While gamers were busy uncovering the Borgia conspiracy and seeking out Altair’s memories in Constantinople, a different team had been charged with crafting an entirely new Assassin’s Creed adventure just after the release of the second game. In many ways, Assassin’s Creed III feels as if it were made independently thanks to a welcome graphical facelift and new gameplay enhancements. Those expecting a fresh “rebuilt from the ground up” take are likely to be disappointed as the core structure hasn’t wavered too far from its roots. Assassin’s Creed III is a big, substantial adventure offering hours of mission critical and secondary content to play through. Unfortunately there’s a lack of cohesion between them as if the design’s primary philosophy was “everything including the kitchen sink.”
Much like before, the game’s story is told from two different points of view. In the present day, Desmond, his father, Rebecca and Shaun locate a hidden temple built by the First Civilization in the New York countryside. Together, they must piece together clues and information provided by an AI software about an impending cataclysm set to occur on December 31st, 2012. To do so, Desmond will venture into his genetic memory through the Animus and live the life of Connor, a young Native American born from a union between an English noble and a woman from the Mohawk tribe. Connor finds himself swept up in the Templar/Assassin war after his mother is killed and his people threatened. In his quest for revenge, Connor allies himself with the Sons of Liberty as they prepare for the Revolutionary War.
For those who have already played through Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and/or Revelations, not a great deal has been changed. Advancing the story involves completing missions given by Connor’s fellow Assassins as well as famous American heroes. These tasks run the gamut of tailing suspicious individuals, performing assassinations, defending prominent NPCs, and aiding his own people against the oncoming tide of colonists. Occasionally, Connor will have a chance to participate in famous events from the history including Paul Revere’s Ride, the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill. With a nod to Brotherhood, each mission comes with a set of optional objectives that, when fulfilled, will lead to a full synchronization for the current memory. Most of these bonus tasks are easy enough while others are terrible in their deviousness, a noticeable problem during the early chapters. I found it altogether unfair that the game expects you to perform great feats of stealth while forcing you through tutorials.
When not aiding in the revolution, Assassin’s Creed III offers a whole host of diversions to keep you busy. While the majority of side quests don’t venture too far from the collection variety there are some notable exceptions. While passing through the frontier portions of the map, Connor can hunt the local wildlife for fun and profit. The lush forests teem with animal life, from cute little bunnies to terrifying grizzly bears, and Connor can use his hunting and stealth skills (along with a small collection of traps and lures) to track all manner of creatures to his blade. Skinning carcasses yields all sorts of random animal bits that can be sold to local traders or used to craft goods and consumables. That’s right, there’s a crafting system.
The Davenport Homestead, where Connor’s mentor lives, functions more or less like Ezio’s villa except the player doesn’t have the same level of control over the property’s upgrades. Instead, completing short missions will send various tradesman to the property to make it flourish and, more importantly, unlock new items to be crafted. Recipes for items can be earned throughout the game and building them requires resources and artisans. Once made, they can be shipped off to town via convoys that may or may not reach their destination safely. For every item added to a supply train, its Risk percentage increases making them more susceptible to British attack. Risk can be lowered by taking to the sea and engaging British forces and bandits. Naval warfare is the game’s brightest shining feature and there is nothing more thrilling than steering the Aquila around the coast taking potshots against smaller craft while maneuvering along an enemy battleship’s broadsides to levy cannon fire.
Homestead development, seeking out the hidden treasure of Captain Kidd, tracking down lost pages from Benjamin Franklin’s almanacs, collecting eagle feathers, liberating towns, courier missions, battling the British out in the open sea, recruiting Assassins and sending them out to disrupt Templar interests throughout the thirteen colonies…there’s just so much to see and do. And that’s not counting the multiplayer. The unique gameplay established in Brotherhood returns with a few additional tweaks and changes to the system that makes tracking down targets a bit more challenging. The multiplayer’s narrative is reminiscent of Ender’s Game as Abstergo (whose logo looks suspiciously like Google Drive) has created an online video game that allows players to take sides with the Templars to kill Assassins.
Assassin’s Creed III offers a noticeable jump in visuals that sets it apart from the previous games. I found myself constantly surprised with just how good characters look and how well they’re animated, especially during close up conversations. The world around Connor is a beautiful one, with forests that nearly reach Skyrim quality and offer a nice change of pace from the rather drab looking cities and towns. One of the personal draws to the series has always been the costumes and Assassin’s Creed III is the best of the lot. Each of the major character’s clothing show off dozens of small, minute details the previous games lacked and the Assassin outfit is a great blend of Colonial finery with the regalness of the British military.
As good as the game looks on the PlayStation 3, I have experienced a fair number of graphical and technical issues. There’s a fair amount of asset pop in while speed running through different areas, with NPCs blinking into existence three feet in the air with arms akimbo. After transitioning from cutscene to playable sequence, the camera was stuck in cinematic mode, severely limiting my camera movement and it failed to load the HUD. After receiving a Memory Synched screen, I was stuck in a half loaded version of the Animus’ limbo. There were also a few instances during cutscenes when characters mouths wouldn’t animate or whole didn’t load at all. These issues occurred hours after each other but were extremely noticeable.
As I said before, Assassin’s Creed III is stuffed to the gills with things to do. With that, I can’t help but feel that there is too much to do. I always exhibit OCD-like symptoms with each Assassin’s Creed but seeing the map covered with dozens of interactive icons for the first time was enough to induce a panic attack. The main issue with these different activities is that they don’t seem necessary and appear to exist in order to pad game length. Fetch quests are hollow and developing the homestead isn’t as engaging as before. What doesn’t help is the game’s inability to properly convey and explain the purpose of these systems before moving onto the next activity thereby decreasing its importance. Homestead development isn’t essential to the main narrative, as Connor barely visits, so for the most part it can be skipped. The only piece of property worth upgrading is the Aquila. All the money you make should be invested in obtaining new armor, guns and cannonball variants.
And what of Desmond? His side of the story isn’t nearly as interesting as Connor’s and the game appears to have a difficult time tying together Desmond’s goal of discovering the temple’s secrets with Connor’s quest. Juno does appear before Connor, as she did with Desmond, but that is the only similarity between the two. While the young Mohawk helps fight for the revolution, Desmond travels all over the world to locate power sources that will deactivate the temple’s force field. There’s drama involving the strained relationship with his father and the repeated encounters with a former Assassin turned Templar and yet the most fascinating element is hearing the history of the First Civilization through the temple’s AI program. What ultimately damages Desmond’s story is the sheer aloofness of it. The globe trotting adventures fail to convey any sense importance and tend to be over before they start. They’re not as bad as the segues from the first Assassin’s Creed but they’re dangerously close.
I don’t want the above negativity to suggest that I did not like Assassin’s Creed III. Not at all! Despite all my hang ups, should be played by those who have stuck it out for this long. And the game is fun! Many of the larger set pieces are quite thrilling and free running across trees is more fun than it should be and, once again, sailing ships is quite possibly the best thing ever to come out of this franchise. Something does have to be said for the setting as the spotlight on pre-American history has resonates with me. Being an American who grew up learning about the Colonies, George Washington and the Revolution in school, the opportunity to see the Founding Fathers in action (albeit in virtual, a semi-fictionalized setting) is just as good as any Ken Burns-style documentary. I dare say it fills me with a sense of national pride.
Assassin’s Creed III is a huge game. After four games and hundreds of years of history, players will step into an adventure that attempts to bring all the loose ends to a close. While it’s a shame that the content tends to get in the way of the bigger picture I find it to be a worthy entry in a storied franchise.