We all watched it or experienced it in some way. There was a large countdown clock in the office, ticking down to the time when Geoff would stop drooling on us and get the game. When it arrived he disappeared, hiding in his gaming cave, barely noticing the bits of food we tossed in for him. Then the wailing and gnashing of teeth started. Like for many of us, Geoff was having a hard time adjusting to the disparity between his expectations and the game itself. While it wasn’t a rubbish game, it wasn’t the pinnacle that he was lusting after, the crowning glory, so to speak. Phallic implications aside, what did Ubisoft achieve with the game on the Wii U?
The game looks great, the Anvil Engine quite at home on the Wii U. What makes it even more attractive is having almost all interface elements removed from the main screen. This cinematic feel encourages you to look at everything on the screen, with no noisy foreground elements screaming at you to pay attention to them. The forests around Connor’s homestead become idyllic, with vistas unfettered by minimaps and input prompts, adding to the level of immersion. The gamepad, having no customisable colour temperature settings, was used to great effect during cinematics. The programmers had full control over the warmth of the colours, or lack thereof, that players would be experiencing thanks to the gamepad giving them a what you see is what you get area to work in. The boisterously vibrant or coldly subdued colours made me spend more time watching events unfold on the tiny screen in my hands rather than on my TV.
Having a large map in your hands is really erm.. handy (cough), especially once you mistakenly tap on it (if there was a prompt telling me I could do this I missed it) and it zooms out a little bit, which causes it to show treasures and other map icons that are further away. This meant I spent a lot less time opening the main map to look for items and points of interest that were actually close by. The map is flanked by your health bar, command prompts for what B and A will do and icons of the melee and ranged weapon you have equipped, as well as an ammunition counter.
The map applies the same concept to naval missions. With all GUI elements removed, the naval missions are nothing short of breathtaking. The gamepad details your health with a large map showing islands, other ships and the wind’s heading. I found myself enjoying the sights, ignoring the missions at large to watch the crew run about and how the ship undulated. If you thought the naval missions were amazing, you have to see them on the Wii U.
I found most load times overly long, but this has been the case for the entire franchise, I think, so nothing new there. Sadly, there were times when the Wii U battled with the amount of action happening on the screen, resulting in poor framerates. While this only happened to me twice (two army based chase scenes get the blame), I fear what it means performance and cross platform wise in future titles. Hopefully this is something that developers take heed of going forward to make sure we don’t have 30fps ports in our future.
The gamepad isn’t utilised to its full potential either.
The screen has absolutely no use when outside of the animus, looping the same short video for no apparent reason. Yes, I know I’m outside the animus and don’t get any artificially injected stimuli or help, but at least have it do something useful or just switch off.
Due to the lower resolution, there are fuzzy fonts in some codex entries, making it easier to just read on the TV, dashing my hopes of reading the codices like a book.
The assign button in the weapon selection box was cryptic and remains a mystery to me even now. Was it a remnant from Xbox/PS3? Was it for the Wii U controller?
The tutorials are not reworked to explain features and uses of gamepad, or to explain the differences if using the Wii U pro controller. Not including a manual and having on-screen prompts disappear when they felt like it led to a fair amount of frustration.
There really were several missed opportunities here. The gamepad could have done so much more. Hopefully this is due to the concept being new to game designers and not a sign of what frustrations future ports hold.
On the bugs side of things, I had no problems with any of the missions missing spawns or errant objective markers. I did break one mission by assassinating soldiers instead of shooting them as instructed, but that is probably my own fault. Whether due to a removal of bugs or some demonic skills on my part, I was able to do every chase mission on the first go. While I think the former is the case, Darryn and Geoff have been acting rather strange around me. The floating muskets still happen, just not that often.
While this really comes down to individual play-style and lifestyle choices, the gamepad sadly showcases its poor battery in AC3. If you are like me, and tend to play in sessions longer than three hours, expect to spend a lot of time attached to a wall socket. By the end of the game I felt like I had finally escaped from my electric umbilical cord once again. At least, until the next big Wii U game. You would think I would be used to it by now, thanks to every other handheld I have. However, it felt odd and out of place, probably because this time I was in my lounge, bound by both the TV and the short power cable of the gamepad. While this wasn’t the biggest issue in AC3, thanks to the lack of any gyroscopic controls, I do fear for other Wii U games that take a more active approach in their control schemes moving forward.
While I miss the points that would have gone to my trophy or achievement totals, there really is something magical about playing a game with almost no GUI elements blocking your view. Looking down for information seems odd at first, but it quickly becomes a habit. I found myself staring down at the PS3 controller in my lap just a few days after finishing AC3 because the game I was playing didn’t have all the information I wanted on the screen… If you haven’t picked up AC3 yet and you want to and don’t mind not getting those achievements that you say you don’t care about (liar!), I recommend you get it for the Wii U.