Assassin's Creed 3 Remastered Review
A nice trip back in time and a great way to revisit colonial New England.
A lot has happened to the Assassin’s Creed series in the seven years since Assassin’s Creed 3 first came out. It was quickly overshadowed in 2013 by the follow-up, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which remains one of my all-time favorites – but that’s in part because of how well AC4 built upon the naval combat concepts introduced by its Colonial predecessor. Since then, our expectations for the series have been changed yet again by the RPG-influenced Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, which revamped combat control in a way that’s hard to go back from. So while I’m glad to say Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered does do a great job bringing the appearance of this 18th-century world and its characters of this 2012 game up to 2019 standards, there’s a lot of creakiness to it that even the gameplay tweaks it makes can’t entirely smooth out.
The whole package includes all the DLC (including the Tyranny of King George trilogy about an evil George Washington), as well as Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation HD (originally for the Vita) and extra behind-the-scenes content. It’s a nice touch by Ubisoft that everyone who bought the season pass for the excellent Assassin’s Creed Odyssey gets AC3 Remastered for free.
The first and most obvious upgrade comes by way of the graphics. Assassin’s Creed 3 and Liberation are both available in 4K, provided you have an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, though only at 30fps. On PC, with an EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB FTW and Intel i7-7700K CPU, I was able to crank all the settings to Ultra and run in 1440p at a steady 60fps (where it appears Ubisoft has locked it), and wow: What a difference it makes.
Everything that’s not alive in Assassin’s Creed 3 now looks incredibly realistic.
Everything that’s not alive in Assassin’s Creed 3 now looks incredibly realistic (except for corpses, I suppose, which occasionally rag doll hilariously). The brick buildings and cobblestone streets of Boston are absolutely amazing in their new fidelity. Wooden shingles on the roofs of houses and other landmarks in the cities look like they were individually hewn from cedar and the bricks making up much of the city look fantastic.
Windows, while not actually transparent as they should be, have a frosted look that reflects the light and absolutely nails the imperfect window glass of the period. Wooden buildings, too, look magnificently lifelike thanks to grain and wear like you would expect to see on a stained, Colonial-style home.
Outside the cities, the wilderness, too, has a new life about it. The forests in the spring and summer are teeming with plant life, and the snow in the winter sparkles like its real-life counterpart. The frontier isn’t nearly as breathtaking as the one Rockstar crafted for Red Dead Redemption 2, but it’s almost on par with Ubisoft’s two most recent Far Cry games.
(Liberation, too, looks good with a new coat of paint, but I didn’t find the effect isn’t as dramatic. The version included here is a port of the HD version, which already was an enormous upgrade from the Vita onto the 360 and PS3, but running in higher resolution can only do so much. It’s also Liberation, which is a mediocre AC game at best.)
The graphics on the living and moving creatures of Assassin’s Creed 3 don’t fare as well in the remaster. That’s not to say they look bad; far from it. Clothing, skin, and hair all benefit from better textures and improved animations. However, they’re all still hung on the skeletons of the best animation 2012 Ubisoft could deliver, and when people and animals are in motion it’s hard to miss the fact that this game was clearly built for the previous generation. To a degree I’m no longer accustomed to, clothing clips through bodies and horses, facial animations and gestures have an unnatural stiffness to them, and the eyes are glassy and lifeless as a doll’s.
Lips almost never match the words, which plagued the original game to a much greater degree.
It’s not just the animations that belie this remaster’s age; there are also some minor sound-sync issues. During a sequence outside the Animus, Desmond (remember Desmond?) breaks a glass case and the sound of shattering happens a split second after he strikes it. Lips almost never match the words, which is an annoying phenomenon that plagued the original game to a much greater degree. While it has been greatly improved, it hasn’t been entirely fixed.
Another place where AC3 shows its age is mission structure. If you just blast through the main sequences and ignore the multitude of side missions, a staggering percentage of your time is spent watching cutscenes and then walking slowly along with another character while they rattle off expositional dialogue, only to get to your destination and trigger another cutscene. When you get down to business the missions themselves are pretty repetitive and the few times you have to play as Desmond are some of the worst parts. The final sequence, which I won’t spoil even after all these years, remains unchanged, and if you beat the game last gen, you know that’s not a compliment.
There are some quality-of-life updates that make quite a difference between playing the remaster and popping your Xbox 360 copy into your Xbox One X, however. One of the most welcome is a small but tremendous improvement to the minimap that changes the nondescript red dots showing enemy locations into icons that now let you know, at a glance, which direction an enemy is looking and what type they are. For example, rooftop guards show up as teardrop-shaped red icons with crosshairs on them. It makes for a much better, less frustrating experience when you’re trying to be stealthy.
There are plenty of other improvements, like the ability to craft weapons that were previously only available for sale and increased opportunities for stealth kills. It seems like an Assassin’s Creed staple now, but hiding in the bushes and whistling to attract the attention of guards wasn’t in the original game. And the silent hidden blade is now the default stealth-assassination weapon, so you don’t need to worry about blowing your cover. These aren’t game-changing but I wouldn’t choose to give any of them up.