STAFF REVIEW of Assassin's Creed 3 (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Assassin's Creed 3 Box art Ubisoft made some big promises and provided us some lofty expectations when Assassin’s Creed III was announced. Ezio’s story has finally been told over the course of three games and with the series starting to verge on fatigue, a new member of the Assassin Brotherhood was revealed along with a completely new backdrop that finally takes us away from the older crusade and renaissance era. Like previous installments in the series, Assassin’s Creed III’s greatest strength comes from its ability to tell a story that blends real world history with a fictional conspiracy overtone and characters. So the first thing I asked myself when I started playing Assassin’s Creed III (AC3) was “Did Ubisoft live up to their promises to what they’ve shown?” I’m happy to announce that not only did I enjoy my time with a new assassin and setting, but certain elements of the game even surprised me quite a bit when I wasn’t expecting them to.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Assassin’s Creed games tells a tale about Desmond Miles, who happens to be a descendant in a long line of assassins throughout the eras. Desmond and his crew are looking for ancient artifacts that will hopefully provide some much sought after answers that are desperately needed. There is a machine called the animus that Desmond can interact with and when he does so, he can relive his ancestors lives, which unlock many clues yet provides more questions along the way as well. The assassins are fighting for the right reasons whereas the Templars who operate as a modern mega company known as Abstergo want the same artifacts, and Desmond to get answers, for quite nefarious reasons.

For those that know the series very well inside and out, like myself, Assassin’s Creed 3 takes place directly after Revelations and begins with Desmond and crew entering a long lost temple with the hopes to unlocking a door that seems to have the answers they’ve been seeking for so long. Desmond is in search for an amulet that also acts as a key, hidden by one of his ancestors, and thus begins Desmond’s dive once again into the animus to experience the life of his ancestor, though a completely new one this time; so say goodbye to Altair and Ezio as Connor is the new hero this time in the animus.

The new protagonist is Connor, the son of a British father and a Native American mother who gave him his birth name of Ratonhnhaké:ton, believes in people being free from tyranny and seeks to uphold justice when his clan are threatened during the American Revolution. Seeking liberty for his people, Conner will hunt his enemies and do what it takes to bring justice and do what’s right for himself and family. The game starts off nothing how I imagined and after two hours or so completing the first two sequences you’ll be given a plot twist that was simply jaw dropping.

I don’t really want to discuss any of the story elements as there are a few plot twists that need to be experienced without being ruined to have the same impact. Like others in the series, you’ll jump between Connor and Desmond segments, both equally rewarding, just know that the first half of the game is almost painfully slow, but about the time Connor is an adult and making his own decisions, the story comes together very strongly and with a fantastic pace that will make you want to keep playing to find out what’s next.

Taking place in America in the late 1700’s, Connor’s adventure will take place in the busy streets of Boston, New York, the wilderness between them, and even the open seas. So many new mechanics and optional tasks have been added that you could become overwhelmed with how large the open world truly is, especially factoring in the frontier zone where Connor takes up his new residence. The wilderness area takes on a whole new gameplay element of its own and opens up the options of either hunting animals for their trophies, or tracking your enemies in the deep snow among the treetops.

Where most of the games in the series has you essentially progressing the main quest with some minor optional things to do, side quests can distract you for hours depending on if you want to hunt wild animals, liberate the city of Templar control, or even take to the Atlantic seas for some naval action. What Assassin’s Creed III does so well is allow you to take on the main story missions at your own pace but should you decide to venture off for a while, you’ll never feel like you’ve missed something and even the side based missions feel story based rather than just thrown in to prolong game time. When you decide to progress Connor’s story, there’s plenty of optional mission objectives for you to try and achieve which in turn adds replay value and makes you think of doing missions a different way then you may try the first time.

Two big improvements come with the streamlining and simpler made controls when it comes to the free running and combat mechanics. Platforming is much easier to do now without the need to hold down multiple buttons and combat isn’t simply waiting to counter the soldiers surrounding you. It feels like I had more control over Connor’s actions and everything simply felt natural. Traversing trees is a cool new trick yet just as simple as ever to actually perform. The same goes for combat, where you have so many more tools and options at your disposal, without the need to learn a slew of new button combinations to pull them off.

The series has always vastly improved on itself each year, so what’s the new feature in AC3 that makes it stand out against the previous games? Foremost is a completely new engine (named Anvil Next) that translates into much better graphics, an incredible amount of new animations that look much more fluid, dynamic and changing weather that can affect your stealth strategy.

For combat, the biggest new addition has to be the inclusion of firearms that include pistols, rifles, and muskets. Muskets can be picked up from enemies who drop them and even used against your enemies with the bayonette on the end. When you realize how long it takes to reload a musket, you’ll truly appreciate those who used them in combat and the strategy in doing so. Haystacks are still the staple of hiding spots but now there are mobile haystacks in carts that Connor can use to close the distance to his target unseen. Bushes can also be hidden in and are aptly placed in the wilderness to disguise yourself from the wild animals you’ll be hunting.

Previously in the series you needed to find and unlock viewpoints, usually the top of a tall building so that the map would become un-greyed out and you could see the streets and alleys on the map. This has slightly been changed in AC3; you’ll still be looking for viewpoints to unlock a large section of the map, but it’s not completely necessary as you un-grey the map as you run through each area.

