Assassin’s Creed III Review: Dances with Rules

 
With the introduction of the ‘Anvil Next Engine’, Ubisoft brings a new protagonist to the early colonies of America. With a revolution brewing on the horizon, will Assassin’s Creed III learn from the mistakes of its predecessors, or is it doomed to repeat history?
 
[quote_right]Assassin’s Creed III takes place in almost every place that I’ve ever called home and the detail and majestic scenery that Ubisoft has created in ‘Assassin’s Creed III’ was startlingly amazing.[/quote_right]There is something to be said about the worlds that Ubisoft has created with the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ franchise. Handcrafted restorations of such popular, and often times iconic, landmarks are brilliantly executed and exciting to explore. With ‘Assassin’s Creed III’ Ubisoft has the perfect opportunity to bring this sense of realism and involvement to American gamers. Gamers who may not have had such a firm grasp of the careful details hidden in the foreign landmarks of other countries but know much more about early American landscape and its cites. The snowdrifts under the dark pines of a forest, the whitetail deer and the autumn colors that paint the northeast are easy to identify if you have ever spent time here.
 
I grew up near the horse farms and empty farmhouses of northern Delaware, I lived in Boston for several years and now I live in New York city. Assassin’s Creed III takes place in almost every place that I’ve ever called home and the detail and majestic scenery that Ubisoft has created in ‘Assassin’s Creed III’ was startlingly amazing. It’s not just recreating what others have done to reflect those times, either in movies or in other games, but rather it’s recreating them in Ubisoft’s unique style.
 
The sounds of Boston’s busy streets and famous harbor are dynamic and exciting and often times I stopped just to make sure I heard what a particular NPC was going on about. The animation of the crowd as you try and push your way through early New York is some of the best AI you can experience in today’s games. Simple things like the sounds of horseshoes on cobblestones or the crunching of snow under your feet, helped to create a world that I was actively participating in.
 
I mention this because the world of Assassin’s Creed III is such a prominent figure in this game, that it also caused some friction with the campaign. Rustling across the treetops or exploring early Boston was fascinating and the urge to explore the city or wilderness was very hard to contain. This caused the moments when I was forced to move, or follow an objective, to feel confiding and tedious. The free open-world where you are allowed to stalk, hunt and maneuver anyway you please is such a terrific section in the title, that when it is was taken away it just became more of an annoyance.
 
Connor, or Ratonhnhak√©:ton in his native language, is the protagonist of the game. Just like Assassins before him, he has been the victim of horrible atrocities. What makes Connor such an interesting character though is that he is more independent in his motives, something that is made clear throughout the game. Although he fights with the Patriots for the better part of the title, he is not fighting for the Patriots. His motives are personal and passionate, and that created a unique storyline for the game to follow. As an American I am constantly reminded of our connection with the early Colonists, “our forefathers’ we call them. Not fighting for our independence but fighting for our one’s own personal reasons is a new twist, when set in this time period.
 
Gameplay itself has its highs and lows. The highs mostly being the moments when you perfectly execute a planned attack or achieve some sort of brilliant assassination. Other times it’s ravaging a local platoon of Redcoats or charging toward a group of armed, but less capable soldiers. The lows being when the game wants you to do something but you aren’t sure what that is, or can’t do it. This may sound familiar to people that have played ‘Assassin’s Creed’ titles in the past. There were moments where I was forced to get to the roof, then cross over to this location, then I go to this roof and so on and so on. I wasn’t stalking my prey, I was just moving around so I could continue. There were times that I thought I would cut off my fleeing target by darting down an alley, only to be scolded for not ‘staying in the lines’. These moments are fixed on the story-missions but they are in the game and often times the frustration got the better of me.
 

 
It often felt like the developers knew what was exciting and were purposefully delaying those moments so I would either not get sick of them, or enjoy them more when they came back. Either way, they were tedious and the constant redoing, and restarting of mission moments, took me out of the enjoyment that I was having. The free-roamin and adventurous spirit of the game made many of the missions seem like busy work.
 
That being said there are moments that you are completely free to choose your own path, you are given an objective to take down a fort and you are free to plot their demise anyway you will like. This is where Assassin’s Creed III is terrific and extremely fun to play.
 
It’s important to note that you aren’t playing ‘Assassin’s Creed II’ in a Connor Skin, the game has been completely overhauled and improved for the majority of the gameplay. The AnvilNext engine is a marvel and is responsible for the stoic winter scenes and impressive AI that I mentioned earlier. Weapons and fighting are also different. Connor is much more aggressive than Ezio was, with stronger and more powerful attacks that rely on blunt force and overpowering strength. Connor is a lightning-fast attacker with brutal attacks and animated sequences, something that you will see more of as you master the new controls.
 
[quote_left]less about jumping and running around wires and rooftops and more about attacking and assassinating, something that I think the fans of the series wanted and something that Ubisoft delivered on[/quote_left]The combat is highlighted more in this game than in previous ones. You are much more ‘on the ground’ and are constantly in the midst of fighting, more then you were before. It’s less about jumping and running around wires and rooftops and more about attacking and assassinating, something that I think the fans of the series wanted and something that Ubisoft delivered on. Stealth is harder this time around and requires much more patience and that lead to more rewarding stealth-kills. Instead of just poisoning people from rooftops, you are actively pursuing targets through the crowd or tree-lines and getting much closer to your targets.
 
