Some days it just doesn't pay to be in the middle of a fight.
Other days, it's fun as hell.
Ubisoft strikes silently (actually loudly) with its latest addition to the Assassin's Creed series with Assassin's Creed III. The past titles have seen different European histories played out around a single assassin character, but with AC3 they're taking their lead character Connor Kenway (Ratonhnhake:ton) and placing him right in the middle of the Revolutionary War. I find the choice of historical reference very interesting, as it had to be complicated to find a spot for Connor to rest in as the war unfolds almost accurately. It's certainly an interesting time period that brought with it an already established amount of tension (with slaves, Americans, British). Mixing in the Templars and the Assassin's folk couldn't have been an easy task, but Ubisoft did it quite well.
Of course, there were a few moments were the historical accuracy of certain situations was adjusted for a more politically correct crowd. For example, when you make it to the 'Boston Tea Party' portion of the story, no one is dressed up like Mohawk warriors as they dump tea overboard. While certainly not PC in this day and age, it did happen and if you're going to be accurate about the history you're laying out in the game then lay it out there as it was. One could argue that Connor's mere presence was a representation of those groups, but it just seemed like the history was put away so it wouldn't offend folks. Does it affect the game because of this absence? Not at all, but it does sadly bend the historical accuracy a bit.
Anyway, the story that Ubisoft Montreal has put together for this game is damn good. It not only provides a fantastic depiction of how Americans separated from their brethren over the pond, but it also shows that neither side was good/bad in the scheme of things. The British believed what they were doing was right, as the Americans believed the same. What's really sad about this entire story is that the native americans suffered at the hands of both sides. That's what makes Connor's character interesting, and what drives the player to truly think about how the battles/moments unfolded during the war.
Again, excellent story for this game.
Let's get into the mechanics of how the gameplay works in AC3.
On a basic level, the gameplay and controls in Assassin's Creed III are what you would expect from the series. There's a large amount of jumping, climbing, killing and hiding. Nothing has been nixed from the usual equation. Although, I found the controls to be far more solid than in past AC titles. They felt crisp when everything was executed properly. The controls could be loosely compared to a game like God of War III, where you're pulling off fast-paced action moves that you're able to break out of if there is another enemy attacking you. When you're surrounded by multiple enemies and you're focusing on one, if another comes up to attack then you can break away briefly to block the oncoming attack. This even allows you push the attacker out of the way and then turn back to focus on your original target.
AC3 is easy-peasy to control on a basic level, and addictive.
Having said that, the game does have moments of frustration with the controls. For example, during the gameplay you'll find moments where you'll need to ride a horse to chase down a messenger. Following the foggy trail on horse accurately is a bit of burden. It's not only because you have to fight the horse a bit to pick up speed, but staying 'on' the trail can be a pain in the ass. If you get off the trail, then you might bump into a one-foot rock that prevents you from going forward. You read that right, a 'one-foot' rock. Why can't the horse jump over that rock? No idea, but you have to reposition the horse and move back onto the trail, or flat land. This type of frustration isn't just restricted to horse riding either.
There are moments on foot where the environment becomes restrictive to the player's movement. For example, there was one mission where I had to take out a commander of the British army, who was camped on top of a hill. Connor had to move around the battlefield, climb up some trees and sneak in from the rear entrance of the camp. Once up there, there are a few tall pine trees that reside on one side of the camp. You can clearly see the commander through the middle of the trees, and there is a one/two foot space between the trees where Connor can fit through to take a shot at the commander. Regretfully, Connor wasn't allowed through the middle of these trees. Again, much like the horse, why not? It forced me to go around a different way that was much more difficult. Difficulty isn't an issue, but the open sandbox feel of the game should have had zero restrictions other than having a border around the levels (one where the levels end).
Now, don't get me wrong -- the majority of the environments that Ubisoft Montreal built was astonishing and useful. It's the frustrating moments like these that I remember the most out of the game. When they were putting it together, Ubisoft Montreal could/should have corrected these small issues.
Moving on, let's talk about weapons a bit.
