Ubisoft revolutionises Assassin's Creed.
Assassin's Creed III Got Right
- + An amazing world
- + Heaps of side missions to explore
- + Improved combat and free-running
- + Connor and the American Revolution
Assassin's Creed III Got Wrong
- - Horses are rubbish
- - Some visual issues
Assassin’s Creed III is one of the most ambitious games I’ve ever played, and it largely gets it right. The first six hours keep you well confined within a linear path to slowly unravel the story and introduce you to a massive world that keeps getting bigger. When the shackles are released, you can continue to follow the story-driven adventure, or allow yourself to run amok and party like it’s 1779.
Assassin’s Creed III is headlined by a new protagonist, two in fact, as it delves into a historically accurate retelling of the American Revolution, intertwined with its own take on a time period often forgotten in video games. Half-Native American assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor as be comes to be known, enters the fray five hours into what is to become an epic adventure. The opening three sequences are dedicated to exploring the years before Connor’s birth and establish the roots of a deep story that is to span 30 years. Ubisoft has done a commendable job of keeping most of it secret until now, so aside from mentioning the second playable Colonial era character, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Assassin’s Creed III is the type of game that benefits from a player who doesn’t already anticipate every twist and turn.
Despite being anchored around one of the biggest events in American history, Connor is more concerned with the welfare of his village and his Homestead than the Revolution itself. Throughout his journey spanning three decades, he’ll encounter historical figures including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Lee and Samuel Adams, each of which has an integral part to play in Connor’s personnel fight for justice.
Assassin’s Creed III is one of the most ambitious games I’ve ever played, and it largely gets it right.
The Colonial America Revolutionary War is an inspiring and fitting backdrop for the raging conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. The purpose of Connor’s escapades are framed through series protagonist Desmond in modern day, which boasts small segments of less inspiring gameplay, necessary to progress the running story. While Connor’s narrative is self-contained within Assassin’s Creed III, Desmond’s story encompasses elements of the complete trilogy in his quest to prevent the end of the world in 2012. It will provide a sense of closure for long-time Assassin’s fans, but can largely be ignored by newcomers in favour of the more enthralling tale of Connor in his fight to protect his people.
The vast landscape of Assassin’s Creed III combines natural beauty with the industrial advancements of the mid-late-1700s. You’ll spend much of your time travelling through a developing New York and Boston for main story missions, between returning to the wilderness of the Colonial Frontier, which has been largely untainted by civilisation.
The main story is earmarked by the trademark exclamation point and could be rushed through in under 25 hours. However, to do so would be to forgo the complete Assassin’s Creed III experience. The side content is as much a part of Connor’s persona as his desire to become the loyal savour of his people. Investing time into your Homestead between murdering Red Coats will see it transform from a dream into an active small village and eventually afford you the opportunity to monopolise a national trade network. Helping locals will see them repay the favour in loyalty and strengthen the economy of your Homestead.
Aside from rural city planning, Connor can find rare hidden items and use them in trade to procurer secret missions and try his hand at numerous old-timey games, including bowls against some historical icons, and a bunch of board games that I never really understood (but fluked my way to success). The core story offers a glimpse of his natural hunting abilities, but these are merely the tip of the iceberg. Should you choose to pursue it further, Assassin’s Creed III contains a hunting map that allows Connor to track dozens of animals for their pelt, or even for sport. Like Red Dead Redemption, the option is there should it tickle your fancy, but otherwise it can be completely ignored. All of this enthralling side content pushes the total playtime beyond 40 hours.
Connor has a fantastic story to tell, and in many ways is a more enjoyable protagonist to control; against the backdrop of the American Revolution, there’s a vibrant world full of burgeoning cities, untouched wilderness and raging seas to explore.
Traversing the world is similar to previous games, but running on a simplified, and near perfect, framework. Connor can quickly scale a wall to momentary safety as he tries to evade his attackers and regain precious health, which auto-regenerates outside of combat. That extends beyond suspiciously well guarded roofs to treetops, perilous mountain ridges and even through buildings as a means to lose a committed pursuer with a newfound grace and fluidity. Almost everything can be climbed, from cliffs to delicate trees and conveniently placed flag poles.
Staying off the ground has never felt more instinctive. Connor glides through the trees just as well as he races across Boston rooftops. The free-running system has been simplified to only require the right trigger to be held down. That frees up your thumb to manoeuvre the camera, engage fleeting combat and take a leap of faith when Connor’s natural instincts don’t push him to jump. It also removes the possibility of accidentally jumping to certain death when you obviously didn’t intend to give such a command -- when you hit the jump button, you know it comes with an element of risk.
