Assassin’s Creed III In-Depth Review

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Wii U
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes

This title was provided free of charge to review by Ubisoft.

It has taken four games to reach this point, the fifth and final chapter in Desmond’s epic journey that has encompassed the massive historical scope of the Assassins versus the Templars and the epic science-fiction that binded them together. And while we know that there will undoubtedly be more games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, more stories to be told within the universe, for now this is the end, the finale, the grand goodbye to Desmond. And with that comes a heavy expectation from fans; after five games Ubisoft have to deliver a fitting conclusion to this tale.

But before we get to the conclusion  we’ve got the little matter of the entirety of Assassin’s Creed 3’s storyline to get through. At this point Ubisoft are clearly feeling confident in their skills with the series as they’ve chosen to craft a slow-burning introduction to the game’s characters and setting that lasts around 4 or 5 hours. As we all know creating a slow introduction to a game that holds the interest of the player is a much harder feat than creating an action-packed one. It’s a vote of confidence from Ubisoft toward their fans: they’re trusting that after four games we’re all more than invested enough in the storyline to stick with and enjoy the slower paced introduction to the setting, characters and new Assassin on the block, Connor. The bad news is that this lengthy introduction can feel a little tiresome at times, but the good news is that those moments are more than offset by Ubisoft throwing several twists into the early hours that grab the attention and a completely ingenious curveball that genuinely made me sit up and shout, “WHAT!?” at my TV. Perhaps newcomers to the series might find the first three or four hours of Assassin’s Creed 3 dull, but for fans Ubisoft have used this time to beautifully set up the game and, most importantly, to create adversaries with real depth. These aren’t just “Evil Templars” who are nothing more than a name and a face to stab, they’re fleshed out people with personalities, agendas and beliefs of their own. And that means we finally get to explore a concept in the Creed universe that has been around since the beginning: the Assassins believe that what they’re doing is right and that their methods are right, but the Templars believe exactly the same – who is actually right? Assassin’s Creed 3 lets us understand the Templars a little more, and it’s fascinating stuff, making them a far more satisfying foe to face. It makes it….personal.

Obviously it’s not just the Templars that benefit from this meandering beginning, though, as Ubisoft use the time to introduce us slowly to new Assassin on the block, Connor, or Ratonhnhaké:ton for short, a half British half native American lad raised by his mother in their home village, leaving him with some daddy issues in the process. Creed III spans a total of 30-years of Connor’s life, charting his early years, his taking of the Assassin’s mantle and beyond.   The game takes the time to build up a fantastic, emotional back story for our new hero in the first quarter of the game so that we can  form a connection with him, and it works, although poor Connor is subject to so many various ways to cause conflict and drama in his life that it almost starts to feel like one of those numerous crap soap operas that exist in TV land. It’s a wonder the lad can get out of bed in the morning. Anyway, I digress: with all the heartache and problems set up for our hero in the opening hours of the game it’s easy to form an initial connection with him.  It doesn’t last, though, because once you get the back story and initial drama out of the way and Connor finally dons the robes of an Assassin, he reveals his true nature as a boring lead character. It’s not that he’s a bad person: he’s noble, highly moral and he believes that all people have the right to freedom, making him a prime candidate for an Assassin, and his motivations are clear and powerful, it’s just that when it comes down to personality Connor really doesn’t have much of one – he’s a blank slate. He’s stoic and reserved, as belies his Iroquois people, which is absolutely fine, but he’s written and acted without a trace of emotion, except for the occasional outburst that could vaguely be described as “anger.”  Sure, the Iroquois aren’t the most emotional of people, but sweet jesus they’re not robots! It comes to a head in one scene between Connor and one of his closest friends that should have been a powerful moment, but ended up feeling like two people reading a press release. The true problem, though, is that Connor just doesn’t feel like an Assassin: he exhibits no understanding of what it means to be an Assassin other than a belief in freedom, he’s not particularly profound or even very intelligent,  seemingly unable to grasp that he’s part of something larger than himself, and to finish it off he’s incredibly naive, a trait that I’ve never associated with a member of the Brotherhood. The combination of his naivety and generall lack of intelligence often had me sighing in exasperation as his headstrong nature and short temper carried him into yet another stupid decision that I felt any Assassin worth his salt had no right in making. The thing that annoyed me most, though, is that this set of character traits gave Connor a great amount of room to grow, just like the previous Assassins: Altair was arrogant, but eventually accepted that he was part of something bigger, and Ezio managed to leave his overwhelming drive for vengeance behind him, growing into a profound and insightful man. To his credit nearer the end of the game it seemed like Connor had finally grown into the role of an Assassin, but then he went and did something else stupid and I just gave up. It’s not that Connor is unlikable, or that he’s even a terrible character, it’s just that he’s boring. Some may list his stoic attitude as a flaw but I personally liked that. Stoic characters take skill to endear to the player, though, and on that front Ubisoft failed.

