So why in the world would someone want to purchase the PC version of Assassin's Creed III as opposed to the console version? Let's find out.
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 I find the choice of historical reference very interesting, as it had to be complicated to find a spot for Connor to rest in as the war unfolds almost accurately.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 politically correct 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.
Story aside, let's talk about the gameplay mechanics of AC3. Starting first with the infamous PC controls, or at least 'infamous' to us console folks.
I can safely say that this is the first time the controls for a PC game felt solid to me. Ubisoft did a good job with assigning the usual ASD/mouse control scheme, that doesn't feel like a burden when you have Connor jumping from building to building. The controls are certainly a natural fit, since they were born on the PC side. The use of the mouse to aim when firing the gun, or the direct/appropriate parry to a melee attack felt perfect. There are certain games out there that simply wouldn't work with this control scheme on the PC (I've met more than a few), but the simplistic nature of it all fits perfectly with the game. While I didn't play the second Assassin's Creed on the PC, I have heard plenty of complaints when it came to junking up the controls. Thankfully, AC3 doesn't follow along those lines.
In comparison to the console controls, I think the PC wins out easily. I had some frustrating moments when it came to toggling the camera and doing remedial things in the game like hopping up on a horse and riding through Boston. The mouse is far less burdensome in this area and makes life much easier. Again, I think since the controls were born on the PC while Assassin's Creed III was in development that it is a natural fit for the game. Feel free to quote me on this, I prefer the PC controls over an Xbox/PS3 control scheme.
Controls aside, some things change while some things stay the same, regardless of platform. One of the more snags of the game is how restrictive the actual gameplay can be. 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.
With all this said, let's talk about where the PC leaves the Xbox 360/PS3 version of the game far behind.
After spending 9 hours downloading the 15gb game that would eventually be Assassin's Creed III (It died on me three times during download -- not because of my network connection), when I finally loaded up the game I was completely blown away. As I've stated above, I'm not a PC gamer first; always a console gamer. I had seen games like Battlefield 3 in action on a PC and couldn't believe the visual differences between it and the console version. The same rang true for AC3. The first thing you will notice on the PC side of things is that the game's frame rate is above and beyond that of the console version. The smooth movement of the in-game action, as well as the cut scenes, leads me to believe this was running at 60fps. The console version was certainly not running at that speed probably due to RAM and processor limitations on super old systems (PS3/360 are aging). The PC has no issues with this and shows its muscles through the visuals.
The visuals didn't stop at the frame rate improvement.
The sheer depth of the environments and the details that go along with them show how much better it is to run the game on the PC. I'm using a lowly AMD Radeon HD 6770M card, which is about a year old (ancient in PC years). This thing was pushing the graphics through like Playdoh through a screen door, and just as smooth. Endless depth to the environments, no rendering of details on objects, such as rocks. This stuff simply isn't possible on this generation of console, as you get plenty of rendering issues on the 360/PS3 version of AC3. There's nothing quite like seeing a rock go from undefiled to detailed in realtime (see RAGE as another example). The PC not only renders the objects, but it avoids pop-ups of the background environment. For example, when I started out in Boston for the very first mission, I went straight to the docks to check out the scenery. The land behind the boats, across the water, was detailed and in place. There wasn't empty space for pop-ups of the land. It was already there and already gorgeous.
So, in short (yeah right), what I'm trying to say is that visually you will get more bang for your buck. Clearly, the PC version is visually superior to the console versions. The surprising part of all this is exactly how much superior it is to them. Trust me when I say this, it's vastly superior to them. I'm sure a lot of you have better video cards than I do, so you're in for a wonderful treat if you decide to go the PC route with Assassin's Creed III.
Visuals aside, another improvement with the PC version of AC3 is the lack of loading time. One of the bigger complaints I had with the Xbox 360 version of the game is how it had to constantly load and load and load. The amount of load time in the game really did disrupt it quite a bit. It wasn't enough to ruin the game, but it was enough to notice. On the PC end of things, it either loads quickly or it doesn't need to load quite as often as the console side. Again, credit more RAM, better processor to the equation, but it's still a nice improvement over its console cousin.
One gigantic complaint I have with the game is the fact that Uplay is the launching point for this title. I had not experienced Uplay up to this point with PC gaming, as Steam is my delivery system of choice. It was a bit of burden having to go make a login via web browser, launch the game I downloaded it from (with a code) and then hunt for the activation code that was labeled 'serial number' on the receipt I received. All of this sounds easy, but it's a waste of time. Too many steps and not enough direction made for a clunky first experience with Uplay. Also, as I mentioned above, the game quit on me three times during download. The reasons? The system had found new updates for the game or Uplay (wasn't sure which). So, one portion of the download failed, which made me uneasy, so I started over again… and again… and again. Give me the simplicity of Steam any day of the week over this one.
With all this said, what about the overall value of the game? The Deluxe Edition of this game is $79.99, which includes DLC (present and future -- you get a season pass in this edition) with it. You basically get a DLC pack for free when you add it all up. In addition to those goodies, you also get the soundtrack for the game (which is damn good) and George Washington's notebook. 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, I had an easier time with the MP side of things thanks to my experience through the console version. 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, if I didn't get it for free. 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. Would I choose the PC version over the console version? Absolutely. If you have the means, I highly recommend the PC version of Assassin's Creed III. It might take you a bit longer to download (if you go the digital delivery route), but at the end of the day it's a better experience visually and in the overall gameplay category.