Assassin’s Creed III: That Underwhelming Feeling [Review]
Just like Madden’s yearly installments, Assassin’s Creed ’12 has arrived. Except it’s called Assassin’s Creed III and not only introduces a new hero to play, but also takes you to a new world and a new time period. If you don’t know by now (which means you’ve been living the Amish life), players will be reliving the memories of Connor: a half British, half Native American man who becomes an Assassin to help protect his tribe and take revenge on his enemies who (spoiler alert) are Templars. Many things have changed, but much has also stayed the same. From a development perspective some great choices were made, as well as some very bad ones.
The world of Assassin’s Creed III is something that we have yet to experience in the series, and in some cases, video games period. I’m not talking about the cities. The cities, while being colonial as opposed to Victorian, pretty much feel the same; groups of guards walking around, rooftops to traverse, etc. The big difference is outside of these cities in the frontier. I didn’t feel the impact of the frontier until later than I would like to admit due to the pacing of the game, but it’s massive. Sprawling maps with non-repeating terrain. Every yard of the frontier feels like painstaking detail went into it so you could truly feel like you were in the wilderness.
The trees have to be one of the more impressive feats, with each one feeling unique. Sure, you may see some trees that you can tell act as an entry way to start a free run or are blatantly shaped in a way so you can get higher, but even still, these trees are unique in their own way and I give the developers props for being able to make forests full of them. To help with navigating through these trees, Connor’s movement has been tweaked to be more realistic and smoother as he moves through the tree tops. You will see him shift his weight or hold on to certain parts of the tree to keep balance. Free running has been simplified to holding down one key and navigating with the analog stick, causing movement to be more fluid since any player should be able to handle this with their eyes closed.
Scenery changes from day to night, but also from season to season. Spring/Summer pretty much look the same, but Fall brings all of the colors it does in real life, and in the Winter the ground is covered with snow. The snow actually changes the way you move. Instead of just walking or running you will find yourself trudging through the snow to get to certain places. Protip: take the tree tops or a horse.
The frontier looks beautiful. I only wish the developers took as much time with the towns, cities, and people as they did with the frontier. Cities look dull and boring; devoid of life and color. Combine that with a low and unstable frame rate and you come up with something that’s less than a visual treat. Textures and character models look jagged and gritty, with the exception of main characters. The shadowing is the worst I’ve seen in a while. I’ve been better shadow shading on games that came out on the PS2. It’s a shame because it really does take away from the depth of the world.
Trees and rocks aren’t the only thing you’ll find in the frontier. Many animals inhabit this land and they’re all ripe for the killin’. There are two ways you can approach this: you can just use a bow or gun to kill all of your prey, which will damage their pelts and cause them to be of less value, or you can be a boss and stalk animals for up-close kills or trap them with snares. With snares you simply place them and then throw down a little bait and wait for your prey to be caught. With some of the larger animals it’s not so easy. You can try to air assassinate them by waiting for them in trees, but some animals will sense or sniff you out and then bolt. Alternatively you can try to stalk in tall grass and stacks of hay to get close to your prey, use a little bait to make them come close, then lights out.
Not all animals are there for you to stalk though; some stalk you. The first time I ran into wolves I was in the middle of stalking a deer. As I’m getting close all of the sudden I start hearing a growl. That growl turned into three growls. These wolves stalked well, because I really didn’t see them until it was almost too late. When an animal attacks you it goes into a QTE (quick time event) sequence of button presses. Complete the QTE successfully and you will get the pelt of whatever you just killed. Wolves attacked sequentially while some larger animals (such as a male elk) charge at you.
You’ll see small animals like foxes and rabbits, larger ones like deer and elk, and especially dangerous ones like wolves and bears. Different animals have different speeds, run away at different times, and have different movement and running patterns. I don’t hunt in real life, but it was kind of cool when a rabbit juked me like he was related to Emmitt Smith. He died in the end, but it was still cool.
My biggest surprise when it comes to AC3 is that I really, REALLY enjoyed the naval combat. I wasn’t really impressed with the videos I had seen, but to do it yourself is a different story. Your ship starts off with two types of cannons: regular cannons and the swivel cannons. The regular cannons send out a barrage of cannon balls either to the left or right of your ship. If you continue to hold down the trigger for the regular cannons, it will narrow the range of the barrage; allowing you to more accurately target ships farther away or perhaps hitting a weak point.
The swivel cannons aren’t as powerful, but they are much more accurate. You use those cannons primarily for smaller ships. You can upgrade you ship with new types of ammo like the chain shot that damages enemies ships’ mast, or perhaps a cannon ball that ignites when fired. You can also upgrade things to give you better handling or make the ship more durable.
The ship can go half or full sail. Full sail makes you go faster, but also causes you to make wider turns. Half sail is what you’ll be using if you need to make your way through a tight spot or while in battle. There is an indicator that tells you which way the wind is blowing, which if your catching a good wind you can make the ship move at a good pace. Wind sometimes changes in an instant or becomes sporadic, at which point you will need to adjust your direction appropriately to avoid hitting land masses.