But while Connor himself may not be terribly exciting the backdrop for his numerous adventures certainly is. For Assassin’s Creed 3 Ubisoft decided to leap 200-years ahead of Ezio and the renaissance to the American Revolution, a volatile and dangerous period of history that a surprisingly large amount of people have very little knowledge of, usually just viewing it as a simple case of the good guys vs the bad guys (which changes depending on who you ask) or that it was a fight for Liberty, with a capital L, that culminated in the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Of course those who have taken an interest in the American Revolution know that there’s a hell of a lot more to it all than that. Ubisoft have used this to full effect and what they present here is the American Revolution in all of its dirty, grimy, complex glory. During the build up to the game’s release Ubisoft were repeatedly accused of being biased in favor of the Americans as their trailers almost always seemed to show Connor massacring British soldiers. Having played through the game, though, there’s no “Yay America” attitude here, nor is there one toward the British. Ubisoft portrayed both sides fairly and, more importantly, pretty accurately, making this not only a rousing adventure but also a bloody good history lesson. Before long you’ll be happily Googling the American Revolution and finding yourself getting caught up in it all.   To be entirely fair Connor will end up killing a considerable number of British soldiers, but the context for this is immediately obvious: at the time of the American Revolution the colonies were still British, and therefore it was British troops patrolling the streets, ergo if you do anything wrong, like killing someone, it would be these troops that you’d come into direct conflict with. It’s also true that Connor does end up fighting on the side of the American’s quite a bit, but again taken in the context of the story this always makes perfect sense. There were one or two moments when I felt that the British were being presented in a bad light, but upon reflection I realised that it was the soldiers being shown in a bad light, not Britain as such, and historically a lot of the soldiers at that time weren’t very…nice. It was also balanced out by the fact that the game, especially in Animus Database entires, had no problem pointing out the hypocrisy, shortcomings and dirty deeds of the Patriots as well.  Most importantly of all, though, this is Connor’s story and the story of the ever-continuing war between the Assassin’s and the Templars, not the story of the American Revolution. It’s about their conflicting views, and more than ever in Assassin’s Creed it’s about how you perceive them. However, though the Revolution is the setting and therefore technically isn’t the focus for the story, there’s no doubt that it still plays an important part in Connor’s tale. 

The world is truly breathtaking.

And what a story it is. Connor’s bland personality and does somewhat hamper the tale that Ubisoft are attempting to tell, all but ruining a couple of key scenes that would have otherwise been powerfully emotional, but otherwise it’s an exciting plot that sees Connor getting involved in many of the key events of the American Revolution such as the Boston Tea Party, Battle of Valley Forge, the ride of Paul Revere and much more. The writing talent at Ubisoft have done a great job of weaving Connor in and around the Revolution. Of course the Revolutionary setting also allows Ubisoft to indulge in their pastime of having their lead characters meet famous faces, and while none of them match the brilliance of a certain Leonardo Da Vanci that Ezio liked to pal around with, it’s still fun to meet the likes of George Washington, Paul Revere, Benjamin Church and Thomas Lee in the flesh…so to speak. In fact Connor’s supporting cast are a bit of a mixed bunch, with the majority of them being surprisingly dull people. Still, there are a couple that standout, such as Connor’s mentor Achilles who gets far less screen time than he deserves. In fact for someone who plays such an integral role in Connor’s life it’s amazing that he gets so little time in the story, especially as it feels like he had so much more to offer. I also have to point out that Ubisoft made a complete cock-up of Achilles story during the game, though for spoilers sake I won’t even go into it.  The true standout, though, comes in he form of a gentleman by the name of Haytham Kenway, a brilliantly written, fantastically acted and incredibly interesting character who once again felt like he could have had far more screen time, especially as there was so much more that could have been done with his interactions with Connor. But I’m digressing again here: the storyline suffers from a few flaws, with the first being that it attempts to cover 30-years of Connor’s life in just one game, leading to plenty of times when the story suddenly just skips ahead with some brief narration. Seriously, the entirety of Connor’s training is just skipped over, which feels strange – one minute he’s a fairly normal lad, and then suddenly he’s an Assassin. The second problem comes in the final hour or two of the story which felt weak, especially the closing moments which delivered a sequence of events that didn’t feel right at all. But ultimately Connor’s story delivers all the twists, turns and excitement that we’ve come to expect from the Creed games and doesn’t disappoint, even if it’s never quite as engrossing or satisfying as Ezio’s.

