Assassin's Creed III is a bit of a mess regardless of what console you buy it on. As Matt discussed in our 6/10 review, a decent yarn and a lavishly-detailed world are let down by uniquely poor mission design, an embarrassment of padding and shocking quality assurance. Worse, your first three hours in the company of the truly magnificent Haytham Kenway soon end, to be replaced by an entire dull day with crashingly boring Connor.
Wii U owners don't yet have access to Far Cry 3, however, so it's high time we take a look at how well Nintendo's new machine can handle early cross-platform ports, and what difference the Gamepad makes.
Assassin's Creed III looks virtually identical on PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U, which is to say that it's capable of great ambient beauty. Its textures are just as inconsistent and self-shadowing just as hokey across all platforms (barring the PC version, which we've yet to test), but when you're watching the sun rise over the frontier, you probably won't care.
Since Assassin's Creed III is an early multiplatform port that has likely received little or no extra attention, it's unfair to expect a major step up in graphical grunt. It might be within our rights to expect stable performance, mind.
Don't get your hopes up.
Interminable load times are the first major casualty of Ubisoft's relative inexperience with the Wii U hardware, an issue that's also present in ZombiU. Long waiting times abound, prefacing the smallest cutscenes and biggest story events, presenting us with more time spent staring at the (admittedly attractive) loading screens than the PS3 or Xbox 360 version. Multiplayer matches also seem to take longer to populate and load, though this is likely down to a smaller player base.
The next issue comes in the form of bugs and glitches, which seem more widespread than even the borderline-broken original version. Even with a weighty title update (that currently takes between 2-5 minutes), I've gotten stuck inside several scenery objects, witnessed friendly AI breaking down, seen plenty of floating rifles and suffered a crash so serious that I had to turn the Wii U off at at the wall... before reaching 18% completion.
And then we come to frame rate. Several of Assassin's Creed III's most visceral moments turn into a slideshow despite a dedicated 1GB of RAM. Discouragingly, these problems are repeatable - so must have been caught (and ignored?) in QA considering that the biggest set pieces are affected.
Gamepad Functionality: Almost All Is Forgiven
While ZombiU saw Ubisoft going to town on Wii U-specific features, Assassin's Creed III has received the lightest touch. The touchscreen displays a map that's zoomed out to a far greater extent than the onscreen minimap, showing off points of interest and level geometry within several hundred yards. Navigating the tool wheel becomes slightly easier due to some onscreen icons, and a quick jab instantly summons your horse without any menus involved.
This might sound simple, but it works brilliantly. Increased map range comes in incredibly useful for locating nearby almanac pages or viewpoints without having to press Select. Your horse has never been closer. Basically, though it doesn't revolutionise anything, your life will be made slightly easier by some well thought-out design decisions. Bravo. We hope that future ports will make the onscreen map even more comprehensive, perhaps letting us set waypoints or accept missions without having to leap into a menu.
During cutscenes, the screen displays an identical stream that looks surprisingly crisp - in fact, often superior to the TV feed. In-game footage looks seriously impressive, though the option to activate remote play is buried deep in the options menu.
Amazingly, you can even activate basic 3D on the Gamepad, so long as you happen to have the correct (green and red) pair of specs to hand.
All in all, Assassin's Creed III is practically identical on the Wii U compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360, and we have yet to see whether Nintendo's machine can leverage more power than its current-gen rivals. Some extra wasted time in loading screens and faffing about with bugs gets saved by the simple yet incredibly handy Gamepad functionality.
Whether that's worth the inflated price, however, is debatable.