Assassin’s Creed III (Xbox 360) Review

Being called an Assassins Creed Fan is appropriate for me as my love for the series has gradually increased over time, as has my Assassin’s Creed paraphernalia collection that now takes up an entire shelf in my home.  Assassin’s Creed III continues the story of the Assassins vs. the Templars; however, it jumps in time from Medieval Europe to Colonial/Revolutionary America and introduces a new ancestor of Desmond Miles named Connor. With a lot of buildup for this “third” instalment of the series there has been a lot of anticipation regarding the gameplay and visuals that utilize Ubisoft’s new Anvil engine. A new time period, new assassin, a new perspective, and some cool new weapons should hopefully make this an amazing journey back in time.

Assassin’s Creed III is actually the fifth instalment in the series that follows the story of Desmond Miles along with the stories of his ancestors Altiar, Ezio and the newest Assassin Connor Kenway. To newcomers here are the basics as spoiler free as possible. There is a machine called the Animus, which allows people to relive memories that have been embedded in their DNA, and it so happens that Desmond is a descendant of a long line of Assassins. He has been reliving the memories of his ancestors to find some clues that were left behind to aid those in the future. At first Desmond was being forced to work with the Templar’s, the enemy of the Assassin Order, until he broke free of their control and started to work with the Assassin’s themselves to help the world break free from the Templar’s attempt to take away all free will as they endeavour to create their own version of Utopia.

Assassin’s Creed III takes place during the American Revolution where Connor works against the Templars to aid the revolutionaries in their efforts for independence. At the same time Connor is entrusted to protect his village, which is actually sacred ground where clues have pointed. This area also requires a key to enter. Desmond has to relive the memories of Connor so that he can find clues to the whereabouts of this key so he can save the world from total destruction.  Personally, the story in these games is a huge inspiration for me to continue playing and suffice to say the story is great and you should definitely play through it and unlock every bit of storyline you can, as it is worth it, but I won’t spoil it for you here.

The gameplay stays relatively the same from past games.  Although this is the case, it still does improve on some aspects, adds some new tools (not to mention a ship!) to the mix and re-tools how you can make money through trading. Briefly the controls are split into non-combat and combat controls.  During non-combat sequences you run around, climb, jump, swim, sneak, etc. The combat controls are bit more complicated and draw a lot more attention to your character.  These range from shoving, tackling, attack, and assassinations to name a few.

The control scheme in Assassin’s Creed III has been tweaked as it is more fluid and adds a bit more strategy rather than just stab, counter, stab, counter. Counters lead into a couple options where you can break the defense of your opponent, disarm them, or go in for an attack. Ultimately you need to break their defense first before you go in for an easy kill, but there are some tougher opponents who will actually block your counter, so there is a level of strategy of disarming them instead and trying to take them down quickly before they have a chance to get their weapon back. Another addition to combat is when someone is about to shoot you with a rifle or musket. You can grab them and use them as a human shield, which can be quite handy when a firing squad has you sighted up. There was a memorable moment when I was playing as two soldiers attacked me and did a double counter where I used my tomahawk to grab onto a rifle of one, stabbed it into the other soldier, and then I finished the first soldier with a quick hidden blade to the throat.

Suffice to say combat has improved quite a bit while keeping some of the staples like aerial attacks, hidden attacks (from haystacks, around corners) and the ability to shoot with muskets and your bow & arrow. Using the bow & arrow is much like using the crossbow or throwing daggers from previous Assassins titles, which provides a silent projectile weapon for your assassin. There is also the introduction of two new weapons, Connor’s Tomahawk (which I mentioned above) and the Rope Dart. The Tomahawk, for the most part, is not remarkably different than other weapons available in the game, it’s quick but the reach of the weapon is a bit short due to its size. The Rope Dart on the other hand reminds me of being Scorpion in Mortal Kombat when he throws what essentially is a Rope Dart into his opponent and yell’s “Get over Here!” but with a little bit more deadly results. One way to use the Rope Dart is by having you launch it into your target and pulling them towards you to deal a finishing blow, or you can do it in a much cooler fashion from up above on a tree branch. While on the branch you can throw the Rope Dart into an opponent and jump off the branch launching your target into the air and hanging them to death.

