Assassin’s Creed 3 Review: Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Assassin’s Creed is one of the most prominent game series of the generation. Over the past four console releases, they have tried to be innovative, interesting, and fun by providing settings that step back into bits of history and locations that we haven’t explored much in most entertainment mediums. With Assassin’s Creed 3, Ubisoft has brought together multiple studios to, once again, try to provide a unique twist on history with a story told through fun gameplay, while finishing out the doomsday story they have been setting up over the past games.

The game begins with a nice summary of what has happened so far in the Assassin’s Creed universe, both in the present and past timelines. This is a helpful introduction that lets players that may have skipped out on a couple titles catch up quickly to what has been going on. Desmond has arrived at a cave that was built by the First Civilization, the predecessors to the human race, and here he will interact with fellow characters, learn more about the first Civilization, and jump into the animus, the machine that lets him experience the memories of his ancestors.

As with most of the Assassin’s Creed games, the first five hours or so of Assassin’s Creed 3 are a slow roll to let the player relearn and get the hang of changes that have been implemented to the control scheme. These first few sequences have their high and low points, with some sections seeming to move too slowly, but the twist presented at the end of them is a good pay-off that compliments the interesting introduction to the past.

As a veteran of the series, I have grown accustomed to the control scheme that has stayed consistent through the games, but with this new entry, some of the controls have been streamlined to make free running smoother. In the past games, to climb and sprint you had to hold down the right trigger, a face button, and press forward. While doing this, you were susceptible to jumping off of what you were climbing on unexpectedly, or climbing up something that you didn’t want to. In Assassin’s Creed III, the face button does not need to be held down, making reactions to the environment quicker and letting jumping and climbing be more intentional.

Combat has stayed largely unchanged, but new animations make the combat still highly enjoyable and fun to watch. Connor’s signature tomahawk is the best weapon he has to offer. Whether it is being thrown into skulls during counters or used to slit the throat of an enemy, making the rest flinch in terror, there’s always an enjoyable sight when you select that weapon. Since the game takes place in both the colonial era and the present, guns have been added into the arsenal of enemy weapons. The best, and only, defense from weapons that’re about to be fired is to grab the nearest enemy and use him as a human shield. This works most of the time, but you can be hung out to dry when all other enemies are dead or the camera pulls away from the people surrounding you, obscuring your vision.

Naval combat is also a huge newcomer to the gameplay. As Connor, you will be able to take the helm of your ship and lead your crew into battle in the open seas. It took me a few missions to get the feel of the ship, but after I felt comfortable with the controls and the physics, I was taking down opposing ships left and right. The break in the normal formula of running around towns to assassinate people is much appreciated, and the naval combat sections never linger on too long.

The bow is a big part of Connor’s arsenal, used for both hunting and taking down out of reach targets silently.

The times you are playing as Connor are mostly going to take place in one of three main areas: Boston, New York, or the Frontier. Boston and New York play out most familiarly to the settings of the past games. It is here that you will scale buildings, albeit smaller ones, and run through the streets avoiding guards while carrying out local missions. The Frontier is the new playground. Here you are able to implement Connor’s tree running and take part in other activities, such as hunting and taking down British forts, or talking to frontiersmen who will send you on interesting quests. I have been asked to find a sasquatch, investigate a haunted lighthouse, and hunt down the headless horseman.

I could spend all day talking about what is new and what I like about the game, but the sad truth is, Assassin’s Creed III has more problems than it should; both in story and technical aspects. Frame rates dip far too much, shadows are constantly vibrating, and the camera gets hung up on buildings or takes some odd angles during combat. These are problems that are noticeable and frequent enough to hurt the experience, but not so much so that the game is unplayable.

My biggest complaint with the game is the story. While Connor’s tale is an interesting one, and taking part in notable moments of history is a very cool experience, Desmond’s story is extremely disappointing. As we have learned from the past few games, doomsday is upon the present day group of ragtag assassins, and it is up to Desmond to stop it. Some of Desmond’s playable parts are interesting, but the overall tone never hits a dramatic high point, partly due to the fact that any scene that would have been much better as a full cutscene is done in engine. The final moments of the game feel thrown together and the ending is one of the most unsatisfying I have seen in recent memory. Once again, the Connor story is quite good, and has some very memorable moments, mostly relating to his interactions with his targets, but the Desmond storyline falls flat on its face.

There is much to do in Assassin’s Creed III, and it is balanced in a way that it is not overwhelming once you get the hang of everything. The game stays consistently fun and packs in a great bang-for-your-buck value. My current playtime stands at around 25 hours with 58% complete. Assassin’s Creed III improves on the little things, and adds some interesting ways to experience the game, but frequent problems and a disappointing story keep it from being the best that it could be.

I did not feel comfortable reviewing the multiplayer aspect of the game, as I did not have much time to play it. You may expect my impressions of it within the next few days. It would not have changed my feeling on the overall score of the game, though, seeing as this game is mainly about the single player campaign.