GAME NAME: Assassin’s Creed 3
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Annecy
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC
RELEASE DATE(S): October 31st 2012
With all the announced AAA titles set to release at the end of this hectic fall season, Assassin’s Creed 3 was my most anticipated game. After having sliced, diced and gracefully leapt though the first four installments of this highly enjoyable series the excitement of new settings, characters and gameplay mechanics were almost too much to bear. After finally getting our hands on it we can assure gamers that they are in for a very enjoyable experience and that Ubisoft have delivered a great but somewhat flawed package.
The ambition and scope is certainly staggering – this is truly the first game in the series to promise exploration in impressively large open areas with excellent level design. What Ubisoft have always got right is thankfully still here – the brutal combat, fluid free running mechanics and impressive environmental scope. There is certainly a lot do, but it is perhaps its astonishing amount of ambition that holds it back. There is lot of tedium involved with side missions and travelling around, the cities do not encapsulate the amazement found in previous instalments and the ending is, well, pretty terrible. Despite all this though Assassin’s Creed 3 still delivers a good, and at points, fantastic experience that fans of the series would be sorry to miss.
From the get go you are given control of present-day-protagonist Desmond as he desperately tries to prevent the looming apocalypse that has been ever-present since the cryptic messages at the end of the first game. After a short period you enter the Aminus once again with an aim to discover the location of an ancient key that is required for you to move forward, and ultimately, learn how to save the world. You are then subjected to the game’s painfully long opening sequence that doesn’t even see you control the main character through a significant portion of it. We finally got to kit out Desmond’s ancestor Connor in the famous assassin cowl and robes at around 8-10 hours of gameplay, so be prepared to glance at your watch for most of the first act. It is also worth mentioning that newcomers to the series will have great difficulty following the convoluted storyline, so it is recommended that you at least read through the Wiki pages to keep up.
The game eventually opens up into four areas – the wide expanse of the Frontier, the bustling streets of Boston and New York, and the relaxing atmosphere of the Homestead. The Frontier is a massive, untamed wild area that is very open and boasts some impressive vistas. Getting around is a delight largely due to the refined movement controls. Gone are the days of awkwardly using a third finger to adjust the camera as you run, as only one button is needed. This allows for a much more fluid experience and prevents the majority of those pesky falling-off-building mishaps. The most refreshing aspect of the parkour is the tree climbing – one of the most enjoyable new additions. This is certainly the best execution of a tree climbing mechanic we’ve seen, and the ability to climb most hillsides and rock surfaces truly frees up your playground.
Ubisoft have done a fantastic job of building this open world, and the animations as Conner climbs steep hills or stalks through the treetops are excellent. The weather system is also another well executed addition and gives the game a real sense of character – whether you are bathed in sunlight as you plunge into the plush greenery below or are standing atop a mountain basking in the glistening snow. It must be stated that trudging through the snow at a reduced pace is something that is simply not fun, despite the convincing animation.
Although it looks great travelling from point A to point B in the Frontier, it can be quite dull as there is a lack of fast travel points and there isn’t that much to do, which makes travel tedious. There are however the usual guard patrols, collectibles, and convoys to attack every once in a while, as well as the new hunting mechanic. This is another thing that works well as you can fell a variety of beasts in an imaginative number of ways. The main problem with it is that there is barely any incentive to partake in this well thought out activity – unless you have a sadistic pleasure of killing cute bunny rabbits through pre-meditated elaborate brutality.
Those looking for the classic Assassin’s Creed rooftop gameplay of old should worry not as the sprawling city environments of Boston and New York are made available to you. All the familiar viewpoints, overly suspicious guards and conveniently placed haystacks return, but we sorely missed the majestic ancient architecture of previous titles – more a criticism of setting rather than design. Streets are now wider so there is less reason to jump across rooftops which is unfortunate. Fast travel points can only be unlocked by sneaking through the city sewers which is extremely dull and unnecessary – fast travel should definitely be more easily available. It was impressive though to see such crowded and bustling streets seemingly at every corner.