The most fun to be had is fighting during storms. During storms the surf is much more turbulent, taking you for quite a ride. The larger waves also provide a challenge in hitting your opponent. You can shoot a volley only to have a giant wave pop up and block your shots. The wind is also more violent, so keeping her steady can be a bit difficult. In normal weather the ship is very much alive. Crew members moving up and down the deck, performing various tasks, and very well aware of how the ship moves. It’s not uncommon to see a mate stumbling or adjusting their balance due to the ships movements. During a storm the life of the ship is even more obvious. Lots of yelling going on, calling out for rouge waves, wind shifts, and all that jazz. It really is quite the experience and if Ubisoft made a stand alone game like this I would be willing to put down some dollars to purchase it.
From the naval menu you can select various missions. Some missions are to secure routes, while others are story based missions where you fight off Templar. In some missions you even get to board other ships, which does feel a bit bad ass. You also get missions to find pieces of Captain Kidd’s map. These missions replace things like Da Vinci missions or the Romulus Dens from Brotherhood. In order to get these, though, you need to find six trinkets to trade for a letter that will give you the location of the map piece. That part can be a bit annoying, since these trinkets are scattered all around the wilderness and cities.
My only gripe with the naval missions are that the developer doesn’t make them more difficult by adding challenging tactical scenarios; they just throw a shit ton of ships at you some times. So many ships to the point where you will constantly be bracing for impact so that the ship doesn’t take damage. By the time the brace is done, the next ship is already waiting to fire at you. Also, it becomes almost impossible to determine which ships, and how many of them, are going to fire at you, and when, because there are so many of them on the field. If you can make it through these ridiculous missions that come occasionally, I think players should enjoy the naval combat.
You know the old saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?” It definitely should have applied in this case. While Brotherhood didn’t perfect combat for the series, it came pretty close. I’m not exactly sure why Ubisoft felt the need to rebuild combat. There were some good changes, starting with the ability to assassinate on the move without stopping or even slowing down all that much. I have to admit it does look really smooth and show how much detail they put into character movement. Another good thing is that you can now counter mid-attack. You can be in the middle of a chop, hit the counter button and Connor will block an attack from behind or the side. That is, if it works.
The frequency at which counter doesn’t execute properly can make things frustrating; especially when fighting a large group. To make things worse, two defensive moves have been removed: guard and dodge. Remember how you used to have to hold down the guard button before you attacked; not anymore. When Connor gets close to an enemy he will automatically enter a defensive stance. Problem is, the only defense he has is counter. Without guard enemies can hit him with no issue if you don’t hit counter in time or if you are in the middle of another counter. This becomes frustrating to no end since there are many times when you are fighting a ridiculous amount of enemies.
There are enemies that counter your counter with a punch, or if you try to defense break, they will counter you with an attack. With dodge this wouldn’t be an issue, just dodge their attacks then hit them. However, since dodge is missing you are forced to do one of the two. So you can counter and take the damage, or pray that you can do a defense break (which isn’t possible once their attack has started).
Some defensive functions can’t be performed unless you are presented with a certain situation. The most prevalent example is dealing with gun lines. There will be many times when you’re fighting that other enemies will line up and fire at you. Right before they fire you should be able to grab and enemy and use them as a shield. The problem is that in order for you to do this you need to be close enough to the gun line that the yellow indicator appears. If you’re not, there is no way for you to grab your meat shield. On more than one occasion I took a lot of damage because I was fighting in a group that was out of range of the indicator. Frustrating to say the least.
Another thing I can’t figure out is why they got rid of the weapon wheel. Instead, when you hold down your weapon trigger it loads up a menu where you can select your primary and secondary weapons (or utilities). The loading of the menu takes about 2 seconds, but it when you’re in the middle of a fight, this can kind of suck the momentum right out of it.
With the way the game plays, I wonder why they put additional weapons in at all. In other AC games there were situations where it was best to use a certain weapon. Perhaps poison a guard to cause a distraction and slip through a gate unnoticed. Use a gun to assassinate someone during a crack of thunder perhaps. Scenarios that make you use your alternate weapons don’t really exist in AC3. Besides my axe and hidden blades, I haven’t used any other weapons since close to the beginning of the game.
If you are interested in finding ways to use the new weapons, the ones most notable are the trip mines and rope dart. There isn’t a whole lot of planning in AC3, so trip mines are mostly unnecessary; but the rope dart can be fun. While you’re in the trees you can use the rope dart to snag and then hang an enemy. Great way to take one out and get the drop on a group of guards. That novelty may wear off quickly though, since you get the same result by performing an air assassination.
It’s great having these cool weapons available, but with no reason to use them they are pretty much useless. Mix that with my complains about the flow of combat in general and you have a downgrade when it comes to AC3 combat.