The weapons in Assassin's Creed III are abundant. As you go through the game finding treasure chests, looting/pickpocketing people and gaining experience, you will start collecting money. With the money, you're able to purchase weapons at general stores. This gives you ample motivation to loot, kill, and search for treasure chests in the game. The game also allows for you to carry up to four choosable weapons during the game, which can be switched back and forth using the directional pad, instantly. It's nothing revolutionary (pun intended), but it's an easy-to-use system of switching back and forth between weapons you acquire. Speaking of acquiring weapons, you can easily pick up weapons from fallen enemies and use them against the 'quite alive' enemies. If an enemy drops an axe, then you can pick it up. If they drop a musket, then you can pick it up. It's easily done and it's fun to use their own weapons against them. On a side note, I want to commend Ubisoft Montreal with its accurate depiction of the musket. Once you fire a musket, Connor must repack it with gunpowder, a ball and then get it prepared to fire. This happens every time. This is historically accurate to how the weapon worked back in the day, and it's enormous fun watching new age gamers not understand why there isn't an instant reload time. Don't get me wrong, it sucks when you need to get another bullet out of the barrel quickly, but it's appropriate for that day and age in the game. Love it!
Shifting gears a bit, let's talk about A.I. in the game. The A.I. in Assassin's Creed III is damn good. Don't get me wrong, you will find times where the enemies will repeat themselves, and leave themselves out in the open for the killing, but for the most part they're intelligent folk. For example, when Connor helps out a 'friend', who is under attack by a group of British soldiers, before shoving off to New York, he gets left in the situation against 7-8 enemies. The enemies divide into groups of brutes and shooters. The shooters fall back to try to rain down bullets on poor Connor, while the brutes go 1-on-1 with our hero. It's interesting to watch the A.I. discipline between the groups, and even cooler to see what happens when Connor gets too close to both (everyone is a brute at the point). The enemies don't seem like empty shells in the game. They tend to do what's best for them, which is always a good thing when you're playing against the computer. You, as a gamer, want the best out of your enemies, and they will give you their best.
Speaking of enemies, unlike previous Assassin's Creed titles, the enemies here appear to be more of a burden when fighting, as well. The enemy groups in the game are a divided class of people. You'll find some enemies that are weak and worthless (like pawns on a chessboard), while others are more intelligent and harder to bring down. The enemies certainly come in a variety of different flavors, which is great except for when you're getting mobbed by a group of them. AC3 brings a nice variety of bad guys that offer up different challenges. This also goes for bosses, as you'll find some bosses to be an easy-simple kill, while others have to go down fighting.
Now, what about your allies in the game? Well, the A.I. with your fellow freedom fighters is just as solid as the enemy A.I.. You'll find times where you'll be knee-deep in a fight and need help, and your allies will pull you through it. There weren't any Call of Duty: Black Ops moments where my NPC characters were waiting for my moves to activate sequences. If there were enemies then usually that meant there were brawls by my NPC. I like that, even if it's not perfect every time. The fact that you can take cover to recover and count on your NPC to hold off the enemies in the meantime is a huge plus in my book. Again, it's not perfect in every situation, but it is nice in most.
Changing things up here, let's discuss different ways to play in Assassin's Creed III. Let me start out by saying that cheap gimmicks are a dime-a-dozen. You can put neat experiences in games that last an entire mission, just to switch everything up a bit -- be it briefly. For example, the 2010 Medal of Honor had a mission where you would fly in a Blackhawk and take down enemies. That Blackhawk mission happened once. It was a cool mission, but it felt forced and gimmicky. In AC3, you'll find moments where you get to ride horses (as stated previously above) and sail large ships. The latter of the two is quite possibly one of the coolest things I've done in an Assassin's Creed game. It's not just a one-time deal, there's training to be had in the game with the boat, which means it's here to stay (and stay it did). The 'neat experiences' in the game come in appropriately when the story calls for them. They also are options for the player, as you can ride a horse pretty much any time during the game, or sail a ship when you need to travel quickly from one place to the next. What I'm trying to say is that they're not gimmicks. They're good, well thought out additions to the game that make it an even better experience. There's nothing quite like firing cannons and taking down multiple ships. Or pulling up your sails to bring down your ship's speed, while avoiding rocks. Or riding a horse through a large forest and knocking through a group of British soldiers that don't appreciate it very much. I absolutely love these additions.
