I’m a massive fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. My wife may claim that she’s a bigger fan, but I was a fan first, so nyah nyah to her. I fell in love with Assassin’s Creed while playing as Altair, up until the penultimate battle which will forever be ingrained in my memory as complete and utter bullshit. While I still love the first Assassin’s Creed, I could not imagine going back and playing it again after having played Ezio’s games. The level of improvement in the free-running mechanics, world interaction, travel, and more was simply stunning. Three games were released on the Assassin’s Creed II engine, and each of them seemed to feature some form of improvement over the last while working within the same development environment. Assassin’s Creed III, then, with its new engine, must be as much of a revelation now as Assassin’s Creed II was when it was released, no?
It pains me to say this, but as much as I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Assassin’s Creed III itself (as you will see later on in the review), I find certain aspects of the latest entry to be depressingly disappointing. Ubisoft has made great efforts to point out the three-year development cycle that produced Assassin’s Creed III and its new engine. With that, you would expect a considerable update in the feel of the game and in the game’s mechanics. Unfortunately, this is mostly true only for the elements new to the franchise, and not for the core staples. I’m going to get to the positive aspects of the engine soon, but I want to get all of my negativity out from the beginning so that I can give the game’s strengths a proper presentation in full context.
Assassin’s Creed II presented staggering improvements to the free-running mechanics of Assassin’s Creed. When I first played Assassin’s Creed, I was very happy with how smooth these mechanics were. It took Assassin’s Creed II’s fluidity and grace to make me realize how clunky Altair’s title was. I was hoping, desperately, that Assassin’s Creed III would make me feel about Assassin’s Creed II what Assassin’s Creed II made me feel about Assassin’s Creed. It most definitely has not. The free-running, aside from small updates like a sidestep and the ability to go through certain buildings to break off pursuers (an interesting addition, but rarely used in my experience), feels no different to me than it did in Ezio’s trilogy. To make sure it was not simply a matter of time playing with my memory, I even revisited Revelations, the most recent Assassin’s Creed entry previous to Assassin’s Creed III. My memory was fully synched. The free-running isn’t bad, of course; it’s still one of the best motion mechanics that I’ve played. It simply isn’t improved over its predecessors. In a game that features free-running as a vital mechanic, expecting a significant update is not unreasonable, especially when that mechanic has room for improvement.
The flaws that the franchise’s free-running mechanics have had since the start are still present and apparent. Since the first title, there has been a near-constant issue of intuitiveness, or lack thereof. Chases through tight spaces with sudden turns are as annoying as ever, especially when you miss a narrow opening by a miniscule amount and end up wasting time trying to run up a wall that can’t be climbed. Additionally, the lack of intuitiveness is prominent in basic free-running, whether as part of a chase, stealth activity, or general movement. The game’s inability to update the main character’s direction at times can result in you continually trying to climb an unclimbable wall, even when you’re attempt to jump from one ledge to another. Or you could end up taking a swim during a mission with a bonus objective of not touching the damn water.
So the game’s basic mechanics weren’t updated. They’re still some of the best movement mechanics that I’ve ever played, even though they’re still the same as they were in 2009. The bit that really gets me is that, after three years of development, Assassin’s Creed III is the glitchiest entry in the franchise, even after a day-one patch. From quest-breaking glitches like the man you’re supposed to tail getting stuck in a loop and refusing to continue along his path to visual glitches like a ship captain’s mouth not moving while talking, or an associate’s mouth moving still after he’s finished talking, or a man leaning up against a wall and Shadowcatting halfway through it… Remember how the camera angles could screw you over? Still here. How about the occasional uselessness of a horse when faced with a tiny ledge? Imagine that in the frontier. The game’s filler people walking around that don’t understand to step out of the way of a charging horse or man with an arsenal of weapons? Still dumb as ever. Let’s just say that Assassin’s Creed III has more bugs than Klendathu.
As a demonstration of a visual glitch that has no impact on gameplay, the video below shows an interactive area on the counter that does not yet have anything interactive. The Animus notification grid is in the correct place for a future interactive object, but the object itself simply doesn’t exist in the game’s world yet:
All that being said, the visual glitches are just that: visual. They don’t affect the game’s functionality, they simply make it look a bit unpolished and adversely affect your immersion into the game’s world. It’s the occasional quest-breaking glitch that really stands out as a gameplay problem and those are, thankfully, not omnipresent. Now, hundreds and hundreds of words of complaints later, we come to why Assassin’s Creed III is still worth your time and money, in spite of the aforementioned hundreds and hundreds of words seemingly telling you otherwise.
Visually, the environments, animations, and cut scenes are stunning. The new engine steps up and provides a wonderful graphical experience (aside from the multitude of visual glitches), as you can see in one of the opening sequences (look at the waves, the animations, the lighting, and the landscape – also, only seeing a portion of the other ship near the 0:30 mark is another visual glitch):
I mentioned that Assassin’s Creed III’s new engine does not improve on the franchise’s free-running, and this remains true. It does, however, introduce some wonderful new elements to the franchise that are absolutely thrilling and delightful. The least of the game’s improvements, as far as my personal preference is concerned, is the inclusion of certain trees as interactive climbing objects. It adds a wonderfully outdoorsy element to the game when you can make your way through the treetops and use them as elements of stealth and combat. Moving on, combat and hunting are updated with snares, bait, rope darts, bow and arrow, poison darts, and more. The rope dart is one of my favorite weapons, next to the bow and arrow. Hunting is a new element that serves both as a way of keeping you sidetracked and entertained for hours beyond the game’s actual story and as a way of financing your story. Bait and snares, hidden blades and tomahawks, poison darts…hunting from the ground or from the treetops…fighting off wolves, cougars, bobcats, bears, and more using quicktime events…the hunting mechanic is full and rich (and is a good way of making Connor rich). Your efforts at hunting can be used for crafting both useful materials and commercial materials for sale throughout the Colonies. These are all great improvements to the franchise, the the best has been saved for last.
