Is Assassin’s Creed 3 as revolutionary as the time period it’s set it?
Set during the birth of America, the Revolutionary War, Assassin’s Creed 3 is all about the concept of freedom. On the surface, developer Ubisoft has indeed created a game that embraces the concept; the vast open frontier, wide array of side missions, and myriad weapons available to the player can be almost overwhelming at first. Over the course of its 15 or so hour campaign, however, you’ll find that Assassin’s Creed 3 is more linear than it first seems. Even so, it’s one of the standout titles released this year.
The original Assassin’s Creed was released in 2007, and was quite an achievement for its time. The fluid combat, beautiful vistas, and rooftop parkour combined to form a very unique and engaging experience. It wasn’t without its flaws, however; the missions were incredibly repetitive, the color palette was drab, and the hero Altair uninspired. In 2009, Assassin’s Creed 2 came and introduced Italian protagonist Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, a charismatic playboy who well represented the newly reinvigorated franchise. AC2’s Florence was alive with bustling streets, bursting with color, and sported incredibly varied missions. Most of all, the game was just far more fun than its predecessor. After two semi-sequels featuring Ezio meant to satiate gamers during Assassin’s Creed 3’s three year development time, the third true iteration of the franchise is now finished. The question: is the game as revolutionary as the time period it’s set it?
You play as half-British, half Mohawk Indian Ratonhnhaké ton, also called Connor Kenway. You’ll play as Connor from a young child all the way through to adulthood, living the events that led him to become an Assassin, fighting against the Knights Templar as well as the redcoats. In an interesting twist, you’ll begin the game as a completely different character, and you don’t get to don Connor’s Assassin robes until hours in. It’s a slow build, and a bit of a gamble, but it pays off. Though it drags a bit at first, the time spent getting to know the characters gives the player a connection to the story that previous entries in the series haven’t accomplished. However, the trade-off is that you’re still receiving tutorials five hours into the game. It’s slightly understandable, though; there’s a lot to learn in Assassin’s Creed 3.
Those three years in development are obvious from the game’s opening moments. Whereas Brotherhood and Revelations were glorified expansion packs, each with less than a year of development time, Assassin’s Creed 3 sports a whole new engine, built from the ground up. The streets are rife with people, dogs, pigs and soldiers. The frontier is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, with the sun beaming through the trees, wind rustling the leaves and grass, animals hunting, waterfalls, etc. Connor can clamber through trees in a fluid motion, canvassing the area before air-assassinating his prey. There’s a Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater level of detail here, where players can hunt all forms of wildlife with snares and bait, fight bears (!) hang soldiers from trees with a Scorpion-esque rope dagger, and more. You can hide in tall grass to ambush your enemies. Taking a cue from Red Dead Redemption, you can sell animal pelts, teeth, marrow and more at stores, or trade it for weapons, ammunition, clothing, maps, etc. In a nod to Skyrim, you can mix items together to form recipes. The models and facial animation are drastically improved, as well.
Combat is slightly improved, with more fluid animations and the addition of tools to string together more intricate and deadly combos. It largely sticks to the old formula, however. While the fighting has vastly improved since Assassin’s Creed 1’s boring swordfights, it still is not quite as fluid or intuitive as Batman: Arkham City or Sleeping Dogs. This isn’t to say that it’s bad- in fact it’s quite satisfying and awe-inspiring when it’s working correctly. Some elements just aren’t as refined as they needed to be, though; for instance the “enemy shield” function only worked twice for me during the entire game. This led to many annoying deaths where I was gunned down by a line of British soldiers while scrambling to press the X button at the right time. When Connor’s in his mode, though, it’s a beautiful sight- the kill animations are absolutely brutal, and there are a lot of them. It’s fun to combine different main weapons and tools for new possibilities; the tomahawk and rope dart were my favorite combo. However, I found it cumbersome to have to visit a shop or the homestead just to switch my weapons or costume.
The naval combat is absolutely fantastic. Though it’s only used a few times in the main story (there are plenty of side missions featuring it), it’s a refreshing change of pace. I thought these sequences would be tough to control or feel shoehorned in, but it’s quite the opposite. Controlling the ships is easy and highly enjoyable, and the waves simulation on display only serves to heighten the experience.
Multiplayer is relatively unchanged since its inception in Brotherhood, although its been heavily refined since then. The classic Assassination mode still proves the most fun, although the new additions like the co-op Wolf Pack mode are certainly welcome. There’s a bit of a story interwoven here as well, regarding Abstergo, that will help to keep you playing. The Assassin’s Creed multiplayer experience always sticks out to me among the crowd of twitch-based shooters and the like; here, the rounds are slow and methodical, and you’re punished for being too hasty.
The new engine packs far more people onto the screen, and this increases the intensity of the battles as you play through many of history’s bullet points. The Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, The Boston Massacre, and even Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride make an appearance. The Battle Of Bunker Hill, in particular, is an incredible sight, as literally hundreds of soldiers line up on far away hills to shoot your allies down as you make your way across the field.
Though I’ve mostly talked up the game’s highlights thus far, it is definitely not without its faults. The Assassin’s Creed series has always had iffy controls, and Assassin’s Creed 3 is no different. Sometimes climbing a mountain or building is effortless as it should be, other times Connor will inexplicably jump to his death. Sometimes Connor will run through treetops in marvelous fluidity, and other times he’ll jump right off a branch into the group of redcoats you were trying to eavesdrop on. The stealth is rather broken; at times you can incapacitate an enemy right next to his fellow soldiers, and other times their level of awareness is just ridiculous. One A.I. bug in particular comes to mind; once, a soldier somehow detected me when I drew my bow from over 50 feet away, while his back was turned. It’s this kind of inconsistency and frustration that mars an otherwise fantastic experience.
Due to Hurricane Sandy, I played about half of the game without the day one patch that was released. I ran into a lot of strange bugs. (UPDATE: Ubisoft has assured me that most of these issues have indeed been rectified with the day one patch, and since installing it I haven’t run into any glaring problems). Most were strange animation problems or things like objects getting stuck in the air, but others were jarringly sloppy; in one cutscene a main character got right in the camera and yelled about 4 lines without any part of his face moving at all. Things like this make the game feel rushed. I did notice that the bugs seemed to appear less often as the game went on. Some key gameplay elements needed more time in the oven; for instance, the chase sequences, of which there are far too many, are incredibly unforgiving and frustrating. If you don’t have poison darts to slow your opponent (and the waves of enemies trying to stop you), you’ll be in for a real nightmare of a gameplay experience.
Even with these flaws, Assassin’s Creed 3 is definitely worth buying. You can get lost in the frontier for hours on end, and a ton of side missions as well as the robust online multiplayer will keep you busy for months to come. The story is the best in the series, the graphics have never looked better, and the innovations far outweigh the frustrations you’ll encounter. Assassin’s Creed 3 is a game you need to experience- especially if you loved history class.