Review: Assassin's Creed 3 doesn't start a revolution, but still amazes
The Assassin's Creed series to me has always been a bumpy ride. You've got the high points, mostly involving the characters who you jump into as you assassinate high-ranking targets and their numbered guard, and the low points, revolving around Desmond Miles trying to figure out things in the modern day (though some of you still like him, that's just the way it goes). But overall it's been a series that has grown into something spectacular, even though last year's Revelations stumbled a bit upon the familiar – and included a tower defense factor I didn't feel was necessary.
But now the series has shifted into something even more monumental, and even though Assassin's Creed III has its issues, I can't help but feel this is a truly high mark for the developers at Ubisoft Montreal. It gives you an incredible amount of things to do, whether you follow the main story or just feel like decking out your house while occasionally doing a little pig farming. And that's just the single player portion of the game. Multiplayer has its own addictive flavor to it, whether you like stabbing your friends or working alongside them to hunt down targets. Everything just comes together into one of the most respectable packages you'll find on the gaming market this holiday season.
The game doesn't start you out as the main assassin, Connor. Instead, you'll spend a little time portraying Haytham Kenway, a noble killer who has his own agenda to follow in the midst of the American Revolution. I won't spoil the story for you, but it eventually segues into the shoes of the new assassin, as he sets out to stop a Templar conspiracy in the midst of ol' Boston and New York towns. Obviously it's a task with a lot to overcome, as a ton of ill-tempered red coats are more than eager to stop you in your tracks. And, as expected, this story does tie in with Desmond, who's trying to save the world from the "doomsday clock" in his own time. No pressure, right?
Ubisoft Montreal has touched up a number of things to make Assassin's Creed III one of the most fluid games in the series to date. Free running is smoother than ever, as you'll leap across rooftops and swing across posts better than ever. The combat system is also solid, if a bit simplified, as Connor (or Haytham) can easily counter incoming strikes with a button press and bury a weapon in someone's back as they stumble to the ground. (Later opponents pose a bigger challenge, but can still be beaten.) It's especially useful how you can strike at opponents in any direction, as most of these enemies charge in groups.
Not everything is perfect with the gameplay, however. Stealth still plays a huge part in the Assassin's world, and while some parts of it still click (hiding in a crowd, despite being clearly dressed as an assassin), others do not. Some missions require you to hide out near certain people so you can eavesdrop on their conversation, but even when you're hiding in grass or casually trying to sit at the bar, the AI gets quirky and soldiers suddenly notice your presence, then won't leave you alone until you basically kill them. What's more, this soldier awareness gets annoying at times. For instance, when we tried to kill a top-ranking soldier aboard a ship, if we pushed him off one side, in plain view of two soldiers, they'd charge at us and fail the mission. However, if we stabbed this same soldier in the neck on the other side of the ship, in the similar range of view to the other soldiers, they did nothing.
Another thing – the hunting quick-time events. These can be real tiring, mainly because you should be able to simply lift a hatchet and bury it in a wolf's back like any other enemy, rather than be required to hit a certain button or become its lunch. It's mildly annoying. Plus, the rope darts don't do much good against these smaller animals, though they are fun to use on humans. Whee!
These occasional quirks, along with the heavily stacked final mission (which, again, I won't spoil) may be too much for amateur ranked players to bear. Creed fans, however, will overcome the odds and bury their hand blades accordingly.
The single player campaign features a staggering amount of content, from social clubs to side activities to quests that will take you a few miles out, just to learn a thing or two about your heritage. You'll spend several hours completing it all, and though some are more exhausting than others, the experience is rewarding overall. What's more, once you gain control of a ship for naval battles, the game becomes even more addicting. There's a lot you need to do when you're at the helm, like dodging incoming cannonballs and lining up targets, but it's a rewarding experience – and one that should be expanded with even more missions via DLC. You listening, Ubi?
On top of that, Assassin's Creed III also packs a mean punch with multiplayer. The two main additions that you'll want to watch out for are Domination and Wolfpack. Domination is a more "versus" oriented mode, where players try to take over hot spots without alerting the other controlling assassins in the area. They can use occasional camouflage, but if they act jerkily, they'll give themselves away. It's a tricky mode, but one fans will come to appreciate. The second is a co-op supported game where up to four assassins team up together to track down targets and take them down in style. As you do, new targets pop up, and you're given a minimal score to meet. If you've got the right team in tow, this mode can be a blast. Just watch out for those wandering types…they suck.
Ubisoft spared no expense when it came to recreating the ol' towns of the 1700's with Assassin's Creed III. Both New York and Boston are staggeringly beautiful, filled with life and peasants, just as you'd find walking around in the real thing (or so I've heard – I'm not a time traveller). Sometimes glitches occur with characters that jump out of context, but overall it's a huge improvement to an engine, and a nice change of pace from roaming around the usual overseas surroundings. And there's plenty of blood to spill, so don't worry about that.
The game is also backed by some excellent dialogue, thanks to a range of voice actors that bring their roles to vivacious life. Connor can be a little soft-spoken at times for an assassin – a quirky choice, to be sure – but the others really deliver on their roles, even if they can be a little over-arrogant at times. The music is fitting for the theme of the game as well, with plenty of old-style songs and a few dramatic tones when something major is happening. The sound effects are good too, even right down to the burying of a weapon in someone's neck. Ouch.
While a few things keep Assassin's Creed III from being that "perfect sequel" that so many fans have been craving, there's no question that Ubisoft has put the kind of time and effort into the game to utterly satisfy them. It's a huge step up from last year's Revelations, giving you hours upon hours of content, alone or with friends. And Connor is a worthwhile addition to the series, even though I would've liked to have seen more Haytham in action. Perhaps a sequel – or some DLC missions – can fix that.
Overall, don't miss it. It definitely lives up to the hype…despite what a few others may tell you.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]