Assassin’s Creed III: Into the Animus (XBOX 360), Review

Den of Geek's own John Escudero has played all the way through the new Assassin's Creed III and gives us an overview of the good, the great and the kinda ugly.

As a lover of the Assassin’s Creed series, I was excited as well as horrified when I pre-ordered my copy. Desperately wanting information about what might come, or at least some confirmation that it would stay true to form, I asked employees at the stores for tidbits they may have heard and some of them made me wonder if the game would be any good at all. But, having just gone through the main storyline in full, I’m happy not only to give you all a glimpse of what Assassin’s Creed III has to offer, I’m also very pleased to be able to dispel some of our fears and the rumors I heard so that those or you who didn’t pre-order your copies (or stealth assassinate someone who did with a hidden blade while wearing a white hoodie) can quickly be reassured.

I’m going to start with some basic storyline, with as few spoilers as I can, and then go into the nitty gritty of the gameplay, graphics and just a touch of griping.

Before the game came out, I heard horror stories (or at least what, for me, were horror stories) about the storyline being completely changed, that we weren’t following Desmond at all anymore and that we were basically going to be left hanging about Desmond’s journey into the Temple. I’m glad to say none of these rumors were true.

We pick up the storyline, in Assassin’s Creed fashion, following Desmond into the Temple right where we left off at the end of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Upon finding your way inside, you quickly learn that Juno, who seems to be in the temple in some fashion, needs you to find something via another ancestor and you’re thrust into the past.

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Once there, you find yourself controlling Haytham Kenway, an Englishman (insert Pinafore reference here) in 1700s London, which, considering how much we heard about the Native American young man we were supposed to control, was fairly startling. I then thought of a possibility: this part of the story might require more than one ancestor as well, a la Ezio and Altir. I immediately began to assume that the Englishman, who was on his way to America, might fall in love with a Native American woman and that we later control his son. And lucky for us, I was right.

While his given name is Ratonhnhake: Ton, he is dubbed Connor by his Assassin mentor later on. So, from Englishman to Native American young boy, and then following this boy into adulthood, we see the history of Colonial Times come to life.  Without getting into details, since I’m avoiding spoilers as much as possible, I found the story itself compelling and interesting. It takes you through many different parts of the Revolutionary War, from the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Ride, to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. You also help to free the different cities and districts of the cities, from Templar control, in a similar fashion to Revelations. As you free more districts and go through the process of gaining allies, they become your Assassins to command, call on and send on missions.

Connor’s skills also include hunting, skinning, trapping and baiting animals. This can be done for fun, as well as a source of income.   

While this is going on, Desmond’s storyline is just as compelling, if not more so (at least for this player/reviewer). As Desmond, you not only walk around exploring the Temple, but you actually have several missions that you need to complete, searching for artifacts that will help unlock the secrets of the temple. Between that and emails from Juno, which are interesting and a strange twist on the normal chatter in your Inbox, it reveals the story happening in modern times quite well.

And with that, I refuse to comment on this storyline any further. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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In brand new games, especially those as anticipated as this one, it is inevitable to have fantastic greatness mixed in with some ugly things that hopefully future patches will fix. Let’s start with The Good.

The Good 

As soon as you turn the game on and it does its update thing, you can immediately tell the Animus interface was updated. The entire interface feels faster, more responsive and the load times for the different sections of the options screens and outer interface are incredibly low.

The graphics are amazing, detailed and beautiful. They added weather to the animus, allowing for rain as well as winter with snow on the ground. I’m definitely still adjusting to the colonial style clothing and such. And the lack of assassin’s hood and attire when you first start out is also a bit unsettling. It is also the first time the animus puts us in an ancestor that doesn’t physically resemble Desmond. The resemblance is usually uncanny, but not this time. In the abilities added section, we can cut through open buildings to escape detection or run away faster, though make sure you don’t do it by accident. I lost a secondary challenge doing that, which is how I discovered it was possible. 

The voice actors were as great in their roles as ever and thankfully everyone still had the same voices. I was especially glad when I heard Desmond’s father’s voice was still done by John De Lancie who, all you Trekkies out there know, played Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The music during the game is hauntingly beautiful, correct for the period, and the Native American songs are absolutely perfect in their placement.

For those who love getting Full Synchronization, there are lots of optional challenges. They can include anything from taking minimal damage or performing certain kinds of kills, to avoiding a specific kind of damage. Some of these are fun, others seem near impossible. I’m sure it will be fun to go back and try to get them later.

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Pickpocketing is less intrusive in this Assassin’s Creed, it is something you can do inconspicuously, instead of having to bump into people. Unfortunately, you can be caught by those around you watching sometimes, especially nearby guards, so be careful who you do it around,.

Regarding controls, climbing is faster and a bit easier in some ways, but lacking in others. Ezio (and by extension Desmond) was able to reach out if they fell or jumped to catch a ledge. Connor doesn’t seem to do this very well. Desmond seems to be a better climber now, though. Climbing is also simplified, not needing to do much more than run up the wall and hold down the Right Bumper and “A” button until you’re at the top. You can also perform some rock-climbing feats, such as using a crack or crevice in a rock wall to hang onto and climb even when the crevice is vertical. Lastly, you can climb up certain trees and also jump and swing through and over tree limbs.

My favorite in the Good column is Desmond’s missions. Detailed, modern-time missions open up more questions than they solve for the most part. I was disappointed at the lack of abilities Desmond demonstrates, even with all his animus training. One of his missions has him in a place with plenty of crowds, but there’s no blending. Also, his fighting style is like Connor’s, which is slightly contradictory to the story since, technically, he should fight the way Ezio did. 

