November 12, 2012
“History is our playground”, Ubisoft has repeatedly claimed in the run up to Assassin's Creed III's launch, and if that is indeed the case then boy, is it one bloody big playground. Not only is there a lot of history to take in on this particular playground, but the game world is utterly vast, encompassing a substantial chunk of 18th century America with an astonishing amount of depth. It's almost too expansive in fact, but dripping with intricate detail and character. From the off, this detail coaxes you inexorably into Connor's world, although it's fair to say that Assassin's Creed III is something of a slow-burner. In fact, it starts off at a pace that only a snail could really relate to.
Yet there's a weight of expectation that's been heaped upon Assassin's Creed III, thanks in no small part to the unrivalled Assassin's Creed II and its two spin-offs, which extended Ezio's story and postponed a true sequel for years. Three years in the making, Assassin's Creed III is that true sequel, but where the previous games threw you into the thick of the action, ACIII is more than happy enough to sit you down and really give you a good, long history lesson. More often than not however, it seems like there's too much story and not enough real gameplay. During the opening few hours, you'll find yourself drowning in fetch quests, tedious eavesdropping missions and other relatively mundane tasks before really getting stuck in to the meat.
Previously, Assassin's Creed's historical settings were the context for a flurry of set-pieces and freewheeling combat, but in ACIII, it seems like you have to put a lot of time and effort into learning the ropes and getting to know new half-Mohawk, half-British protagonist, Connor first. Some of this involves some rather frustrating missions that seemingly rely more on trial and error tactics than any real skill, with some fairly poor signposting and a lack of any real tutorials marring things early on. The aforementioned eavesdropping dirge is one example of this, while additional elements that seasoned AC players will recognise like recruiting assassins or capturing Templar forts (akin to AC: Brotherhood's Borgia Towers), are never really fully explained.
It quickly starts to improve as the sweeping narrative gradually unfolds however, and once the groundwork for the new game mechanics and systems have been laid, you're let off the leash and free to roam the sprawling Frontiers that lay between the bustling streets of Boston and the pox-ridden, burnt out buildings of New York. You'll encounter a range of American icons throughout the course of your journey too, as well as a few despots, most of whom are British, in keeping with true historical events, of course. And incidentally, speaking as a Brit the wanton slaughter of plummy Redcoats never feels like it's handled in a clumsy or insensitive fashion. It just feels right, although some of the accents regrettably don't.
Regardless, without ruining the story, it's safe to say that Assassin's Creed III still boasts its fair share of twists and turns. From the moment you fire up the single-player campaign to the moment the final credits roll, it's clear that despite an incredibly slow start, Ubisoft has done a stellar job in providing some genuinely surprising occurrences that'll have you picking your jaw up off the floor. Granted, it does sometimes feel as though you're watching cut-scenes more often than actually taking control, as the story slowly grinds its way forward and slavishly bombards you with reams of exposition and context, but it's never boring and almost always compelling. Nonetheless, ACII and Brotherhood (and to a lesser extent Revelations) were able to bind narrative and gameplay into one gratifying whole without miring the whole thing in laboured exposition and cinematic sequences.
And it's that classic Assassin's Creed gameplay that proves to be ACIII's trump card. As you'd expect it's essentially a natural evolution of what's gone before. Connor is even more agile and efficient in a fight than Altair or Ezio, which is quite some feat, and he has such a wide range of abilities and tools that the weapon wheel has been eschewed for something that enables you to access them all quickly and easily. A lot of Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations' mechanics have been re-purposed for ACIII too, so expect to recruit assassins to join your ranks, build up your Homestead and tear down posters, bribe town criers or print propaganda to lower your notoriety. There's never any real reason for any of this stuff to be in the game, other than conforming to what is now considered Assassin's Creed tradition, but we'll happily take it regardless.
There's a variety of activities to engage in outside of the main storyline beyond the usual stuff, from hunting to acquire pelts for sale, playing mini-games at the local tavern or at your Homestead, or engaging in a range of side-missions that include setting sail on the Aquila, Connor's majestic galleon that can also be upgraded, just like your Manor. Then there's almanac pages to chase down and collect, Templar strongholds to weed out and eradicate, and more besides. Suffice it to say, Assassin's Creed III is unfathomably huge, encompassing tens of hours of gameplay, before you even factor in the overhauled, and it must be said, rather glorious multiplayer component.