Assassin’s Creed III now allows you to hunt animals in the virtual wild, be it with any of your weapons or snares. There are a variety of animals to hunt like cougars, elk, rabbits and bears to name a few. The smaller animals, like rabbits, can be caught in snares or you can sneak up on your prey and put an arrow through them to finish them off. Snares can be set up along animal trails, near feeding areas, or in other areas where you can bait the areas to attract the animals you are hunting. Larger animals like cougars and bears will often sense you first and attack initiating a mini-game where you follow some quick time events to execute an attack with your wielded weapon.  If you miss a prompt you will have to button mash to get the animal off of you before he finishes you off. After you defeat your prey you can skin the fur and harvest any parts that are useful to sell to traders. The quality of the furs are all based on the weapon you used to down the prey, so weapons like the hidden blade, snares, and arrows will obviously leave less damage, but if you take something down with a musket there will be a lot more damage.  Hunting is a great way to make money in the game, and if you are like myself and don’t fast travel too much and walk/ride everywhere you have more opportunity to explore and hunt.

Something completely new to the franchise is the inclusion of Naval Battles, and to be honest when I first heard about gameplay addition I was a bit skeptical as I wondered if it could fit into the Assassin’s Creed universe? What I found was that the controls work well with all the different ammunitions, cannons and mission types and it provides an excellent new gameplay option that doesn’t fall into the “just another add-on” category.

One of the final additions, or should I say the change, is to the in-game economy system. There are no longer shops throughout the game that produce income as this has been replaced as Connor now runs a homestead. Running the homestead is really quite simple as you open a ledger, purchase items from the tradespeople available in your homestead, and ship them off to be traded making some profits. The tradespeople available at the homestead are unlocked through specific homestead quests and you’ll first find loggers, a carpenter and a fur trader. This is quite different from previous economy system as the onus is put on you to manage the books per se and to create the money, but it is not as fun as going off into the wilderness and hunting some animals to make quite a bit of money on skins from bigger game. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the money making portion of the homestead doesn’t happen automatically, I found myself not putting in the time as there are more interesting things to do.

With the demands of our current generation of consoles, the need to be able to play online via multiplayer matches has become an additional mode in Assassin’s Creed; however, as much I dislike this, it has met some success.  Although I am not a fan I jumped into the fray to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to be a multiplayer Assassin.

Having only played previous entries into the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer experience very briefly I was quite happy to find out in Assassin’s Creed III it starts off with a nice intro of the basics of tracking down your target based on their picture combined with tools at your disposal like line of sight observations and how you will hear a heartbeat as you get closer to your target. You are also taught about attacking incognito, as while as when hidden or performing aerial attacks, to get some bonus points to help rack up your score in the standings. As it turns out you aren’t even Assassin’s in the traditional sense as you play throughout the multiplayer experience, in fact you are Templar’s in training. Overall though the whole experience is relatively the same as previous iterations only this time there is a co-op mode where you can work as a team to take down CPU counterparts.

The game modes have stayed standard from previous entries with free for all modes like Deathmatch, Wanted and Assassinate included. Manhunt and Artefact Assault have been included as well in the Team Objective types but we have an addition of a new mode called Domination. Domination is a mode that I didn’t quite enjoy. Here your team has to capture and hold up to three areas against another team. The team that holds the area earn points that moves a sliding bar on top of the screen. Victory goes to the team that moves the bar furthest in their favour or has the most points when time runs out. What makes this particularly challenging is that most of the NPC’s in the level are identical to what your teams look like. So a good strategy is to obviously act like a computer as much as possible to get the upper hand. Although this is by far not my favourite of the modes it is well executed.

There is a new co-op mode called Wolf Pack and it was a highlight for me as I became a member of a team hunting down targets known as moles.  This occurs in waves with each wave increasing in difficulty until you max out at 25. Modes like this are a lot of fun for me as it is a great social gaming experience where you can chat with friends while having a blast and not worry about your friends stabbing you in the back.

Throughout all of your multiplayer experience you earn EXP to level up your character. This allows you to unlock, craft, and equip new abilities to aid yourself in your battles. Not only do you earn EXP but you also earn Abstergo Credits that allow you to unlock content to customize your characters even further. Characters can now be customized like never before as you can edit hairstyles, clothing styles & colors and even how detailed their faces are. Scars, makeup and war paint can be used to make your character as unique as possible, not to mention the ability to change up the animations for some of your moves.