And what of Desmond? Over the course of the past four Creed games we’ve spent so much time buried in the past acting out the memories of former Assassins that it’s easy to forget the actual overarching story that binds it all together. After the various Revelations (HA!) of the past few games Desmond is finally on the last leg of his journey, now boasting the skills and knowledge of Ezio and Altair. He and his group of….friends? Comrades? People. He and his group of people have made their way to the temple of the First Civilisation, and now all that stands in their way of saving the world from annihilation by Solar Flare is a door, the key to which is buried deep within Connor’s memories. Given that this is the final chapter in Desmond’s long  journey we get to spend depressingly little with him, which is a shame because while he’s not suddenly developed a personality, much like Connor, he finally feels like an Assassin and gets to flex his running, fighting and sneaking muscles in some present-day missions where he goes on the hunt for some power sources for the Temple. Finally getting to head out on some real missions provide the best Desmond moments that the series has seen, although I can’t help but question his apparent willingness to kill security guards who are just doing their job, but I suppose his ancestors did the same as well, so it’s all good. But the important question is of course does Assassin’s Creed 3 wrap up the story in a fitting and epic conclusion? The answer is no.  The final sequence builds up towards a dramatic, emotional and thrilling finale. The shocks come thick and fast, piling up on you. Ubisoft seem to be heading toward a choice for their finale: it’s a dramatic choice, and one that is poised to be executed beautifully – I’m literally locked on my TV screen, my mind working fast: what will I choose? This is perhaps the toughest in-game decision I’ve ever seen. And then suddenly Ubisoft seem to chicken out at the last-minute and Desmond makes the choice for me. Okay, a bit disappointing, but no matter, the finale still looks set to be epic. And then BAM! It’s over. All this build up, and then suddenly it’s just over, leaving far more questions than answers in its wake. There’s no sense of closure, none of the anticipated emotion and power, it’s just suddenly over, just like that. In their haste to provide themselves with narrative threads for future games Ubisoft have crafted an ending that ends up raising more questions than it answers, leading to an unsatisfying ending that has so very little closure for a story that has spanned 5 games.

Desmond finally gets to kick some ass this time around.

Wow, almost 2,500 words already and I haven’t even gotten out of talking about the story. Yeesh.

From the twists and turns of the slowly paced introduction the game finally opens up at Sequence 5, giving you free run of the open world which has been the staple of the series since the very first game. For Assassin’s Creed III Ubisoft went back to the imaginary drawing board (do people still use those?) and built the next version of their Anvil engine, the beast that gave us the beautiful scenery in all of the previous games. Ingeniously they named it…..AnvilNext. And they say innovation is dead, eh? With the new engine comes a slight increase in graphical fidelity, but the real change comes from its ability to display up to 2,000 NPCs at the same time, allowing Ubisoft to recreate some of the bigger battles in the Revolution, although sadly the trailers lied and you’ll never really find yourself in the thick of the action, usually just skirting around the edge of them. Both Boston and New York have been built from the ground up using period maps for you to play in, and damn do they look good! The increased NPC amounts bring the wide streets of both cities to life, and Ubisoft’s typically brilliant audio work has been ramped up a notch here: the cities are alive with the voices of citizens going about their daily tasks, Redcoats patrolling, the shouts of young lads selling papers and the cries of merchants selling their wares. The combination of beautiful buildings, attention to detail and fantastic audio design make walking through the city a pleasure, resulting in me frequently walking to my objectives, soaking up the atmosphere of city life.

Of course as an Assassin Connor is able to navigate these cities using the freerunning skills that we’ve become so used to. Ubisoft have made a minor adjustment to the system so that you no longer have to hold down the sprint button and the trigger to freerun, instead you just pull the trigger and off you go. Ubisoft have named this “Safe” freerunning and claim that it rids the series of the old problem of your Assassin leaping off of walls to their doom or simply performing entirely the wrong action. The bad news is that “Safe” freerunning doesn’t solve this problem: Connor still occasionally flung himself to his doom or performed entirely the wrong action during my play time with the game. Thankfully like before this problem is inconsistent, so it’s not too much of a headache, but sods law means it’ll always happen at exactly the wrong time, usually when you’re chasing a target. Other than that the basics of freerunning haven’t changed all that much and it’s as fun as ever to clamber up buildings, although colonial architecture at the time means they’re usually no higher than two-storeys. Speaking of which the colonial city designs at the time also making freerunning a trickier prospect in Assassin’s Creed III: wider streets that can’t be leaped mean navigating the city via rooftop is far harder than before, forcing you to take to streets more often. On the one hand it’s strange to have the freerunning mechanic limited in this way, but in another it forces the player to adopt new tactics and use ground based stealth and blending a little more.

Connor can grab weapons while he’s running now, making for some awesome moments as you grab a rifle and leap off of a ledge to kill your target.

