Just five years on from its first entry, the Assassin’s Creed
franchise has already become one of the defining titles of this generation. And deservedly so, every year we marvel at the evolution of the series from an attractive, tall-building obsessed platformer to a sprawling, triple A title.
Remarkably, Assassin’s Creed
has spawned a full five titles since 2007, with 2009s AC2
continuing the story of Ezio in two further titles and bringing Desmond’s modern day story towards its end game. Now, it’s time to introduce a new ancestor and setting into this generation spanning saga.
In Assassin’s Creed III
players will take on the role of the part Native American Ratonhnhaké:ton, renamed Connor Kenway early on – much to the relief of my typing fingers. He’s an Assassin in training, trying to survive during the mid to late 1700s in a new America – before and during the time of the Revolution.
starts with an alternative character – one intimately related to Connor’s story. It might be considered a spoiler so we won’t linger but suffice to say the character you’ve seen in the promotional material doesn’t come under your control for some time and even then it’s as a child, before his life is ripped apart.AC3
is concerned with revenge, as the central narrative follows Connor’s attempt to avenge the death of a loved one. But the writers cleverly twist this tale around the wider historical context of the time and some its most significant moments. Thematically, it also brings in some neat connecting material around the father/son relationship, making Desmond’s story more integral as he and his team strive for nothing less than the fate of the planet.
As usual, the narrative flits between present and past – leaving the lion’s share of the adventure to Connor but also finally giving Desmond something to do. He’s intent on investigating a way to save the planet and heads out on quests to find power cores to light up an ancient facility, giving him the chance to actually kick some ass.
Most of the game takes place in the Animus and version 3.0 is introduced in glorious fashion by a slick tutorial which sees the world of (initially) 18th Century England build before your eyes. The notion of gameplay changes being explained away by software upgrades remains a neat addition and some serious tweaks have been made.
The most notable comes in your movement – AC3
no longer requires you to hold two buttons for high profile actions. Simply hold the right trigger and your character will go hell for leather, scaling and mantling as he goes. You can still jump, when needed, but the change means less frustrating dismounts and a smoother free-running experience. That’s vital with the addition of forest based hijinks, which try to take the rigid rooftop acrobatics in a more organic direction. And it works surprisingly well, helping you move silently through the canopy on your way to a kill.
The time spent in the Frontier is perhaps the biggest diversion for the series. The area is large but dense with interactive elements – from allies to enemies, fauna and feathers. Some objectives may take a while to get to, even through the trees, but Ubisoft has made an art of keeping players constantly busy on their journey and adds even more detail here. Then there’s the hunting which could serve as its very own mini game. The dozen or so animals on display all require different tactics – from bait and snares to QTE’s for the larger creatures. Selling pelts is a good way to make money and it’s rarely frustrating – plus there’s the added hilarity of being able to murder-kill a rabbit from a great height with your hidden blades. Connor takes no chances.
The game also serves up a few more populated places – chiefly Boston and New York. This shiny new world is still in its infancy so you may be surprised at the small scale of the buildings, particularly in contrast to the epic structures of Damascus or Rome. The attention to detail is still amazing and one benefit is less time spent scaling buildings to sync the map.
That activity is thankfully very much side-lined in here and while Brotherhood’s map felt over burdened with notifications, these icons are easy to understand and is aided by a proper fast travel system. Connor unlocks new exits by exploring underground and while its tedious at first it saves serious time later.
Combat has once more been pushed to the fore, so much so that the once stealthy remit of the games has all but disappeared. Personally, I’m glad – it means less insta-fail missions and a whole lot more utterly awesome carnage. AC3
moves a little away from the too simple parry and slice of Revelations and adds in an intuitive and deep combo system. Counters are easy to pull off but certain enemies require different follow up face buttons, some resulting in a straight kill while others merely knock them off balance. With far more enemies on screen at once, the mechanism forces you to be constantly aware of the strength of each opponent in a dance of death.
Projectile weapons also play a much bigger part, from the silent force of your bow to a range of muskets and pistols. Reloading takes time, forcing you to use these weapons tactically and if an enemy draws a bead on you, a prompt will give you time to find a human shield. This move reaffirms Ubisoft’s commitment to making players feel as cool as possible and minimal effort can produce goose bump-inducing moments of awe. The dual wield system means you can counter then launch an arrow into a noggin in one smooth motion and group actions are also possible – fending off a thrust, throwing out an uber cool rope dart into another enemy and dragging both to their demise. Blunt and heavy weapons also give new moves and animations, so seek out those suppliers.