As someone who was not a fan of multiplayer being added into the series I do have to admit that I judged it a bit harshly and found that I quite enjoyed myself as I learned more about the experience. There is a lot of great gameplay variety and some decent new additions to the multiplayer modes and customizations.  However, in the end the multiplayer is not as special as the single player campaign and will entertain players for a short period of time before they move on to another multiplayer focused title. Honestly, I would love to see a standalone title dedicated to developing an Assassin’s Creed online experience that would rival many competitors but stand out along as something unique.

To say that Assassin’s Creed III is visually breathtaking is almost an understatement with how vivid, lush and deep the visuals of are. The characters are superbly detailed, especially their facial features with eyes that are incredibly expressive. You can even watch them scan an area while they are investigating or when they peruse text.

Seasons change throughout the game and you are faced with the frigid winters of the North-Eastern parts of North America. Living in Central Canada I am used to snow blowing around in gusting winds, deep snow drifts, and an overall chilling experience of the winter, and I can attest to the authenticity of winter’s depiction in Assassin’s Creed III.  The other seasons and changing weather conditions are also beautifully portrayed and provide a great backdrop to the ever changing newly formed world and the frontier. It was a nice touch making sure that clothing and the face would glisten wet as snow or rain touched people throughout the game.

The architecture is impressive as well. There is currently one picture that was posted on twitter this past week that shows a real life building from Boston side by side with a screenshot from Assassin’s Creed III.  This picture shows the lengths that Ubisoft went through to provide historically accurate visuals. This attention to detail spans not only from the great cities but to the frontier, the Iroquois villages with their longhouses, to the scattered towns and all of surrounding areas with lush and vibrant forests, cliffs and open plains that create the feeling of isolation and community all at once.

Although the visual presentation is gorgeous there are quite a few problems that cannot be ignored. For example, in one of the introductory levels there is a mission where one of your Assassins ‘air-assassinates’ a soldier only to have the body not just crumple to the ground in death, but disappear entirely. At first I thought it was a one time incident, but I happened to fail the objectives for this mission and wanted to nail it perfect so I did it a couple times and each time I did the solider disappeared every time I went through the same mission. I also noted strange things during cutscenes. For example, a horse was walking towards me it walked right through my character, which demonstrated collision detection issues. It was strange things like this that really stuck out. Perhaps these issues are more prevalent due to the new Anvil Engine being used on the current generation of hardware, but play testing should have figured out these bugs ahead of time. In the end the game is beautiful, but it is quite flawed with similar issues cropping up throughout the game.

The sound and music presentation throughout the whole Assassins Creed series has always been quite an achievement with everything almost perfect from the tiniest of sound effects to the stellar voice acting, along with the right music in the right place. Once again the voice cast is a who’s who of video game and animation veterans with many voices being familiar; however, not all will recognize the names, save for John de Lancie of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame.  Most will have to look up the actor’s resume to give an “Aha!” moment as you realize who they are. Not only do we have the voices of the main characters to consider but there are the merchants, peasants, soldiers throughout the cities and countryside as well.  They all have their remarks, sales pitches or screams as they see you murder a squad of guards in the streets.

With the excellent voices on every level there are great sound effects throughout every facet of the game, with animals growling as they attack, the sound of horses “clomping” as they canter, the sound of rain hitting the roofs in the city, or the gusting winds of the open sea. Not only do these great effects set the atmosphere of each area of this new world but there are also great combat effects. There is nothing like the sound of explosions and bullets whizzing past your head to create some intense moments, not to mention the clang of weapons crashing into each other as you parry a blow or the unmistakable cannon fire on the open sea.

I always say the best music in a video game is the music you don’t notice that is playing in the background as it works in concert with the gameplay on the screen.  Assassin’s Creed III does this perfectly as I had to go back and pay closer attention to the musical score playing in the background.  The music selected works for each setting, from the tribal beats of Native America, the lively little ditty played in the taverns, to the ominous song played on the open seas during any naval battle. Unlike the visual presentation the sound effects, voice acting and music were spot on as usual when it comes to this series and there was obviously no expense spared in creating the best audio experience possible for gamers.

As I think of how to sum everything up for Assassin’s Creed III a few things cross my mind. Surprisingly there are graphical issues that are very noticeable and I really thought that there were some gameplay missteps that could use some retooling in the future; however, in the end this is another great addition to the Assassin’s Creed series and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the franchise and who wants to continue following the Creed.  If you are new to the series jump right in but remember to go back and play at the very least the Ezio Trilogy to catch up on some great history of the whole story.  This latest release from Ubisoft is yet another must buy during this busy and pretty full holiday season of games.

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