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Review

Assassin's Creed III Review (PS3, Xbox 360)

Rah-doon-ha-kay-don.

Ratonhnaké:ton isn’t an obvious successor to Ezio Auditore as the lead character in an Assassin’s Creed game.

Assassin's Creed III

Connor, as he will come to be known, has a calm assuredness and resolute, dark stare. He lacks the arrogant edge that was such a striking, and eventually likeable, element of the character of his Florentine ancestor, Ezio Auditore.

Connor’s Complexities

In previous games in this series, the protagonist’s links to the Brotherhood of Assassins were his driving force. Altair and Ezio were bound to the order and all of their decisions and motivations were those of the Assassins. Connor’s primary concern isn’t really that of the dilapidated Colonial branch of Assassins – he simply joins up for a bit of direction and training. Connor’s primary motivation is to end the exploitation of his people.

It’s this minor distinction that keeps Connor’s character interesting. Otherwise, the cautious voice acting and seriously overplayed humourless stoicism that accompanies most American Indian portrayals might leave us a bit indifferent to his concerns. But his occasional naivety and obvious frustration are endearing in a character that might otherwise be too serious to be likeable.

Assassin's Creed III

Veterans of the Assassin’s Creed series will likely already have their bond with the Brotherhood. In fact, that bond is something that Assassin’s Creed III repeatedly plays with over its lengthy course. So it’s important for this game to make sure we quickly bond with Connor, too. Otherwise his impetuous nature and slightly divergent goals might lead us to distrust the character we’ll be controlling for most of the game. Connor isn’t the only playable character here.

Desmond Miles is the true protagonist of this series – Altair, Ezio and Connor are merely his simulations. So it’s not surprising that Desmond features a little more here, with specific story missions involving him (and removing the Animus assistances like warning indicators and mini-map). But you’ll also play the first few hours as Haytham Kenway as you’re guided through rudimentary missions that act as tutorials. It feels like the distinction is being made more forcefully than ever that this is Desmond’s story you’re playing. And yet the most enjoyable, and still the vast majority, of sections are still very much the historical ones.

“Veterans of the Assassin’s Creed series will likely already have their bond with the Brotherhood.”

Control Yourself

The core Assassin’s Creed experience is still very much here. The free-running, climbing and combat have all been honed to make them more accessible, fluid and enjoyable. Free-running is much easier, with the right trigger ensuring – for the most part – that you only ever make safe jumps.

Running through trees will take a little getting used to. You’ll have to essentially learn what textures and geometry of trees make which methods of access possible. Some have stubbly branches which can be climbed up, most don’t. Some are felled so they present a convenient angle to get into the canopy. Branches jut out at different angles and heights that aren’t immediately obvious as climbable. It’s not as obvious as the ledges and sharp lines of the buildings we’re used to scaling but it soon becomes clear enough and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, fluid sequence when you manage to string together a lengthy run through the trees of the frontier.

Assassin's Creed III Multiplayer

There’s more to climb now too, Connor can grab vertical crevices to scale cliffs and large trees so it’s not all just about looking for the shiny horizontal ledge any more.

Combat has seen a major overhaul. It’s slightly lazy, if perfectly valid, to characterise the new combat style as “similar to Arkham City.” It’s still counter-based but there are a lot more animations and each move links into the next with much more fluidity than any previous instalment that I often found myself picking fights with impossibly large groups of enemies simply to enjoy beating my way through them.

The game’s enemies have been the source of some minor contention on this side of the Atlantic. Despite the complications of nationality (addressed here) that existed at the time, there were fears that the colonial setting would just be an excuse to beat up on the British. This isn’t strictly the case. The American Revolutionary War acts as a backdrop to events, rather than a major catalyst of them. There are many instances where the colonial militia are the “enemy” but for the bulk of the game, it’s Redcoats you’re targeting.

“I often found myself picking fights with impossibly large groups of enemies simply to enjoy beating my way through them”

There is more to the narrative though. This series has always been adept at subverting our traditional understanding of history and that’s not uncommon here either. You’ll hear (and read) far more criticism of the colonial cause than you might expect from a game that will live or die on its North American success. All in all, I felt that they handled a potentially tricky situation with typical humour and grace. In many ways, the complexities of the historical setting and the conflicts it entails are mirrored by the widening grey areas in the conflict between Templar and Assassin. These games have always been complex and intelligent, Assassin’s Creed III is perhaps the smartest yet.

