After five Assassin’s Creed games over the past five years, it’s surprising how little has changed in retrospect. The original AC was very methodical and repetitive, but it introduced a new kind third-person movement system and impressive tech. AC2 revamped the formula and addressed most of its glaring issues, making it one of the best games of 2009. AC took a coastal ride when it turned into a yearly franchise, churning out Brotherhood and Revelations. Both games were completely competent, and incrementally moved the series forward, but not enough to satisfy the bar set by the franchise. Assassin’s Creed 3 seems like the one that could finally break the cycle, with its three-year development period and exciting new setting in revolutionary-era America.
In many ways, Assassin’s Creed 3 is the Saving Grace we’ve been waiting for. Its Colonial setting is a breath of fresh air, the combat has finally hit a satisfying balance, and it has trimmed the fat from past AC games and only brought back systems that work; that is, for the most part. Assassin’s Creed 3 will not convert those who have never enjoyed the series. It still features the same one-button free-running system (though slightly improved), counter-heavy combat, and generic side missions. The thing is, for AC fans, it becomes easy to pick apart where Assassin’s Creed 3 triumphs and fumbles, and why it’s not the best entry in the series.
Assassin’s Creed 3 picks up quite literally where Revelations left off, wasting no time in quickly setting Desmond up with an Animus and throwing him into the 18th century in search of a “key” left by the first civilization. After a lengthy four-hour introduction, you’re thrown into the shoes of Connor, a half-British Indian pulled into the Assassin Brotherhood through unconventional means.
While Ezio’s motivations were very clearly wrought with revenge and leadership, Connor is much more of a blank slate, always wanting to do the honest and honorable thing. His youth and naivety result in a lot of Connor acting as an errand boy for nearly every revolutionary character. This feels like more of an excuse to include Connor in historical events more than anything. While experiencing these historical events first-hand that we’ve only read about in the past could be really interesting, it’s executed poorly in AC3. It really seems like Ubisoft became too concerned with making sure Connor was inserted into every mission, often causing them to forget to make those missions fun from a gameplay standpoint. Probably the largest offender of this issue is the Paul Revere mission, where you are quite literally taxiing Revere around on his historic ride to warn the militia of the coming British invasion at Lexington and Concord. The overall lunacy of the event aside, it’s a boring mission with no redeeming qualities. I found myself feeling this way about many missions, especially those heavy on the historic fiction. This makes the majority of AC3’s story a letdown.
I’ve always been way more interested in the paramount conflict between the Templars and Assassins and the different ways Ubisoft has inserted them into history thus far. There has always been a historical backdrop to AC’s worlds, but it always came down to Assassins versus Templars. AC3 is a lot less of Assassins versus Templars, and much more American versus British. This makes sense, given the setting, but it also makes for an overall less interesting tale. As the series moves even farther forward in history, it becomes even more obvious where the truth has been stretched, showing its historical inconsistencies. There are certainly high points in the story of AC3, one of the best being an excellent naval mission during the Battle of the Chesapeake.
The basis of Assassin’s Creed 3 gameplay is relatively unchanged, though there have been some important tweaks to free-running and combat. Gone is the difference between “jogging” and “sprinting”–now there is only one mode of running, having to only hold down R1 (RB) to run and climb. Holding down Circle or X while running makes the game assume that you want to stay on ground level, making you vault over small obstacles instead of climbing them. But if you’re normally running, the game will only ever let you jump if there is a safe handhold or platform on the other side–this eliminates the worry of Connor randomly choosing to jump to his death instead of the adjacent building. But the shining light in AC3’s movement enhancements is the addition of tree traversal. Connor can effortlessly leap and crawl across the trees of the Frontier; very useful when stalking animals or Redcoats. What you would think would be a clunky mess ends up being a fluid breeze and a blast to do. Sadly, not every facet of Assassin’s Creed’s classic clunkiness has been redeemed in AC3. You will still hop when you don’t want to, have a frustrating time trying to hop off of that ledge, and immediately exit the hiding place you meant to stay inside of. It’s a large improvement, but still not ideal.
