GAME NAME: Assassin’s Creed 3
PLATFORM(S): PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360 (Tested), PC, Wii U
GENRE(S): Action Adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): 31st October 2012
Liam Richardson reviews Assassin’s Creed 3, and determines whether or not this is the revolution we’ve all been waiting for.
Assassin’s Creed is a series that should never have adopted a yearly installments model.
It’s a series that once prided itself on intense narratives, intuitive gameplay and immersive locations. A series in which every street corner told a different story, and its attitude towards our past was as playful as it was respectful. It was a series that had potential, and one that captured the imaginations of a generation.
But the release of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood in 2010 and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations in 2011 changed all that. Sure, the game’s were good (very good, if truth be told) but something was missing. That extra “oomph” that had made Assassin’s Creed just so darn good in the first place.
Was it the fact that Ubisoft had decided to stick with popular protagonist Ezio for two more games, rather than explore the unlimited potential of main character Desmond Mile’s ancestory? Perhaps.
Was it because the games did nothing to innovate the series in any meaningful way, other than by adding a few new features and a multiplayer mode? Possibly.
It’s far more likely however, that the problem didn’t lie within the game’s themselves, but in the way that they were released. The forumla itself wasn’t becoming stale. It was the frequency in which we were experiencing it. Imagine if a new installment of Borderlands was released every year. Sure, we’d probably all enjoy it, but I’d be damned if we were still commenting on how unique the cel-shaded style was.
So with the release of Assassin’s Creed 3, has enough changed to keep the game feeling fresh after three previous years of direct sequels?
To put it short, yes. Assassin’s Creed 3 is arguably one of the greatest games released this year, and despite a few rough edges, it’s certainly worth your time.
Welcome to the new age
Deviating from the lazy Mediterranean locales we’ve grown accustomed to within previous instalments of the series, Assassin’s Creed 3 takes place within colonial America during the late 18th century. Although initially it may have seemed like an odd decision to replace the game’s trademark coliseums, towers and cathedrals for more modest homesteads, houses and forests, it’s a decision that (I’m pleased to announce) has ultimately paid off.
As with the previous games in the series, the world of Assassin’s Creed 3 is as detailed and as immersive as any I’ve ever experienced. From the twin cities of Boston and New York, to the sprawling frontier that bridges them together, the world of AC3 is a joy to explore. Although not as impressive as Rome or Constantinople, the city of Boston (where you will be spending most of your time) is the bustling epicentre of colonial life. Packed to the brim with citizens going about their daily business, redcoats patrolling the city streets and even animals, wandering lazily from place to place, Boston is more alive than Rome and Venice combined.
The frontier is an incredible addition to the series, and more than makes up for what the game’s cities lack in terms of scalable structures. The frontier is a dense and vast expanse of fertile land, filled with climbable trees and cliffs.
Tree climbing is a joy to experience, enhanced by the fluidity of protagonist Connor’s animations. Although finding a vantage point as high as those found within the original Assassin’s Creed may prove difficult whilst exploring AC3′s duel cities, there are more than enough well placed trees and cliff faces hidden within the frontier to make up for it. There is nothing more fun than leaping off a well placed log into a hay bale, located a ridiculous number of feet below you. That’s just a fact.
The frontier is also home to a number of wild animals (including the likes of deer, rabbits, bears and wolves) and in a style strikingly similar to Rockstar’s cowboy epic Red Dead Redemption, you’re able to capture, hunt and kill these animals in order to then sell on their skins to local shops for profit. It’s a fun feature that makes perfect sense within context, and adds another layer of depth and enjoyment to an already intrinsically detailed game.
That’s not say that the game’s presentation isn’t without its flaws however. The game suffers from horrendous draw distance issues (trees, people and objects can appear at random from a ridiculously short distance away) which was far too noticeable for my liking. Shadows are also poor, which is a shame considering how high quality the rest of the game world is.
With a new location also comes a new main character and Assassin’s Creed 3 plays host to Connor, a half-Native-American half-British assassin, who’s one and only goal is to (surprise surprise) get revenge on the Templars who destroyed his village and murdered his family.
Although it’s great to finally play as another of Desmond’s ancestors, Connor is nowhere near as likeable as Ezio before him. Although his intentions are just and his motives clear, he’s just sort of… bland. Sure he’s fun to play as, but that’s more because of the gameplay and not because of his personality. In fact this is a problem with all of Assassin’s Creed 3′s cast. They just don’t feel as interesting as in previous instalments, which is a damn shame considering how fleshed out and memorable the locations are.
There is a much stronger emphasis on character development this time around however. Arguably one of the best parts of Assassin’s Creed 2 was when we saw Ezio being born, and AC3 expands on this concept a little further by allowing you to play as Connor at various stages throughout his life (more specifically, his childhood and teenage years).
Although it was a refreshing change of pace from previous instalments in the series, I couldn’t help but feel that the developers ended up playing around with this idea for a little too long. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for slow starts to a game, as long as it provides a purpose, but when it takes up to seven hours for Connor to finally grow old enough to don the (now infamous) white cloak of the Assassin’s I think you’ve taken too long to get going.