Outside of the main story there are so many side-quests and alternate missions that it can seem overwhelming at first. Many of these felt like Ubisoft was just padding the gameplay and giving you a more direct reason to explore the city or woods. For the person that must have a ‘cleared checklist’, you will have a lot on your plate but that’s usually what that crowd wants to begin with.
 
I have to say though that Ubisoft is on the fifth game in the series and still hasn’t quite mastered the art of side-quests. The developers are constantly changing the ‘mini games’ that are found in the series and still haven’t found one that is worth keeping. With each new addition there seems to be a new failure and going on to the fifth game it’s starting to take its toll.
 
One of the more exciting outside activities is the naval combat, which I also got to experience with the Wii U. This is an exciting instance in the game and a great example of Ubisoft adding terrific content for the player to enjoy. The ocean is beautiful, dotted with swells and whitecaps. The ship truly feels like a large, seafaring vessel, heavy and hard to control at first. The rocking of the boat and the frantic pace set by the camera and music as you watch your ship splinter and buckle under the weight of incoming cannonballs is perfectly executed. The sense of overwhelming destruction and chaos above deck, creates hectic moments that require quick thinking and fast decisions.
 
Multiplayer was a surprise installment when it was first introduced in the series and since it’s debut it has become quite popular with fans of the franchise. One of the biggest improvements to the multiplayer side of the game is the ‘Wolf Pack’ co-op mode. It’s fantastic fun and adds a layer of teamwork that is not possible in the single-player campaign. Outside of the co-op portion the multiplayer generally hasn’t change but it has been streamlined with easier character selection, load-outs and a new user-interface. It’s a perfect distraction from the single-player campaign and an online component that I think outstrips most add-on multiplayer titles. The new maps and new character skins breathe new life into the multiplayer content that fans have come to expect from an Assassin’s Creed title.
 
In the end what you are left with is a brilliant title that suffers from the constraints of the games that came before it. The free-roaming and enjoyable moments of the game only highlight the rigid mission structure that you are forced to endure to progress the story. Ubisoft tackled one of the most recognizable times in our nation’s history and filled it with some of the most iconic figures that time period had to offer, all with an amazing story told through a protagonist that is original and exciting. That is something to be admired and not easily done. Open world games are more commonplace and we have grown to expect giant, crafted worlds that hold unique tiny treasures and moments to be found in them. Assassin’s Creed III has many of these treasures and running around the open cites and sprinting atop of the forests that surround them makes for terrific gameplay.
 
The game is extremely enjoyable and is easily one of the best that Ubisoft has created for this series. What is dragging the series down is the repeated failures that just become more and more apparent with each new game. The mini-games, the tedious quests and the jarring open-world and mission sections need to be smoothed out. After that, what you will have is one of the best action-adventure, open-world titles on the market today.
 
PC Impressions (Tony Hsieh)
 
I was very much looking forward to the PC version of Assassin’s Creed 3. Since I found out about a promotion where a free copy would be bundled with the GTX 650 Ti (through select retailers) I assumed it would be similar to Borderlands 2 (which came bundled with the GTX 660). BL2 on PC was a technical marvel and was meant to be a showcase for the 600 line of GPUs; easily trumping the console versions with its wide array of graphical tweaks. it made perfect sense that Nvidia would work with BL2 in a promotion.
 
While the PC version of AC 3 does look sharper than the console versions, the selection of graphical options is kind of bare. You’re not given a huge variety; all you have to play around with are: resolution, anti-aliasing, environmental quality, texture quality, and shadow quality. Not exactly a mindbending selection of options, but I suppose it gets the job done.
 
The PC improvements include a greater draw distance, sharper looking textures all around, better environmental effects, and what appeared to be better cloth physics. I played both the Xbox 360 and PC versions, but not side by side, so some of the smaller improvements could easily have just been my imagination. Regardless, the PC version is a very, very good looking game. With this version you have the ability to run the game in true 1080p and a higher framerate than the console version, leading to a silky smooth experience.
 
Running off of my rig (Asus Rampage Gene III mobo, GTX 660 SC, 18 GB RAM, Intel i7 overclocked to 3.2 Ghz), AC 3 ran fairly smoothly. I ran the game using the EVGA PrecisionX overclocking tool which pumped my 660 to the max. I averaged a decent 60 FPS with everything set to max with no issues. The only issue I ran into, which occurred at every graphical setting, was in certain instances within a busy city, some gnarly pop-in would occur. This could easily have been my computer’s issue and not the game, as I’m not running the world’s most powerful setup.
 
As long you have a relatively decent PC, you should be fine. You’re not going to need a three way SLI with 32 GB of RAM or anything like that. I wouldn’t say this is the absolute best version by a long shot, but the PC version of AC 3 certainly looks better than its console counterparts, and with a good enough system, you’ll get some crazy good FPS as well. As a matter of fact, with the most recent Nvidia beta driver (310.61), you’ll even get a nice bump in performance. Just make sure you have a gamepad, as playing via a keyboard and mouse is not ideal.