Pros: Vast world, lots of variety, interesting new setting.
Cons: Doesn’t do much with the gamepad, dull optional conversations
Assassin’s Creed III is arguably the Wii U’s most significant multi-platform launch title, mainly because it is not a year-old port of a game many gamers have already played but rather a game that reaches Nintendo’s new console almost simultaneously with other platforms. It is also a game that proves the worth of the Wii U not because it takes advantages of the special features of that console, but precisely because, for the most part, it doesn’t.
Developed by: Ubisoft Quebec
Published by: Ubisoft
For ages: 17 and up
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 18, 2012
The Basics: Sneaking, Fighting, and Climbing Through History
The Assassin’s Creed series follows the fortunes of Desmond Miles, a seemingly ordinary guy whose ancestral memories, when accessed by a machine called the Animus, allow him to relive the lives of a series of ancestors who worked as noble assassin’s intent on saving the world from the machinations of the Knights Templar. Re-living events in their lives gives him valuable information to use in fighting the Templars in the present.
Desmond is the protagonist of the series, but not of the individual games, which primarily focus on one ancestor; first a Syrian assassin living in the Middle East during the crusades, then an assassin living through the Italian Renaissance, and, with the third game, a Native American experiencing the American Revolution, portrayed warts-and-all.
The basic gameplay follows the pattern of previous games. The assassin wanders the bustling streets of major cities, often with the goal of assassinating some Templar. If he is noticed by guards he can fight them with swords, knives, axes, and shotguns, or he can run through the streets and jump across rooftops until he is out of sight when he can hide by diving into a bale of hay or simply sitting down on a bench between a couple of other citizens and pretending he is just a bystander. The game involves quite a lot of climbing, since the assassin must often find a way into a well guarded, seemingly impenetrable locations to reach his target.
While the first game was a handful of brilliant ideas tediously repeated ad naseum, Assassin’s Creed II fully fulfilled the promise of those ideas, offering a gorgeous world and varied, exciting gameplay.
What's New: Rustic Adventure!
After the stunning, sophisticated mosques and cathedrals of the earlier games, I had doubts about the colonial setting of AC3, but it all works surprisingly well. Churches may be wooden, but they’re still fun to climb. And the ability to run along tree branches in the game’s vast wilderness areas is quite entertaining. Another fun addition is sea battles in which you steer a ship and sink opponents with cannonballs or by ramming them.
The game’s designers seem determined to squeeze as much of American history as they can manage. Not only do you meet Ben Franklin, George Washington, Samuel Adams and others, not only are you inserted, Forest Gump style, into major moments in the revolutionary war like Paul Revere’s ride (a buggy mission that apparently was even worse on the 360) and the Boston Tea Party, but for all but the beginning of the game you play as an Indian dealing with atrocity’s against the natives (blamed, in the tradition of the series, on the machinations of the Templars).
At times it feels a bit overdone, but perhaps this is just because I’m so familiar with American history. Perhaps in Italy they had the same reaction to the wealth of historical figures like Leonardo Da Vinci and Lorenzo de' Medici.
Gameplay: Beyond the Basics, a Bit of Everything
As with any game in the series, there is plenty to do when you feel like getting away from the story. You can search for trinkets and give them to a guy who will give you hints to locating a pirate treasure. You can save colonists shanghaied by the British. You can play various old-timey board games. You can explore tunnels underneath Boston. You can investigate Daniel Boone’s wild tales of Sasquatch, a kraken and a UFO. In the forest you can track everything from rabbits to grizzly bears, although tracking is hardly necessary since it’s impossible to take two steps without a deer running past you.
You an also build a settlement. This involves helping colonists in order to persuade them to move nearby. Then you can buy their wares and trade with the cities.
Occasionally you return to the present, where the once timid Desmond has acquired the climbing and fighting skills of his ancestors, and Desmond goes on a number of fun missions. Since Desmond’s connection with his ancestors is apparently crucial, it’s surprising his companions would ask him to risk his life with feats of daring, but then, Assassin’s Creed III is not a game whose logic you want to peer at too closely.
The most surprising aspect of the game is how few actual assassinations are in it. The series has always been predicated on the idea that there are a lot of powerful, dangerous people who have to be killed, but there are only a handful of these in AC3, and there is a resulting lack of focus. The game seems to want to create something that is more epic story than episodic assassination game, but while the father-figure angst that threads through both the ancient and modern stories is intriguing in theory, the main characters, as in previous games, stir little real emotion. As for the minor characters, they tend to talk way too much: I would just as soon kill Ben Franklin as listen to him drone on and on about the virtues of bedding older women.
AC3 also includes an interesting multiplayer game in which you hunt, and are hunted by, other players, in a way similar to The Ship. Unfortunately I could not do anything except the tutorials, as there were never enough people online for a game (some gamers theorize that the problem is actually not a lack of players but rather a bad matchmaking system).
The Wii U Experience: So Much Untapped Potential
AC3 is a terrific game, but it is not particularly more terrific on the Wii U, even though it easily could be. The game uses the gamepad’s touchscreen controller minimally, mainly for a map and a somewhat improved system for switching weapons. The map is very much an add-on; you still have to use a separate map for the games fast travel system, which seems a little strange.
And yet, there are so many things the gamepad could be used for. I want to play those checker-ish games on the touchscreen, the same place I want to browse through the game’s chatty database of famous characters and events. I would like to see Eagle Vision mode, which highlights characters of interest, on the gamepad while the TV shows a normal image. Picking locks also seems like a good touchpad mini-game.
The designers probably thought of most of these themselves, and simply didn’t have time to implement a lot of special Wii U features. But every time I thought of a better way to do something in the game on the Wii U, it made me realize how much potential the console has.
The Verdict: Flawed but Still Great
While the Wii U version lacks the features that would make it the ultimate Assassin’s Creed III, it is still an amazing, great-looking game. Let’s hope that the next entry in the series fully exploits the unique capabilities of the Wii U. Then we’ll have a game that proves the console’s worth for what it has rather than for what it lacks.