Assassin’s Creed III Xbox 360 Review
Publisher – Ubisoft – Developer – Ubisoft Montreal – Genre – Stealth/Action – Players – 1-8 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3, Wii U
Assassin’s Creed II was such a huge leap in quality over the original game, not only bringing some much needed variation to the series, but also refining just about every area of the previous game that mattered, as well as introducing some fresh mechanics that further bolstered the experience. It all resulted in a game that is easily amongst the best videogame sequels to have ever been released.
In the intervening years since its release there have been two additional entries in the series that further built on the formula, though three years later it’s surely time for a fully fledged sequel, Ubisoft obviously agree as they’ve just released Assassin’s Creed III, the last game in the Desmond story arc that was started five years ago with the original game.
For those unfamiliar with the series, in which case, given the convoluted nature of the series’ narrative, Assassin’s Creed III is really not the best point of entry, but anyway it’s sort of like a game within a game, with assassin Desmond being in the modern day and experiencing the memories of his ancestors through the Animus machine, and, in the process, learning about the past in the hope that he can save the world in the present day. A lot of people hate being whisked out of the immersive historical periods, and probably even more people hate poor old Desmond, though such an outlandish mixture isn’t without some intrigue for people of a certain mindset.
The historical setting of Assassin’s Creed III is certainly a departure from the last three games European settings, taking place during another turning point in history: the American Revolution. The hooded assassin this time around is the half Native American and half British Connor (certainly easier to pronounce than his birth name of Ratonhnhake:ton), a far more stoic and less charismatic personality than Ezio and, in turn, slightly boring, though his mild mannered nature still makes him easy to like, whilst he’s heroic and complex enough to function as a reasonably effective and contrasting hero at the same time.
As Connor, you’ll experience all the important events of the American Revolution, for instance the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill. You’ll also meet up with all the famous historical figures from the period, such as Charles Lee, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and the first American president himself, George Washington. As always, you’ll also have the chance to learn a bit of history too, with people, buildings and events of the era all richly detailed in a database, though just bear in mind that a hooded assassin named Connor most likely had no involvement in the birth of a nation.
Being as historically accurate as always with the aesthetics of the time period, the towering structures of earlier games, which to many were as much a part of the appeal of the game as anything else was, are of course no longer present – a disappointment to those that enjoyed scaling to heavenly heights and, for this reason alone, a lot of people certainly will find it to be a bland setting.
The two featured cities of Boston and New York might well have measly buildings, but they’re as alive as ever. The Frontier on the other hand brings a completely fresh slant to Assassin’s Creed, taking place in the picturesque, but harsh countryside, where trees replace buildings and wild animals roam throughout and it’s here, amongst the trees, where Connor’s athleticism can be used to its full potential.
The world might well feel alive, though some annoying technical deficiencies threaten to take you out of it on occasion. There’s some rather nasty pop-up that can have crowds of people magically appearing right in front of you, whilst the framerate struggles to remain consistent throughout. There are also some unfortunate glitches, which see people sinking into the ground, walking through the air or against objects, whilst soldiers in the cities will sometimes chase you, even when you’re supposed to be incognito. From experience, it’s largely more annoying than anything truly game breaking, though mission glitches are present, forcing you to restart them on occasion if you’re unlucky enough to experience them.
Familiar features that have become series hallmarks such as blending into crowds to shake off enemy pursuit, fellow Assassins that you can summon for backup and a notoriety level that measures how aware enemies are of your presence are intact.
The basic stealth mechanic of hiding behind walls has finally been implemented, though there’s still no crouch button and the enemy AI is still dim. For a game that places a fair bit of importance on stealth, it has become increasingly harder over time to accept its rudimentary mechanics, so at least one step forward is something, even though it still isn’t enough.
The free running is as satisfyingly effortless as always, though since it’s all executed through one button, on occasion Connor will clamber up objects that you don’t want him to, of particular annoyance on missions where time is of the essence, and it could certainly benefit from more precision in the future. On the good side it’s more visually stunning than ever, thanks to a more complex animation system that allows just about all of Connor’s motions, from dashing through dense forest in the frontier, gracefully leaping across buildings in the city environments to brutally slicing enemies up with sharp objects, to look even more convincing than the previous heroes, though trudging through deep snow looks far more amusing than it should.
The combat on the other hand appears to have taken inspiration from Rocksteady’s wonderful combat mechanics in the Arkham games, with icons appearing above enemies to warn you of impending attacks, so that you’re able to counter them. It however lacks the depth and delightfully, silky smooth flow and sharp responsiveness of Rocksteady’s game, though is nevertheless a noticeable improvement over previous games, though still retaining all of the good aspects from those titles, such as being able to chain kills together and yes, sticking knives in throats and bludgeoning heads with heavy weapons remains as worryingly satisfying as ever.
