The British Empire colonized the east coast of North America very early in the 17th century. After a hundred and fifty-plus years of British rule, the colonists of America, as a result of a shift in ideology, increasing dissent at the implementation of taxes and unequal representation in the British government, rebelled. It was this time during the 18th century that the thirteen colonies established in North America united against the British Empire in an effort to claim their own freedom. Assassin’s Creed III (AC3) drops you into the historically rich world of the American Revolution as a Native American known as Ratonhnhaké:ton, placing you in the middle of key moments in America’s quest for independence.
Of Mohawks and (English) Men
The past three iterations in the franchise have seen us take control of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a charming Renaissance man that shaped the Templar-Assassin feud during the 15th century. We’ve come to understand Ezio’s struggle, how he stylishly glides across the rooftops and his penchant for fine young women. More than Altaïr before him (and due to the fact three games were dedicated to him), Ezio became the face of the franchise. That all changes, of course, with AC3 and the introduction of Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor, who takes the reins as chief Assassin.
You are first introduced to Connor as a child and get to ‘grow up’ with him as he goes from simple games of hide-and-seek, to hunting before becoming the killing-machine the franchise is famous for. Though the shadow of Ezio looms large over most of the game, and though I was personally begging for a new assassin to be introduced after the average Revelations, I found that I was missing my old, battle-hardened Italian friend more and more as the game went on. This is not Connor’s fault, though he’s naïve and early on very clichéd-teen-angsty, he does try hard – his dialogue isn’t bad, and the voice acting is perfectly fine – it’s just that his struggles don’t resonate. He doesn’t seem as complex or thoughtful as his predecessor.
Furthermore, what little shine Connor has is taken away by the fact that you actually begin the game as a completely separate character. This came as the biggest surprise and actually had me confused early on, enough to scribble in my notepad “Have I put the wrong game disc in my console?” It is this prologue phase that is detrimental to Connor’s connection with the player. We get to know this first character better before being ripped away and forced into the young Ratonhnhaké:ton, the guy that Ubisoft actively marketed the game with. Don’t get me wrong, it is all about him, but it’s this jaunting disconnect from the earlier playable character that sets our connection with Connor off down the wrong tree-riddled path.
The previously mentioned other playable character, although quite a good surprise, throws the pace of the game out of whack and, like the British going after American tax money, it finds it hard to recover. Essentially, the game only reveals its true nature just before the ‘midpoint’ where it dumps all the tools in your sandbox and says “have at it!” It’s important to take your time at this point because rushing through will ensure you miss out on some of the side missions that not only help you develop Connor as a character, but bring you wealth, teach you how to use tools more effectively and introduce you to some of the games more interesting elements.
Can’t See The Colonial Settlements For The Trees
The way in which Ubisoft marries historic accuracy with an interesting story has always blown me away, and the way in which history is presented is never dull or dismissive. For instance, the little tidbits of information that the game gives players about the figures that shaped these times are always packed with information. At any point you can access the files on the likes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin as well as the key sites and battles during the Revolutionary War. There won’t be too many people, I assume, that will study these files religiously or use the game as some sort of Revolutionary War Wikipedia (because you could just use Wikipedia) but it’s something that Ubisoft should be commended for.
Unfortunately, historical accuracy sometimes works against AC3 in that you can’t just rewrite history as you please. Assassin’s Creed III suffers from the fact that the American architects of the thirteen colonies didn’t have quite as active imaginations as those free-thinkers of the Renaissance. Gone are the elaborate, brightly coloured structures like Saint Mark’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel and in their place we get… well, we don’t get much at all. Although it is a pleasure to see the game’s two major cities, Boston and New York, change with the seasons, they lack a lot of the verticality that made the series famous. It’s only in the forest, the Frontier, when height becomes a major factor.
It’s here where you truly feel like you can spread your proverbial wings and run around the sandbox. The forest is where the freedom in AC3 really comes to the forefront. Though, for all the talk of Ubisoft’s improvements to the free-running system, there is still a noticeable disconnect between controller and Connor. It’s been revamped – previous games made you hold two buttons to free run whereas in this you need only hold a trigger button – but it still isn’t as fluid as I had come to expect from early previews of the game. The reason for its revamp? Those annoying (and all too frequent) times in previous games where you’d jump straight off the edge of the highest tower, breaking every bone in your body as you slammed into an adjacent rooftop. It’s improved, no doubt, but it is not flawless. I still jumped or fell out of trees mid-flight, or completely missed a step and landed face first in long grass.