I’m a huge fan of classic naval history. I own the full Horatio Hornblower movie set on DVD, and have watched them countless times. There’s something about the environment that really appeals to me, and Assassin’s Creed III’s naval aspects are, in my opinion, worthy of being developed into their own standalone Horatio Hornblower game. Ship controls are absolutely as I imagined they would be (a good thing), and the sheer entertainment of the naval battles and navigation is something I can not get enough of. I spent a good portion of my time attempting to unlock additional naval quests so that I could spend more of Connor’s time out on the water. Revelations’ tower defense may have been a bit hit or miss, but Assassin’s Creed III’s naval battles are right on the mark.
Beyond that, the new engine does seem to have improved on combat. Group combat in Assassin’s Creed was painful, and dramatically improved with the Assassin’s Creed II engine. The gap of improvement here is not as significant as the first, but it is still noticeable. Take a look below (I attempted to use a Redcoat as a human shield, but I was too late to notice its availability):
That right there? The part where I go from group to group of Redcoats wreaking havoc? I spent a lot of time just doing that.
…because it’s fucking FUN, that’s why.
Now, the real strength of the Assassin’s Creed franchise has always been its writing. Assassin’s Creed III is no slouch in that regard. The story and the dialogue are definitely up to snuff, and the Animus Database is a veritable treasure trove of hilarity and wit uncommon in most games today. I could spend an entire day reading through the ADB entries without ever once getting bored. An example, from the “Theatre Royal” database entry: “Many of Handel’s operas opened here, right up until his death in 1759, when he mysteriously stopped writing them.” The database entries are all written in-game by Shaun Hastings, the snarky Brit Assassin that runs the information management and acquisition for the little group, and more often than not are absolutely dripping with personal commentary or witticisms. It’s an absolute joy. Unfortunately, either due to the writing or the voice acting, Connor just doesn’t seem to give a damn most of the time. He’s a tough character to like…well, that’s not exactly true. He’s a tough character to care about, I suppose. He has his moments, but he fell flat for me for the most part. To be honest, I thought Haytham (the chap in the captured video) was a much better character, and I would not have been disappointed if he had been the game’s primary protagonist instead of Connor.
Classic multiplayer returns, with two new game modes: Wolf Pack and Domination. In Wolf Pack, you are tasked with forming teams of up to four people as you attempt to work cooperatively to eliminate “Moles,” NPC targets. The Wolf Pack mode runs in waves (up to 25) that increase in difficulty as you continue. In Domination, you are tasked with holding map points. All in all, the multiplayer provides great added value to the title for those who are interested. I generally don’t play a great deal of competitive multiplayer, but the addition of Wolf Pack’s competitive cooperative play is definitely something that has sucked me in.
To recap: the movement mechanics haven’t been updated at all, it seems, from the ACII engine, but they’re still some of the best movement mechanics I’ve played in ever. The game is buggier than the Joker, but most of those bugs are visual and do not detract from the actual gameplay. It’s definitely disappointing when you look at the leap from AC->ACII, but in its own light, the game is still wonderful. The story is up to par, the Animus Database entries are a delight, the new multiplayer modes provide great added value, the frontier environments (and the rest of the game) are gorgeous, the combat is shank shank shank, and I want to buy a game that is nothing but Assassin’s Creed III’s naval element. Is Assassin’s Creed III for you? If you’re more interested in the story than in updated standard gameplay, then unequivocally yes. If updated free-running is a must-have for you, then you will find yourself disappointed. Hopefully the hunting, tree-running, and can’t-be-praised-enough naval elements will be enough to overshadow your disappointment in the sadly ignored free-running.
Let me put it this way: at the end of the day, Altair is still my favorite assassin, Ezio traversed my favorite environments, and Connor captained my favorite gameplay element of the entire franchise (and one of my favorite elements of gaming as a whole; that’s how fucking good the naval element is).
- The naval element is mind-blowingly amazing
- Wonderful story and in-game writing
- New multiplayer modes add great value
- Absolutely beautiful environments
- Improved combat mechanics
- Graphical glitches galore
- A handful of mission-breaking glitches
- Feels like absolutely no update to free-running
Final Word (with lack of free-running update considered):
Final Word (with lack of free-running update ignored):
I felt the need to provide the split review scores (distinguished by consideration of the unchanged movement mechanics) because the amount of weight I am placing on the lack of an update to the free-running mechanics may be disproportionate to how most people would weigh it. If it’s important that you see mechanical progression, you will be disappointed. If you’re more than content with the current state of motion in Assassin’s Creed, you’ll be just fine.
The PS3 version of the game was played for the main bulk of the review. A 360 copy was provided for platform comparison, and was used for capturing the videos in the review. Between the two, the 360 version seemed smoother and more polished than the PS3 version. If you’re in the market for Assassin’s Creed III, and you are a multi-platform player, I recommend the 360 version over the PS3 simply for the sake of a cleaner experience.
To see where this review score falls in our scoring range, please read our review scale guidelines.