The story missions are, as always, a mixture of stealth, combat and chases, with enough variation to keep the game interesting. They also feature optional objectives such as, amongst other things, preventing your health from dipping below certain levels, killing a certain amount of enemies and remaining undetected, granting some challenge to a game that is otherwise often lacking in that department.
The game has somewhat of a slow and restrictive number of hours before it truly begins and opens up, offering you little in the way of freedom, though once your hands are untied, so to speak, Assassin’s Creed III has a substantial volume of content filling out its huge world, and, with that said, it’s easy to get sidetracked for hours at a time, as you head to those numerous and strangely enticing mission and collectible icons, crowding the map before you even think of moving the story forward.
Amongst other things, there are assassination missions, challenges to complete, plenty in the way of collectibles to find, whilst there’s also Frontiersmen missions that have you investigating strange occurrences, and hunting missions that task you with tracking down and killing unique animals. It’s a game that is rarely short on things to do, even though it might not always be the most interesting of tasks.
Hunting meanwhile brings to mind the excellent Red Dead: Redemption, allowing you to kill and skin the animals habituating the frontier. Smaller animals can be caught in snares, whilst you’re able to lay down bait to attract creatures of all varieties, giving you the chance to strike them whilst they’re occupied with their meal. The quality of their meats, pelts, organs and such is determined by your kill method, and you can sell and trade such spoils to make some money or use them to craft items with.
Crafting is tied in with another fresh aspect of the game, the homestead, of which is essentially your base of operations. This will be gradually built up during the course of the game and, by recruiting farmers, miners, tailors, blacksmiths and such, you’ll be able to buy and craft items related to their professions. One of the best ways to make money is to send convoys carrying items to trade, though this is a needlessly laborious and lengthy process, with no option to select a number of items at once, forcing you to put in a single item at a time.
Naval battles are an exciting and hugely enjoyable new feature that has you steering a gargantuan warship through the ocean, whilst taking on enemy ships with your cannons and swivel gun, of which satisfyingly set alight and disintegrate up on their destruction. You’ll also have to take into consideration wind direction and contend with rogue waves in stormy weather. There’s a real sense of navigating a huge vessel through the unforgiving ocean, whilst the all important water is perhaps the most authentic of the generation both on a behavioural and aesthetic level.
If the sprawling single player isn’t enough for you, the multiplayer has also returned. It’s comprehensive in its options, with a variety of modes, perks and challenges. Most modes have an emphasis on remaining inconspicuous by walking casually around the maps, blending in with NPC’s that have more than a passing resemblance to your chosen character, and just generally being careful to avoid actions that will draw attention to yourself such as climbing buildings or running across rooftops.
Some modes have you seeking out and killing other players (with point bonuses rewarding and, in turn, encouraging more patient play) whilst at the same time bearing in mind the proximity of your own pursuers, perhaps fooling them with a disguise or decoy and then proceeding to stun them. Meanwhile, team based modes are also on offer: Domination has you and your team controlling areas of a map, whilst Artefact Assault is a team based mode that tasks you with stealing the opposing teams relic, whilst doing your utmost to protect your own, and Manhunt finally sees both teams taking it in turns to pursue and kill each other, whilst the other must remain hidden. It’s all hugely tense and remains one of the most inventive multiplayer components on offer, and hopefully this time around it will sustain its community.
The most substantial new multiplayer addition is the team based Wolf Pack mode that sees you and other players tracking down and killing AI targets. Making your job more difficult is a time limit, though successful kills will reward not only points but additional time as well. It’s a great addition to the multiplayer side of things that really puts the emphasis on functioning as an effective team to get through the 25 possible waves.
With Assassin’s Creed III, it feels as if the consoles are groaning under the sheer weight of its ambition and, on occasion, there’s a sense that the game is about to fall apart at its seams, resulting in the least polished entry in the series. It isn’t the dramatic leap that Assassin’s Creed II was either, whilst Ubisoft’s refusal to rectify some of the problems that have been a part of the franchise since its inception, and have become increasingly glaring over the years, is frustrating. Next time around somewhat of an overhaul would be welcome, so that the series continues to shine in the way that it deserves to.
In spite of its problems, there’s still a reasonably strong game here, all the more so when the multiplayer facet is also taken into consideration, and it also manages to offer some ideas that are profoundly new enough to the franchise to make it a genuinely worthy, though technically spotty successor to that series defining game.