Assassin's Creed III Review
Shooting for the stars is a noble yet humbling endeavor. From one perspective, you are attempting to generate a timeless, masterful experience, and you should receive respect and encouragement. From another, more cynical perspective, you are taking too many unnecessary risks and furthermore, you are railing against both mammoth expectations and what one expects to be daunting deadlines. The business world clashes with the artistic realm. Disappointment may be inevitable. However, when all is said and done, if one becomes immersed in the colossal vision, the failings become nigh-on insignificant.
…that’s an elaborate way of saying that Assassin’s Creed III may be a vastly more subjective adventure than any of us had anticipated. I will explain.
Oddly enough, perhaps it’s accurate to say the following— If you love the graphics, you’ll love the game. No, I’ve never been a graphic whore in my life. The point is relatively simple: The visual presentation is very much a mirror image of the entire ACIII experience. In many places, it’s beautiful and moving and effective. It’s extremely ambitious in terms of scope and concept. But looking close may reveal a grainy texture, an animation that isn’t properly executed, a particular design that seems oddly subpar. You only notice these shortcomings because they contrast so sharply with the quality of the production as a whole.
And that’s precisely the point. Quality can be surprisingly subjective when the determination of that quality relies so heavily upon immersion. The sound is in much the same boat, as it’s another example of the sum being greater than its parts. The voice acting is fantastic and some of the best you will ever hear in video games, and the soundtrack is absolutely stellar. The effects are great, too. That being said, as is curiously the case in such huge, sprawling games, the balance and execution can be wonky. Voices can cut out and ambient audio can drown out important dialogue. All in all, though, the sound allows this world to live and breathe…a very high compliment.
Assassin’s Creed III sees the return of Desmond, the protagonist throughout the entire series, although most will associate his ancestors with each installment: Altair in the original, Ezio in the next three, and Connor in the latest. However, you actually begin the new adventure with a different character, which immediately hints at the ridiculously huge sweep of this game. In fact, in the first hour you’ll perform a simple assassination at a fancy theater, cross the Atlantic, and explore the unbelievably well designed colonial city of Boston. Heck, you’ll even run into Benjamin Franklin early on, so that’s an indication of what to expect.
Essentially, saying this game features an historic scope serves two purposes: First and most obvious is the allusion to the historical time period; i.e., the Revolutionary War. Secondly and more importantly, however, is the fact that we have rarely – if ever – seen a single game attempt to encompass so many facets of interactive entertainment. The story involves everything from pure fact to liberal fiction (and even a reference to the so-called end of the world date, 12/21/12), the gameplay boasts a mix of fluid combat, platforming, exploration, and even strategy. Toss in naval battles and massive vistas that will capture and enrich the imagination, and you’ve got a prodigously powerful title.
I didn’t get into the general design of the game when discussing the graphics, and that’s because the construction of this hugely appealing world is a much bigger part of the gameplay analysis. It’s not about a hay stack that doesn’t look quite right or a weird civilian animation. This stretches well beyond the boundaries of the anal; in fact, if you’re busy being all anal and picky, if you’re wandering around trying to pick out each tiny flaw, you’re completely missing the point of the game. If it’s glaringly obvious or if it impacts the flow of the game, that’s another issue.
Speaking to the issues others have noted, there’s really only one correct way to address the situation. We should first acknowledge that a few surprising technical drawbacks to exist— Sound dropouts, graphical inconsistencies, and even a few control issues unfortunately keep me from awarding the high-9 I fully expected to hand out. That is indeed disappointing. But how can one be too disappointed when faced with this package? Seriously? I can’t imagine being that anal; I can’t comprehend voluntarily gimping my enjoyment because some dude didn’t react exactly correctly when I bumped into him.
Assassin’s Creed III has lofty aspirations and we should take that ride. We shouldn’t get bogged down by things that ultimately don’t matter. What does matter is an increased level of frustration due to the somewhat touchy control; your character may not do exactly what you want him to do. That being said, I think it’s also clear that fans of this series will see nothing amiss. Connor controls exactly the same way his capable ancestors did; he’s just more versatile and has more animations. The reason we notice more shortcomings is because there are more sections where the hero must move extremely quickly.
When playing the prototypical assassin, nothing has really changed. It’s just a little better in a variety of ways and those who are familiar with past installments will be good to go. Besides, ham-handed gamers really aren’t welcome in the world of Assassin’s Creed. They never have been. It requires more of a deft touch and a certain amount of patience. Jamming on buttons never works and anticipating future movements is a must. The process of moving Connor, Ezio and Altair is akin to a dance; it has a definite rhythm and cadence, especially when it comes to combat and free-running. It’s different than most any mechanic you’ve seen before outside this series. That's important to consider.
It’s my belief that some of the people who are complaining and criticizing have never quite understood that rhythm, nor do they want to. It works beautifully if you get it. If not, you’ll constantly be fighting it. And when you’re forced to fight something, all the other flaws, minor though they may be, are immediately amplified. Hence, your overall opinion of the experience drops precipitously. My advice is simple— Don’t let it happen. If you grasp this, as many AC fanatics already have, you will be in for a memorable ride, one that has no equal in the world of gaming. And of course, that’s the key I referenced earlier. This adventure has to get you, and you have to get it.
The combat doesn’t seem to have changed as much as the developers claimed, but I don’t care in the slightest. I didn’t see much wrong with it in the first place. It discourages the button-mashing hacking-and-slashing style that does not fit this franchise, and it causes gamers to become more adept at timing and strategy. The AI isn’t too fantastic but it never has been. One could argue that it should get increasingly better with each new entry (and that’s a valid point), but it has never hampered the entertainment value. It didn’t then and it doesn’t now.
After playing and playing, I have determined two critical points. The first is that fans of the series will be plenty satisfied; they may be a trifle vexed that Ubisoft didn’t take the opportunity to fix a few lingering issues, but there don’t appear to be any new significant drawbacks. This is Assassin’s Creed. It even has plenty of upgrades that offset the flaws and I can’t imagine why this is being glossed over. The combat remains as tight and responsive as ever, and with the added moves, animations and general depth, it has become an extremely reliable and rewarding mechanic.
For the second point, I reference the introduction above. The sheer expansiveness of this epic title dwarfs the slight issues (and they are slight if you understand how to properly play the game). If you get lost in this world, you’ll never want to come out. There’s a little of everything from each of the past series entries, the story really is quite involving, the dialogue and writing is excellent, and above all else, this interactive world is just ridiculously impressive. The attention paid to every tiny detail, from petting a passing dog to the kids running in the street to the farmer tossing hay; this is a vibrant, intoxicating environment.
Assassin’s Creed III is unavoidably, inescapably epic. Lingering technical issues that have affected the franchise since the beginning are clear, and the multiplayer really isn’t anything too special. Beyond that, if you step back and see this game for what it is, if you cast a wandering eye on an unparalleled landscape (in terms of sheer detail and historical accuracy), if you walk down the colonial streets, fly through the snow-laden branches of trees, or fend off a horde of foes, you will feel the thrill of what is correctly labeled a masterpiece. Not all masterpieces are technically perfect. Some simply thrive on a extraordinary vision.
The Good: Extreme level of detail and a huge expansive scope. Some of the best voice performances ever. Plenty of gameplay variety. General freedom and immersion is top-notch. Fluid, engaging combat. Great story. An unparalleled atmosphere.
The Bad: Lingering technical issues. Some expected repetition in the missions.
The Ugly: “‘Ugly’ is simply too harsh a word for any of the minor miscues found here.”
10/31/2012 Ben Dutka