Assassin’s Creed has a lot in common with Grand Theft Auto. I’m not talking about how both games are giant sandboxes with a narrative mission focus that’s accompanied by countless side missions. I’m talking about how both franchises approach sequels with a number in them. Both Assassin’s Creed II and Grand Theft Auto III had two direct sequels, but neither brought enough new innovations to warrant being a “proper” sequel. With Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar introduced a new engine, rebuilt Liberty City, and gave us an annoying cousin. There’s no annoying cousin in Assassin’s Creed III, but the revamped engine and new location is present. Grand Theft Auto IV was also a massive improvement on the previous entries in the franchise.
Can the same be said for Assassin’s Creed III? Yes. Well, no. But still, yes. It’s a little bit of both.
Let’s not mince meat: Assassin’s Creed III is a good game. Not bad, not incredible, simply good. It has its moments of excellence, but they’re often wedged between moments of boredom.
This stems from one major problem in the gameplay: its schizophrenic nature. At times it’s a full fledged stealth game. Then it becomes a big-budget action title. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both, but I’m not sure if it’s because of the mission or a bug that didn’t let me attack with my weapon. Sometimes it wants me to explore colonial cities (those segments admittedly being the best moments of the game). Then it throws me back into the new frontier, which is about as exciting as it sounds. Sure, I can jump through the trees from branch to branch, but performing air assassinations on elk only to be met with quicktime events as their elk friends attack me doesn’t have the same appeal as performing air assassinations on redcoats and escaping through the city as muskets are being fired in my direction.
Naturally, I want more of the cities. I want more riot-starting against the British, more liberating colonists, and more time spent progressing through the narrative.
But then again, there’s already plenty of this stuff. This is a game with an astonishing amount of content, perhaps even too much content. When you’re not busy meddling in the American Revolution and killing templars, you’ll be occupied with naval battles, countless side missions, and exploring the frontier. While it’s nice to have all these distractions, I can’t help but wonder how much smoother the game would of been without the expansive countryside.
As previously mentioned, jumping from tree to tree and assassinating elk isn’t all that much fun. There just simply isn’t enough to do in the frontier. Sure, you can hunt, gather, and build up your homestead, but honestly, is there a purpose? I skipped these elements and still easily spent a good 20 hours in the game, not to mention they didn’t seem to result in any tangible upgrade. I could say the same about the other side missions, but they were at least fun. Naval missions are not only an absolute blast, but surprisingly accessible. Not to mention, who doesn’t enjoy running around rooftops, stealing from traitors, and killing Loyalists? Best of all, if there’s a great deal of distance between you and your objective in Boston, there’s plenty to do in between. You don’t have this luxury in the frontier. It’s just you, some deer, trees, raccoons, and the 800 meters that separate you from your destination.
Truth be told, if you eliminated about 65% of the frontier type content, this game would be so much better. There’d be less time spent traveling the uninhabited and more time spent playing the game. There’d also probably be a lot fewer bugs that get in the way of completing missions.
What further upsets me is the fact that the homestead is in the middle of nowhere. Assassin’s Creed III often sends us to settlements such as Concord and Lexington. They’re nowhere near as settled as Boston or New York City, but there’s still enough activity going on to make them interesting. Granted, this is a fact enhanced by the fact that massive battles take place at these settlements, and they happen to be some of the best moments in the game. But this brings up another troubling point. One minute I’ll be running across a battlefield, dodging cannon fire as I attempt to assassinate my target, and the next I’ll be back at the homestead and told to head deep into the frontier to warn my Indian tribe. That’s literally it: Walk a long way, talk, mission over. Why can’t they just do this with a cutscene, especially since they overused them during the game’s opening missions?
It’s almost as if Ubisoft forced the game to be properly paced. Sure, I’m happy that the game doesn’t move along at Michael Bay type speeds, but the beauty of a stealth action game is that the pacing should take care of itself, something that admittedly does often happen. I’ll sneak up to my target, stealthily take out some guards, and then dive into the fray. Not to mention that the reconnaissance type missions seem to have made a full blown comeback (and help lead up to big set pieces). There’s a natural flow of the game that,when uninterrupted, works wonders. However, this flow is interrupted by spending too much time outside the main cities.
Of note is the fact that Desmond’s role is his biggest yet in the franchise, and there’ll be several Desmond missions as you attempt to stop the end of the world. Surprisingly, they’re incredibly enjoyable, combining adventure, exploration, stealth, and combat fluidly. He does show some emotions (finally!), albeit quite generic ones, but it’s nice to see the present-day missions stand toe to toe with those of Connor’s during the past.
Speaking of Connor, I was pleased that the tale is one of his own and not necessarily a tale of the American Revolution, following in line with our previous two heroes. Having our story take place in such an important part of history was a risk, but Ubisoft’s writers need to be rewarded greatly. This is a tale of revenge that just happens to coincide with one the most famous wars in history. Fact and fiction were weaved together quite seamlessly, and while the climax for Connor may not have been all that rewarding, the final sequence of events is one of the more memorable moments.
One of the biggest shortcomings with the entire franchise is the combat system, which received a small overhaul. While yes, the essence of combat is still wait, counter, and attack, there’s been a couple of caveats. While you’ll still get attacked one at a time, to the point where you’re told who is to attack, that doesn’t stop people from shooting you, nor does it prevent stronger foes from disrupting your attacks. You’ll be able to break defenses, grab enemies as human shields to guard musket fire, and throw people aside, but the core complaints of Assassin’s Creed combat still exist. Still, it’s a very large, well done band-aid for the problem, and one that left me quite happy with how the game’s combat works.
Assassin’s Creed III is a worthy title to close out the successful franchise. It’s a huge, ambitious game, one with massive achievements and disappointing downfalls. All the same, we can’t be upset at Ubisoft for shooting for the moon, because despite the issues, this is still a good game. Temper your expectations and hype a little bit and you’ll walk away extremely happy. But if you’re expecting the breakout game of the year, chances are you’ll walk away disappointed.