Combat has been completely redesigned to border on perfection for the third instalment, but comes with a relatively hefty learning curve. However, as its roots lie within the innovations of the Batman Arkham series, most players should find the adjustment a quick and painless process.
Fighting is entirely based on timing. For the best chance of success, you’ll need to wait for an enemy to attack and then counter with a disarm, throw or attack with your tomahawk or hidden blades. Should you have the time, you can also pull out your gun and simply shoot the offender in the face, but the pistol is only good for one shot in the midst of battle, which doesn’t afford time to reload.
Connor has to take a more tactful approach to fighting than his predecessor. Small groups are almost too easy, but fighting more than six or seven enemies simultaneously is asking for trouble, and stealth is often encouraged by the tempting optional objectives. While in direct combat, Connor’s awareness is matched in barbarity by his arsenal of weapons. His tomahawk shreds enemies to pieces, while his hidden blades execute swift assassinations. Each kill is confirmed by a gruesome animation that sees necks impaled and chests ripped open by sheer force. Hidden kills are even more ghastly, as Connor is able to leaps from a building to crush two unsuspecting Red Coats, or use his new rope dart to transfix an enemy from a tree top and hang him using his own physique as a counterweight.
The vast scope of the landscape is impressive, but it never really steps up until you experience the exhilaration of naval warfare. After scouring the materials to fix it up, Connor is tasked with commanding his very own ship on the high seas. Firing the cannons and steering the beast in harsh winds takes concentration, but it’s all mapped competently onto an initiative control scheme the sees command being ushered to the side of the vessel that your manual camera is fixed on. The ship is a defining aspect of Assassin’s Creed III and what sets it apart from its predecessors. The sheer size of her is something to behold and it’s the perfect change of pace from convert assassinations on land.
The ship plays an intrinsic role in Connor’s fight for freedom, but is used somewhat sparingly. It really comes into its own in the optional naval missions, which are reason enough to venture off the beaten path and explore the lively world.
A game of such considerable size is always going to be plagued by launch day annoyances, and Assassin’s Creed III is no different; although, it suffers from a few too many visual imperfections. The characters and core environments look fantastic, but beyond that, AC3 struggles to pull it all off. Some watered down supplementary effects, poor draw distances, unnatural shadows, clipping issues and bodies floating in mid-air detract from what could have been an excellent presentation.
Hundreds or thousands of characters on the battlefield were promised in the lead-up to release, but the end result is much less inspiring. The realisation of such an ambitious goal is 50 enemies in tight-knit units in battle, and some red blurs in the background. Most disappointing is cut-scenes that are diminished by a hand going through a man’s chest or a crucial door handle that looks like it was upsized horrifically in Paint sticking out like a sore thumb and becoming the focus of your attention. That isn’t to say it’s a bad looking game -- quite the contrary -- there are just a few too many instances where a lack of polish really tarnishes what is otherwise a pretty scene.
The only major gameplay glitches I encountered were on horseback. Your gallant stead is handy on flat, well marked paths, but as soon as there’s a small object to navigate it’s totally incompetent and will only serve to slow you down. Fortunately, key fast travel points and excellent free-running reduce the need to see your horse get stuck in its own food trough. While free-running is much improved, the “I don’t want to do that” phenomenon hasn’t been omitted completely. You can’t accidentally jump off a building anymore, but Connor can still lunge himself at a wall when you clearly wanted to run past it, causing an intense moment of frustration when you’re chasing someone or trying to evade an army of Red Coats. In the grand scheme of things, these may appear a little too frequently, but they are all minor irritations that are quickly overlooked.
When you're done with the mammoth single-player, the multiplayer mode adds a different take on assassination. The standard deathmatch sees you play in a team of up to four players trying to assassinate the opposing team, without being eliminated yourself. It’s an interesting iteration of the most popular online game mode, and is expanded upon by the game’s take on capture the flag and domination. The tutorial is a little tedious when you're rearing to play, but it's facilitating a rich and engaging multiplayer experience that I hope garners the following it deserves.
The Final Verdict
Assassin’s Creed III is undoubtedly the best in the series and revitalises everything about Assassin’s Creed that was starting to age prematurely. Connor has a fantastic story to tell, and in many ways is a more enjoyable protagonist to control; against the backdrop of the American Revolution, there’s a vibrant world full of burgeoning cities, untouched wilderness and raging seas to explore. There are a few little issues that suggest the execution isn’t perfect, but nothing that will discourage fans from enjoying one of the best games 2012 has to offer. This is the revolution that Assassin’s Creed has been waiting for.
By Ben Salter