivable sin is its glitchiness. I walked through city streets and saw citizens seemingly buried in the street up to their chests (corporal punishment apparently was no joke back then). In combat I would fight a horde of enemies only to have attackers get stuck on fallen corpses. Trying to hide from enemies, I leapt into a bale of hay just to end up standing on top of it. A soldier I tried to surprise on a ship got stuck on the port-side railing, walking endlessly into the railing until I finally put him out of his misery. And enemy AI as a whole is finicky; redcoats and other enemies can watch you for multiple seconds, a hair’s-breadth from becoming alerted, but breaking line-of-sight for a split-second completely resets the meter. If you do happen to alert an enemy though, prepare to aggro every enemy you pass for the next fifteen minutes until you either leave the region or die. And trust me, they’ll follow you close to FOREVER.
Assassin’s Creed III’s real problem may be that it’s TOO good in so many ways that the little faults stick out even more than they should. The worlds of Desmond and Connor are so immersive, so well-crafted in even minor areas like the Animus Database (most all articles are good for a laugh or two) that minor sticking points feel inexcusable because they remind me that I’m holding a controller, that I’m just playing a game. And the world of Assassin’s Creed III is so gripping, so dramatic, so gigantic that I want it to be more than just a game.