Assassin's Creed III - Xbox 360 Review

I really was not planning on playing Assassin's Creed III. I played and mostly enjoyed the first entry on the Xbox 360 several years ago, and my son has played and generally enjoyed later iterations - but I have not gotten around to trying those ones yet.

However, a buddy of mine got this game for Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it. He then asked if I wanted to borrow it, so I figured I would go ahead and give it a shot. After all, the reviews were generally very positive.

I always liked the locales of the prior games, and the Revolutionary War, while obviously very important, was never one of those points in history I was particularly fascinated by. So the change in setting did very little for me on that front. I have not played the original game in many years, so while I have read the controls handle differently, I really do not recall that. Basically I hold down a button and bound around the place causing some chaos, which is fun.

I will state that the game gets off to a very slow start, at least for my tastes. It felt very similar to what I recalled of the first game. Visually the series had evolved, but the mechanics only felt slightly different. There was more to do, but it felt like more of the same and I nearly gave up on it about three hours on. It was okay, but far from riveting. I had a handful of people tell me to stick with it, and in the end I am glad that I did.

Graphics - 9:

Visually, this is an impressive title on several fronts. The wilderness was gorgeous, with excellent water effects and some impressive draw distances. Face animated well, but there were some odd lighting and shadow effects. My oldest daughter commented on the blocky pixelated look of the shadows - especially when they moved across really bright surfaces. Characters animate well, especially when you consider how dense some of the streets can be during the daytime hours.

Music & Sound - 9:

The music was really good all of the way around. A couple of memorable tunes and none of them particularly grating (though there were a couple of sequences I had to do over and over again. By the time I was done with those, I might have been sick of the accompanying track - but that has to do with my own skills and frustration and less to do with the score).

Sound effects are excellent. Running through the woods, the howling of a wolf would sometimes be all of the warning I would get before one would lunge at me. Climbing along buildings or roofs, a guard would yell at me to get down. The voice acting is also very good, with strong performances from just about all of the major characters.

Gameplay - 6:

Sometimes, I felt like I was in complete control as I bounded from one perch to another. During some of the fights, I felt like I was unstoppable as I would perform almost cinematic double kills and spin off to face a new opponent. There were times I would climb up onto a church steeple and look down at the city below, which was visually very impressive.

Unfortunately there were also times I found myself clinging to the sides of buildings, jumping over things that shouldn't have been in my way and drawing the attention of the guards. During some of the fights, I would find myself struggling to lock onto the guy I wanted. On many occasions, I would climb up a tall church or building, only to find myself having to swing around every which way near the top so I could stand on it from the right direction. The controls were sometimes very sweet, but at other times downright annoying.

Menus become easy enough to navigate once you get used to them, but for whatever reason, that took a longer time than it should have it seemed. On the plus side, Assassin's Creed III has a handful of somewhat lengthy load times, but they do not come up very often at all. Considering the expansiveness of some of the cities and wilderness, it is pretty impressive that the game did not have to load data much more frequently.

Missions offer a great deal of variety, which is nice, but at times it felt like the game lacked focus. Trying to get to 100% sync was beyond annoying for me as well. I finally gave up about halfway through the process. It was less fun for the game to tell me I had to do things in a certain way, than to have the freedom to play out my missions as I saw fit.

Intangibles - 4:

So I will start with the good - which is that there is a lot to do. Just going through the primary storyline takes about fifteen to twenty hours if you do not partake of the many, many side quests throughout the game. There is a fair amount to unlock and discover in your journey. The storyline is quite good, with some interesting characters throughout. The new mechanics that were added - such as the wilderness trapping and naval warfare were welcome additions.

There are some bugs here and there, but most of them are easy enough to live with. However, for a game that promises a great deal of freedom, many of the missions felt incredibly restrictive. I really disliked some of the chase/tailing scenes, and there were times characters 'saw' me when it was completely impossible for them to have. It did not happen terribly often, but I would sometimes scale a building and be on a roof with no soldier in sight, and then hear a guard from the other side of the roof shout that I needed to get down.

I also really hated the ending - everything about it. I hated the final mission, chasing a character through the streets and into a burning building  I hated how the story ended -  I had read up on the events leading up to this game once I had decided to play through it, but the ending was pretty annoying in my opinion. Piling on the ending, the final achievement does not get earned until you sit through the fifteen minute-plus unskippable credits. It did not impact me much - I simply started to play my Vita to kill time, but I found out my buddy who loaned me the game had not earned that achievement. because he had finally powered down after 8 minutes. He also missed out on a brief if interesting cut scene. I have a pet peeve about 'making' people watch credits, but when they are that long and that is the only way to access the achievement and after game content? Annoying at best.

Between the end and the game's rather monotonous start, that seems like a rough way to bookend a title.

Overall - 7:

The thing is, I really wanted to like Assassin's Creed III more than I actually did. From a technical standpoint, the game ranged from impressive to brilliant. However there were many missions that just annoyed me, and in offering a lot of variety the experience came across as somewhat unfocused for me. I did end up invested in the story to some degree - and the major two characters especially - by the end, which made the experience a worthwhile one for me. It does not however, leave me anxiously anticipating the next game in the series.

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