Speaking of which a few new additions to the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed has helped the stealth considerably, an aspect of the series that has felt a little clumsy in past games when you had to take to the ground rather than the rooftops where as Assassin naturally feels at home. Now, simply amble Connor up the corner of a wall or fence and he’ll peer around it, pressing his body against the surface to ensure he stays hidden while being able to see what’s going on. A press of a button while in this position causes our hero to emit a short whistle which grabs the attention of any nearby guards – once they’re close a tap of another button causes Connor to simply wander around the corner, stab the guard and then drag his corpse back around the corner. The second addition to the gameplay allows Connor to go into a stealth mode whenever he steps into patches of long grass. Do so and you become all but completely invisible to guards, allowing you to sneak around unseen. Once again should a guard come close you can tap a button to leap out, execute him and then drag his body into the depths of the grass to ensure it remains hidden, much like you can do when hiding in a trailer full of hay. Speaking of which did I mention that those trailers can move now? Well, they can, allowing you to clamber into one and ride it through enemy territory. Anyway, back to the subject at hand: these two additions to the stealth gameplay are small and simple, but the difference they make is substantial, making it far smoother and enjoyable. However, the lack of a button to enter a sort of crouched “stealth” mode is still a tad frustrating as it makes getting from one patch of tall grass to the next feel a but clumsy.

 It’s out in the Frontier where the game really gets to display its technical prowess and beauty, though. The hustle and bustle of the city gives way to the peaceful silence of the wilderness, interspersed by the sounds of the many wild animals that inhabit the world and by the drumbeat of the occasional enemy patrol on the road. You’ll find some small towns scattered around the Frontier as well, but mostly it’s just a vast expanse for you to simply enjoy. And its best enjoyed in winter: the Frontier looks truly amazing when it’s covered in snow, and it even provides a gameplay effect as Connor struggles to move through large snow drifts.  Two new mechanics have been added in to make use of the Frontier, both of which stem from Connor’s heritage: hunting and the ability to freerun through the trees and up cliffs, both of which tie nicely together. Since he was raised by his people, Connor is naturally adept at navigating through the terrain of the Frontier. Using the same controls as you do when climbing buildings you can now clamber up trees and bound across their branches. Not all trees can be climbed out in the Frontier, but the ones that can are usually easy to spot or have an angled, fallen tree or rock before them for you to run up and use as a platform to leap from. Likewise the pathways through the treetops is usually very clear and easy to follow, making navigation through forests a more linear experience than freerunning through the cities, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to swing, bound and clamber through the trees. Stealthing your way through the branches is the perfect tactic for the aforementioned hunting, a completely optional yet extremely enjoyable new feature to the series. There’s plenty of wildlife that wanders the Frontier, some of which will gladly have a go at you should you get a bit close, and all of it can be hunted down and skinned to earn a bit of extra cash with which to buy a new weapon or even a costume, although there’s no armor for you to purchase this time around. Connor has access to bait and snares for the smaller animals that roam around, and can also analyse clues to determine the locations of his prey. Once you’ve located an animal yo can sneak up on it through long grass and use Connor’s bow to take it down with a well placed shot. But nothing beats silently stalking your chosen animal from above before performing an air assassination, leaping on them with your hidden blade.  Poor bunny rabbit never stood a chance. To be fair, the bear standing nearby also looked rather shocked, right before he tried to rip my head off. The point is both hunting and the ability to use Connor’s freerunning skills through forests are both fantastic additions to the series.

As enthralling and oddly relaxing as hunting is, though, it can’t top using your tree climbing skills to stalk unsuspecting soldiers. There’s something immensely satisfying about watching them from above, planning exactly how you’re going to pick their formation apart piece by piece. Connor’s got quite a few tools in his arsenal, from his silent bow to his deadly gun and smoke bombs, but the best new addition is used when you’re happily sitting on a branch. Named the rope dart this awesome little tool has a spike attached to one end of a rope. Used from a tree Connor can spear a guard before hanging him from the branch by either slowly dragging him upwards or leaping straight off whilst holding the rope. It’s a brilliant addition to the toolbox and used right it can be a fantastic diversion as you scamper off through the branches, ready to pick off yet another poor soldier.

