Assassin’s Creed III is so close. So close to being Game of the Year material, and so close to being what anyone who loved Assassin’s Creed II knows the series is capable of. So much of it works, but more of it is broken than it should be. In many ways, it’s the best of the series, but it lacks the polish that helped chisel its predecessor into my mind.

A nuanced assassin.

After spending the last three years with Ezio, the series has finally moved on to introduce us to a new character, Connor, named Ratonhnhaké:ton among the tribe in which he grew up. Connor is a man stuck in the space between worlds. Born to a Native American tribe, but of a European father, Connor can be at home in both the wilderness and the city, but isn’t able to truly belong in either. As an assassin, his goals of peace and freedom put him firmly in the middle of the war between the British loyalists and the angry colonists. Relationships with other characters even put him in an uncomfortable space between the Assassins and Templars.

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Connor struggles throughout Assassin’s Creed III to balance these things.Connor lacks Ezio’s immediate charm, but he’s a more nuanced character. Instead of revenge, Connor seeks freedom with an unfailing naivety even as he grows older and wiser through the course of the game. More than the protagonists of the past games, Connor is put into very grey situations where the course of action isn’t obvious or what seemed like the right thing to do at the time doesn’t look as heroic in hindsight. It’s unfortunate that choices are never offered to the player, but then Assassin’s Creed has never been about what you do, so much as how you do it.

History is fun!

The world Connor exists in, Revolutionary America, might be the best setting yet. While nothing in America is quite as impressive as the biggest churches in Italy or as foreign as the cities of Israel, the tumultuous time and location puts Connor and the player directly in the middle of history. It lets us participate in events we’ve read about, seeing them from a different point of view. The view from the middle of the conflict is especially appreciated. The war between the colonists and loyalists is, necessarily, a bunch of old white dudes going back and forth. The choice to focus on a Native American character and to do so with some class was a pleasant surprise.assassinscreed3-ship

Unlike many games about America at war, however, Assassin’s Creed III isn’t concerned with waving America’s flag and singing the Team America theme. While it’s hard to call the game an accurate representation of history, it makes good use of the events to paint a picture of America that feels a bit more believable than the versions we usually see in textbooks in the States. The historical figures seem like humans instead of monolithic icons, especially so with George Washington.

The environments themselves—Boston, New York and the wilderness in between—work better than I would’ve thought as well. The cities are fun to navigate, and the wilderness is fun to traverse, with tree-running working at least as well if not better than building jumping.

The biggest surprise in Assassin’s Creed III is the naval battles. Last year’s Revelations literally bored me to sleep, and that terrible tower defense mini-game didn’t help. Naval battles, on the other hand, left me wanting more. There’s a pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed somewhere in the Desmond’s genetic memory.

For everything that worked with Assassin’s Creed III, though, there was something that didn’t work. Assassin’s Creed II was polished from end to end (or maybe that’s just nostalgia eating at my memories), but Connor’s adventure feels in many ways unfinished; the model is put together, but the flashing on the decals are nowhere to be found.

Many things are just… never explained. Not only does the game not come with a paper manual as one would expect, but the manual included on-disc is thoroughly lacking, and I found myself frustrated a few times by the lack of information about the game’s myriad mechanics.

Crafting, for example, could be removed from the game with many players never noticing. It’s never given the attention it needs and it isn’t integrated into the campaign very well. Another mechanic, clubs, is something you’ll figure out by chance, when navigating through the menus. These things feel unfinished.

For everything that worked with Assassin’s Creed III, though, there was something that didn’t work.

Doubt and missteps.

And then there are the glitches. The twitter-sphere is filled with complaints and, while I didn’t suffer tons, they’re definitely there. From a sailor dancing something close to Gangnam Style to a mission failing because the character you’re supposed to meet never activates when you get to him, they’re all over the place. Even little things like polygons glitching out of Desmond’s back work to spoil the immersion.

Glitches, even small ones, have a subtle power. Even when things are going fine, those glitches eat away at the back of your mind. When your horse stops for seemingly no reason in the middle of a chase, you wonder if that was a glitch or if you did something wrong. When something doesn’t work in a mission that seemed like it worked in the others, you wonder. So many little things start to become glitches whether they are or aren’t, and that really can hurt a game.

There are some weird design decisions littered throughout the game as well. Slow, cumbersome menus have replaced the circular menus of the previous games. There’s still no way to sneak.

The worst among the game’s missteps are the chase sequences that fill out a few plot-critical missions in the game. Assassin’s Creed III is, by necessity, a more horizontal game than its predecessors. There just isn’t as much stuff to climb in the setting, so Connor spends a lot more time on the ground, and this wreaks havoc on the series’ free-running at times. In these chase sequences, you’re expected to navigate down small alleys, around people (without running into them if you want all the bonus points!). The slightest misstep sends you up a wall, stuck on a barrel, and all but ends the mission forcing a restart. The chases are poorly implemented and are true moments of controller-breaking frustration. They wrap all the problems with the series’ controls into incredibly stressful sequences at crucial, memorable points of the game.

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Despite all this, I can easily sum my feelings into a few words: I want to play more. The game has frustrating problems that are impossible to ignore, but the overall package is fun. There is a ton of stuff to do, and most of it is fun. High-seas hijinks, building out your cute little homestead, investigating Daniel Boone’s tall tales, and building your brotherhood of assassins are all fun, and that moment when you sneak around a group of guards and leap from a flagpole to take down your target is satisfying as ever. Even with its problems, Assassin’s Creed III is a proper successor to Assassin’s Creed II and shouldn’t be missed.

Rating

8.0

We purchased a retail copy of Assassin’s Creed III for the Xbox 360 with company funds. We played the game’s full campaign, as well as completing a number of optional quests before and after completion.

Curious about how we score games? Read this.

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