Assassins Creed III Remastered Review
It’s with a blend of nostalgia and hope that I tentatively approached Assassin’s Creed III: Remastered. The 2012 original was the last game I played before joining what is now the current generation of consoles. Revisiting this game would be like seeing an old friend, I thought. Seven years is nothing. Plus, I’d heard they’ve had some work done.
Assassin’s Creed III was the first game in the series to touch upon the modern era (inside the Animus, anyway). My memories of exploring 18th century New York, Boston and the Frontier were fond ones. The thrill of rushing through the trees in pursuit of a target felt fresh in my mind. However, upon starting the game the rose-tint in my glasses began to dissipate. Haytham Kenway — with Desmond Miles before him — appeared on screen and it all came flooding back.
See, at its core Assassin's Creed III is an exciting chapter in the series’ history. A main character torn between two worlds, a historical setting that feels so close to our own, and an expanded gameplay experience that would help shape the games to come. The problem is that it takes far too long to get there.
A lengthy and laboured opening set of sequences — admittedly ones that, eventually lead to a shocking story beat — see this game struggle to get going. It was a problem in 2012 and it feels even more so in 2019. Pacing issues feel ever more likely to turn off anyone new to the game and have any returning players filled with regret. It’s a real shame too as once the game truly begins, it thrusts you into a world that you really do want to explore.
The upgrade to lighting and locations can’t really be faulted. The increased detail on the buildings and structures, and additional foliage and wildlife in the rural environments are a wonderful improvement. Everything just feels more alive. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking Unity levels of activity here. Just enough to make a difference. Seeing this made me long for a new game in this setting. After playing AC III the first time I’d hoped the series would return to this time period. Exploring these locales again makes me double down on that sentiment.
Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be heaped on changes to character models. Here detail appears to have been buried under a heavy-handed smoothing job. This leaves characters often looking like they’re wearing a rubber-mask, with any emotion to be conveyed in a cutscene lost. Seeing a static face with eyes rolling in sockets seemingly independently is pure nightmare fuel. Thankfully, that’s something you’ll only have to deal with in cutscenes. In motion the troubles are less obvious, but the game’s structure certainly shows its age. Animations are clunky across the board, especially when it comes to the animals that populate the environment. To say we’ve been spoiled by games like Red Dead Redemption 2 would be an understatement. Add to this plenty of texture pop-in, hilarious ragdoll physics, and copious amounts of clipping and there’s no hiding from 2012-era video games.
Gameplay-wise, Assassin's Creed III: Remastered feels relatively unchanged from the original. Quality of life and accessibility changes are appreciated, especially where the minimap is concerned. The same goes for the addition of some new mechanics from other games: assassinations that don’t blow your cover, hiding in bushes and a whistle mechanic to draw enemies’ attention make the transition back to this older Assassin's Creed blueprint slightly easier.
Those additions aside, it’s substantially the same game: The mission structure feels archaic, with plenty of insta-fail tailing missions and tedious eavesdropping keeping action at bay for as long as possible. Add to that the lengthy walking and talking sections that only serve to separate cutscenes and the godawful Desmond missions. All of this does nothing to help the pacing, particularly in the early going. Combat is dated too, feeling heavy at its best and disjointed at its worst. Movement and traversal is less of an issue, but it would have been nice to see improvements from later in the series implemented here too.
It’s a good quarter into the game until you actually get to play as the lead character — something that still baffles me. And whilst having fast travel unlocked from the start is designed to speed things up (especially the lengthy tutorial section), it feels like little more than a token gesture.
Once you finally get into Connor’s shoes — into the meat of the game — things improve slightly and I found it easier to forgive some of my earlier gripes (purely due to being more invested). However, it was hard for me not to think about a version of this remaster that addressed more of the faults of the original. The glimpses of the series’ progression that this game gives are unfortunately not enough to save it from itself.
That sense of wanting more, the feeling of ‘what if’ hangs heavy over Assassins Creed III: Remastered. The improvements delivered are — character models and animations aside — worthwhile. At its best the game looks beautiful and still plays well, but seeing certain features added and improved whilst others have been overlooked feels like a missed opportunity.
Ultimately, Assassin's Creed III: Remastered had a lot of problems going in. Problems that aren’t — and perhaps can’t — be solved by a remaster. However, it felt like there was real scope to bring this game up to date and whilst that has happened to a degree, it feels more superficial than anything else.
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