Assassin’s Creed II was easily my favourite game released since 2004’s Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, so I both had high expectations for Assassin’s Creed III and also was extremely excited to finally get my hands on the game earlier this week. Assassin’s Creed III does deliver an epic tale set in the midst of the American Revolution, and the present day story doesn’t disappoint either. Assassin’s Creed III is also a (mostly) gorgeous game to look at. However, it is not without some technical flaws.
So don’t get me wrong, this is an excellent Assassin’s Creed game. The American Revolution setting is fantastic and I learned a ton of things that I hadn’t known about both the era and how some of the key figures during that era acted and figured into the Revolution. There’s a ton of stuff about the story that I would like to talk about, but Ubisoft did a good job at keeping a lot of surprises under wraps so I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. Suffice to say, the story is pretty good, I couldn’t expect them to do much better.
Noah Watts does a good job at portraying Connor’s voice, who is the Assassin you play as in this game. He doesn’t have as much personality as Ezio does, but he still has a very human element to him. But the standout performance in this game goes to Neil Napier, who performs Charles Lee— one of the main bad guys in the story of Assassin’s Creed III. What adds to his performance is that his facial capture is excellent and the faces in general of main characters are so much better looking than in any previous Assassin’s Creed games.
I was sad to hear that Jesper Kyd was not doing the soundtrack but Lorne Balfe (Composer of Inception) does an admirable job in his place. There’s just as many strong and distinct themes in this game as there were in Assassin’s Creed II, if not more. From fights being set to some classical Violin music, to Native Indian chants while exploring the Frontier, and to Sailors singing some old sailor tunes, the music has a lot of charm. Some of the music while roaming the city may not be as memorable as the music was while roaming around in Venice in Assassin’s Creed II, but overall it’s still an excellent soundtrack.
Graphically, the game looks absolutely fantastic most of the time. As mentioned before, faces of important characters look better than ever and is on par with the best faces from other games this year. The cities also all look fantastic. The Frontier is lush with forest and plant life. However, it’s in the Frontier where you can really notice there is some level of detail issues with forested areas. Grass does not show up well while up on synchronization points leaving the lush forests looking quite barren and flat from high above. Another weird visual glitch I found was the moon’s glow can look very pixelated at night. I didn’t notice it for most of the game, but once I did I couldn’t unsee the issue.
Most of the elements of AC3 I’ve talked about so far is all equal to if not better than previous Assassin’s games. But the DNA of Assassin’s Creed gameplay is the freerunning and puppeteering concepts from the previous games. Assassin’s Creed Revelations got away from that concept slightly by adding a secondary weapon slot. However, Assassin’s Creed III really blows up the formula with mixed results.
Freerunning has changed. In previous games you used RT (Xbox 360) to run and held “A” if you explicitly wanted to jump, whether or not you could actually make it. I felt as though that mechanic lead to having some really thrilling escapes on the rooftops, with the rewarding part being deciding which path was the best one to take and guessing which jumps you could make. With AC3, you only use RT to freerun, and the game will automatically jump off of ledges if there’s a safe jump to make. If there’s no safe jump, then Connor will just stop at the ledge. To me this really took out some of the thrilling aspects of the navigation system. I found myself not using the rooftops much as a means to get around cities as a result because it didn’t feel as rewarding to successfully navigate them.
I’d be remiss to note that one big feature added to freerunning was running and jumping from tree to tree. It’s an awesome new mechanic, but at the same time it’s not overused nor used in extremely unnatural ways. You can’t get *everywhere* by just freerunning through trees, but it does open up a lot more possibilities for approaching and stalking certain targets. It’s not always immediately easy to see if there’s a path ahead of you to the area you want to get through to the trees, which is one case where the auto-jump mechanic does come in handy as just holding RT will make sure you stay on the trees.
Freerunning also seems to be a little glitchier than in previous games. Assassin’s Creed III does take on more hilly/rocky areas than previous games, so it is trying to do things the other games haven’t done with freerunning. But once in a while you’ll see your character pop up terrain by 4 or 5 feet for a few frames, because they clipped a high rock or some other sort of barrier, and then go back down to ground level. Its jarring.
One other issue with Freerunning I found is that holding RT coming out of a reloaded checkpoint won’t start you off running. There seems to be some sort of delay before the game registers RT as Freerun. So instead I had to resort to tapping the RT button until Connor starts running. This is especially frustrating in sequences where you’re chasing someone.
The auto-jump mechanic also seems to affect climbing. In AC2, climbing tall towers were kind of like a puzzle at times as you would reach points where Ezio couldn’t climb any further, and you had to hit the “A” button to jump to higher ledges. And if that ledge was high, you’d have to time hitting “B” in mid-air to see if you could grab on to it with some extra effort. But now climbing has been simplified. Just hold up and Connor will climb, and automatically jump to higher ledges and make extra efforts if necessary. What used to be fun and slightly rewarding in previous games is now just kind of mind numbing.
Another one of my favourite mechanics from previous Assassin’s Creed games is completely broken in Assassin’s Creed III. No longer can you hit the “B” button to grab or push anyone. In fact you can’t interact at all with civilians other than running into them. While not materially important to the game, it was something special to be able to push your way through busy crowds of people (and while frustrating, it was occasionally funny to accidentally assassinate a civilian instead of a target). It made the game world just feel more dynamic. Initially I thought this meant absolutely no tackling as it’s not tutorialized in the game in any way, and I couldn’t perform a tackle at all. However, I found later on that there are specific gameplay segments where you are expected to tackle your target. And in those segments the tackle button is enabled. However, the mechanic still feels quite broken and most of the time I don’t manage to tackle my target the way you’re supposed to (by running up behind them and then holding the “B” button to do a running jump to grab them). Instead when I try to tackle while running it never seems to initiate, and then I’ll get to a point where I bump into my target, and then after mashing on the “B” button several times would the animation to tackle start.
