You may not know it, but the fate of a culture, a nation, and the world itself are at stake. At least that’s what I’m told in Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft’s latest installment to the series. Stepping away from the Eastern Hemisphere, the story of Desmond Miles and his ancestors continues in the good ‘ol U.S. of A. as Desmond finds his Native American roots hoping to stop a solar flare that’s slated to destroy all of civilization.
If all that seems a little heady, you’ve obviously not played this game’s predecessors. Fear not, the rest of the review should be pretty straightforward, but you may want to check out some “previously-on” videos if you plan on playing through the newest episode.
The majority of Assassin’s Creed III takes place in Boston, New York, and the woodlands of the North Eastern United States, and let me say right off the bat that one of the most impressive things about this all-around remarkable game is its visual design. Ubisoft has been working on Assassin’s Creed III for over three years, and it shows. From the 18th century city streets—meticulously replicated from old maps and documents—to the lush, weather-prone forests and rough seas, the game is simply stunning, serving as a gorgeous sigh of relief to the mostly similar aesthetics of the past three games.
The scope of the old world in Assassin’s Creed III is gigantic, almost overwhelmingly so. Still, the developers managed to supplement the vast landscapes and huge cities with hours upon hours of gameplay opportunities. Between the various settlements outside of the major metropolises and the many side-missions and mini-games, you won’t find yourself on long treks with nothing to do. The land opens itself up for thorough exploration, a liberty no player should avoid taking.
In this world we find Connor—a half-Native American, half-British ancestor of Desmond—though we don’t find him immediately. It’s better you experience the game’s intro on your own, but suffice to say it takes a little while to step into Connor’s moccasins. Raised by his Native American mother with a grudge against the Brits, Connor joins the Assassins as a young boy to fight for the fair treatment of his people. His struggle, though, extends beyond his imagination, as he grows to becomes a driving force for the American Revolution and the fight against the Templars.
The game’s story is excellent. There’s almost no other way to put it. Both inside the Animus and out, the plot is engaging, it’s thought-provoking, and it works. Connor’s character, on the other hand, leaves a bit to be desired. His backstory gives him the depth necessary for a compelling protagonist, but the way his character presents himself throughout much of the game is, to put it bluntly, annoying. The developers seemed to want to show him as an innocent do-gooder whose inexperience with “civilized” society leaves him ill-equipped to deal with notions like “the lesser of two evils” and “a means to an end.” While the contrast sounds interesting on paper, Connor’s naivety comes off as irritatingly righteous, rather than as a voice of reason. That said, his discontentment with “the way things are done” does raise the questions about human nature, morality, and right-and-wrong that serve as part of the game’s overall theme.
Despite minor upgrades between games, many Assassin’s Creed fans found themselves growing tired of the series as it grew more and more repetitive. The team at Ubisoft looked to combat this with a near ground-up build of the title and, for the most part, they succeeded. Connor’s Native roots provided the perfect opportunity for a redesigned movement system, which feels more natural and fluid than ever. This is never more apparent than in the forests of Assassin’s Creed III, where players can climb trees, swing between branches, and attack enemies from the cover of the canopy. This fresh feel for movement is also essential for hunting, a new element to the series. Connor is able to set traps, fire a bow and arrow, or simply knife animals to collect their pelts for sale.
Connor also introduces us to a new combat system. While similar in principle to its predecessors, the new system and its accompanying control scheme give players a bit more choice in how to dispel and overcome enemies. Yes, it will take veterans a bit of getting-used-to, but it’s a better scheme, especially when considering the newfound ease of ducking in and out of combat. You’ll no longer have to struggle to escape a fight, as Connor can take off running at any time to preserve health or concentrate on an objective.
Other additions include new weapons like Connor’s Tomahawk and Rope Darts and the British Musket, a redesigned Animus, the inclusion of a real stealth system, and the highly anticipated “naval warfare,” which is simply mindblowing. With aquatic mechanics similar to those used in the cruise ship scenes of Uncharted 3 along with realistic armaments and navigation controls, Assassin’s Creed III’s naval warfare is, to use a pun I swore I wouldn’t use, revolutionary.
Oh yeah, Assassin’s Creed III has a multiplayer element, too. Actually, it’s quite good, and more developed than ever. In the past, most of the multiplayer focus has been on the simple free-for-all assassination mode, though Revelations did have Capture the Flag. Now, along with the traditional modes, come two new game types: Domination and Wolf Pack. In the former, teams fight in the same, sneaky style to capture different zones on the map, while the latter pits one team against various NPCs with the clock winding down. Both provide depth to an already enjoyable, unique multiplayer. You won’t find a Call of Duty experience here, but if you’re looking for a new challenge, you’ll definitely want to log onto the “Animus” and try your hand at Assassin’s Creed III’s multiplayer.
If there’s definitively negative aspect of Assassin’s Creed III, it’s that the game has a tendency toward glitches and bugs. Some are minor and goofy—forest animals disappearing into cliff sides, for example—while others can affect the game in frustrating ways. In one instance, I was tasked with swimming to a ship and assassinating an enemy without being noticed by other guards. Everything was working out until I realized one guard was stuck in his patrol route, perpetually walking and getting stuck to part of the boat. What made the issue worse was that, for whatever reason, he turned to face me no matter where I came from—not normal behavior for this guard, I later learned. After restarting the checkpoint multiple times, I finally resolved to restart my system, which did eventually fix the issue. Needless to say, I was aggravated. The good news is, Ubisoft seems committed to weeding out and fixing these issues, as evidenced by the day-one bug-fixing patch.
Even with its oddities and glitches, it’s hard not to love Assassin’s Creed III. This is the kind of game that reminds you why you have eyeballs, while simultaneously helping you appreciate the dedication and thoroughness of the research and design teams at Ubisoft. The game’s story is sure to keep you talking long after its conclusion, and its breadth will have you coming back for more. Should you choose to buy the latest chapter in the Assassin saga—which I suggest you do—let me give you one piece of advice: explore the world. The game is full of subtle touches and side stories that would be a shame to miss.
Assassin’s Creed III was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. A PlayStation 3 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.