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Sean Pettibone

Review

Assassin's Creed III ScreenAssassin's Creed III (Playstation 3)

Assassinís Creed has come to define the current generation of consoles and the latest installment is proof of how it has remained so appealing. With a much larger scale than previous games, a new setting and a different protagonist, it feels decidedly different from the last few titles. While there are some familiar elements, such as stealth assassinations, these have been tweaked a little. New types of gameplay and missions have also been added which gives this adventure a different feel as well. Itís an epic adventure as usual, and there are more than a few unexpected surprises in the storyline as well. All of this combines to create another solid installment in the long running series. Look inside to discover what makes this latest adventure so appealing. 

The third major installment in Ubisoftís long-running Assassinís Creed franchise takes the adventure to a new era. This time, players take control of the stealthy assassin during the American Revolutionary War. Placed in the center of the action, the protagonist continues the centuries-spanning war against the Templar organization against a stunning backdrop of impending war and tumultuous ideas. With snow swirling around the city of Boston and its out lying colonies, the Assassinís Creed series seems to thrive once again in this fresh setting. You begin the story on the other side of the Atlantic and slowly begin your journey in London. The action moves quickly from a theater to a transatlantic voyage until you finally reach your main destination. Once in Boston, you meet up with many historical figures and begin your own mission, which is sometime allied with the revolutionaries. Things start off slowly as you begin your adventure as a kind of general whoís leading a double life. As the game moves along, the main characterís true motivations are revealed. As the webs thicken around his motives, the slow-building storyline becomes more interesting as its plot moves forward.

The choice of setting is interesting and quite appropriate as you move along. AC IIIís rendition of  
Boston during that era is stunning. The city itself is a massive, somewhat open-ended world to explore and its streets and buildings offer plenty of places to explore and interact with. The city itself offers an incredible level of detail, with beautifully rendered streets and buildings that feel authentic and realistic. Its streets are alive with civilians and soldiers, with the American colonists mixing with the occupying force to create a combustible tension thatís really effective in setting the stage and the stakes involved. At first, it seems like youíre on the side of the British, but as the first few missions unfold, your true allegiance comes to light. This dual-identity gives the character an interesting approach to some of the missions. He can use his outwardly establishment appearance to fool some of the guards and other characters early on and then take on the role of traitor to further his own ends. As the game unfolds and his true identity becomes clear, he sheds this identity and becomes an outlaw killer, a transformation that occurs slowly but effectively, setting the stage for the rest of the game. 

Its urban locations are impressive in their own right, but where ACIII diverges most strongly from the earlier games comes when you encounter the wilderness areas. Instead of tall buildings, youíre surrounded by trees and natural objects. Here, the gameplay doesnít feel as linear as in earlier games and you have to use your wits to survive these sections of the game. Theyíre not nearly as populated as the urban sections, but youíll still encounter your share of foes. Not all of them are human and youíll frequently have to face down packs of wolves and other feral animals as well. Battling them is a bit different than normal, and most of these occur as quick time events where you have to press buttons in sequence in order to survive. In addition, these stages arenít nearly as simple as they seem, and youíll have to earn the trust of the natives as well. Traversing these vast Ďopení sections takes some time on foot, but you can move through them much faster if you mount a horse. These sections definitely bring a new, more rugged feel to the game and give its pacing a completely different feel that differentiates it from previous games. Instead of walking through bland environments between cities as in previous games, these sections now feel alive and natural and have become a much larger and more interesting aspect of the experience.  

They are beautiful and massive, and impressive in their design, style and approach. You can spend hours exploring these sections and their lifelike environments and incredibly impressive in terms of their design, implementation and realism. The last two AC titles included mini-sections where you managed mansions and houses, collecting items and other goodies that showed your power and influence. They didnít really add that much to the game, but they were fun. In a similar vein, there are some naval battle sequences in AC III that let you command ships and fire shots against others. Successfully defeating them allows you to claim their treasure, which allows you to purchase other items as well. These sequences are impressive in terms of design and they offer a fun change of pace from the main storyline but, they seem like distractions from the main plot and donít really move the story forward.

While some of the settings in AC III are quite different from the middle-ages and early civilizations seen in earlier games, there are a few familiar elements that help to keep things consistent with earlier titles. The basic structure of most missions should be familiar to AC veterans. Youíre given a primary objective to complete, such as killing a target or eavesdropping on enemies. While youíre doing this, you also need to keep an eye on your secondary objectives, such as not being caught or minimizing damage, which gives you extra money for more powers. AC IIIís missions donít diverge from what players have come to expect from the series and the game unfolds in a linear fashion. Missions require patience to complete, and you need to be careful since even small mistakes can send you hurling back into the Animus machine where you have to retrace your steps completely. AC III requires some patience in certain missions, but this gives the player more freedom that most action games donít allow. You donít always need to play through missions in the same way, and you can usually find multiple paths to complete each mission. It also makes the game feel less frustrating, though it does require you to think ahead.

