Also On: Xbox 360, PS3
Don’t play Assassin’s Creed III before playing everything else leading up to this… or at the very least Assassin’s Creed 2. I made the presumption that I’d be able to figure it out despite skipping a couple of games, which was a big mistake, as there isn’t much backstory in AC3. Instead they say something along the lines of, “we made it here with an almost entirely new cast of characters and entirely different reasons for our actions… Let’s save the world with the power of our ancestors!” figuring you know what’s going on. So, it’s definitely not a good idea given how story driven the game is. Fortunately the gameplay is as smooth as ever (PC version included) and you quickly melt into the awesomeness of all the running, climbing, and stealth killing that comprises the Assassin’s Creed experience.
Let me try to sum it up so you have an idea of what’s happening (as a refresher for those that might not recall the previous games or for those gamers living under a rock.) The Knights Templars and Assassins Brotherhood have been at each others throats for centuries vying over control of artifacts left over by humanity’s predecessors. These predecessors were superior to modern day humans in pretty much every way, but to spite their best efforts they were wiped out by a solar flare… Similar to the one that the Mayan calendar suggests is going to happen in 2012 (this month, no less).
Here’s the rub; using a machine called the Animus, modern humans can re-live the lives of their ancestors. Enter Desmond Miles, an average dude who just so happens to come from a long lineage of assassins. As the player, you’ve assumed the role of Desmond (and his ancestors) throughout the Assassin’s Creed franchise. In Assassin’s Creed III when Desmond is in the Animus he controls Connor (aka Ratonahekekj:Ho), his native-American great-great-(great?)-grandfather, during the American Revolution; meaning you meet up with such shifty characters as Sam Adams, George Washington, and Benny Franklin.
So there it is – with the 2012 end of days approaching, Desmond has been using the Animus to re-live the lives of his assassin ancestors to find artifacts needed to start a machine created by humanity’s predecessors in order to protect the Earth, all the while trying to avoid the Knights Templars who are actively looking for him and his compadres in both the past lives he re-lives in the Animus and his regular “real life” in contemporary times. Pardon the run-on, but I wanted to get all that out in one go (hopefully you read that sentence in one breath).
…So you can see why you’d be better off playing through the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed III basically takes what Ubisoft learned in the previous games and then tacks on a whole bunch of other stuff that, honestly, I had to actively avoid so I wouldn’t get side-tracked off the campaign. The problem I had is that there are as many elements that feel integral to the game (and are liquid smooth), as there are elements that are unnecessary wastes of time, and clunky feeling by comparison. All of these elements – good and bad – are almost exhaustively deep in terms of mechanics and duration.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s as if there is too much game here. I constantly felt that I was missing out on stuff and after a while I started wondering if I should just stick to playing campaign missions only. It’s kind of like Grand Theft Auto, but with ~40 hours of campaign with endless amounts of open-worldness on top of that (whereas GTA is like a 15-20 hours campaign and then endless of hours of fun and exploration.)
The amount of time it takes to learn/master a mechanic is just enough time to realize it has little-to-no bearing on the story and that it may not even help you in the long run. For example, you can spend hours building up your town with allegiances to earn money and to buy cool gear, only to realize that you’re better off using the default assassin’s blades that you had from the get-go. After a while you kind of lose track of the “who and why” and instead spend your time merely getting from one point to another (wherever the map says to go)… And that’s all within the Animus. When you take breaks from colonial times, and resume your role as modern day Desmond, you realize just how much time you’ve been wasting by doing random crap and exploring 18th century America.
Ironically, the modern day bits were some of my favorite and I quickly realized the difference: almost everything outside of the animus has to do with moving the main narrative forward. There’s no dicking around hunting or taking on superfluous missions to win favor of a group of people that won’t make upcoming endeavors easier.
There’s gobs and gobs of game; you can do sea-bound missions as the captain of a ship (which you use to get from place to place), or play the well fleshed out multiplayer, or take advantage of the commerce system to earn money, endless hunting, random NPC side missions, finding collectibles and gambling, replaying missions to maintain full synchronization… it goes on and on. It’s like an RPG, but without the necessity of leveling up to unlock abilities (or gear, etc.) that are required to move forward… In other words, it’s often overwhelming. I finally got my assassins uniform after almost 20 hours of playtime, at which point I decided to only do campaign missions for fear of getting burnt out or fatigued on the game before finishing it. Yeah, it’s like that.
Technically the game is pretty solid. As with any open-world title that takes place in vast forests and Olde Tyme cities, clipping and NPC awkwardness are to be expected, but visually it’s the best looking and sounding in the franchise. On PC I had no problems maxing it out at 1080p/60fps and with a 360 controller it plays exactly as you’d expect from the console version – so you’re not missing anything that way. One thing I found weird was that cinematics and load screens (running around a “blank” Animus room) tended to spring up out of nowhere. Sometimes you’d be killing a whole slew of people and it’d just pop into a cinematic or Animus loading room even though you may not have necessarily been gunning for the target. Kind of frustrating as this usually happens when you fail a stealth kill and end up with dozens of bodies piled up around you that could’ve been looted but disappear when you come out of the cinematic/load screen.
Speaking of killing, the combat system has been simplified for the better. Holding down B blocks and parries, while tapping it at the appropriate times causes your attacker to be vulnerable doing a “bullet-time” type slow-down at which point hitting X or A allows you to insta-kill or disarm him.) It’s smoother than I remember, and more satisfying, and survivable, when you’re surrounded by a bunch of red coats. Another aspect that I appreciated was free-running amongst the trees in the forests surrounding Boston or the Homestead. While I still prefer running along the bungalows of Damascus, jumping between branches and across rivers in the lush wilderness is pretty satisfying. Conversely, I felt being in the colonial cities of early ‘Merica to be kind of muddled and tempo-destroying (roofs are too far apart and climbing the building takes too long since they’re all two stories.)
Assassins Creed III is a game you should only start when you’ve got a buttload of time to spare (like over the holidays!) It’s long, but the more you play the better it gets, so you will invariably spend a lot of time with it. It should come with a warning: don’t get suckered into playing everything that the game provides on your first playthrough. The biggest problem with a game this deep is that all the distractions prevent you from actually getting through the campaign, which I admit is fairly bizarre (and could be a very subjective criticism.) I kept thinking that playing through certain aspects were either required or would benefit me, when they actually weren’t, and I could have just as easily blitzed through the campaign.
Fortunately it has the same appeal as the previous titles; when I’m not playing I’m thinking about how to kill targets as stealthily as possible even though the new combat system allows you to take on dozens of lobster backs with a high likelihood of surviving. There is something immensely (and disturbingly) satisfying about slowly stalking behind prey, stabbing them, and then slowly walking away. And to spite how long the game is, I had to fight the urge to replay missions when I didn’t achieve full synchronization. It’s a dangerously time-consuming combo.