Assassin's Creed III
Introducing a new character in a well-established series is a tough task, especially when the character being replaced is as popular and well-developed as Ezio Auditore. Nevertheless Ubisoft is trying to do just that as they bring the story of Ezios modern day relative Desmond Miles to a close in Assassins Creed III.Its not just Ezio that Assassins Creed III is leaving behind though, its the full comfort and sophisticated society of late Medieval Europe and the Holy Lands for a new world; the New World as a matter of fact.
Assassins Creed IIIs new main character Connor - the son of a Native American mother and a British father - and the fledgling nation he is fighting to protect forma good partnership, on paper at least. Connors petulance and naivety mirrors that of the country that would become the United States as it battles to be free from the stranglehold of the British Empire. A nice metaphor if you will.
But Connor has some exceptionally big shoes to fill to replace Ezio and most of the time he comes off as a rather one-dimensional pouting teenager rather than the good young man forced in to making some very hard choices that Ubisoft would have him be.
Its not that Ubisoft havent gone to great lengths to flesh out Connors character. There is a lengthy prologue to the game that casts the player as Connors father as he travels to the New World, builds his contacts and eventually meets Connors mother. Unfortunately, this segment of the game feels too long and really serves to distance players from Connor rather than helping them to understand him.
A new character isnt the only thing that Ubisoft are trying to introduce with Assassins Creed III though. It is the first look at their powerful next-generation Anvil Next game engine and as a result Assassins Creed III is a very large game.
The playable area of land stretches from the Northern frontiers around Boston South all the way down to New York and there are even some sequences in Philadelphia. The action takes place as much in the country as it does in the city and due to the fairly broad period of time that Assassins Creed II explores there are plenty of seasonal variations in the weather to boot.
Anvil Next does handle the visuals fairly well. The countryside is incredibly detailed whether it is bathed in Spring sunshine or coated in a deep blanket of winter snow. Ubisoft could be seen as guilty of putting in too much detail as the pop-up effects can make it seem like the grass is literally growing out of the ground as Connor runs about.
Having said that there is rarely any slowdown in the animation while running around the countryside and Anvil Next has furnished Connor with the ability to scale cliffs, swing between the branches of trees and even hide in the long grass - all skills that Ezio sadly lacked.
The addition of naval battles is also surprisingly welcome and they provide an impressive spectacle. Notable highlights are Connors participation in the Battle Of Chesapeake Bay; holding back the might of the British Navy until the French can come to reinforce the Patriots. Cannonballs and splinters fly, and Connors ability to switch between sailing the ship and jumping between vessel feels very natural. Everything down to the motion of the ocean feels as it should.
The environments created by Ubisoft are spectacular but there are clear indications that Anvil Next is a very new piece of technology, several glitches that undermine the games beauty. During several cutscenes there is a tendency either for the facial animations to stop, freezing faces that are supposed to be talking. Other moments see characters faces animated when there is not conversation to be had, again taking the shine off of Anvil Nexts next-gen veneer.
The controls as well feel just a tiny bit off when navigating the games cities. At times the controls feel over-sensitive with Connor mounting fences or running into walls when he should be running straight ahead. At other times what would be a perfectly-timed jump in previous games sees Connor miss a ledge and crash to the street below where Ezio would have made the next rooftop without even a stumble.
There is a distinct feeling across the single player mode that everything was made to be good enough an hoping that the Anvil Next engine will dazzle rather than them trying to nail it down so that the player was in no doubt that the game is awesome.
This feeling of good enough extends over to the multiplayer as well. There is a decent variety of game modes and playable characters. The match-making works well and it is very fun to play. Stunning the assassin coming for you is every bit as satisfying as the thrill of catching you own quarry unawares but the levels themselves feel dull and unimaginative. The Boston Harbour level in particular is exceptionally dull comprising on numerous identical piles of crates piled up against a backdrop on Boston house-fronts on one side and the quayside on the other. It certainly lacks the grandeur of the single player environments.
All in all Assassins Creed III never manages to shake off that feeling of good enough. Rather than aspiring to be great through the magic of storytelling its hopes that its graphical prowess will wow players enough into ignoring the overly long prologue or Connors flat personality. Sadly graphical glitches and weak responsiveness on the control system help to bring the games other failings back into focus.
This is by no means a bad game but its certainly not the epic ending to the Desmond Miles story that everyone was hoping it would be.
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