Assassin’s Creed III is, without a doubt, one of the most hyped games of the year, and one of the most anticipated. The series has amassed quite a fanatical fan base with the previous instalments, and although Revelations wasn’t its finest hour, the last game did set up this, the final part of Desmond’s story, very well.
This time, however, it’s not Italian assassin, Ezio that takes the helm in the Animus, but newcomer, Connor. A half-English, half-Native American, Connor’s story is a long and winding tale, and right from the very beginning in this epic, two disc-sized (on Xbox, anyway) instalment of the series, it’s a tale that, I don’t mind saying, will have you totally hooked, especially with an early plot twist that’s simply brilliant.
The prologue of the game is a long one, and it’s actually some time before you even meet the new hero of the series, but rest assured, it’s an intro that’s handled very well indeed. It not only cleverly introduces the new gameplay mechanics, but also begins to weave an engrossing and brilliant tale of conspiracy and betrayal in the setting of the new frontier, with some famous historical faces playing their parts.
To say too much here would ruin the experience, so I’ll leave the details of the story’s opening for you to discover, except to say, it’s a great set up, one of the best I’ve seen for a while.
I’ll say right now that, Assassin’s Creed III is to Revelations what Assassin’s Creed 2 was to the first game. By this I mean that the game is a great leap forward in many ways, and although this jump may not be quite as staggering as the improvement between Altair’s and Ezio’s adventures, there’s a lot here that will have fans grinning like Cheshire Cats.
Visually, this is certainly the best AC yet, and the environments are stunning at times. The newly open wilderness terrain is densely packed with forests, animals and all sorts of detail, and the cities, whilst not as magnificent as the likes or Rome or Jerusalem, are far more believable, packed with inhabitants going about their daily chores, orphans running around in alleyways and stray cats and dogs roaming the cobblestones. It’s a sight to behold, and simply walking through these streets is enjoyable enough, such is the quality of the atmosphere.
The addition of various weather conditions also adds to the game, from murky, hot days in the forest, to wintery, snow covered wilderness that you’ll struggle to run through. It’s all good, and these little touches also affect the gameplay. For example, stalking a target in normal weather is simple enough, but when you can’t run fast enough due to dense snow, you have to re-think your strategy.
However, as much as the aesthetics of weather and a more densely packed and life-like world add to the experience, the newly organic layout adds even more.
The free-running component of the game, always a key feature of the series, is the best it’s ever been here. The addition of being able to free-run through tree tops and other organic structures is handled very well indeed, and is as impressive to watch as it is to play. But, even the normal rooftop running has also been improved. In fact, every aspect of the parkour-related gameplay has been tweaked, and although it still glitches out now and again, sprinting through the wilderness or streaming through packed city streets away from pursuing guards is far more enjoyable here than before.
Whilst in previous games you sometimes felt like you lost control of Ezio or Altair at some points, due to a glitchy control system, here this is rarely the case, and the general feel is one that’s more fluid and solid. It works, and it works well.
Tomahawk to the face!
One area where Assassin’s Creed has always fallen a little flat is with combat. The turn taking AI and counter-heavy fighting has rarely offered any challenge, and players have been able to cut a swathe through whole armies with barely a scratch.
ACIII attempts to remedy this, and this time foes don’t always wait in line to attack, making your life more difficult. Connor also has a wealth of extra moves and superbly cool ways with which to dispatch enemies, such as running executions, the new rope-dart and, lest not forget, his tomahawk, but, even with a much more stylish system, you can still pretty much counter your way to victory. A few enemies can shake counters off, but often the combat challenge is still sorely lacking. Ah well, at least it’s great to watch, and the game does make you feel like an unstoppable killing-machine, which is nice.
Assassination is the name of the game, though, and ACIII has many more way with which to off your targets, and this is good, as a lot of assassinations aren’t as straightforward as in previous games, and the open world and large scale warfare elements make Connor’s job a little more difficult. Luckily, he’s got the skills to take care of these challenges, and his new weapons and abilities are more than adequate. Connor is a much more agile and skilled assassin than either Altair or Ezio in many ways, and he’s certainly much more brutal when it comes to combat, as fights flow faster and more smoothly, as do assassinations.
Hunting and sailing
Two large new additions to the game are hunting and naval warfare. The former makes the most of the game’s new animal targets, and this being the wilds of America, you’ll stumble upon all sorts of creatures, from hares and foxes to bears and cougars. Hunting these can give you tradable items, which you can sell to develop your homestead (similar to Ezio’s basic-Sim City town, only larger and more complex), and also lets you hone your skills. You can hunt using a bow and arrow, and other, simple methods (tomahawk, smash!) and you can employ other, more stealthy tactics, such as laying snares, using bait and even searching for clues to track down prey. It’s simple, yes, but is well implemented and works well.
Predatory enemies can fight back, and if they get the drop on you, you’ll need to defend yourself. Sadly, a lot of the time this means completing a QTE-style button press challenge, which is a little crappy given how much control you have over Connor at all other times, but it’s a relatively minor offence, so I’ll let it off here. It’s certainly not up to Resident Evil 6 levels of QTE-cheapness, put it that way.
Naval sections are excellent. What I thought may turn out to be a simplistic and shoehorned-in diversion is actually a truly enjoyable and well produced game mechanic that arises in the main game, but also has it’s own side mission structure, complete with ship upgrades and the ability to board enemy vessels. And, not only does ship-to-ship combat and sailing in general look and sound gorgeous (with some stunning weather and water effects) but it plays well and is one of the best depictions of the subject I’ve seen in gaming so far, and in terms of the actual game story, fits in very well. Yes, ACIII is stuffed to bursting with gameplay, and it’s easy to see why it requires two discs to fit it all in.
An online multiplayer component also returns this time, and on the whole it remains very similar to past outings, only with new moves, settings and the like. The Deathmatch, Domination and Artefact Assault modes are all welcome, as is the staple assassination mode where players have to eliminate a target without being killed by opposing players. All are as solid as they’ve always been, but, I can’t help feel that, once again, the gimmick will wear off quickly, and it with single player where the game really shines. It’s a great online mode, but the pacing and general feel is simply best suited to a single player experience in my opinion.
Luckily, with a massive campaign that’s full to bursting, this isn’t a problem, and even without the multiplayer component, ACIII is a game that simple begs to be purchased. The online modes simply bolster an already impressive deal.
Assassin’s Creed III is one of those games that really does manage to hit all of its targets and justify the hype and long, expensive development. After the series’ gradual decline into repetitive dullness, I was ready for ACIII to be more of the same with a different setting, but instead, Ubisoft has delivered an excellent and evolutionary title that pushes the series in new directions whilst still embracing the gameplay we’ve come to know and love.
The story is the most engrossing in the series yet, with some excellent characters, performances, and the sheer variety of gameplay mechanics and the volume of things to do and see makes this a genuine AAA hit that you simply can’t miss out on. Some AC niggles still remain in places, but this is one of the year’s best games, make no mistake. A definite must have, and the best Assassin’s Creed yet.