Speaking of animation, Ubisoft
brings all the power of its AnvilNext
engine to bear on AC3
and the results are often stunning. Connor’s movements are more fluid than ever, with a real sense of shifting weight and momentum. His character model is superbly detailed and even the most incidental NPC leaps off the screen. What’s more, the new engine throws hundreds of characters around with ease and introduces a wide ranging weather system as well as seasonal variations in levels. Even the more organic sections look great, apart from some blocky bushes, and the 18th century world comes to life with incredible attention to detail.
Much of the game concerns the central mission to rid the new world of the Templars, specifically one man called Charles Lee who contributed to the death of your mother. It takes in many famous faces (like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington) and events (the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s midnight ride), all backed up by copious and often amusing database entries. And there’s plenty more in a range of secondary activities which arguably make up the real backbone of the Assassin’s Creed experience.
There are too many to list in full but Connor can acquire and refurbish a homestead and also complete special missions to people it with settlers (who then require further attention). Settlers equal produce which can be sent to stores via convoys – giving you the chance to match profit against hazard in search of extra cash. This is all in addition to the returning recruit mechanic, unlocked when you liberate areas of the city. Once again you can send them out to free surrounding states and you can even send multiple agents to increase the chance of success. Their usefulness in the game proper has also been enhanced – you can call specifically on their marksmen skills or even get them to escort you in disguise or cause a riot.
That’s not to mention special Frontiersmen missions, which task you with investigating local mysteries, procuring pages of Benjamin Franklin’s almanac, collecting trinkets for a crazy old sea dog, scanning NPC’s to add to a codex, or playing board games and boules for fun and profit. There’s even a fully-fledged ship simulator, complete with dynamic waves, full control of the vessel and some taut and spectacular naval battles that take you as far as Bahamas.
A fleet-footed run through the main story and a solid smattering of side missions took me just over 16 hours – with a sync rating around 50%. That’s an incredible amount of content still waiting to be discovered, dwarfing the running time of most modern titles. Post credits, you’ll even be able to engage in an Animus synching mini game where other players plant pivots in their world which you must find in yours. It’s an interesting addition to the social aspect of the game, and success yields a special achievement as well as the ability to hack the Animus.
But wait, there’s more, multiplayer is back! First debuting in 2010s Brotherhood
, it focuses on more tactical play than the bullet frenzy melees of most other online games. You’ll choose an avatar and head into a simulation to kill an assigned target without being spotted. The catch is, you’re also being hunted and the smallest mistake could mean death.
You’ll find new game modes and a streamlined control scheme here alongside some helpful UI changes. A new meter tracks how discreet you are being, and combines with your focus gauge to give you more points for a truly stealthy kill. Points can be redeemed for new powers and perks, aimed at making you invisible or using the crowd to your advantage.
This cat and mouse game remains compelling, and the regular competitive modes like Deathmatch and Wanted are supplemented by team based games like Domination (CFT essentially) and Artefact Assault. A brand new addition is Wolfpack (a Hangover reference?) which is a co-op mode throwing four players into a level filled with random NPC targets. Kills add precious seconds to a ticking clock as you earn points by stealthy or co-operative kills to progress to the next sequence (with 25 in all). It’s thrilling stuff, forcing the player to toe the line between speed and skilful violence to keep the clock ticking. Continued success leads to sync kills where all players approach a group of targets, lock on and attack as one for a slow motion infused, kick ass scene of carnage. It’s very cool.
There’s no denying that Assassin’s Creed III
offers outstanding value for money, with dozens of hours of content spread across a massive campaign and unique multiplayer mode. Long time fans of the series will also get to see Desmond’s journey come full circle, alongside Connor’s historical story, bringing that sometimes bizarre ancient aliens narrative to a close.
Why then the score below? My reservations with Assassin’s Creed III
lie in the story. Connor is, quite simply, a rather dull protagonist – driven by a vague revenge narrative which never ties into the plight of his Native American brothers nor really with the local struggle of the Assassins. Likewise there’s huge potential for emotion in the relationship with his own father but it’s never really driven home, leaving Connor’s plot to meander to a close amid a series of uninvolving fights.
The setting too was troublesome. Perhaps it’s because I’m less familiar with the American Revolution than I should be but many of the grand battles and references went over my head, a fact not aided by the constant flitting around in time which made some strands difficult to follow.
That all important end game is also somewhat botched. The series has always had a problem fitting in its more overt sci-fi elements and that persists here – feeling at odds with the historical histrionics of the rest of the game. Desmond is offered a binary choice at the end of the game proper but we aren’t given the chance to pick one – robbing us of the chance to feel involved in the very significant events which follow.
Ultimately, these issues will effect some players more than others but the overall impression of Assassin’sCreed III
is that it verges on masterpiece territory and succeeds on almost every level – both technically and in terms of the incredible depth on offer. If only the story was a little more heartfelt and human and our lead less stoic and uncompromising in his pursuit of vengeance, it might have stood with the best of this generation. As it is, you’ll have to settle for merely excellent.