Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Assassin's Creed III: Xbox 360 Review

As a history buff, Assassin's Creed has always appealed to me. Wars, conquerors, politics, mythology. I love it all and these games deliver it to me in new and exciting ways. Of course I know all of these games are historical fiction, however, the basis for all of these games are steeped in accurate portrayals of the world before us. This time Assassin's Creed III takes us from Europe to the Americas. North America and the soon-to-be United States of America to be precise.


Following the events from Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the Assassin order has taken Desmond Miles, the series protagonist, to a new location in America to setup shop and jump into the Animus. You head to a cavern adorned in Native American drawings. This setting is deviously simple considering once you put the Apple into the wall, the cave walls part and you walk into the Great Temple of "Those Who Came Before", an ancient race of very powerful beings, worshiped as gods by the humans they created. With time running out until Doomsday (quite appropriately determined to be December 21, 2012), the Assassins are determined to find the "key" that will allow them to activate the temple and hopefully stop the solar flare set to ravage the Earth and kill billions.


You start off in a fairly unusual way. The main protagonist is Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor when he is walking around the cities. You start off Assassin's Creed III as his father, Haytham Kenway, sneaking around, assassinating targets. His first target is in Europe. The target is of little consequence. It is merely a necessity in order to get the temple key, worn as an amulet on this person's neck. The amulet leads him to America where the symbols are quickly identified as Native American. After a few missions, you eventually free a group of slaves, the leader of which is a woman who then takes you to the sacred cavern that has the same markings as the amulet (the same cavern that Desmond entered at the start of the game). Since Haytham does not have the Apple, he sees the cave as only a cave, and determines that the true location is elsewhere. Haytham and the Native American woman develop a relationship, the result of which is Connor, the main character in the story. There is a major plot twist that will send you for a loop.


The game takes you among the historical figures of the period including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. The game very accurately portrays the grim and dark mood of the colonies during this time. Oppression, slavery, war. Neighbors turning on neighbors, suspicion of loyalists over at the next table or patriots behind closed doors. The bloodshed during these times was horrendous and happened far too frequently. The game twists the knife even further by portraying even more devious tales of historical figures to set the tone for the Assassin/Templar war.

Connor participates not just in killing redcoats or running letters to and from troop positions. He also takes part in several monumentally historical events, such as the Boston Tea Party and the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. These events show defiance against a corrupt tyrant, sacrifice for a cause, and a belief in freedom. They are not a simple piece of storyline thrown into the mix to give the game some variety. It shows that people actually lived through these days. That people stood strong against overwhelming odds to fight for freedom. It also shows the darkness that claims some men when faced with difficult choices.

This story also brings the Assassin/Templar conflict into a much grayer area. Are the Assassins right? Are the Templar evil men dedicated to controlling the world for their own personal gains and power? The dying breaths of your slain foes are quite sincere that they only want what is best for humanity. Order instead of Chaos. As the lines grow more blurred, Connor is swayed towards an idea of merging the two beliefs. He seeks to end the conflict and bring both sides together towards helping the world. Ultimately the decision comes down between order under Templar rule, or the supposed "chaos" that comes from the freedom of men.



Unfortunately, while the story is intriguing and the settings are exquisitely recreated, there are many issues that plague this game. A multitude of minor bugs can pop up at random. Most of them are barely noticeable. A character lagging behind their animations or conversations being cut off a bit too early. Others are more problematic, especially regarding the parkour mechanics and stealth inconsistencies.


You will see walls you cannot climb even though they are littered with handholds, while you may have just climbed a completely bare surface. Rocks in the wilderness can be scaled quite effectively until the game bugs and the next step you need to take doesn't register. There are always ways around them, but when you are having to avoid gunfire and outdistance enemies, or even to close the distance between enemies then it can be a real annoyance.

Which brings me to my next issue. Chase missions. These have always been a pain in the series for me. Miss one step and you automatically lose. It can take several of these losses to unmask the route which can leave you frustrated. These are even more of a nuisance due to their temperamental nature. One such mission occurs near the end of the game, where if you are 45 meters behind the game tells you it's okay just catch up. When you get within 20 meters it starts going nuts screaming at you to reduce distance to target. Get hit with one drunk lout in your path and you might as well rest your trigger finger because you just lost this one.


Another issue in the game is the sailing. The sailing missions are fine. There is no real problem with the mechanics. They can be a bit boring and the constant "ROGUE WIND!" shouting from your first mate is enough to make you want to grab your sword and force him to walk the plank. The sea battles are even enjoyable. It's the constant bugs though that are the main problem. I haven't seen many reported instances like mine, so maybe I just got cursed with bad luck. There were instances where the game registered stiff winds constantly, all but grounding my ship, making chase scenes impossible. Other times my boat would crash onto the rocks that obviously had been painted with invisibility paint.


One major problem I had with the game was the hunting side missions. There was no issue I encountered that would cause me to fail, it just wasn't enjoyable. There was no fleshed out gameplay there. Track, stab, skin. Track, stab, skin. It was extremely repetitive. They missed a really good opportunity with that one.

Even with the fairly significant issues that plagued the game, it was still a very enjoyable experience. The story was great and the recreations of Boston and New York are exquisite. While the layouts are not exact, the buildings and  materials from this time period are quite accurately portrayed. The ending of the game was more or less a cliffhanger ending which lacks a fair amount of luster, and really just adds more questions than it solves. If this leads into a new game, it will be very interesting to see the path it takes.

Pros:
  • Great Story
  • Good voice acting
  • Good gameplay
  • Fluid controls
Cons:
  • Buggy mechanics 
  • Hunting missions are stale
  • Parkour glitches
  • Finicky chase missions

Overall Score: 8.0/10

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