Of course in true assassin fashion eventually all your stealthing around will go completely tits up and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a melee, desperately trying to remember what you did wrong. Along with the new engine Ubisoft decided to overhaul the combat, presenting a much different style than the previous games. While Altair was patience and timing, and Ezio exhibited a flamboyant style that matched his personality, Connor is much more brutal, favoring a direct a hard-hitting, almost savage, style of combat. Watching Connor in battle is something of an education in itself: Ubisoft have clearly been playing Rocksteady’s Batman games and taken note of what they saw. With the AnvilNext working overtime Connor smoothly transitions from move to move during combat, with blocks, counters and attacks flowing through thousands of brutal animations that never seem to repeat themselves. It never feels like there’s prescribed combos or anything, just one long move that only ends when you get hit or there’s nobody left standing. It’s not quite as fluid as Rocksteady’s system, but it’s bloody close and makes watching Connor in action a joy. But what about the actual mechanics of it all? The changes start with the blocking system: once again like Rocksteady’s Dark Knight games a red indicator flashes  above enemies heads before they attack. Tap B and Connor blocks the attack, initiating a burst of slow motion in which you choose what to do next, whether it’s perform a counter kill, throw or a disarm. Standard attacks are still mapped to X, and A is used to perform defensive breaks and also to grab a human shield should your enemies form a firing line, a new addition to the gameplay. The real basis of the combat is to get a chain going, a sequence of kills in which you don’t get struck or don’t break the rhythm. There’s several different enemy types to oppose you, and each one requires different tactics to kill: a standard soldier just needs you to launch some basic strikes, but a General will require you to perform a block and disarm followed up by an attack. And so the key to the chain is to perform the correct action for the correct – get it right and Connor will become a whirl of death and pain, get it wrong and you’ll feel like a klutz. The combat isn’t overly complex, but what is there is actually quite satisfying and fun, although it’s still far, far too easy, a problem that has existed from the very beginning of the series.  You’ll rarely find yourself challenged during combat, and will feel confident storming into battle against massive amounts of enemies because you know you’ll come out on top without much effort. At least that means you can take the time to admire the combat animations, though.

Connor is more dangerous in a fight than Altair and Ezio

Of course you’ll be using all of your combat and freerunning skills throughout the games main missions. Assassin’s Creed 3’s mission structure remains largely the same as we’ve seen in the past few games, but has, disappointingly, become even more restrictive and linear, an odd contradiction to the open-world nature of the game. Whereas the first Creed game gave you a fair amount of freedom in how you assassinated your targets, Creed III has a nasty habit of taking away player control during the actual kills, and forcing you to follow the strict rules it lays out during missions. There’s plenty of instant fail limitations as well: if you’re detected, you fail, if you don’t do this, you fail, if you don’t do that, you fail. Considering the range of options you have at your disposal with which to tackle any given situation, it’s annoying to have that freedom taken away and leads to each assassination feeling hollow rather than satisfying. In fact, a prime example of how much fun Creed’s more freeform gameplay comes from one of the many side-quests the game offers up: capturing the seven forts scattered around the map. In these missions you’re free to tackle the fort in any way you see fit, your only two goals to kill the fort leader and blow up the powder supply. Free of the shackles that the main missions so often place on you there’s loads of fun to be had from experimenting with different methods and techniques. And yet I can’t exactly criticise the game too much for having linear missions: that’s the style Ubisoft went with, and so they must be judged in the correct context, which is to say they need to be judged as linear missions. When viewed from that standpoint, it’s a mixed bag of great and terrible. Ubisoft have thrown in some interesting ideas, like riding up and down behind lines of soldiers, commanding them when to fire, or a stunning sequence in which you navigate a battlefield, dashing between cover before entering a town and sprinting along streets as the buildings are destroyed.   These fantastic moments are offset by things like a boring section in which you fire a cannon or any of the games absolutely terrible chase sequences or missions in which you need to eavesdrop on people. In truth, then the main missions don’t leave me feeling entirely satisfied, and in generall didn’t feel as well as executed or as absolutely engrossing as those seen in Assassin’s Creed II or Brotherhood. In many ways that’s a reflection of this entire game: a mix of great and not so great. However, despite the problems I still enjoyed playing through Assassin’s Creed 3’s primary missions, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

Outside of the story missions Assassin’s Creed 3 offers up plenty of diversions, some of which are great, and some of which feels like bland filler material designed simply to pad out the game. It’s this more insubstantial stuff I’m going to touch upon first so that I can get it out of the way before moving onto the cooler and far better things to do. Scattered around each city are Assassination contracts that Connor can take on to earn a bit of extra cash. There’s a fair few of these to complete, and they could have provided great opportunities for Ubisoft to create fun little assassination side-missions in which you could flex your creative muscles a little, but really all that they encompass is that you take the contract and then walk up to your target and stab him before wandering away. It literally just takes you a few minutes and no skill, making them a bit of a bore. Likewise Courier missions are about exciting as they sound, requiring that you go around giving packages to NPCs and listening to the same dialog over and over. Other activities to get involved in are various games which actually prove to be an enjoyable attraction, although not one you’ll likely get caught up in for very long. There’s also a tonne of collectibles to find scattered throughout the world, ranging from feathers to chests full of loot, and like all collectibles you’re either going to hate them or love them. Happily they’re all optional.

