Review by Phange
Phenomenal production values, but very little soul
Assassin's Creed III opens with vast potential. From the moment Haytham stands looking out at the rapidly-approaching American shoreline, it's clear that Ubisoft's end to the Assassin's Creed "trilogy" is supposed to be the magnum opus. The grand finale in a highly complex (some would say convoluted) storyline that intertwines the morally questionable Assassins, the obnoxiously authoritarian Templars, and the cryptic First Civilization. Indeed, since Assassin's Creed I first shoved sci-fi into medieval history, the series has slowly stepped up the intrigue. Assassin's Creed II even had the player find hidden Templar meanings behind famous real-world artwork and newspaper clippings. If nothing else, it was ramping up to be turn-your-brain-off cheeky Michael Bay film. A good summer blockbuster, in essence.
Assassin's Creed III opens with a brilliant plot twist that easily tops anything from the previous entries, but then stumbles over its senselessly convoluted plot and uninteresting characters, ending with a thud instead of a bang. The biggest problem with Assassin's Creed III is that it tries to do everything, but does so very little of it particularly well. The combat mimics that of Arkham City, but is far less intuitive. The crafting system only becomes useful near the very end of the game, when it really isn't needed. The heavily-advertised naval battles are visually impressive but very easy, overly simplified, and unrewarding. Worse, the game so rarely has the player act and play like an assassin that it might as well not be called "Assassin's" Creed.
Ultimately, the worst offender is that the narrative of the game is simply dull. Connor is a bland, uninteresting and stubborn protagonist whose motivations for joining the Assassins are so simple and rudimentary (as compared to Altair and Ezio) that he almost seems irrelevant in the grand overarching scheme of the franchise. Desmond has always been an unlikable protagonist, as he takes so little interest in what's actually happening around him, or even what's happening in the animus, but at least Altair and Ezio's respective stories could hold water instead. The lack of character development in AC3 is what ultimately makes it such a slog to play. Connor never changes, Desmond never changes, the enemies never change. It's just mundane, from start to finish.
AC3 is among the best-looking Wii U launch titles, and for good reason - it virtually maxed out the PS3 and Xbox 360, therefore being a tall order to beat even on the Wii U. It's an excellent-looking game, but very clearly pushed the limits of what was possible in the PS3/360 generation, and it's no different on the Wii U. Pop-in is everywhere, the frame rate is wildly inconsistent, and glitches are the norm rather than the exception. That said, it would be entirely unfair not to mention just how amazing everything looks - from the animation to the art direction.
A good 90% of the game exists outside of the relatively linear (and mostly boring) main story. Some of it is mildly entertaining (hunting) while others are more graphical showcases with little substance (naval battles). Unfortunately, none of it is particularly well designed or rewarding, meaning virtually every facet of the game feels underdeveloped. It's a very strange feeling to play a game that is, on one hand, exquisitely detailed, while on the other, feels wholly unfinished.
Superb voice acting and a brilliant score.
AC3's biggest fault is that it ends a series known for excellent protagonists and exciting stories with a main character that is perplexingly bland and static, with a story that goes nowhere. The entire game feels more like a trip to the dentist than an epic adventure, and it lacks even the most basic levels of fleshed-out game design to be rewarding in its own right. What's left is a game that, on its own, is still rather impressive, but compared to its predecessors comes across as a major letdown.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Assassin's Creed III (US, 11/18/12)
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