It was certainly important that, alongside the release of their new console, Nintendo did have some existing big-name franchises on board to show it was a serious competitor. Lets face it: the Wii was renowned for being a “Family Console,” and a lot of its titles were targeted at that market. For action-based games, there were also some reasonable ports, but the graphics were always the problem. Taking all this into account, I was very keen to see how Nintendo's new console would match up with a mainstream title.
I don't propose to go over what has ostensibly been a game that has been reviewed to death on the other consoles, but rather look at how well this particular title works on the Wii U and look at why action gaming is likely to develop on the system going forward. For an in-depth view on the base Assassin's Creed III game itself, check out this excellent review.
Just in case you have never heard of the game before, though, bear with me while I give a short synopsis. Assassin's Creed III is a third-person action adventure in which you play the part of an assassin. Set in the time of the American Revolution, with a dose of pseudo science fiction / fantasy based in the present day, gamers are taken on a very interesting and convoluted trip that will have you playing to the end based on the story alone. The developers have done an immense amount of research to ensure they provide you an authentic experience, even to the extent of working with American Indians to ensure the “First People” lore is correct.
The central theme of the game is playing the part of a silent killer; however the game also has a lot of different layers, including open combat, exploration, crafting, and ship-to-ship combat. This formula of many games in one is very successfully delivered, particularly in the way it logically fits in with the story and how it's is paced to ensure your interest is maintained.
The game play contains a lot of seemingly impossible jumps and climbs, but these are are simple with the game largely taking over the mechanics for you. Just run, and if the object can be jumped on you will, or if you can leap across it, you will. Not being particularly deft at platform jumpers, this automated approach removed a lot of potential frustration for me. You can hide in shadows, disguise yourself, hide within the environment, etc - all with the goal of delivering a surprise ("Surprise... it's dying time!")
No doubt about it, this is a cracker of a title, and has thoroughly deserved all the plaudits it has received. The well-woven storyline using historical characters and events sets it apart from a lot of other action titles, where the story is usually a poorly crafted vehicle to slap levels together.
I should also say that the game can at times be pretty funny in how the mechanics work. Yes, you can hide in a haystack, jump out and kill a soldier, then disappear back in the stack. You would, however, expect a whole regiment of dead soldiers spread in a circle around the haystack would raise suspicion... or at least get somebody thinking there's a killer haystack on the loose.
But how well does the game play on the Wii U? Well for me personally, I believe that, of all the platforms this game is offered on, the Wii U rendition is the best. The graphics are not a quantum leap above the other consoles but they are a step up. They felt more crisp and smooth and I saw no evidence of some of the issues experienced initially on other platforms. Some of the vistas were breathtaking and the transitions between time lines were sharp, with minimal delay. It certainly opened my eyes to the capabilities and hidden potential of the new machine.
Control-wise this version differed from other platforms only in how the Wii U controller acted as the on screen map, while all the action takes place on the TV. Over extended play I increasingly enjoyed how the controller felt and how comfortable the design was. Given the controller's size, this seems almost counter intuitive, but I can honestly say the GamePad is far better than the more traditional grip-type controller. It's deceptively light, for one thing, and the layout of the buttons and control stick are much less tiring to use - partly, I think, because they are more spread out than other controllers.
Disappointingly, ACIII has only made limited use of the controller's features. This likely reflects the original traditional release and lack of time to fully explore the potential of the Wii U, but I would have liked to have seen some use of the motion sensors and accelerometer in some aspects of the game. Not a major criticism, but I believe it would have taken the game to a higher level of engagement for the player.
So what is the verdict? It's fantastic, and filled with excitement. "Fantastic" that such a good title has been part of the initial release, and the "excitement" comes from seeing the obvious graphical potential inside the machine, waiting to be exploited by future developers (cast your mind back to early releases on other consoles, and how much and how far they have developed graphics-wise). I can honestly say that the new Wii U would be my preference for console action games in the future.