Multiplayer, like single-player benefits from the refined controls that enable Connor to leap and climb with a cat-like agility that Altair and Ezio could only dream of. Whether he's swinging between branches or hopping effortlessly between rooftops, Connor's free-running abilities are near flawless, minimising any falls or slips. Combat too is still beautifully savage yet rhythmic, with vicious strikes, swift counters, parries and defence breakers all just a button press away. This is all married to the most fluid animation and the most spectacular visual fidelity we've seen yet in an AC game, making small hiccups like occasional instances of slowdown and the odd glitch, entirely forgivable.
Inhabiting a considerable portion of the Blu-ray disc is the expanded and vastly improved multiplayer. First and foremost, there's no more protracted waiting for a match to start and the lobbies have been refined and polished to a remarkable level. There's more customisation, more perks, more rewards, and most importantly more balance and fairness too. Ubisoft has thought of everything, providing a good spread of modes with the team-based Manhunt still proving impossible to resist, while Domination puts an interesting spin on territory-grabbing game types.
There are other modes too, like Artifact Assault that are good fun, but the strongest new addition is the co-op Wolfpack mode, that sees you and your squad of assassins co-ordinating kills to gain cumulative scores and time bonuses to progress through as many sequences as possible. Again, it's absorbing and incredibly addictive stuff, and well-deserving of an active community to keep it afloat for a long time. Genuinely, ACIII's multiplayer is the best yet, and a massive slap in the face for anyone who said Assassin's Creed multiplayer couldn't work when it first debuted in Brotherhood. Evidently, it absolutely does work. Proof. Pudding. Eat it.
Despite all that, multiplayer trophies are seldom welcome and it appears that Ubisoft is well aware of that fact. As a result, there's only five multiplayer trophies to grab, all of which are undemanding, but designed to lure you in to playing for a decent amount of time. It's good enough that you'll want to play anyway, of course. Single-player takes the lion's share of trophies then, and they're a good mix of straight-up progression-based bits, with a fair bunch devoted to delving into side quests and other distractions. All in all, it's another strong Assassin's Creed list that's worth completing. It's just a shame that stinking 100% synchronisation trophy wormed its way in again. The extra objectives required for 100% sync prove off-putting at times, and can make some missions a bit of a chore. Boo.
Assassin's Creed III is an unbridled success then, featuring gorgeous visuals (it looks marginally better on PS3 than it does on Xbox 360 too), incredible animation, a captivating world to explore and a likeable hero in Connor. Desmond also gets to steal some more of the limelight this time too, which fans are sure to lap up. Newcomers on the other hand, may feel somewhat out of their depth in more ways than one. And while it fails to scale the dizzy heights that Assassin's Creed II achieved upon its release, Assassin's Creed III is nonetheless a truly stunning action game that'll consume a good 20-40 hours of your time, before it'll have you longing to break out the hidden blade once again for whatever Ubisoft has in store for Connor's future. We expect spin-offs...
A typically wonderful orchestral score, with strings, crashing cymbals, rolling drums and all of the usual bombast you'd hope for. Marvellous. The voice acting and atmospherics are excellent too.
A graphical tour de force that truly shines on PS3. The AnvilNext engine blows most open-world games out of the water, with realistic materials, incredible vistas and believable characters. The animation is peerless too.
As playable as ever, this is Assassin's Creed at its best in gameplay terms. Connor's agility and fighting progress makes for enjoyable free-running and combat, respectively. Brilliant stuff.
Assassin's Creed III is 'effing gargantuan. Between the Frontier, Boston, New York and the ocean, there's a lot of ground to cover, and a ton of missions and activities to dive into. Then there's multiplayer, which is almost an entire game in itself.
A strong trophy list that knows its onions, Ubisoft has gone heavy on the single-player, light on the multiplayer. What's here is all good – with the exception of the crummy 100% sync trophy – and it'll all encourage you to go way beyond simply scratching the surface of what Assassin's Creed III has to offer.
Assassin's Creed III is a fantastic game that's marred only by a glacial few opening hours, a surfeit of history and exposition, and the odd glitch. That aside, ACIII is a triumph and the perfect way to say hello to Connor. It doesn't quite measure up to Assassin's Creed II, but ACIII is nonetheless an American Revolution.