I want to give a big round of applause to Ubisoft for the Assassin's Creed series. These guys seemingly set out to craft a series of games that spans an entire console generation. This has been more than a trilogy. This has been a carefully built legacy, to which we will look back upon and say this was their mark on a generation of game development and game design. For that, let's give a big hip-hip-hooroar! to Ubisoft. Well done, guys.
Assassin's Creed III is the culmination of this franchise, the capstone of a generation, and the wrap-up of a six-year series. It's sporting an upgraded engine and all the refinements from five iterations of engineering and design. The visuals are leaps above the earlier installments, the animations fantastic, the set-pieces and locales meticulously reconstructed and rendered, and everything runs smoother and better. The scope of the story and the game play goes well beyond its predecessors and the multiplayer continues to grow and evolve. Yet, with all of this, the game leaves something of a bitter taste in my mouth.
Perhaps 'bitter' is the wrong word here: the game feels like a victim of its own ambition. There is a lot in this game, and I mean a lot. Some are incredible and lend to a polished experience like no other while some others feel...well, less polished or not as necessary.
The New: Tree Running and Naval Battles Both of these are incredible. Each Assassin's Creed game has had a big focus on free running and 'always-cool' parkour. AC3 takes this mechanic and lets it out into the wilderness. Climbing up and running through trees out in the frontier feels great, it feels impressively organic, and it just works exactly how you want it to. The environments and limb placements do not feel contrived at all, they don't feel planted, but instead it all looks like a forest. In fact, for your first trek into the frontier, it is just a forest: the trees are obstacles that you must get around, not tools to be utilized. Once you can tree run, it's incredibly liberating. This almost feels like a mechanic that shouldn't work but it does. I easily enjoyed this more than any other mechanic shown to me.
Naval battles are good enough that I wish they were their own game and not just a set of side missions within this one. Really, the Ubisoft developers nailed the feeling of steering a ship on open waters, navigating between crags, watching the wind, and driving against enemy ships. It's action-packed, but not like a shooter or even like the rest of the game. It's delayed and calculating. You must watch where your enemy will be, what your enemy is about to do, and where you are in your environment carefully, pouncing at those fleeting opportunities to pelt the opposition with your cannons. All while hoping they don't sink you first. (For the record, it's sort of like fighting a stegosaurus.) Again, brilliant work from the developers.
The Old: Building the Homestead and Being an Assassin I was less impressed by extracurricular activities, such as managing your headquarters. I thought the interface was clunky and not very sleek; the missions didn't interest me too much; and I never found what felt like a valid use for money. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places, but these just felt like distractions. Now, generally I wouldn't get too grumpy about additional content and more reasons to keep playing a game for hours and hours. The problem here is that this portion felt half-baked and, well, other more important pieces of the game felt like they could have used the extra dev time and polish.
For instance, combat and free running in Boston didn't feel quite as fine-tuned as I would have expected for the fifth installment in a series. They weren't bad, per se, but I did roar and grumble a handful of times while playing. Too often I found myself hoping Connor jumped in the correct direction; too often I would get stuck on a wall in the middle of a melee combo which would result in taking a lot of damage; too often I just found myself flat-out confused. I could tell the combat was improved, and it was more cinematic, yet I still got frustrated. For the culmination of a series and the only Assassin's Creed title I've spent much time with, I found this disappointing. I would have preferred less content and more polish. As an assassin I wanted to be cool (like a deinonychus) but instead ended up stumbling about (like an oviraptor).
The MetaGame: That Desmond Guy I really don't like the meta-story in Assassin's Creed. I love the idea of templars and assassins battling one another across kingdoms and centuries – it's not the idea of a meta-plot that I dislike. It's Desmond and his magic space alien friends that I dislike. For me, it detracts from all that's cool about the assassin stories. Desmond doesn't interest me at all, either. He's too bland and generic. Connor and Haytham are vastly more interesting; in some ways Connor is even more relatable, I'd argue. Again, I commend Ubisoft for what they were attempting to do here and I hope that keep up this idea. The concept is fascinating. But in this instance I found it to be extra noise.
And perhaps that's the phrase I come down to: extra noise. This game is almost as vast and large in scope as its venerable franchise. Ubisoft appears to have included everything they could think to fit on the disc. I applaud them for their efforts and for making what is still an impressive game. The culture, the history, the presentation, the acting, the set pieces – there is so much to ogle and enjoy. So much so that I wonder if maybe there was too much. If the game were just Connor, and the homestead was either refined or cut, then I'm sure I would have been blown away. As it stands, still impressive, still a beautiful attempt, still full of ambition.
Assassin's Creed III was developed and published by Ubisoft. For this post, I played for roughly 8 hours on PlayStation 3, making it through Sequence 7. I rented the game from GameFly.