The Bad:

There were a lot of changes to the interface inside the animus and definitely not all for the better. The controls for a lot of things were altered. In a lot of ways the controls were simplified, which is good in part, but after 3 games with the same fighting controls, the change is a bit of a rude awakening. The fighting is mostly based on being able to block and counter, but even that isn’t a sure thing. You need to remember which enemies can be countered in which way, otherwise they can counter-attack your counter-attack. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could still heal, but medicine and healing yourself apparently is not something you can do in colonial times.

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There were times when the game didn’t block when I was sure I blocked, parry when I meant to block and counter: the usual issues when controls are changed and this is on top of the difference in fighting styles. More than once, I died and realized how much I missed Ezio.

So, they changed the fighting controls, they changed the climbing and they changed the button to synchronize viewpoints again too. This time, it’s the “B” button, which can be slightly dangerous. Hit it too soon and you’ll accidentally drop off the viewpoint you’re trying to access. The symbol for blending is also different. It’s now a little circle above your head, which connects to dots on top of those you are blending with. The slight shadow effect of the last few games is gone.

The map has also been changed, the controls for it a bit less intuitive. The left thumb is used to maneuver through the different filters for the map, as well as the different parts of the interface, while the right thumb is what moves you around the map and lets you mark goals and such. This means that if you move with your left thumb (like in all other AC incarnations), you will accidentally go to a different filter setting or move yourself out of the Map section altogether. 

Unfortunately, they also changed the way Desmond looks again, having previously altered his face in Revelations. They also changed what Rebecca, the female tech assassin, looks like substantially. They changed her nose, her lips and made her eyes bigger as well. She barely looks the same, though thankfully, like everyone else, she still has the same voice.

In the optional challenges, near the beginning of the game you meet Benjamin Franklin and he asks for your help in finding some lost pages to his Almanac. This challenge is a pain. The pages blow in the wind at certain locations and if you take too long grabbing them (literally about 30 seconds) they are “lost” and you need to wait until they appear at that location again. You can only follow them for the allotted time and even if it is right in front of you, once the time is up the page is lost. And worse, it doesn’t give you the time you have, so you pretty much just have to scramble as fast as you can. 

I will also say that the guards in this incarnation have itchy trigger fingers. I once bumped into someone, they dropped their box and fell to the ground and this was enough for the guards to start shooting at me.

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The Ugly:

Within the first day of playing, I found four glitches, two major and two minor. During the first part of the game, literally part of the introduction, there is a sequence that loads to showing a merchant ship from afar, which you are on. With no input from me at all, and no way for me to have been controlling my character at the time anyway, the game decided I had committed suicide by jumping off the ship. From my cabin in the underbelly of the ship, while my controller was on my ottoman, I took a sip of lemonade. Clearly a bit early for a glitch that big,and hopefully I was one of an astronomically small percentage of people who experienced it, but somehow I doubt it. 

The second glitch was during another early mission. I was escorting people and under attack from some people on roofs ahead, so I did what I usually do: took care of one or two from afar, climbed up and killed the others in hand-to-hand. Unfortunately, that glitched the game into thinking they were still attacking me and I had to deliberately lose synch by leaving the area in order to restart the sequence and kill them from afar, the only way to make it through without glitching. 

The two other glitches I noted had to do with the subtitles. As I usually game with others around, I don’t always have the luxury of blasting it full volume, so I have the habit of turning on subtitles so I can read anything I don’t hear. This led to me finding both of these minor mistakes. In the first conversation of importance inside the animus, you’re in a theater and you sit beside someone. During that conversation, the subtitle for a sentence has “ I’”  rather than “I’m.” Very minor. Later on, another subtitle discrepancy arose in the form of a previous conversation’s subtitles popping up at the beginning of a new one. It only happened once though, so that’s not bad at all.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t include something else I noticed, not as a glitch so much as a discrepancy or mistake in the timeline. Early in the game, when you are taking over a fort for the Sons Of Liberty, who later become some of the founding fathers of our nation, you lower the British flag in the fort and you raise the Colonial flag to signal the fort’s defeat. The only problem is, the date in which this happened was 1774, a good two years before Betsy Ross sewed the first one of these symbolic flags. 

Other Thoughts:

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There was one part of the game I found unusually difficult, because of the need for speed, precision and luck, all at once. During one part, you’re commanding several lines of troops defending against the Redcoat Loyalists. You’re on a horse, riding between the different regiments, telling them when to fire. This was and will no doubt always be a pain. It took me nine times to get through this encounter. It is beyond challenging. If someone can actually get through it on the first try, I tip my hat to you sir/madam, because I don’t think I will be able to, even when I replay the game.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed III is a solid game with a fantastic story and a good addition to the Assassin’s Creed series. I was disappointed at all the unnecessary changes in the interface and controls, especially since usually the rule of thumb is “stick with what works.” I can understand the change in climbing controls, because we were given the added ability to climb trees, swing from tree limbs, and such. I can understand the difference in the fighting style, though I don’t think it required a change in the controls themselves. I can’t understand the changes in character appearance, nor the change in the button to synchronize viewpoints, since the previous place for it was left vacant after the change, meaning it wasn’t replaced by anything, just changed.  I hope that, if and when Assassin’s Creed IV comes into our lives, they might put the controls back, or at least some of them, and keep us entertained with the continuation of one of the greatest storylines out there right now.

Story:                      9 / 10

Gameplay:              7 / 10

Music:                   10 / 10

Graphics:                8 / 10

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Replayability:         8 / 10


Overall Score:        8  / 10