Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
The Assassin’s Creed titles tend to generate a certain amount of controversy. Often praised for the historical settings that fully realise periods ranging from the Crusades to the Italian Renaissance, yet panned for the modern-world, it features a convoluted plot to destroy the world that sees Desmond its only saviour. I have often been of this party and although the Desmond sections of the game continued to leave me wanting, Ubisoft have crafted their most technically-perfect protagonist yet; in the form of Connor (or if we’re going to use his true name: Ratonhnhaké:ton).
Moving away from the previous three titles that followed the story of Ezio Auditore da Firenze as he confronted the Templars in many European locales, Assassin’s Creed III leaps forwards through time to the boiling point of the American Revolution. Whilst trying to avoid tarnishing the experience for those who have not played the game, players are initially given the reins to another character before they step into the role of Connor. Mirroring the journey the game takes through Connor’s life; from childhood, to adolescence and finally to manhood, players also experience the development of the American Revolution; from conception to full realisation. There is a real sense of development here, not just in terms of historical events but also with Connor as a character. Ubisoft explored the life and exploits of Ezio across three titles, and yet his character development pales in comparison to that of Connor. Credit has to be given to the high levels of empathy and concern I felt myself feel whilst moving through Connor’s story.
On the subject of movement, the canvas on which the Revolution is painted is, frankly, stellar. Colonial America has been perfectly crafted, from the bustling streets of New York and Boston to the open Frontier, packed with human and animal alike. The changing of seasons throughout the experience serves to revolutionise the landscape; from the autumnal green and brown hues of the forest to the snow-covered rooftops and streets. Assassin’s Creed III is without a doubt an aesthetic masterpiece. Moving away from the environments, character models are vastly improved over previous iterations and the team have done a particularly great job creating a sense of life behind the eyes of the characters. All of this, coupled with superb voice acting creates a rich, immersive experience.
Of course, the Assassin’s Creed series is well-known for its excellent traversal system, allowing players to dance across rooftops and charge through streets with ease. Opponents of the movement in Assassin’s Creed may not be pleased to hear that nothing much has changed. Whilst some may argue that the controls are overly simplistic, the series continues to offer players a movement system that can make you look fantastic. The system has been refined to near-perfection, and the addition of climbable trees means that there is no environment that Connor cannot manoeuvre across. Granted, there are the odd times at which you may find yourself stumbling over a crate or jumping not quite where you would have liked, but these moments are few and far between. Furthermore, the animations are some of the best this generation, and there is something incredibly satisfying about following an unaware patrol across treetops and between branches before ending them swiftly. Connor is the perfect hunter.
And a hunter is nothing without his tools. The familiar double hidden blades have returned, along with standard blades and the like. However, there have been multiple additions to the arsenal since the last game. Due to his Native American heritage, Connor brandishes a tomahawk and bow and arrow with deadly accuracy, as well as a nifty rope dart, which allows players to suspend enemies from trees or drag them near for a brutal kill. Combat has also been refined. In previous titles, players had to merely hold the block button to become near-invincible, and one well-timed button press meant a guaranteed kill. In Assassin’s Creed III, the block button has vanished, making you feel slightly more vulnerable. Players must counter, and then kill their enemies, increasing the level of skill required to escape a situation unscathed. Players can disarm enemies, throw them, and use them as human shields to defend themselves against a line of fire. The combat system is brilliant, with brutal kill animations that serve as a just reward for perfect timing. Connor can also kill whilst on the move, maintaining his momentum as he moves between guards dispatching them one by one.
Despite all of the new weapons available to Connor, you can still buy various other items that offer slight statistical and cosmetic differences. However, these seem relatively useless, as players begin with all of Connor’s weapons pretty much from the off, and there is little incentive to buy more. In fact, there is little reason to have money at all. Players can choose to manage a homestead; trading supplies and adding tradesman to your land. The familiar Assassin Recruit system has also returned. However, all of these functions seem almost useless. I played the game from start to finish without touching any of these aspects, and never found myself wanting. I think it is great that Ubisoft are consistent with their titles, but these features are nothing short of pointless.
One new addition that is anything but pointless are the new naval battles. Players literally take the wheel of their own ship, navigating it through the open seas whilst combatting enemy ships. The system works fantastically, and is a much more welcome addition than the tower defence system of Brotherhood. Cannon fire soars over your head as you attempt to line up the perfect shot at your enemy, and the serene ocean can quickly change to a tempestuous form that grants the player a feeling of motion and dizziness. Parts of the storyline force players to make use of the system, however there are many side missions that focus on naval battles, which could be completely ignored. I personally feel that the system would work as a game of its own, and I’m glad to see Ubisoft varying the gameplay in a way that does not feel arduous or tedious.
The same cannot be said for the Desmond sections of the game. I have always said that the Assassin’s Creed titles would be fantastic without the inclusion of the two-dimensional Desmond. Attempts are made to flesh out his character, with optional monologues between him and his father, as well as his own missions (that are not optional I’m afraid), that finally allow you to act as an assassin in the real world. However, the game never really succeeds in doing so. The end of the world/’the ones who came before’ plot reaches the pinnacle of its convolution here, and the ending left me wanting. As soon as I was taken out of the Animus to play as Desmond I continually released a sigh of contempt and disappointment, but fortunately these sections are not too long, so I was quickly appeased.
Mutiplayer, of course, makes a return in Assassin’s Creed III, however not much has changed. It does add a fair amount of longevity to the game, and the new Wolf Pack mode, which sees players working together to take down groups of NPCs is entertaining. However, if multiplayer is not your thing then the single player offers much to do aside from the main story, including missions for various factions such as the Frontiersmen, as well as hunting, viewpoints and feather collection. Assassin’s Creed III will definitely satisfy those who prefer to get value for their money on new releases.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed III is an astounding title. Ubisoft have done a fantastic job in recreating Revolutionary America, and allows players to see it through the eyes of the most intriguing assassin yet. However, there are a lot of features that are redundant. It should be noted that these never detract from the experience, an experience that is undoubtedly a contender for the best game of this year.
I just wish it didn’t portray the British as so maniacal. We’re not that bad. We were, but we’re not now. I promise. I don’t even own any red clothing…