Furthermore, the pressing “B” to grab onto ledges while falling mechanic also seems to be gone. This used to be thrilling in AC2 for rooftop chases as if you missed a jump you could still quickly hold “B” to try to grab onto a ledge on the building that you’re falling into (that seems to be done automatically by the auto-jump mechanic). And pressing “B” to grab onto a ledge after dropping from a higher ledge just straight up doesn’t work anymore. So you have no more ability to do quick drops from high places that don’t have a leap of faith point around.
Stealth does seem to be handled a bit better. When you push up against corners of walls, Connor will hide against the wall. If you go behind low cover or in a high grassy area, Connor will automatically crouch to make himself hidden. And now it’s a lot easier to hide in crowds of people as they don’t seem to be defined as rigid groups of 4 or 5 people. Now you can just stand between two people on the street and still be in stealth. However, the auto follow mechanic (where you’d automatically move with a group of walking people if you are hiding among them) seems to be gone. I found myself missing it a couple of times but it definitely wasn’t a deal breaker for me either as I appreciated the more natural ways to maintain stealth in AC3.
The HUD also has changed significantly from previous games. Mini-map markers in previous games used to all use one art style. In AC3, some markers are taken straight from previous games (such as mission “!” points, fast travel points) but others have been completely redone (such as viewpoint icons) and stick out like a sore thumb. You also don’t automatically get a distance indicator for where your next mission is unless you mark it on your map as your destination which can be annoying because you’ll need to jump into the map to find out how far away your next mission is. And when you do mark something as your destination the marker also shows up in the world with the distance indicator right next to it. I find it a little annoying and I preferred the way previous AC games tried to keep the HUD out of the game world most of the time.
I also have seen that HUD indicators in the game world (such as Nav Points and status markers above NPCs) don’t always behave as you’d expect and are misleading. A marker may make it look like there’s an enemy who is right behind the building in front of you when he’s really behind you. In previous games there’d be an arrow pointing to the edge of the screen indicating that the enemy is not in front of you but behind you. In this game there’s no indication other than whether the enemy is higher in elevation or lower in elevation (which honestly just confuses the matter).
Changing Weapons seems to be not as convenient as previous games. Before you could quickly pop up a radial dial and select the weapon you wanted in an instant. Now if the weapon is not assigned to the quick list on your D-Pad, you need to hit RB, wait for what seems to be a second for the menu to pop up, and then scroll up and down through your list of weapons to select them. I also encountered a major bug relating to weapons during the game. Connor’s signature Tomahawk completely disappeared from the game for me about two thirds into the Story. There was even a cutscene where Connor was supposed to be wielding it, but instead he had an invisible weapon. And there’s absolutely no way for me to get his Tomahawk back without restarting the game from scratch. It’s a shame because it was my favourite weapon to use since it was so different from weapons in previous Assassin’s Creed games. I’ve seen other people mention this issue so it’s something that I would hope is patched in the near future.
Another weird issue I found was that changing Connor’s outfit to a different colour wasn’t being reflected in the cutscenes (whereas in previous games this wasn’t an issue). In another cutscene related issue, I found that while sometimes you were prompted with a QTE to perform an assassination in a cutscene (which was also done to great effect in Assassin’s Creed II), there was one *really* key assassination which takes place completely in a cutscene and you aren’t even prompted with a QTE to do it. I know some people hate QTEs in cutscenes, but in the context of Assassin’s Creed they really do work when you’re prompted to hit the “X” button to perform an assassination. If anything, they should have at least been consistent in their use or lack of use of QTEs.
One final issue is I found the notoriety system to be a lot more confusing than in previous games. Sometimes I’d see icons for areas to lower my notoriety when I needed to, and sometimes I didn’t despite needing to. And I never was able to use the Printer Shops to lower my notoriety. Maybe I needed to unlock something for this stuff to work, but it was never explained in the game nor in the manual if that’s the case.
There’s also so much more in this game that I haven’t even touched on. There’s a ton of side missions related to finding things that Frontiersmen talk to you about in fire-side stories, hunting animals, liberating the cities in the game, recruiting Assassins, performing Contracts, Naval Battles and many more types of missions. And then there’s also the multiplayer. I ended up getting only 35% Synchronization in my play through of the Story, and yet I ended up spending about 14 hours playing the game. By my estimation there’s easily 40 hours of content in here if you end up doing all of the Single Player stuff in the game alone.
I’m really surprised at the lack of polish Assassin’s Creed III has given the amount of time they had to work on this game versus the previous two installments. That being said I do realize they packed more variety in this game than any previous Assassin’s Creed and I give them credit for that. It’s still an excellent game with an excellent story, but some of the technical flaws and regressions they made to the control scheme keep it from topping Assassin’s Creed II in my mind.
Update: Since publishing this review I’ve discovered that Connor’s missing Tomahawk eventually appears in the General Store and it can be equipped from there again. I initially went there and couldn’t find it but after restarting the game it did appear there. I also discovered that you can grab on to ledges while falling by pushing the Left Stick in the direction you want to grab on to.
Note: This Review and Score are for the Single Player portion of Assassin’s Creed III. While I did dabble in the Multiplayer part and enjoyed what I had played, I did not play it enough to pass judgement on it. That being said, I’m fully content in saying that Assassin’s Creed III is worth your money even if you don’t want to touch Multiplayer.