Moving on the Fort missions which I mentioned earlier offer up some of the best gameplay in the entire game, so it’s a shame that there’s just seven of them in total. Likewise attacking and ransacking enemy convoys out in the Frontier is also great fun, allowing you to set up ambushes and stalk your targets from the trees. Another Frontier attraction comes in the form of Frontiersman missions which can send you off to track down Bigfoot, investigate a UFO and even a Kraken, which is always fun. The ability to recruit new members to the Brotherhood from the past two Creed games has also made a most welcome return here, although bomb crafting and the tower defense mini-game have not made it in from Revelations. It’s a shame that bomb-crafting is a skill Connor doesn’t seem to have, but I’m sure the lack of tower-defense style sections will please many, many people, just like the complete lack of first-person platforming sections. Your Assassin buddies offer up several new abilities this time around, like being able to dress up as enemy soldiers and pretend to “escort” you or set up ambush points, all of which can be selected by holding down LB and used by just tapping it.Your Assassin’s can now dress up as enemy soldiers and pretend to escort you as a prisoner, set up ambush points and even more, making them a far more effective tool than before.. They can also still be sent away on contracts to earn you cash and to level themselves up, making them more effective when you use them during the game, although sadly unlike the past two games building up your Brotherhood barely even gets a mention in the actual plot. The only problem is that actually recruiting people to your cause….well, sucks. The concept is that each of the two cities is split into three sections, and to recruit a new Assassin you need to “liberate” a section of the city by completing enough missions. Sounds okay, right? The problem is that the missions are three sets of three repeated missions, so you’ll have to defend a farmer with exactly the same dialog three times, and then save a family from a firing squad three times with the exact same dialog and setup three times. To put it simply, liberating districts gets old pretty quickly, but it is worth it in the end to have a full team of Assassin’s at your command.

The general feeling, then, is that much of Assassin’s Creed 3’s side-missions  come off as little more than filler and missed opportunities. There’s definitely fun to be had completing them, and there’s a couple of great features, but with the wealth of gameplay mechanics on offer it feels like there could have been more. That is until you get to two other features that Ubisoft have introduced into the game. You may have gotten the sense that I sort of rushed through a lot of the diversions, and that’s because, well, there’s not actually a whole lot to mention about them, but mostly because I really wanted to get to these two things.  Of all the new additions in Assassin’s Creed 3, by far the most impressive  is that of naval combat. Ubisoft showcased this heavily leading up to launch, but it seems they weren’t entirely certain how it would be received as it’s largely optional with just a few ocean-based missions appearing in the main storyline. Ubisoft didn’t need to fear, though, because it’s freaking awesome! During the game Connor can wander down the harbour near his manor (don’t worry, we’ll talk about that next) and take command of the Aquila, his personal ship, and head off on a mission. And by take command I really do mean take command: as Connor you’ll take the helm and steer the ship. Out on the open ocean the AnvilNext engine is at its most impressive, rendering the ship and its crew in stunning detail, as well as some beautiful water effects.  As you would expect of a ship the Aquila is a hefty beast to handle, but Ubisoft have gotten the balance just right: it’s not frustrating to turn and navigate tight reefs, but the ship feels heavy enough to make it satisfying and skillful.  You’ll need master the Aquila to survive combat with other ships, a tense and surprisingly deep experience. Holding down the right trigger allows you to line up and fire a broadside at your enemy while a touch of the face buttons allows you to control the amount of sail you have, with less providing more control but less overall speed. Battles are about positioning yourself: you want to be able to launch a broadside at the enemy, but ensure they cannot do the same to you. Should they manage to launch a broadside, a tap of X causes your crew to duck and mitigate some of the damage. Sounds simple, but it isn’t when you’re battling multiple ships in a massive storm. It’s hard to describe how awesome the game looks during a storm, and so I advise you to head onto Youtube and check it out: regardless of good looks, storms throw up unique challenges. Massive waves and lashing  rain make it hard to keep track of enemy positions as you plunge into huge troughs, while rogue winds and waves make it hard to keep control of your ship in the thick of the action. The towering waves throw in an extra layer of depth: launch a broadside as a wave rises up and blocks your view and it’ll hammer into the wave, doing no damage to the enemy. Likewise a smart player can use the waves as defensive walls or even ride on top of them to give his or her shot some extra range. You can also change between ammo types, using things like chainshot to destroy the masts of an enemy ship and leave them helpless. And on occasion you’ll even get to launch boarding parties and get in close with the crew of the enemy ship. I honestly don’t have the words to tell you how awesome Assassin’s Creed 3’s naval gameplay is – the only true flaw is that there’s just not enough of it! There’s a brief sequence of missions that form a small story and some privateer contracts to take on, but you’ll breeze through them far too quickly.

Naval warfare is hands-down the best new addition to the series.

