“A natural synergy.”
Release Date: October 30, 2012 (NA); October 31, 2012 (EU)
Platforms: PS3, X360, PC, Wii U
Genre: Action Adventure
Going around grappling and climbing buildings, hopping from wall to wall or even jumping in haystacks might get a bit tiring after a while. That’s why in Assassin’s Creed III, the game will return to a new setting with different gameplay elements. One of these radical shifts are the naval battles that have nothing to do with the explorative and personal action of the third person game. Instead, we get offered a simple cat and mouse game, but in the grandest of scales possible, right in the line of cannon fire. It might not be much, but it’s not supposed to offer a ton. It’s a diversion and that works on an entertainment level. Naval battles are surely entertaining in Assassin’s Creed III.
The mission starts by simply moving over the deck of the ship and taking the wheel to steer the majestic sailboat at the protagonist’s disposal. It’s immediately clear just how detailed Ubisoft will make their iconic title. Crisp visuals with extensive detail sown in every nook of the ship reveal a masterful craftsmanship of both the boat and the designer’s prowess. The paradisiac horizon of blue skies and tropical islands set a reassuring tone for an otherwise dark time to come. Lo; somber will these trials be indeed.
As the world is set in the Animus, a virtual reality, the scene gets rougher as the conflict becomes tenser. In the thick of battle, waves will start crashing more violently onto ships, winds will pick up and the skies will turn black as night, vomiting the debris of the oceans at the rugged sailors. The atmosphere organically picks up the mood of the fight and amplifies it in a direct and literal sense, which adds to the captivating tension of battle. These curling waves that rock ships ever higher and ever deeper are what shakes the player’s mind as they try to catch their assailants.
To take out enemy ships, players receive a few straight forward tools. The ship can either work at full speed or half its sails so it can make sharper turns or react quicker at the loss of speed. Navigation is straight forward with turns and physics that react well to controls. Boats take time to take in the winds and strain to shift their body to the other side, properly lining up their guns. A map shows the cannons’ line of fire, which is important when aiming at the enemy. However, mere visual adaptation works just as well, though it’s a welcome addition. In later stages, when the storms are high, a visual marker of distance can help see through the rising walls of water to still get a good shot in.
Shooting follows the same simple but effective mechanic. It’s possible to either fire with cannons or with the crew’s arms. Cannon fire also adds a wheel of possibilities that can easily be accessed and switched at leisure. Cannonballs attached to each other with chains make for an excellent choice to tear down a boat’s sails, while fireballs can create havoc on the opposing deck. There’s a simple list of possibilities that point themselves out as to their use, which retains the gameplay’s accessible and diverting appeal.
The main strength of the naval features is the simple elegance in which these battles ensue. Everything ties itself together to intensify other elements, which creates a natural synergy. This, in turn, locks players in for the action portion of the event and makes these battles a gratifying event that doesn’t necessarily feel like a needless detachment. If you’re going to offer something else, you might as well make it well.
It isn’t without flaw though, but these are just small issues, perhaps more cosmetic than anything. For one, ramming boats doesn’t always work as intended and can lead to the two just being locked together in a poor example of clipping glitches. The same can be said for when boats take forever for the Animus to display. This might be intentional or it might not, but it’s certainly aggravating when the enemy only appears when they’re mere inches away.
Still, if this is the level of ingenuity and flow that we can expect from Assassin’s Creed III, then this new iteration and theme might sweep us all away. It’s rare to see a game that really tries to click together the sum of its parts for one giant and engaging whole. If Sid Meier is listening, then this wouldn’t be a bad inspiration for the next Pirates!