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Solo Gamer Review: Assassin's Creed III - Page 2

GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

boarding an enemy ship
Boarding enemy ships never gets old
The sandbox nature of Assassin's Creed is just as present here as it has ever been, though it takes quite a while to open up (the early Haytham sections go on a bit too long). There are feathers and almanac pages to collect, optional missions to undertake, old-school board games to play, recruits to train, and viewpoints to synchronize, and these can extend the game well passed the forty-hour mark. In the cities, tunnels reappear, this time having been built by freemasons (which are the butt of many in-game jokes about being a terrible secret society), and they serve as the game's fast travel system. Once unlocked, each fast travel location can be visited from any point on the map (you can even fast travel between cities, though I didn't figure this out until I had nearly finished the game), but unlocking them requires traversing the underground tunnels yourself. This is a clever spin on the underground sections of previous games, and though the branching pathways can get repetitive and dull, it is definitely successful.

There is also a monetary system that is pretty well-balanced. Hunting grants you animal skins, horns, meat, etc., that you can sell at nearly any shop, and prices for new weapons or upgrades to your naval vessel are high enough to require some work but not so high that they seem hopelessly out of reach. There is a minigame at your homefront where you can develop resources using the various settlers you've found, build materials, and then send convoys to various shops in order to make money, but the mechanics are clunky and confusing, and the rewards are too small to be much of an incentive. It's one of the few mechanics in the game that falls short, but luckily, it is completely optional.

All the games in the series suffer a kind of identity crisis, in that they cannot be easily pinned down into a gaming genre. On one hand, it feels like an open-world sandbox with gameplay conventions ripped right out of Rockstar's playbook, but at the same time, it's also a third-person action game where swords and combo moves are more important than spraying people with bullets. It also seems to have grown out of Ubisoft's Prince of Persia franchise, which is unashamedly a platformer, having several jumping and climbing mechanics that you would never find in other notable sandboxes or action games. Added to all this is a naval battle simulator, where you control a large ship and tell your crew when to fire broadsides or go to half-mast. However, where lesser games would fall apart under the weight of all these different aspirations, Assassin's Creed III stands tall, using these different templates as strong pillars to create a perfect hybrid. Fans of the series need not worry about the reworked mechanics, because the Ubisoft team has proven yet again that change can be a good thing.

[Gameplay: 10 - There are one or two clunky mechanics, but this game manages to do so many different things so well that it doesn't matter.]



PRESENTATION

horse glitch
Hmm... that's not right
With a game as large and ambitious as Assassin's Creed III, there are bound to be some problems. Though one should expect a fair number of texture pop-ins, glitches, long load times, and frame-rate issues, this game has far more of these problems than is acceptable. The graphics are beautiful, but the price paid--maybe because Ubisoft was in a hurry to get this game out in time--is a hefty one.

You come across paradoxical moments like seeing a perfectly rendered cougar with its short fur rippling in the wind, stalking you from a cluster of painfully obvious two-dimensional sprites of muddled textures that you assume is supposed to be a bush. You can open your map to see where you're supposed to be heading only to have a random checkpoint suddenly placed in the middle, where nothing of note is waiting for you. It's awesome that you can engage in conversation with NPCs and walk alongside them as they go about their business, but sometimes, they turn their head to a jarringly unnatural ninety degree tilt. Occasionally, you can be walking around doing absolutely nothing when you are suddenly thrust in the middle of a mission you didn't trigger with enemies that are marked three feet to the left of where they're actually standing. You can find yourself hiding in a group of mercenaries when they suddenly decide to run away, running straight through your body as they go.

I say this as somebody who has been incredibly forgiving of other enormous and notoriously glitchy games like Fallout: New Vegas and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Assassin's Creed III needed a lot more beta testing and needs several patches to be presentable.

Desmond and company
Who are these people?
There are also some design decisions that bother me. While they've improved the graphical representation of people's faces, they've altered the look of many familiar characters--Desmond, Shaun, and Rebecca, most notably--so much that they look like different actors in the same costumes. There's also the graphical feel of the Animus itself, with spidery webs of digital noise surrounding important people and a tiny circle appearing over Connor's head that sometimes draws bright lines to the tops of other people's heads. Though I got used to it, I felt this new look was more intrusive and distracting than the simple highlights of earlier games.

Still, Assassin's Creed III gets everything else right. The voice acting is excellent (I did think the voice of Washington was a little too cliché, but that's a minor complaint), the music is stirring, and the infinite draw distance is awe-inspiring, especially as you look out from a treetop on the seemingly endless frontier. There are also some truly amazing cutscenes, most notably the fantastic opening cinematic that gets newcomers up to speed on the story so far, and the naval battles, in particular, are memorable for the emotions they stir using nothing more than setting and sound.

It's also startling how much variety the game is able to inject into settings that you'd expect to be mind-numbingly homogeneous, like the frontier. Whether it's the dripping water and squeaking mice of the underground tunnels, the multiple screams and shouts of epic battles, the clang of Connor's hatchet hitting the barrel of a Redcoat musket, or the slosh of the ocean and howl of wind on the open sea, the sound and attention to detail also deserve high praise. There are also changes to weather and the seasons. I wouldn't call the game polished, but it is certainly shiny.

[Presentation: 8 - Despite beautiful graphics, stirring music, good voice acting, and masterful sound, the game is weighed down by an abundance of gameplay glitches, graphical hiccups, and weak design choices.]



SOLO GAMER SCORE

Multiplayer
Whatevs
Like the last two Assassin's Creed games, this one has a multiplayer mode and multiplayer achievements, and as such, it cannot get a perfect solo gamer score. However, I can be pretty forgiving here, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that the multiplayer achievements only account for 80 Gamerscore points on the Xbox 360 (which is what I played it on) out of 1000. This is a much lower percentage than Brotherhood or Revelations, so it's a step in the right direction. The second reason I can be fairly forgiving is that, even if you took the multiplayer aspects out of the game altogether, Assassin's Creed III would still be a bigger and more dense game than 95% of all other games on the console market today. Even with all the glitches mentioned above, it is hard to believe that the game designers sacrificed anything from the single player experience to include a multiplayer component. If anything, the multiplayer modes feel tacked on, and that makes this solo gamer pretty happy.

[Solo Game Score: 9.5 - I can't give it a perfect score, but the multiplayer aspects of the game don't really take anything away from the solo campaign.]



CONCLUSIONS

If it weren't for the glitches and graphical issues, Assassin's Creed III would be a serious contender on the top ten list of greatest games ever made. Hopefully, in time, the problems will be patched, and when that happens, perhaps I can forgive the designers for rushing out an unpolished final product. Make no mistakes: this is a very ambitious game that does almost everything right. The story is deep, provocative, and fun; the various gameplay mechanics are approaching a perfection of the series' formula; the scenery, sound, and music are great; and you can easily lose well over forty hours of your life to this universe.





FINAL TALLY
STORY: 10
GAMEPLAY: 10
PRESENTATION: 8
SOLO GAME SCORE: 9.5

TOTAL SCORE: 9.4

There are some significant presentation issues and a handful of multiplayer achievements, but this is still the best Assassin's Creed yet



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-e. magill 12/11/2012










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Copyright 2012 e. magill. All rights reserved.