The fifth main installment in what has become a staple of our current generation diet is bold, ambitious and full of all the jumpy-stabby action that we have become accustomed to. So dry-clean your hooded garments, polish up your hidden blades and prepare for the revolution.
The backdrop for Assassin’s Creed III is a quest to uncover secrets, which can halt the planet’s impending doom at the hands of an inbound, catastrophic solar flare. Desmond, the series’ present day protagonist, is out of his trauma-induced coma and ready to return to the Animus, a device that allows him to live out the memories of his ancestors, stored within his DNA. Fortunately for us, his ancestors were not pig herders or night soil men (though that would make for a fascinating, albeit icky game!) but in fact a family of secret assassins.
These assassins are actually the good guys in this story and sworn to protect humanity from the mysterious group of Illuminati-style Templars, who like to control everything and are generally not much fun to be around.
Throughout the last four games, we have seen Desmond live out the memories of his relatives from the days of The Crusades and the Renaissance. These were two really interesting, yet contrasting time periods to focus on, but those memories are spent. Now it’s time for a new character and a new piece of the historic puzzle that is Assassin’s Creed.
The latest ancestor for Desmond to re-live is an mixed race, English/Native American man named Connor, living in America during the time of the War of Independence. Much like Assassin’s Creed II, you will get to learn a lot about the protagonists background and even more about the history of the time.
It is near impossible to talk about the narrative elements of Assassin’s Creed III without spoiling some aspect of its brilliant and twist-riddled plot. I will say that it is full of perhaps even more intrigue than previous games and the first major twist (encountered in the first 2-3 hours) will have your jaw dropping like some sort of man-goldfish grotesque. Yeah, it really is that good.
What follows is an inside look at the American War of Independence, with two factions warring over ideals of what constitutes “freedom” and free-will. This is mirrored by the ongoing conflict between the Assassin’s and the Templars, forcing the player to question and ponder the differences between these two ancient societies.
As ever, Assassin’s Creed III can be classed as a thinker, in terms of the philosophy behind it and although there is never a great deal of choice, you are never far away from the question of your own morality.
Unfortunately, for me, Connor seemed to lack the depth of character and the conviction of Desmond’s previous ancestors, Altaïr and Ezio. In the past, the path of the Assassin has seemed fairly clear and logical for previous protagonists, but for Connor a lot of his emotions seem driven by revenge and a child-like naivety that make some of his actions more irritating than endearing.
He has a fairly limited emotional range, which consists mostly of confusion and rage, showing very little in the way of character development throughout the story. Though he may be emotionally stunted, he lacks very little in the running and jumping department, because that is exactly what Conner does best.
The trademark free-running mechanics of Assassin’s Creed have been completely overhauled to include the ability to leap and climb through the dense forestry of the Frontier Country surrounding Boston and New York. Like any new introductions into the series, this takes a little time to master, but once you have it down, you will feel more like a ninja boss than ever before.
The animation whilst leaping and running along tree branches is fluid and looks incredible but also has many practical advantages. Not only can you use your new leafy pathways to steer clear of a lot of the predatory wildlife (Bobcats, Bears, Wolves etc) that inhabits the open country, but you can also use these high-spots to ambush guard patrols, or assassinate a Raccoon if the mood takes you. It’s a lot of fun and re-awakened the earnest sense of “wow” that I got from the first game when climbing to the top of a high tower (probably a mosque) and jumping off into a conveniently placed pile of hay.
Fortunately, the inhabitants of Boston and New York still have need of hay and seem to stockpiling it, so that caters nicely for all of your inner-city free running needs.
The combat system that we had all become perhaps a tad too used to has also seen a re-work. You can no longer simply rely on the one button counter-kill to deal with all foes, as some of the archetypes will require special treatment like a disarm or a throw, and these are catered for with separate buttons. again, this takes a while to get used to (and a couple of deaths in my case), but once it’s there, it’s there.
There is by far a lot more to do in the open country sections of the map, than in previous games. You will likely spend hours searching for treasures in the wilderness and completing the many entertaining side quests on offer from the frontier folk. It’s really refreshing to be able to explore such a vast region in between the main story missions, building up your Homestead (an expanded version of the Monteriggioni villa in ACII) and trips back to the present day to read Desmond’s emails and search for clues. It is definitely what fans have always wanted to see more of in previous games and it is great that the feedback has been taken on board.
One of the other major new features are the naval battles. Oh, the naval battles! In these, you assume command of a war ship named The Aquila, equipped with cannons, grape-shot (giant shotguns) and a ram. You have full control of the ship, commanding the crew to raise the sail to increase speed and to target and fire on enemy vessels. Some of us got hands on with this mode at the Eurogamer Expo back in September, and it became an instant favourite. This is by far superior to any of the tower defense elements in previous games. Allowing you to experience all the sights and sounds of the naval warfare of the time. You can almost smell the sea air, but fortunately for me, it’s just a simulation, as sea travel makes me a bit green.
There are so many new innovations in Assassin’s Creed III and not one of them feels rushed, tacked on or out of place. Ubisoft have clearly taken their time getting everything just right, and that is why this game plays like dream.
The Assassin’s Creed multiplayer has always fascinated me, in that there is very little else like it out there. The standard modes are an entirely original take on deathmatch, where alliances with other players are created and broken without the slightest warning.
It’s all about deception really, as you take control of one of several unique characters and find yourself in a crowded city environment, surrounded by NPCs who look just like you. The other players also have hundreds of doubles milling around, and you must blend in to avoid detection by the other players. Each player has a target to hunt down and is in-turn targeted by another player.
If you try to blend in and act inconspicuous, you may be able to escape your pursuers and get the drop on your enemy, but if you kill an NPC look-alike you loose points and your target will change to another player. It sounds immensely complicated, but it’s a work of genius in that it creates a tension and paranoia unlike any other multiplayer experience out there. Everyone is a suspect!
The graphics in Assassin’s Creed III are as breathtaking as ever. Climbing to the highest point of a region and seeing an explorable area as far as the eye can see, is still incredible. The greenery and snow covered areas of the frontier country also look lush and realistic.
It also seems that the draw distance has greatly improved from previous games. They were always pretty good, but now animals and and NPCs can now be spotted from really really really far away.
The Sum Up
A wondrous revival of a series that was, in truth beginning to show it’s age in the gameplay department. The new modes and innovations on offer in Assassin’s Creed III have breathed new life into a story that I am no where near ready to see the back of. For all it’s enjoyment, there is little that can top the mighty naval battles for me, but other aspects do a damn good job of trying.
Although Connor is a little bit wooden as a protagonist, the narrative is solid and I’m really looking forward to seeing growth in his character, assuming this time period will be revisited.
Assassin’s Creed III will also answer many of those burning questions that fans of the series have been harboring since the first and second games. As ever, as soon as your thirst for knowledge seems well quenched, you are presented with yet more mysteries. I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.
It’s clear that Ubisoft has done an incredible amount of research and poured effort into creating something truly unique in a world of grey, amorphous sequels and prequels. Entertaining and deeply rewarding, this is a revolutionary installment in the series and storytelling at its best. A must have for long time Assassin’s Creed fans.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360