And what’s the other addition I was so eager to get to? The Homestead, a mansion owned by Achilles that both he and Connor live in. The Homestead is much Ezio’s Monteriggioni from Assassin’s Creed 2, but on a grander scale. By doing the various Homestead missions that pop up throughout the game, various people will relocate themselves to your Homestead and construct homes and business, slowly building up a community around the manor. The missions you complete are usually quick and basic affairs and offer up the simple joys of everyday life around your little community, which may sound strange and not exactly compelling but it works well. Sometimes you’ll find yourself herding pigs, the next you’ll be defending your Homestead from attack. You’ll quickly find yourself drawn in to completing missions for the simple satisfaction of seeing new buildings being constructed in your little village/town and more people arriving, growing the Homestead from just a little place to a thriving port of commerce. There’s also another reason to recruit people to your Homestead, and that’s the ability to craft and sell items. The various people who you recruit to your Homestead are capable of creating items based upon their profession. By going up to the manor you can access a trading menu in which you can produce items and then set up convoys to transport and sell those items to shops. As you play and complete even more missions your people will learn how to craft better items like fine furniture, medicines, upgrades for Connor, farming equipment and much more. The simple satisfactions of the Homestead are let down, however, by two flaws: the first is that the crafting and trading menu is a clumsy interface to say the least that makes creating items and setting up convoys far more complex and cumbersome than it needs to be. The second problem is that trading your wares (stop giggling) is a largely pointless activity as there’s no a whole lot to actually spend your cash on. There’s some weapons and different costumes you can buy, but to be honest you’ll probably not bother very those very much. The only other thing you can buy is upgrades for the Aquila like an extra cannon or a better rudder, but these upgrades are so expensive that by the time you’ve got enough cash to afford one or two you’ll have probably already completed the available naval missions. What’s the point of having an economic system if it’s practically pointless?

As we come to a close on the singleplayer portion of the game we’ve got some more bad news to cover, because, you see, for a game with a 3-year developement cycle Assassin’s Creed 3 is an unpolished mess filled to the brim with glitches, bugs and technical hiccups. Pop-in of both textures and objects runs rampant through the game, although installing the game will help considerably with this. I’ll also throw in at this point, even though it’s not a bug or glitch, that the AnvilNext engine, as beautifully as it can render scenery and  animations, has a poor draw distance which gives both New York and Boston a permanent fog that you’ll see whenever you climb up high.  During my playtime with the game I encountered a range of problems from the easily forgiven to the problematic: horses getting stuck, items floating, NPCs floating, Connor floating, Connor being transported 20ft into the air, NPCs getting stuck in scenery, lips not moving when people are talking, characters being duplicated during cutscenes, bodies disappearing before my eyes, weapons disappearing before my eyes, lock picking not working, guards randomly attacking me, enemies spawning right in front of me when entering a Fort zone and disappearing as soon as I step back out of it and many, many more. It’s important to say, however, that none of these glitches were game breaking: I could never finish a mission due to a bug or anything like that. Still, Assassin’s Creed 3 clearly needed a month or two more of solid polishing and testing, because as it stands how most of these made it through testing is baffling. Obviously the change in engine and the scope and ambition of the game were going to result in problems, but this is too much.

The start of a Homestead mission. They’re not all this exciting.

With that now out of the way we can move into the multiplayer, a massive point of contention for fans since its introduction in Brotherhood. The core of it remains exactly the same for Assassin’s Creed 3, but Ubisoft have polished the formula to create the best version of it yet, throwing in more customisation options, new modes and slicker gameplay. For those unaware the standard vanilla game mode for Assassin’s Creed is Wanted, in which you play as an assassin tasked with killing your contracted target, another player, while you yourself are hunted down. You can blend in with the crowds of AI that inhabit the maps or run the rooftops in a bid to kill your target, with points being awarded for kills or stunning or eluding your pursuer. Unlike most games, though, Assassin’s Creed 3 rewards the patient, subtle player with more points being awarded for stealth kills than messy ones. It’s a great concept, and one that provides some of the most tense gameplay you’ll find anywhere: stalking your prey through the crowds, attempting to remain hidden and score that perfect kill whilst the whispers that indicate a pursuer is close by to you is intense, exciting and often frustrating as your pursuer steps quietly out of the crowd and slits your throat before you even know what is happening. And yet when you do the same the sense of elation and satisfaction is huge. This is a multiplayer game that takes skill to play and that you’re either going to love or you’re going to hate with a passion.