That’s not to say the opening of the game isn’t fun though. In fact, the direct opening to the game (i.e. the first two hours or so) is perhaps one of the cleverest openings to a game I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I don’t want to spoil it here though. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.
Perhaps one of the strongest elements of the game’s narrative is how well Ubisoft have dealt with the important social issues that were rife at the time. The game has no shame in pointing out the hypocrisy of those who demand freedom from the British but still keep slaves, and even go as far as to address the racial issues of the time as well. It’s very sensitively played, and the fact that it works is due to the game’s superb voice acting. Native Americans are voiced by actual Native Americans, the British characters aren’t just posh or Cockney’s and even the American’s are voiced well. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes. It all feels real.
Overarching protagonist Desmond Miles also makes a return, and for the first time in the series’ history he’s actually a pleasure to play as. Its only taken them four games, but you actually get a chance to take Desmond out for a spin (as it were) in modern day scenarios. These sections are few and far between, but it’s an exciting opportunity that I’ve been pining for since the second game.
Without spoiling anything, I think it’s also fair to say that Desmond’s story does have a satisfying end in AC3. In fact, the whole story in general has a great payoff, and it certainly keeps you invested until the credits roll.
It’s a Revolution
In terms of gameplay, Assassin’s Creed 3 is the strongest instalment to date.
Climbing has been streamlined, and you now need only hold R1 in order to send Connor clambering up trees and structures. This also prevents you from accidentally flinging yourself over the edge of buildings and towers, by automatically stopping Connor when you come across a ledge too high to jump from (a simple tap of circle will make him drop, or x if you fancy risking the jump). Freerunning greatly benefits from this change, and although it’s still common for Connor to try and run up an unclimbable wall when you actually want him to grab hold of a clearly defined window ledge, it’s still great fun to run, jump and climb buildings and trees with ease.
Combat has also been improved, making fighting much more of a challenge compared to the insta-kill mentality of the previous games. Connor is still able to deflect attacks and kill in one, but new enemy types spice things up a little bit by forcing you to disarm and time your attacks in a specific way in order to defeat them. AI has also been improved, and when you’re fighting a large number of enemies, the majority of them not involved in direct combat will put themselves into a firing position in order to get a clear shot at you. It makes fighting enemies far more challenging than it ever has been before in the past, and the game is significantly improved because of it.
Naval battles are a fantastic new addition that could have, realistically, been the basis of a separate game altogether. You take the helm of a fantastically realised galley, and are able to turn, adjust sails and open fire on enemy vessels at will. With a tap of X, you’re able to swap between half-sail (slower but more manoeuvrable) and full sail (faster but harder to turn) and after lining up next to an enemy ship, a quick squeeze of R1 charges up your cannons. Releasing it sees a flurry of cannonballs hurtle towards your targets, cracking their ships in two. Quickly tapping L1 also allows you to fire a more precise shot, and pressing square sees you and your crew adopting a brace position in order to reduce damage.
Naval battles are incredible, and aren’t (really) linked to the main campaign, meaning you can don your captains hat at any point if you wish to set sail on the open seas. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be doing it more often than not.
The story missions, however, aren’t quite as fun. Although some are utterly brilliant (the battle of Bunker hill is astonishingly good) the majority are just too similar to those found within previous instalments to be considered anything other than tedious. The joy of Assassin’s Creed should come from it’s unlimited potential, but instead the story missions force you to play the game exactly as the developers intended. Any slight deviation will cause you to become desynchronised, and although the optional objectives do add a little bit of an additional challenge, they’re still too constrictive.
Side quests are where the game really shines though, and with over 50+ hours of content jammed into AC3, you’ll spend more time completing a large number of varied tasks than you will liberating the colonies.
You’ll spend hours finding synchronisation points, feathers, chests, fast travel points, trinkets and delivery requests as well as completing brawling, hunting, courier and naval quests. You can also upgrade your homestead (the equivalent of Assassin’s Creed 2′s Monteriggioni) by completing missions, turning your simple mansion into a working village. There is literally so much to do here and the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want outside of the main campaign is one of the game’s best features.
There’s plenty else that I’ve not even mentioned (such as new weapons and returning features such as the assassin’s guild) which proves just how big this game really is. Assassin’s Creed 3 is perhaps the greatest value for money this year, and if you’ll pardon the expression, really does offer a lot of bang for your buck.
Assassin’s Creed 3 is Ubisoft’s most ambitious title to date. Packed to the brim with exciting content and rounded off with a beautiful, immersive world, AC3 is one game you don’t want to miss out on.
With over 50+ hours of gameplay included straight out of the box, before you even touch the multiplayer mode (which is superb, by the way) Assassin’s Creed 3 is a true sequel in every sense of the word.
Although it may not be the revolution we were all hoping for (the game is a bit rough around the edges) it’s impossible to think ill of it in any way. It may not be game of the year, but it’s certainly a strong contender.
See you in the frontier.