Scale and Setting

This is a huge game too. Not just in the lengthy single player storyline but in the masses of side missions you can undertake. You’ll have the staples like collection and delivery missions but there is also a trading mechanic, bolstered by the rebuilding of your homestead and surrounding lands. Essentially, you’ll be able to assist travellers as they pass through the wilderness around your home and convince them to stay and add their skills to the region. This enables you to create goods from raw materials and trade up to earn more money with which to buy weapons and upgrades for your ship. Ah yes, your ship.

Much has been made, pre-release, of the naval combat and in a region and time when sea travel was so important to the struggles of everyday life, it’s a thoughtful inclusion. Combat at sea feels powerful and there’s a finely balanced juxtaposition in the navigation of huge naval vessels that makes them simultaneously feel heavy and lumbering while not being uncontrollable in tight spaces. It’s largely relegated to a series of optional side missions but there are occasions when taking to the seas is essential to progressing the story so there’s more benefit to those side missions than simply lessening the risk on lucrative trade routes – you’ll do well in certain story missions for having practiced in a ship.

Assassin's Creed III

Trading is a fairly quick and easy way to make plenty of money. You can dispatch your wares to stores with an inherent risk to every voyage and they earn you money while you get on with other things. Initially, all your goods for trading will be items you’ve hunted for.

After the initial hunting tutorials and some early cash-hoarding, hunting is a little bit under-utilised by the game. There are systems built in but they’re largely voluntary and for the vast majority of Assassin’s Creed players, the careful stalking of deer or baiting snares to catch rabbits will probably hold less interest than the quick-time confrontations with bears or elk. Given the improved fast travel system, spending all that much time off-mission and in the various hunting regions might be something most players pass on.

That’s a shame because these forests and valleys are teeming with animal life and plenty of extremely enjoyable free-running routes. Coupled with the hustle and bustle of the two large cities – Boston and New York – that feature in the game, this is an enjoyable world just to exist within. There’s so much scope for those interesting little self-inflicted mini games that open world fans will often inflict on themselves. Can I catch that guard with a rope dart and hang him from this tree before the patrol marches back around? Can I hide in those bushes and assassinate the last guy in that column without his colleagues noticing? The bustling wildlife of the surrounding countryside also offers plenty of emotional engagement. Two exciting, successful confrontations with large, angry bears in quick succession were exhilarating until I ran over the hill and found two tiny, now orphaned, bear cubs obliviously wrestling with each other.

What’s good:

  • Improvements to all the core controls.
  • Huge open world with plenty of side missions and extra things to do.
  • Compelling storytelling with some real high points.

What’s bad:

  • Suffers from some of the usual open world glitches.
  • Takes too long to really get going.
  • Some of the storyline missions could be better.

Grey Areas

The pacing in a game with so many optional missions and diversions can often suffer. Strangely, Assassin’s Creed III suffers mostly from pacing issues in the early, quite linear sections. The tutorials, such as they are, drag on for far too long for those of us who have played the previous titles and I can imagine they’d be similarly tedious for anyone who arrived at this game after watching the action packed trailers (don’t watch the launch trailer, incidentally, unless you’re happy to live with spoilers). Of course it’s important to demonstrate the traversal, stealth, combat and clue-based detection systems but funnelling the player into them for the first hour or so feels frustrating when you know there’s a wide open world ahead of you. You just want to get through all the boring learning and get to leaping off rooftops and stabbing people.

It’s these more tightly scripted sections of the game that let it down slightly. The opening chapters, the escort missions, the eavesdropping sequences where you have to follow and listen in. Sweeping away the dynamism of such an expansive set of mechanics and such a large game world narrows the scope of our enjoyment into those tightly defined corridors too. Suddenly limiting the options also limits the pleasure that is so expertly delivered by the open nature of the game.

Generally, Assassin’s Creed III delivers most of the things that fans want. It’s a fresh new setting wrapped around the familiar core mechanics. We’ve lost the less engaging elements that they experimented with in Revelations while adding a couple of new tricks to the range of gameplay. Sneaking, running, climbing and combat have all been marginally improved but will still feel incredibly familiar and there is the usual spattering of open-world game glitches which – before the day one patch, at least – might make elements of the game incredibly frustrating for some.

Score: 8/10

26 Comments
  1. Taylor Made
    Member
    Since: Oct 2011

    Good review. I haven’t started playing it yet, I’m just getting the multiplayer trophies out the way first then play the story.

    Are you doing liberation review too by any chance?

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 09:07.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      Yep, Liberation is on my PS Vita and I’m going to try to get it done over the weekend for a review on Monday or Tuesday.

      Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 11:07.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        I’m very interested in how Liberation fares. Polygon (The Verge) gave it a 6/10.

        Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 13:01.
      • ico
        Member
        Since: Aug 2010

        Hopefully liberation will get a good enough score to make me want to pick it up in the bargains after its been out a few months. In the meantime LBP and whatever goodies come our way on plus should keep me going.

        Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 17:29.
  2. 3shirts
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    Amazing game. Yeah DO NOT watch the trailers. There are some great twists in the plot and those trailers really will spoil the great storytelling.

    I love the dedication to historic accuracy in these games. There’s obviously a little artistic license but it’s really cool to meet real historic characters and events.

    The fighting is harder which, for me, makes it much more fun. No more of that stupid standing around, attacking one at a time, it’s more fluid and realistic and the guns add an extra element while still being avoidable (due to their being crappy flint-lock 30 second reload stuff).

    Just a brilliant game, best in the series

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 09:17.
  3. wolf-OF-chaos
    Member
    Since: Feb 2012

    Just reached sequence 7 and i must say it’s without a doubt the best game in the series. After being disappointed by the last 2 games, i wasn’t expecting to much from this game. But boy, was i wrong. It’s a true and worthy sequel to ac2

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 09:28.
  4. Youles
    Member
    Since: Feb 2011

    Had this sat next to my PS3 since Tuesday….can’t wait to start it but just need to finish Rage first which will hopefully be this weekend, as AC3 sounds awesome!

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 09:29.
  5. MadBoJangles
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    Will wait til it drops in price methinks.

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 09:43.
  6. simplebob
    Member
    Since: Mar 2009

    Collected this this morning and looking forward to getting started, although I still want to finish Revelations which I’ve been struggling to get into for a while. Think I’ve grown a little tired of Ezio and looking forward to a fresh start.

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 10:06.
  7. JohnnyBoy
    Member
    Since: Oct 2010

    Great read and I will pick this up at some point.
    BTW – Are you doing a Liberation review?

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 10:12.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      Liberation is on my to-do list, hopefully by Monday or Tuesday :)

      Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 11:08.
      • JohnnyBoy
        Member
        Since: Oct 2010

        Excellent – Look forward to reading it.

        Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 11:13.
    • Kennykazey
      Member
      Since: Mar 2010

      Liberation is to Assassins Creed what Golden Abyss is to Uncharted. Weaker than the main games, but still good and fun. Liberation is very jagged with tons of aliasing and performance isn’t as smooth as it could have been, but after a while you stop noticing and enjoy the fact that you’re playing a proper AC on a handheld.

      Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 12:51.
  8. elpablo79
    Member
    Since: May 2009

    All sounds very good, excellent review by the way. I can quite happily meander along in an open world, so sounds like I’ll enjoy the animal hunting and tree climbing. I really have got into this series of games since the first one left me underwhelmed. I’m on a no-buying-games ban by my fiancee until Christmas so hopefully this will be waiting for me!

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 10:21.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      I hate it when that restriction is put on me. I spend a month before Christmas almost buying things I want and not being allowed in case someone wants to buy me it and then I usually have to go out before New Year and buy it myself anyway!

      Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 11:11.
      • elpablo79
        Member
        Since: May 2009

        Yeah, nothing worse than the “look of thunder” or “roll of the eyes” if you even dare find a bargain which may or may not have even been bought already. Like present roulette. Anyway, looking forward to your Liberation review now. Good work

        Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 19:16.
  9. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    Excellent review Peter. I am glad that the combat is closer to Arkham City as i didn’t like Brotherhood’s gameplay. Am a bit disappointed that Conner seems to be less likeable then Ezio. The Hunting bit was always going to be weak as it’s usually the case in games that allow it as it’s only another source of cash. Tis a bit annoying that they decided to take away the freedom in the scripted events.

    As for those who moaned about killing brits. Get over yourself, we’ve killed russians,americans etc.. in games, so why not Brits? Why should we get a free pass? As not killing brits in the time period that this is set would result in a boring game plus we were arseholes back then. Who were very posh and am surprised that Ubi didn’t implent our posh sterotype. :O

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 11:27.
    • The Lone Steven
      Never heard of him.
      Since: May 2010

      Forgot to mention that i will pick it up at Christmas unless Amazon does it for £25 on Black Friday. :)

      Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 11:28.
  10. SpikeyMikey23
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Want to buy it now (waiting for a new bank card) but with limited time at the moment and Blops2 on the way, I can;t see this getting a play through until the new year (the same as brotherhood and revelations) so i’m gonna hold off, or ask for it as a christmas gift maybe

    Good Read CB. On the point of Liberation, OPM reviewed it and gave it a 5, but the review was no where near in-depth enough for me to go along with it.

    Comment posted on 02/11/2012 at 11:34.

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