Assassin's Creed III Review: Transcending a History Lesson

November 12, 2012

Assassin's Creed III Review: Transcending a History LessonAssassin's Creed III really surprised me. I was excited to get started on this game after a killer presentation at E3 and all of the videos, footage, and demos that have circulated since the game was announced this past spring. We knew that the game takes place in colonial America and that the American Revolution serves as the backdrop of this chapter of the great conflict between the Templars and the Brotherhood of Assassins. We knew that present day hero, Desmond Miles, still figured into the grand story, and we knew that the lead character in the Animus was a Native American named Connor.

So, when I started my game, imagine my surprise when I got to play five hours with someone else entirely. This is what threw me off my game (very literally), and really started me off on a bad foot. I mean, I understand tutorial levels are needed in games, especially ridiculously hyper-content games like ACIII. But five hours? And all by playing as someone else? I seriously began to wonder if I had inadvertently downloaded a free character skin, and was playing the game as someone other than the promised Native American protagonist, Connor. FIVE HOURS!?! It was too long, and I was just about to give up on Assassin's Creed III when finally, the "preamble" ended and the real game began.

I'm glad I stuck with it, because when Assassin's Creed III finally gets going, it really is a magnificent game. From clean combat, to exciting, fluid-like free running, to some of the greatest current-gen graphics to ever grace a video game, Assassin's Creed III is easily one of the best games I've played this year.

I won't get into the story of ACIII, because so much has already been written and I've already told you enough. I will say that for the most part, the background stuff is fairly historically accurate. As Connor runs through the streets of 18th Century Boston, I hear chatter of battles that are happening all in the correct timeframes, and other events in colonies, or around the world are all pretty spot on. The flavor that Ubisoft Montreal has given this game is simply top notch.

Assassin's Creed III Review: Going Above and Beyond

As Connor, the player gets to bear witness, and participate in, most of the major events of early American history. The Boston Massacre is in the game. The Boston Tea Party is in the game. Even Paul Revere's midnight ride is in the game. But who knew that the Massacre was perpetrated by a Templar operative, or that Connor was the only "Indian" throwing tea into the harbor, or that Paul Revere rode double back with a member of the Brotherhood as he rode the Colonial countryside to raise the army of Regulars to fight the red coats. The designers of the game have exceeded expectations by integrating American history and the story of Assassin's Creed III and the end result is wonderful.

The controls are the best yet for an Assassin's Creed game. Combat is done with a simple attack and counter system, but Ubisoft Montreal has peppered it with a plethora of weapon choices, some new to the series, like the rope dart, and each weapon has it's own distinct feel and style. The Assassins Blades are still my go to weapon, but Connor's Tomahawk axe is pretty awesome too. And the bow and arrow is a great fall back to range attacks and is a must for hunting.

The free running has never felt so... rhythmic. It's on par with, say, Uncharted, as Uncharted is well known for its running and climbing mechanics. In fact, Ubisoft may have made a play to surpass Naughty Dog as the go-to developer for a free running/jumping/climbing game.

Assassin's Creed III Review: Going Above and Beyond

Graphically, ACIII looks amazing. The Havok engine has never looked this good. Shadows look great, and in Boston the streets are fully populated with NPCs and redcoats, and all can be interacted with. In the frontier, where Connor runs his homestead, the game shifts to a hunting/gathering system, and there is little, if any step down in graphical prowess. My favorite scenes are when I'm battling a black bear and the attention to detail just pops out at me. Sure, some of the tree models repeat themselves, especially when securing birds-eye views, and most of the structures in Boston and New York are reused, but there is just enough variety to keep everything looking good.

With that being said, midway through the game, I have come across some glitchy patches with frame rate drops and pop in/pop outs, and I did kill an elk with my tomahawk, even though the elk was magically hovering over my head. It is few and far between, which makes it easy to laugh at when it happens. It is probably important to disclose that this review is based on a PS3 copy of Assassin's Creed III, as I have heard of possible issues with the Xbox 360 version, and the Wii U version has yet to hit retail at the time of this review.