Several different strategies can be used to complete many of the missions, which makes the gameplay less predictable. You can approach a guard from either the left or right side and see if that makes a difference. Choices can also include not attacking at all and trying to reach the next point undetected. This gives the game a unique pace and presents a unique challenge. For example, while you may not get through a garrison without a fight, the order and how quickly you finish off opponents can make a huge difference in how many points you receive while also giving you added points. Many of the missions in ACIII are surprisingly complex and require players to think several steps ahead. These give you little room for error, which is especially true when you have to finish off multiple targets without getting detected. Learning the target locations and planning ahead of time increases your chances, but some missions will likely take several attempts to beat. This can be frustrating but persistent players will find additional skills that will help them complete subsequent missions quicker.

The basic play mechanics should also be familiar, where you can run through streets, climb over buildings and leap into the ubiquitous haystacks to restore your energy. When you encounter an enemy and begin to fight them, you have to basic options. You can either take them on using standard fists and parry their attacks, using chains to inflict plenty of damage. If you get the timing right, you can finish off enemies quickly using a finishing move with your assassinís blade. These are quite effective but can only be used a few times. The gameís combat system is still probably its weakest aspect and can lead to some frustrating moments. When confronted by multiple foes, youíre auto-target works effectively sometimes, but not in others. This doesnít always target the closest or most dangerous foes, meaning you can take a lot of damage needlessly. It can make ACIII more challenging than it needs to be and doesnít have quite the polish it could have. Needless to say, there are some aggravating moments when you face off with huge numbers of opponents and have little recourse aside from grinding them down and trying to locate nearby haystacks. Otherwise, itsí back to the beginning which is frustrating thanks to the long load times. In addition to its standard combat moves, AC III also included more extensive gunplay than in previous games. The guns work fairly well but you have to learn to use them, which takes a bit of a learning curve. You first need to equip them, then aim and then release the button to fire your shot. This process takes some time, which can be frustrating when surrounded by multiple enemies and the aiming mechanism isnít as smooth as it could be. Additionally, youíre stuck in place once you aim your gun, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from your opponents. This is a big issue early on, but becomes less problematic as you buy and use more sophisticated weapons.

Assassinís Creed III offers players a massive world to explore, along with an immersive storyline and beautiful visuals. The game engine is quite impressive throughout and its sense of realism and place is incredible, surpassing the high standards set by the previous games. You can see the level of detail present in the cobblestone sidewalks under your feet, the realistic light effects that dramatically bring the world to life and the small signs in shops. Once you get outdoors, the realistic variety to the trees and beautifully detailed landscaping of the wilderness sections is superb as well. These all work together to create a coherent and believable world, that feels quite authentic throughout. You actually feel like youíre in this world, and its immersive size and substantial detail only enhances the gameís hold on the player.

AC IIIís level of immersion is diminished somewhat by its ever-present radar and occasional techno-graphics from the Animus are somewhat distracting, they arenít over-whelming. The underlying Ďfutureí elements in the game are also a little annoying since they take you out of the main game, but these sequences donít occur often enough to lose your suspension of disbelief. Its character models are quite impressive as well and each character feels very much alive with realistic animation than makes them move naturally throughout the world. Authentic clothing and items such as weapons also keep things moving. The gameís storyline is rich and detailed, and AC IIIís voice acting is excellent throughout. The level of detail paid to even minor characters is impressive and the well-written dialogue keeps its momentum strong throughout. Thereís a great number of elements to keep track of. However, the production values march the gameís ambition and this highly-polished game succeeds more often than not. All of these production elements mesh effectively to create a cohesive and robustly cinematic experience throughout. 

Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks that rear their heads along the journey. Its pacing can slow to a crawl at certain points, especially early on which can make some of the early missions feel like watching paint dry. Even when things start to pick up, players will still find some frustration in the long missions and infrequent save points, which means retracing steps in ways that can become tedious. Going on some of the side-quests can feel like worthless padding in an already long adventure, making you feel like youíre going around in circles instead of making progress. As you might expect from these types of games, the gameplay is quite linear and thereís no reason to go back to earlier missions, which hurts its replay value. There are also a few scattered glitches here and there where the game seems to choke on its own ambition, but these seem to have been remedied for the most part in recent patches. Despite all these problems, Assassinís Creed III is still worth experiencing because it creates one of the most interesting and vibrant game worlds seen in any current generation console title. Itís epic scale and beautiful production values transport players into another world full of excitement and intrigue, keeping players interest levels high throughout. Simultaneously expansive and ponderous, Assassinís Creed III represents a stirring finish for the current story line for Ubisoftís popular stealth action series.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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