Staying on the topic of 'British soldiers' (two sentences ago), they are more sensitive to your actions in AC3 than in previous iterations of the game. For example, if you should decide to go on a nice killing spree in the city of Boston, you become more notorious to your enemies. Your face gets plastered on the sides of buildings in a wanted poster, and the town crier makes sure that everyone knows there is a killer on the loose. Boston is filled with soldiers that are always looking for you, even more so when your notoriety becomes greater. When you become the bees knees with the local authority, and you decide to confidently stroll by a group of soldiers on the streets of Boston, then you become an endless target for them. It's tough, but it's realistic, and it fits the environment. This isn't Italy where you can just slip into a large crowd; it's the freaking colonies. There is a sparse population of people, even in the bigger cities, that can easily identify a killer. The fact that the game really is sensitive to this makes it worth its weight in gold. Don't get me wrong, you'll find moments where you'll curse up a storm because you have 20 soldiers after your ass, but in the end it all makes sense within the story. What's cool about the remedy for this (outside of running out of the yellow circle on the HUD) is that you can pull the posters off the walls and bribe the town crier. It's neat stuff and another cog in the love affair belt of this game.
Let's talk things I didn't love, which mainly surrounds the camera controls. When running stealthily around the game, you have a pretty good grasp of the free-floating camera. You can use it and have a great time with it. That story changes when you're trying to evade or get away from enemies, or ride a g****** horse down a trail. The camera becomes burdensome and quite irritating. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten killed or shot, or even missed a jump completely because the camera angle was in the wrong spot. And yes, I understand the age old dilemma that developers go through when trying to decide whether to lock a camera down or allow the user to move it. The latter is always the better choice. I mean it was the reason why Metal Gear Solid 3 had a secondary edition come out. Having said that, the camera is still irritating. It's better than it used to be, but it's still irritating in tight, intense situations.
The frame rate in the game leaves a lot to be desired, as does the load times. The frame rate in the cutscenes of the game is atrocious in comparison to other games of its type. For an Xbox 360 game, which generally have better frame rates, this one looks to be running well below HD standards. You'll find some jitteriness and blur to the cutscenes, though the gameplay itself is very solid to look at (definitely not 60fps, though). The only thing to rival the frame rate issues is the load times, which seem to happen a lot in the game. You'll find the screen go white, a save icon come up and then about 5-10 seconds later the next scene loads. This happens quite a bit and is annoying at the beginning, but later smooths out (meaning you get used to it). The game is huge, it uses a lot of environments and has to render a lot of details, so I understand the loading times on a technical standpoint. It doesn't make it any less frustrating, though.
Speaking of technical, how good does this game look? Well, outside of the frame rate issues, the game is simply gorgeous. When you see a full battle in motion for the first time, you're going to absolutely fall in love with the visuals. Huge environments, detailed characters/models equal out to be a visually orgasmic experience for the eyes. The closest game that I can compare it with is probably Red Dead Redemption, but it blows that out of the water in terms of details. You'll get a lot of nice lighting, shading and shadow effects with AC3. There's a lot to love with Ubisoft Montreal's baby. On top of the visuals, you get some pretty epic music with the game from composer Lorne Balfe, who helped with the additional music for movies like The Dark Knight, Sherlock Holmes and Inception. The music goes well with the story. As for the voice acting, good lord you're going to be happy. There's no half-assness here with the actors. Everyone did their part, especially Noah Watts (Connor). All the actors really put forth their best effort to bring the cast of characters (and famous icons) alive. They add more value to the story.
What about the overall value of the game? Well, if you're a campaign freak then you're going to get a LOT of hours out of Assassin's Creed III. Outside of the main story, the game challenges you to complete certain tasks within each of Desmond's sequences. For example, in one instance you're asked to not stir up trouble in Boston from outside forces as you hunt down an individual. You score sequence points by achieving these goals, which equal out to other things. Each sequence, and even individual missions contain these sort of 'optional' goals. Even if you make it through the entire story, there are still more things to do and accomplish within the campaign. It's definitely something you'll be replaying.
As for multiplayer, to be honest I had a tough time having fun with it, at first. Stealing artifacts (kind of like capture the flag) to deathmatch should seem exciting for a game like this, but it's different. If you have never played MP in an Assassin's Creed game (guilty as charged) then you'll be introduced to stealth MP matches. You basically follow an assigned character and assassinate them as quickly and quietly as possible. The more quietly and quickly (and sometimes creatively) then the bigger the point total. So, the Call of Duty crowd isn't going to fall in love with the MP game too quickly. It's different, it's challenging and it's more strategic than most MP games. Again, it was tough to have fun with it at the beginning, but as I got better with it, I really started to enjoy it. It's a different challenge for the game, and one that adds more value to it. The only true minus I had for MP is the small environments that the developers put your character in. I think the levels should/could be bigger. That's my only complaint.
Overall, I would definitely pay full-price for a game like this. It's got everything, and even better is that the campaign isn't an afterthought. That is a rare commodity in this day and age of multiplayer madness.