Assassin’s Creed 3 features a total of 12 modes for you to sink your teeth into. There’s your usual selection of free-for-all style modes like the aforementioned Wanted along with Deathmatch which features a smaller arena and quicker gameplay. These are mixed in with team games like Artifact Assault, which is like capture the flag, and Domination in which have to take and hold locations on the map. Like before some modes work better than others, with the likes of Domination encouraging more running around than stealth at times. Meanwhile modes like Manhunt in which teams take it in turns to hide from the enemy and attack the enemy work well, encouraging stealth and teamplay to win. Joining this selection of competitive modes is Wolfpack, a brand new co-operative mode in which two players have to advance through a series of rounds by assassinating NPC characters against the clock. The catch is that stealthy kills award you more time and points, but obviously require more time to do. It’s a great new addition to the roster of modes on offer, and provides a perfect option for playing with a friend.

The tension is multiplayer is palpable.

Like before  you can create and customise different loadouts with various abilities, perks, killstreaks and deathstreaks, but the method has changed somewhat. As you level up by playing and killing you’ll unlock abilities, perks, killstreaks, deathstreaks and items with which to customise the various characters you can play as, but all of these must be purchase with credits you earn during play. However, you can also buy anything you like using real money, which also allows you to ignore any level restrictions associated with your purchase, meaning a level 1 player can buy and use a level 20 ability. It’s unsettling to see micro transactions like this make it into yet another game, but to be entirely fair to Ubisoft they never force you to use them: in-game credits aren’t overly easy to earn, but the rate at which you do never feels unfair. Many abilities remain from the past two games, such as being able to lay down mines, morph crowds into your lookalikes and create decoys that run away. Joining these are a few new abilities to play around with, bringing the total selection up to a pleasing amount that unlocks at just the right pace, but the important thing is that Ubisoft have done a far better job of balancing them this time around, leading to much better gameplay. A new ranged weapon slot has been added so that things like Throwing Knives and Guns don’t take up an ability slot, which is a neat move on Ubisoft’s behalf, although it does perhaps bring a few too many usable skills into the mix. However, after extensive playing it doesn’t adversely affect the balance as far as I can tell. Likewise there’s plenty of new perks joining many seen from the past two games, again giving rise to plenty of options in how to play. As for character customisation, there’s a pretty decent amount to play around with, although it could hardly be claimed that your character will feel completely unique, but that’s an entirely understandable side-effect of having crowds of NPCs which have to look like the player characters.

What I’m getting at here is that the multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed III is sublime. It’s tense, exciting and offers up something very different from what we usually get. It remains a Marmite experience, but for this gamer it’s one that I’ll be playing for a long time to come.

Should have been paying more attention.

Alright, so this has been a rather long-winded review, but there’s a lot in Assassin’s Creed 3 that needed to be talked about. I find myself conflicted about the game: at times it’s absolutely fantastic, easily the best in the series, at others it’s terrible, easily the worst of the series. This is why I felt the review needed to lengthy, because there was a lot of points I wanted to talk about, and arguments about the game that I needed to go into detail about to try to present this review as fairly as I could. So how do I feel about it all? As a fan of the series, someone who has loved the franchise from the very beginning, I want to award the game a 9 with all my heart. And yet, when I step back and try to view it as fairly as I possibly can, I see it as a fantastic but immensely flawed game. The end score I hope, then, is fair and justified.

The Good:
+ Damn, it does look good.
+ Multiplayer is a blast.
+ Naval missions kick ass.
+ Great setting and enthralling story.

The Bad:
– Connor is dull.
– Desmond doesn’t get the ending he deserved.
– Loads of glitches and problems.
– Inconsistent.

The Score:

Graphics: 9
The AnvilNext engine is some impressive tech. There’s not a massive leap in visual fidelity, but the new weather effects, increased NPC amounts and slick animations make for a stunning game.

Sound: 9
Ubisoft have nailed it with great sound design. The musical score is fantastic and the voice acting is also great throughout, though Noah Watts, who plays Connor, is far too monotone in his delivery.

Story: 8.5
Assassin’s Creed 3 tells an engrossing tale that is let down by a dull lead character and an unsatisfying ending to Desmond’s story.

Gameplay: 8.5
The gameplay is often fantastic, but also inconsistent in its execution, as is the mission design. But the new Naval gameplay is superb and could be sold separately. It’s that good.

Lifespan: 8.5
Around 25-30 hours to see and do the majority of things, plus a brilliant multiplayer package that should keep you going for a while.

The Verdict: 8.5
Desmond’s journey finally comes to an end after 5-games. Is the ending as satisfying as we hoped? No. Is this the best game in the franchise? No. This is a fantastic, fun game that’s also an impressive technical feat, but numerous flaws and problems stop this from being the truly outstanding title that it could and should have been. It’s just shy of greatness, instead being just plain great. But don’t take that the wrong way: you’ll have a blast with Assassin’s Creed III.

Categories: Reviews

Tagged as: , ,

2 replies »

Leave a Reply! Seriously, I'm lonely. Talk to me. Hello? Anyone?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.