Freedom Isn’t Free
The game is absolutely massive in ambition, scope and pure size. There is so much crammed in the tiny disc that it almost leaks out of your console. Some of these activities include hunting, collecting, sending convoys to carve out a piece of the economy and the fantastic naval battles (we’ll get to them eventually). Unfortunately, the old cliché about being a jack of all trades, but master of none (except maybe one)? It rings true here.
Firstly, carving out your piece of the economy requires a lot of time and a great understanding of complex processes. It feels like it would almost be a barrier to the experience for those new to the series, but even those familiar with the franchise will feel a little nervy about how different making money is in AC3 as opposed to the last three iterations. It is even difficult for me to explain how the system works, and has taken me a long time to start sending convoys to and from cities so I have a revenue stream to spend on weapons and tools.
Hunting is another element of the game that works, but just requires too much time to be engaging or interesting. It extends assassination to the natural world and allows you to skin animals and gather precious materials from them that you can sell or use to make other items (much like Red Dead Redemption). This feeds back into managing the economy and sorting out your Assassin’s accounts. It seems silly. I am a Native American assassin, not a university graduate with a degree in Business Management. Furthermore, managing the economy requires you to step outside the main storyline and spend time in clunky menus that, at first, seem only built to confuse. By the time you’ve mastered the art of controlling convoys and trading materials, the credits are likely just around the corner so all your money-making counts for little.
The shortcomings of those previous two new gameplay mechanics are made up for by the superb battles at sea. These are presented to you, first, as a major mission during the early portion of the game but remain a highlight throughout. When you first step behind the wheel of a massive ship you truly feel like you have taken control of something bigger than you. In contrast to Connor’s semi-fluid running and tomahawking gameplay, the naval controls are slow and movements are subtle. Furthermore, it helps to break up the game just as it begins to overwhelm you with all the free-running and fast travelling.
The ship you man has two firing systems, swivel guns and cannons. The former is a more precise, long-distance mode of attack that essentially gives you 360 degrees of destructive power. These guns are useful against the smaller ships but not so great against the real big boys. The latter, the cannons, are much more fun and are as brutal as a thousand fists slamming into a kitten (please don’t do this to kittens). They fire, of course, only on the left and right hand sides of the ship, which means to do the most damage possible, you must both manage both steering and firing. This makes for tense sea battles and provides a great time-sink when you are sick of running through the forests.
Connor: Assassin, Trader, Entomologist
This is a fact of Assassin’s Creed III that can simply not be disputed: it is rife with bugs. These sorts of bugs aren’t at all related to the hunting and collecting you do throughout the game, and they have nothing to do with airborne viruses. These bugs are horrible things that inflict pain not only on Connor, but on you as you play. The amount of times that I swan-dived into a stream and got stuck under a rock cannot be understated. This often occurred when I was on the way to pick up a collectible on the other side of the map and often resulted in me having to reload the game or fast travel all the way back to the other side.
For a AAA game with such a high pedigree, this is absolutely heart-breaking. I loved Assassin’s Creed II as well as its sequels and quickly got aboard the hype train when AC3 was announced. I knew ACII often suffered from a number of bugs, but I never felt them with the frequency that I do in this game. I feel that the size of the game is the chief reason for this, but it is unacceptable. It destroys immersion and reminds you that you aren’t in the American Revolution, you’re just a guy playing a videogame.
I know, this review is thick and I haven’t even mentioned Desmond’s part in this whole thing or touched on the various multiplayer options. Assassin’s Creed III is so huge that a few thousand words do not necessarily do it justice either way. There’s enough to like here – it’s still your typical Assassin’s Creed experience – but it gets lost amongst a barrage of new game mechanics that distil the core gameplay elements of the series. Everything feels so refined that missions are meant to be procedural affairs rather than open-ended ones. It’s a step away from what made the franchise great and it may even seem like an improvement to some, but to me it’s a single tomahawk to the neck.
Let’s hope it doesn’t bleed out.
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360