Posted by Marianne Miller on Nov 16, 2012

Review – Assassin’s Creed III (Xbox 360)

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Product Information

MSRP: $59.99

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

ESRB Rating: M for Mature

Genre: Stealth/Action


Assassin’s Creed III has been massively hyped for a number of reasons previous to its release—many people looked forward to it because it was the start of an entirely new arc after finally laying Ezio to rest after (arguably) too many games.  Some were excited because of the time period, as the Revolutionary War is not too common a setting within the industry.  And more recently, some were excited to see the promised, definite end of Desmond’s story and the present-day, 2012 arc.

The majority of Assassin’s Creed III takes place across three notable locations in America throughout the 1770’s: Boston, New York, and the Frontier.  The story follows half-Native American protagonist Connor as he becomes an Assassin after receiving a vision from his village’s prophet (encased within a Piece of Eden) telling him to seek out the Assassins and join their cause to protect his people.

Since the release of Revelations, I have approached the release of Assassin’s Creed III with cautious optimism.  Revelations played beautifully, but despite all the bragging about how all our questions regarding Ezio and Altair would be answered, I found little satisfaction in that regard.  What questions Ubisoft thought we were asking, I have no idea.  But it certainly wasn’t whatever we got.  So while I was confident that the gameplay for Assassin’s Creed III would be solid, I was worried that the story would be shaky, just as it had been for Revelations.

So imagine my surprise when I popped in Assassin’s Creed III after getting my limited edition from a midnight launch only to find that, for whatever reason, the creative team working on Assassin’s Creed III decided to completely change the button assignments and combat five games into their series.

Assassin’s Creed III decided to forego the four-button template and “simplified” everything down to pressing the right trigger and A or B.  While in “high profile” mode in combat, pressing and holding B enters Connor into a parrying “stance” rather than just having counterattacks be a timed mechanic while pressing X.  Unfortunately, as they wanted to make B the default interaction button (as synchronizing with viewpoints is now B instead of Y), the “Pickup Weapon” option also shared an assignment with the parry stance.  So while trying to defend myself, the game would frequently mistake my pressing of the B button as a command to pick up a musket, which not only lead to frequent ass-whoopings, but also slowed down my combat considerably, as I fight exclusively with small weapons, and most weapons that enemies carry are large, bulky muskets.  Had the traditional counterattack been kept, this could have been avoided.  But this was really only the first in several oversights within Assassin’s Creed III that made it feel more amateurish than the beautiful, polished product that we have all come to expect from Ubisoft by now.

The freerunning and climbing has also been simplified, leading to another plethora of problems.   Instead of pressing RT and A to sprint and climb, all the gamer has to do is press RT.  While I’m sure this sounds user-friendly in a pitch meeting, the one thing that they didn’t realize was that the A button differentiates what the player actually wants to do.  This gave Ezio and Altair weight in a positive way.  However, frequently while running down the street I would brush past an interactive surface just a little too closely and Connor would latch onto it.  I’d be halfway up the wall before I’d realize what happened.  Connor is a quick climber, and it’s nice when you actually want to put that to use, but I constantly find myself having to tell him to get off the wall and calm the hell down.

The simplified approach to having RT being the sole button pressed for interactivity also led to problems with a lack of action as well.  Frequently I would scale fences or buildings while holding RT, reach the end of where I could walk, and stand there instead of running or jumping straight off.  If A was supposed to be pressed to jump, that would be fine, but I never experienced this issue consistently enough to suggest that.  Additionally, there are several new pieces added to the scenery that Connor or Desmond can duck/slide under, which is supposed to be an action that (presumably) blends into running.  However, frequently I would run up to low-hanging rocks or clotheslines and run straight into them (despite holding RT).  I’d have to walk back and forth while pressing RT before the hero would decide that he wanted to do what I was telling him.

The cities and frontier are much less lackluster than the places you can climb all over in previous games.  The brick-walled buildings are all that’s available to climb, and an occasional steeple over an “exceptionally” tall building serves as a viewpoint in a city, whereas in the frontier, Connor climbs atop trees to achieve the same goal.  While climbing trees to unlock parts of the map, I came across a startling realization—all viewpoint trees are designed exactly the same way.  There is literally no difference between any of them.  And while not entirely true for the city viewpoints, it feels the same because the architecture from the time is so painfully unremarkable.  But while the building design can hardly be blamed on the team who worked on the game, I find the lack of difference between any of the most important landmarks to climb in the frontier to be lazy at best, which was unfortunately not an uncommon feeling for me throughout most of my playthrough.

