The most appealing aspect of the Assassin’s Creed series is the ability to experience different periods of human history through a sci-fi wrapper. Thanks to the prolonged presence of Renaissance Italy’s Ezio Auditore, the need to travel to a different era was reaching a high. Thankfully for Assassin’s Creed 3, Ubisoft moved the clock up a few hundred years, dropping you in Revolutionary America in the moccasins of Connor Kenway (real name Ratonhnhaké:ton) a half-Mohawk, half-British assassin.
With a new setting, a new engine and the possibility of wrapping up the modern day storyline of Desmond Miles, Assassin’s Creed 3 seemed poised to make the same sort of leap that the series did with Assassin’s Creed 2 back in 2009. Did Ubisoft manage to pull it off, and can Connor replace the venerable Ezio?
Right away Assassin’s Creed 3 repeats the sin committed by 2, and that is having a drawn-out tutorial/prologue section to set up the main plot points of the game. Depending on your skill and whether or not you do any ancillary tasks, it can take upwards of four hours to get into the actual game. When you can play and beat most modern military shooters in that time frame, four hours seems like its asking a lot for your investment, especially when you take into account that the tutorial is light on actually explaining anything outside of the combat and stealth systems.
Like every Assassin’s Creed game, 3 has a bevy of distractions for you, ranging from running your Homestead to sending out convoys for trading and managing your guild of assassins. All of the menu driven systems in the game are complex and the game takes less than a couple minutes to explain how to use the convoys as a source of income. It doesn’t cover how to build new convoys (which you will need, because your first convoy will always get attacked and it doesn’t tell you how to rescue it, either) so you need to find that out on your own. New convoys can be built by finding the requisite materiel and construction recipe, but good luck figuring that out without looking it up somewhere.
There isn’t even a tangible benefit to the economy in this game, either. Unlike the previous three games , Assassin’s Creed 3 doesn’t rely on accumulating currency to upgrade Connor. Your health bar regenerates, so armor is superfluous and the starter weapons will serve you well throughout the entire game. Hunting is another way of gaining money, but there’s no real reason to partake in it unless you want to engage a lot of wolves and cougars in a quicktime battle as the time investment for money returned is not worth it. The only area of the game that benefits from the economy is your warship the Aquila, but even there you can get by without spending money on it.
Speaking of the Aquila, the naval battles in Assassin’s Creed 3 are quite possibly the best part of the game. Taking control of the ship from behind the helm (the camera is situated behind Connor at the wheel but pulled back so you can see the entirety of your vessel) you steer it through engagements with enemy ships, using your cannons and swivel guns to take them out. Your enemies range from schooners to similar sized boats and the frightening Man O’ Wars.
You can put your ship at full and half sail (full sail is good for speed, half for maneuvering) and try and keep a good wind behind you as you try to out-maneuver you foes. Shots from your full cannons need to be lined up from either port or starboard, but holding in the right trigger and letting fly with a full broadside and sinking and enemy ship is incredibly satisfying. The swivel cannons are useful for taking out small ships or targeting the powder stores of big ships.
The Aquila is so much fun to play with that it’s kind of a shame that the main mission design is rather lacking. For an assassin, Connor really prefers a direct approach, and this is emphasized in the game’s many, many cutscenes (we’re talking Metal Gear Solid territory here). Very rarely do you get to actually sneak into an area and take out your target; more often than not you just wade through swaths of Redcoats until you can engage your target in a one-on-one battle. Add that to the often impossible side-objectives for full synchronization and the story missions of Assassin’s Creed 3 fail to reach the heights set by the previous games.
That’s even before getting to how buggy the game is, which is somewhat of an oddity for the usually solid state of Assassin’s Creed games. Getting stuck in geometry is fairly common, leading to many failed chases, and NPCs will randomly appear and disappear, breaking the immersion effectively. The game also has a nasty habit of working against you when it comes to your side-objectives, as more than once I failed to get full synchronization because the game locked me in place while a line of Redcoats fired at me, or brought up some other situation where fully completing a mission was snatched away from me.
The final mission itself is quite aggravating, almost to the point where it appears broken. Guards have a habit of knocking you off your feet even if you’re far away from their physical model and the game expects far too much perfection for how touchy the controls are. Assassin’s Creed has always been a bit deficient in this area, but between the glitchyness and the propensity Connor has to just climb the wrong object at the wrong time, most of the game’s evasion and chase sequences are exercises in patience.
There are a few redeeming qualities to Assassin’s Creed 3, however. Besides the Aquila, the game’s rendition of Revolutionary America is a visual treat, if you ignore the shamefully short draw distance. The Frontier is particularity eye-catching in the summertime, with its verdant greens and authentic-feeling atmosphere. Despite also having a winter setting, Assassin’s Creed 3 makes very little use of it, placing a scant few missions in the colder months. The Frontier is even underutilized in that respect, as most missions take place in New York or Boston, or at sea.
Cutscenes are particularly well done, which is good because there are a whole heck of a lot of them. Connor is exceptionally detailed, right down to the smallest emotional nuance in his face. The animators took great care to make Connor’s every action look as cool as possible, and the double-counter scenes are brutal and mesmerizing to watch. The story of Assassin’s Creed 3 leaves something to be desired though, as Connor is not as likeable as Ezio and seems almost too naive for his circumstances. Characters frequently make connections and leaps in logic that the game doesn’t bother to explain and the developers went out of their way to shoehorn Connor into a few too many classic Revolution scenarios. One small aspect I can’t help but point out is that, while Assassin’s Creed 3 features children and animals, Ubisoft couldn’t be bothered to get actual kids for voice actors as their sound clips are clearly adult voice actors pitched to try and emulate children’s voices, giving them a Krusty the Clown sort of effect.
Desmond returns as a playable character for four bland modern day missions. While navigating Desmond’s missions without a HUD to indicate your stealth levels or point out when you should counter is a challenging take on the base mechanics, his story beats aren’t that interesting. Even the ending of 3 leaves a lot to be desired and kind of feels hollow for all the buildup its received over the years.
Fans of the multiplayer will be happy to know that this mode returns in all of its glory, essentially unchanged from Revelations aside from the addition of a co-op Wolfpack mode.
The thing about Assassin’s Creed 3 is that it has all the trappings that people love about the series. There’s oodles of sidequests and distractions and the naval battles will draw you in and make you wish there was a whole game centered around them. Assassin’s Creed 3 is still an Assassin’s Creed game at its heart, just not a very good one.
How does our grading system work? Check out our grade chart!