Even though the game looks great and plays great, and that by itself would make it a great game, there is so much more to Assassin's Creed III. Connor is given a homestead, for which he can customize with unique characters that act as laborers, or artisans, all which lead to Connor's establishing a budding trade system. This is how you make money in ACIII. Securing the materials, and the manpower, Connor can start trade routes that bring in income while he is out completing equally lucrative assassin's contracts. It's a fun and addictive side game and the extra cash is nice too.

Assassin's Creed III Review: Going Above and Beyond

To put it simply, Assassin's Creed III is a treasure trove of content. With the story missions moving the narrative along, and side missions galore, there is never want for something to do. And if none of that excites you, you can concentrate on hunting and building up the homestead and the business. Or, there is always the naval stuff.

Connor is given access to a warship early on, and for the first time in an Assassinís Creed game, we have fully realized naval combat. And Ubisoft Montreal did not skimp on the detail here either. There are escort missions, and seek and destroy, and the controls are hampered in as much a 100-plus foot dreadnaught would be on the choppy waters of the east coast. There are two types of guns, a full broad side cannon volley, and a more accurate swivel gun. Naval combat is fast and brutal and the player feels each cannonball as it crashes across the bow.

There is even a treasure hunt mini-game where Connor and crew seek out to find Captain Kidd's lost treasure. The journey takes the ship all the way to St. Augustine, Florida to the icy waters of the north Atlantic. I'm happy to report that the naval warfare aspect works splendidly and as advertised. I LOVE the naval stuff and I hope that Ubisoft continues to support it via DLC as there is so much more that can be done.

Multiplayer is back in Assassin's Creed III and Ubisoft even added some new things to do. The Wolfpack mode allows the player and a friend to hunt and assassinate targets together. Higher end targets require guile and cunning, the kind that only two people can pull off. The popular Assassinate Mode is back, and just as addictive as ever. Players try to assassinate each other; all the while hiding in NPC loaded locales. It is hunt and hunted and ridiculously entertaining. In a game so full of content and "stuff to do," a stout multiplayer experience is like icing on the proverbial cake of goodness.

Assassin's Creed III Review: Going Above and Beyond

Assassin's Creed III is an amazing game. It has the stealth elements of a Metal Gear Solid, and the bloody combat of Skyrim. It has the free running/climbing of Uncharted and the scope and majesty of a Red Dead Redemption. It's no secret why I chose those games to make the comparisons because ACIII deserves it. It has taken the parts of the some of the best, most highly acclaimed games, and mashed them all together in a singular package that easily represents the best of its own franchise.

Even though the game starts slowly, and the decision to go that route is mind boggling once the openness of the true game gets going, Assassin's Creed III is a must play for fans of the action game genre. As an historian, I find the game accurate when it needs to be, and I applaud it when it veers off the course of history for the sake of the game's story, because it is done very well. And I get goose bumps conversing with George Washington and Ben Franklin, and I get thirsty when Sam Adams and I go on a mission together, for some reason.

With so much to say about a game like this, this is what I will leave you with. Assassin's kill for money, or for honor, or to save the world from solar flares or something ridiculous like that, but in this game, Connor fights for history. Our history. And it is as fun and as entertaining as it ever could be. Hopefully Assassin's Creed III might even lead to resurgence in people learning about how the United States came to be. If a video game can transcend like that, anything is possible.

- Jon Hueber

Shop for Assassin's Creed III for a discounted price at Amazon.com (October 30, 2012 release date).

Assassin's Creed III Review: Going Above and Beyond

Cheers:
  • The best Assassin's Creed game to date
  • Great controls and free running and climbing are finally fluid and simple
  • The game looks stunning for the most part
  • The amount of in game content is staggering and there is always "something to do"
  • Engaging in real historical settings and events with real historical figures
  • Naval combat is as good or better than I ever imagined it could be.
  • The homestead and trading side game are excellently executed
  • Jeers:
  • Ridiculously slow start to the story
  • Frame rate drops and pop in/outs hinder otherwise beautiful game
  • Some climbing models are noticeably reused throughout the game
  • Overall:

    9.8