Assassin’s Creed III is littered with bugs and glitches.  Frequently, the flashing red triangles would not appear over enemies’ heads before they attack.  While I find the redesign of the notifier to be a bit obnoxious, it’s difficult to play a game when there are times where I have that as a crutch, and times when I don’t.  Enemies will fly across the screen after I defeat them, soldiers will get shot in the chest after I use them as a human shield and continue fighting, once I had a strange bug of soldiers’ voices being replaced by women’s screams, and more than once I have fallen through the earth or ran into invisible walls that throw me high into the air.  There was one point where a soldier came, stood in front of the “camera” during a cutscene, and I had to watch the remainder of the scene through the neck hole of his shirt.  Often I find that Connor will be just below the 4-5 inch lip of a roof and won’t grab onto the edge of it to pull himself up.

The game lacks polish entirely.  And while bugs are nothing new in an age where game developers seem to be using console gamers as their beta testers, the staggering amount I have encountered in my first playthrough alone is unforgiveable for a game series that has been running for as long as this one has, and with as much quality as it has shown in the past.  As of this posting, Ubisoft is planning to release a patch (no doubt because of annoyed gamers harassing them about bugs during the developer’s AMA on Reddit a few days prior), but I’m not going to give a game a better rating because they can fix things after the fact.

Most of these bugs have been inside of cities; its in those places that I find myself completely raging over this game.  However, once I step outside into the frontier, I find Assassin’s Creed III to be rather enjoyable.  Hunting is simple and a fun way to pass the time.  Air-assassinating rabbits and getting into quick-time fights with bears and elks is probably most of the time I’ve put into this title.  Climbing trees is remarkably easy, and each area of the frontier is noticeably different from the others—the Black Creek hunting area is particularly striking—and the areas are speckled with Frontiersmen and Homestead missions, which are easily my favorite part of the game.

Connor’s teacher owns a manor in the frontier, and after restorations on the property, Connor is able to track down traders and craftsmen to help bring his settlement to life.  Continuing missions allow him to unlock more specific items from the person helped, and allow us as gamers to get to know the settlers we saved, rather than just making them tools for making money.

Frontiersmen missions are similarly lighthearted, triggered by visiting a campfire and hearing a ghost story from a tall-talking man on a stump.  What follows is Connor undoubtedly looking that man in the face and telling him he’s full of shit before going off to investigate, with a surprisingly mixed bucket of supernatural vs. explainable results.

Naval missions have also been introduced to the series, and after playing through more than a handful, they are completely welcome.  The missions are intense, but fun and relatively simple.  Most of them involve blowing stuff up, which I’m sure most of us can get behind.

The story is much more enjoyable than that of Revelations, which is relieving.  Unexpected twists litter the sequences, and the monologues from the first game are back, though they are much more bearable and serve to introduce the grey area that was so prevalent in the first game—the questioning by the hero as to whether or not he was doing the “right” thing.  While Connor is a relatively boring hero, he is a perfectly capable one (though I much prefer his father, but I have a thing for dry, sarcastic British guys—I married one, after all).  And while the present day gets little involvement, the few missions you do have to perform as Desmond are riveting and make you feel entirely too vulnerable, as you lack any of the conveniences present in the Animus.

The finale to the Desmond story gets a very mixed reaction from me.  I found myself in the complete opposite position that I expected to be in, which was hating the story, loving the gameplay.  It’s rather alienating playing an Assassin’s Creed that controls so differently than the others, which makes me question who this game was actually marketed for and wonder if Ubisoft was just being hypersensitive to criticism.  First-time players interested in the Assassin’s Creed series may be interested in picking up this game, and they’ll probably enjoy it, as Assassin’s Creed has an infinitely interesting story and setting—but the present day storyline will be completely lost on anyone but a veteran of the series.

The Good

  • Solid Story
  • Naval Missions are a strong addition
  • Frontier offers a vast and varied amount of gameplay

The Bad

  • Poorly designed, simplified gameplay
  • Bugs, bugs, bugs
  • Jerky climbing, poor interactivity with scenery in cities
  • Best parts of the game have nothing to do with the storyline

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