Combat has been vastly improved as well. When you block the camera will slow down, allowing you slightly more time to think about your offensive and defensive options in that moment. When you see a line of enemies aiming towards Connor, you’re able to grab another enemy and use them as a human shield to prevent being shot.

In the frontier you’ll not only have to deal with the wild animals but you’ll also have to deal with the elements and weather such and rain, fog, and rain. In deep snow Connor will move much slower as will enemy Templars which can change your strategy drastically. Connor is able to hunt animals for skins and meat in the wilderness and if you’re not careful you’ll even find yourself being hunted by bears, wolves, cougars and more. The cleaner you kill an animal the more valuable the pelt will be worth, so it pays to kill your game with your blades or bow rather than ruining the fur by using a pistol or musket.

Much like how you would upgrade your manor in previous games, Connor has a homestead that can be upgraded from a single building to a village and residents that will live there. Connor can do missions to convince people to settle near his homestead; doing so will make the available economy boom and allow you to start selling materials by caravan for a profit. You’ll eventually have people that can craft you items that you can sell for bigger profits and netting Connor a better future.

The most ambitious and surprising addition has to be the inclusion of naval warfare. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much from these optional missions though I was pleasantly surprised with how entertaining and challenging being the captain of your own ship would be. Your sturdy ship, the Aquila, is yours to control, from the steering, speed, and weapons. If you have enough funds, you can even upgrade your ship to make it one of the most feared boats on the seas. Wind will determine your speed in certain directions and will make fine navigation along nearby rocks a chore if the wind isn’t to your favor. Managing to use the wind to your advantage and circling around your enemies ship to get those perfect shots are extremely rewarding, much more so than I was really expecting. You’ll have to do a simple tutorial during Connor’s story, but do yourself a favor and start saving your money, as upgrading your ship and having open water naval battles are some of the best parts to Assassin’s Creed III.

You’ll notice that your Xbox 360 version of AC3 comes on two discs. The first being the campaign and the second being the multiplayer. If you’ve not play the multiplayer mode from the previous games, it’s essentially a clever take on cat and mouse, where you’re hunting a player target, and they are hunting one as well. The person in the lead will have more people after them, making it more difficult to stay stealthy. The essentials of the core multiplayer experience from previous titles return here, but Ubisoft has worked on making it a staple of the game, and it seems like they finally might have done it in a new mode called Wolfpack.

In Wolfpack mode you can team up with three of your friends and it’s a cooperative multiplayer experience where your team is tasked with eliminating designated targets. You’re given a set time limit to assassinate your targets and if you truly work as a team and synchronize kills you’ll earn huge bonuses. If you manage to eliminate your targets a new round will begin and you’ll have another set of targets, but made more difficult in each round with a shorter time limit, spread out targets, and other things to put your team assassin skills to the test. Playing online modes will earn you points for customization and other unlocks to keep you enticed to continue playing. If you’ve not cared for the multiplayer portion of Assassin’s Creed in the past few games, at least give Wolfpack a shot with a few friends, as it’s different enough to shake things up a bit.

For how much I ended up really enjoying my time with Connor, there were also plenty of times that ran into slight hiccups. The first major issue I had was with the voice actor of Connor himself. Sure he’s capable, but he doesn’t hold a candle do the quality voice work of Ezio. Maybe the sometimes off lip syncing played a part in this opinion, I’m not sure, but at times it felt like he wasn’t emotional enough with his line deliverance. The vast majority of the time Connor will do exactly what you want him to, though there’s the odd time here and there that he won’t or he’ll do something that he shouldn’t be able to such as falling off places you shouldn’t or getting into an animation loop bug unable to pull his sword out. There’s quite a bit of clipping with certain characters and areas, though while not a serious issue, it draws from the immersion when Connor simply walks through a character. The first time I met Ben Franklin, he was actually invisible in the cutscene, though his book that was being carried was floating there, making for an awkward scene and me wondering what went wrong.

When playing in the city landscapes you’ll notice early on that Assassin’s Creed III tends to focus much more heavily on horizontal traversing and navigation rather than horizontal from the previous games. Sure you can get onto rooftops, but don’t expect many of the tall buildings we become accustomed to during our journey with Altair and Ezio.

The beginning starts out very odd and very slow, it’s actually not till you’re quite a few hours in until things start to become very interesting plot wise. The wait is well worth it and there are plot twists to come that will surprise and delight you. There is so much variety of things you can do in Assassin’s Creed III that it almost feels like too much at times. But if you want to take a break from naval battles and go hunt some rabbits in the forest you can.

There’s a bit of a learning curve, even for seasoned veterans of the series like myself. Learning what trees Connor can and cannot traverse takes a little time to get the hang of without having to think about it. The same goes for climbing certain rack faces and cliffs. Once you know what cracks and rocks to look for you’ll have no problem, but in the beginning it’s not always clear why you can’t get up some ledges and not others. While combat is much easier now, it’s simply different, and that too takes a few battles to really get the hang of disarming and attacking at proper times; though it’s very rewarding once it becomes second nature.

Did Ubisoft deliver on their promises and lofty expectations? I believe so. While I haven’t truly fallen in love with Connor yet like I did with Ezio, it’s almost kind of expected, because to be fair, Ezio’s story was fleshed out over the course of three games where this is Connor’s first outing. I’m happy with the direction they took with the Desmond storyline and even though it has some flaws, they are easily forgotten once you get knee deep into Connor’s struggles and have a few sea battle victories under your belt.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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