The combat of Assassin’s Creed 3 feels like Ubisoft has finally hit a nice balance between the different iterations “stabbing dudes” has seen throughout the years. Pretty much every tool and weapon you’re going to have access to is given to you almost immediately, following suit with the past few games. Ubisoft has definitely trimmed the fat in the inventory, ridding you of weapons that had little practicality in past iterations–the poison blade and lethal bombs included. In place of these tools of old are tools of new, like the Rope Dart–you can literally throw this baby into a Redcoat’s neck and hang him by a tree. The combat takes a step backward when you go to the weapon selection screen. AC3’s weapon selection screen is sluggish at best, taking up the entire screen and often taking three seconds to load. Given how often I was switching weapons, this became a surprisingly large problem. The combo and counter-driven combat has once again been revamped yet feels familiar. Chaining instant kills together has been toned down a bit, adding some necessary challenge to the laughably easy killing of Brotherhood and Revelations. The choice of offensive and defensive fighting feels more possible than ever. You can still wait around for enemies to attack you and counter, but some attacks can’t just be countered. If you don’t follow up with an offensive attack quickly enough, heavy enemies will overpower you unless you disarm them and then pick up their weapon. Assassin’s Creed continues to impress with its incredibly brutal killing animations, with a special shout-out to the tomahawk. The addition of the tomahawk made that my go-to weapon. I literally never felt the need to purchase a sword.
The sprawling cities of Assassin’s Creed have always been about climbing unbelievably high Cathedrals. Ubisoft has always done a stellar job at making them feel like their own unique places. Rome from AC: Brotherhood did this better than any. Unfortunately, some of this has been lost with the locales in AC3. You’ll be spending the majority of your time in Boston and New York. By virtue of the game taking place in the time it does, the cities are naturally flatter than any we’ve seen before. Sure, you can climb church steeples and the occasional watchtower to get a bird’s-eye-view, but even the highest of highest New York points don’t come close to the vertical scale of Constantinople or Rome. It’s a reality of the time period and the relative infancy of these cities, not the lack of trying. A possible remedy to this problem could have been found in creating cool new incentives in its mid-height traversal. Perhaps Ubisoft’s crack at a solution was throwing in traditional fast travel that can be accessed at any time, but it ends up being much more of a shortcut than a solution.
Assassin’s Creed 3 gives you an immense amount of busy work for those who want to get away from throat-slicing for a short minute. Some of the side activities such as naval missions or hunting are surprisingly fun and well-executed; while some are just mindless side-missions or try emulate a SimCity game. This isn’t the first time these kinds of activities have been around in an AC game, but this time around I felt absolutely no incentive to do any of them. Money is virtually useless in AC3 because I never felt the need to buy anything. I could always find plenty of ammo or items by looting dead bodies, so general stores were never used. This also crippled any incentive to hunt in the Frontier, unless you’re determined to complete every hunting challenge. I never felt like I lacked any tool or weapon that could make me any more effective than I already was. Like I said before, I never even used a sword. Sure, those Liberation missions and Homestead upkeep are there for those who need to find an excuse to keep playing the game.
Playing on the PS3, the game often suffered a choppy frame rate and the occasional glaring bug. What’s odd about the frame rate is that it’s almost constantly below 30, but the nature of the game never makes it an issue while playing it. It’s much more of a constant annoyance. Never has any other AC game assumed that you’re a veteran player more than AC3, as it often does a very poor job of explaining many of its systems. Many things blatantly leave out tutorials totally. I can’t imagine jumping into this as a new player, as I would probably be lost for many hours.
I’m not going to try to convince you that I played a ton of the multiplayer in AC3, because it’s never been my thing. I’ve always appreciated how well they have implemented multiplayer into such a solitary game, but I have never been consumed by it. I never touched it in Revelations, so it was quite overwhelming to dive directly into it in AC3. The first thing I noticed is that it is way deeper than you would expect. So much so, that the game launches a custom multiplayer dashboard when launched. There are many more skills, abilities, characters, and game modes to choose from this time around. Like the single player game, I found many of the aspects of the multiplayer poorly explained–leaving me lost when playing the more untraditional game modes. That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had when you figure it out. Necessary tweaks are made to the gameplay in multiplayer, like moving the camera out a bit and keeping a constant aiming reticule on the screen. Though AC3’s multiplayer still didn’t pull me, it’s quite apparent that it is the best version of it thus far, and fans will be pleased.
Assassin’s Creed 3 had all of my attention, which is why it was all the more painful to come to the conclusion that it isn’t the best in the series. It takes more strides backwards than forward with its squandered story potential and middling city design. The combat and multiplayer have never been better, and AC faithfuls will be satisfied by what they get, but AC3 fails to hit the same high points found in past iterations. I never felt any incentive to do much more than the story missions. That along with the addition of fast travel directly limited the amount of time I spent in the game altogether. At least Americans finally get the chance to let loose on their secret hatred of British folk, *wink* *wink*.