Thursday, January 3, 2013

Assassin's Creed 3 Review

Ubisoft has been rather "hit or miss" with their previous Assassin's Creed titles. The first two were major hits; both were ground breaking and phenomenally entertaining, crafting a unique sandbox around an overlaying story arch throughout major historical events. The following two games, however, were sadly the misses. Though entertaining in their own right, the games lacked in enough improvements to be considered full on sequels and instead were viewed as extended DLC's about Ezio Auditore's history. It took Ubisoft two games of that formula before deciding to finally give up on the Ezio cash train and get on with the story.

Assassin's Creed 3 is exactly what any fan of the series should expect, centering the game around a new protagonist (about bloody time!), a completely overhauled game engine and user interface, and an unfamiliar territory to fromp around (instead of making the Italian countryside dusty and calling it Constantinople).  The brotherhood's newest recruit, Connor, must do all that he can to stop the Templars from gaining the ancient technology to control the world, help save the American revolution, blah blah blah. We can all read the summary on the back of the game so let's skip ahead to the good stuff.

Mechanically speaking, this game is a superb upgrade that truly shows off the detail that Ubisoft's development team paid attention to, right down to characters shifting weight on their legs when running around corners. Climbing on buildings in the various towns of the English Colonies is noticeably smoother than ever with barely any incidents of jumping off to your doom because you accidentally let you thumb twitch for a split second. Even the "mini-game" missions of sea battles are quite entertaining, a definite improvement from the top-view castle defense of Revelations. The ship battle mechanic is one of the most surprising since, admittedly, I went into my first naval battle expecting a simple round of quicktime events followed by aggravating "surprises".

The astonishment at how much I enjoyed captaining a ship is matched only by the extreme entertainment of the new fighting engine. In fact, another surprise was the trade system that replaced the system of investment from AC 2.  Through recruitment of tradesmen and a clever recipe system for both usable and decorative items, you find that making money is no longer about buying and waiting, but more about processing ideas of trade and seeing the detailed fruits of your labor. It was a nice change of pace and I was glad to see that I didn't need to run around Massachusetts buying 30 taverns in order to buy a crummy sword.

Speaking of sword, let's get to the combat. Thankfully the game retained the basic elements of hand-to-hand combat that made the previous games very successful. The use of unique attack combos, counter-attacks to enemies, different enemies of varying strengths attacking at semi-random turns, and projectile weapons being smooth and simple are either as good or slightly better than earlier systems. What's new is the amount of combinations available to the player. Instead of a wide array of weapons that use the same basic attack patterns (I'm looking at you Ezio!), the swords have definite differences over the axes, which in turn have equally definite differences over the knives and tomahawks. This is all of course added with an array of new weapons like the rope-dart. Naturally I found myself playing with mostly the tomahawks because not only does it make the most sense for my half-Native American friend to use such a weapon, but it was never dull to roll around and flail about like Mel Gibson in "The Patriot". Whether or not the style is accurate to how war tomahawks were used during the Colonial age, I have no clue, but it's fun and that's what matters.

Now the artistry is where this game truly shines, next to tomahawks naturally, and I'll try to go into detail without revealing any spoilers.  This game is very very pretty.

Alright, I can do better than that. The game is exceptionally pretty. No really! Ubisoft's team really outdid themselves on the graphical detail and color scheme of the each region. Each town not only looks and feels unique to each other, but they even used old schematics and maps from Colonial records in order to make them as accurate as possible. In between the towns is an expansive wilderness that actually meets the hopeful expectations of any gamer who first read about AC 3. The frontier forest is not only massive and filled with wildlife, but uses a very creative system of tree climbing and hopping that's incredibly smooth. Leaping from the branches of a tall oak to drop terror on a passing British patrol is both impressive and, in its own right, artistic.

Within such an expansive area of exploration is a developed story that you need to see through. At first you're going to feel like Ubisoft just gave up and went with a stereotypical "end of the world" cop out, but I really only blame the script for that particular scene. Once you get past that in the beginning, you're going to see character development and internal struggle that utilizes true literary elements. Existentialism, moral struggle, the conflict of relationships both romantic and's all there. And by all, I mean all. The team really impressed me with how they developed both the historical and modern stories between Connor and Desmond, with the end of each mission feeling like the end of a chapter, leaving me wanting to immediately read the next few pages to see how things further develop. With top notch voice acting (for the most part) and a not-too-predictable story arch, this storyline finally went back to the roots that made the first two games incredibly clever.

Verdict: This game is as immaculate as you can get with the Assassin's Creed series. A decently steady pace of development paired with an incredibly smooth and unique fighting experience has left me feeling like Ubisoft finally returned to the essentials. If you're a fan of Altair and Ezio, you're definitely going to become a fan of Connor. If you're a fan of Ezio the Greybeard from useless sequels, I pity you, but you're going to be just as big of a fan of Connor. I give this game my metaphorical stamp of approval and hope everyone who's still considering to get it know that it's really ok. It's not Revelations, I swear.
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