Each city is split into zones under Templar control that require you to free slaves and assassinate targets to liberate them. These occur as you stumble upon them through wandering around and they prove to be enjoyable diversions, though a tad repetitive. After successfully liberating a zone you will receive an assassin as part of your brotherhood that can be used to kill or distract guards. This is much more refined compared to previous titles as each assassin is given personality, whilst eliminating the need for spending your pocket money on thieves and courtesans.
Another welcome refinement is the return of the slick-as-ever combat mechanics. Much like movement the number of required buttons has been trimmed down, but combat now requires more strategy and is noticeably more difficult than before. It is always a pleasure to witness Conner take out multiple guards with the brutal and fluid variety of kill animations. It was very interesting to experiment with different instruments of death to see exactly how these poor men could be taken out in the most savagely painful ways possible. Also being able to assassinate whilst moving is always a welcome addition.
There are a tonne of collectibles dotted on the map including feathers, chests and Peg Leg Trinkets. Gone are the fantastic tomb sections of old and are instead replaced by Peg Leg missions which are unlocked after collecting enough of the trinkets. These are almost as good as the tombs, but lack the same sense of scale and length. On the other hand the newly added naval sections are arguably some of the most exciting parts of the game and exceeded all of our expectations. The ship controls beautifully, and taking down other vessels is extremely satisfying. It’s a shame these weren’t implemented into the narrative a bit better. Other side tasks such as the dull courier missions aren’t really worth mentioning due to their tiresome nature, while the fort take overs offer stimulating gameplay while providing a very fun sense of strategy.
The Homestead (Connor’s HQ) is like a beefed up version of Monteriggioni found in Assassin’s Creed 2, but requires players’ attention and input. It’s fun to see your area evolve and community grow – you begin to feel connected to these characters as time passes. When you eventually get enough settlers you begin to export goods which is the best way to make money in the game. You can craft many items that range from ship masts to toy dolls for export, but all this seems pointless when you can just sell pelts for the same price without the crafting costs. You will eventually have a large sum of money and no idea what to do with it – the economy system is well executed but unfortunately a little wasted as there is really not much to buy with your earnings. You can pretty much plough through the entire game with default weapons.
Just like many aspects of the game its story is very ambitious and for the most part well achieved. We liked Conner’s noble righteousness and the sense of naivety in his decisions. He is an interesting character but can also be very dull and therefore not as engaging – we miss the charm and humour of Ezio. It is interesting however to see America’s most famous and revered political adversaries (such as George Washington) alongside our hero. The missions themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. Some are fantastic such as the epic historical battles and a sequence where you have to stealthily break out of prison. Others are plagued with problems of previous editions – bad checkpoints, instant failures and dreary mission objectives (protip Ubi – walking from cutscene to cutscene is not fun).
As promised Desmond gets his own sections, which at first is genuinely quite exciting and shows promise. However as the game progresses it becomes obvious that Ubisoft are actively tying up loose ends for potential sequels rather than putting any effort in the development of the narrative. Those that have been engrossed in the series’ remarkable mythos thus far will be severely disappointed at this games ending. We understand that after the build up of several games that no ending could really satisfy everyone, but after having engaged with this series for a number of years and investing genuine interest into its plot we feel that Ubisoft have done their fans a disservice.
It must be noted that there are a number of technical issues that tend to pull players from the experience – there are consistent bad textures, fuzzy shadowing and popping. These do not directly affect gameplay but they do take away from any immersion, which is a disappointment.
Despite all of its shortcomings Assassin’s Creed 3 is a great game. The free-flowing combat, fluid movement controls, fantastic naval sequences and colonial open world design all make for a rich and fulfilling venture. There are plenty of welcome refinements to gameplay and exciting moments that will please fans of the series and newcomers alike. If players can get passed the surprisingly vast number of technical issues, dull side missions and poor ending then an extremely enjoyable experience is bound to be had.