Assassin's Creed 3's explosive trailers do the game little justice. This is not a title of endless set pieces and tireless action. It includes many spectacular moments, but a certain type of thoughtfulness underlines the series for the first time. Ubisoft has produced a sequel that values intricacy as much as sword fights and battles at sea. Those events may take the headlines, but AC3's ability to do things carefully is the real triumph. Desmond's adventure has matured, and it'll force your style of play to do so too.
It's worth noting that there's an awful lot I don't want to spoil about this game. Players have invested many hours in the franchise since its inception in 2007, and they deserve to witness all of AC3's surprises with the same freshness as I did.
|The British are bloody buggers don't you know!
The game begins with one of those surprises. Connor's ascension into the role of assassin is detailed through Desmond's first five memories. We witness an infant on the brink of destruction; his homeland obliterated by the invading British. Personal loss forces Connor into a dramatic transformation. He progresses from naïve juvenile into a skilled hunter, and begins to suffer from strange visions that tell him where to go next.
Connor's early experiences lay the foundations of the game rather well. You play hide and seek with other children in an attempt to master the art of stealth. As a teenager, the lure of hunting fresh meat becomes a necessity. Traps can be laid, bait sprinkled, or launch an accurate arrow through the skull of an unsuspecting victim. Countryside is diverse and roaming with wildlife. Deers leap across hillsides, foxes scuttle across low ground and badgers settle near lakes. On occasion, all training goes out the window as you tackle the might of an angry bear.
When the going gets tough, a little free-running aids your cause. Ubisoft has enjoyed showing off new animation at various events and expos. Previous games settled into the flow of climbing buildings or architectural landmarks, so it's refreshing to see this title build on that. Parkour is now about anticipation, momentum and guts. Snowy forests can be traversed quickly if you work out an intelligent route. Trees provide the platform to cross with speed, and sometimes safety. British patrols march through the most inhospitable areas, forcing notorious players to take refuge from a higher level. Branches bend under your weight and it often seems like the next step is impossible. Connor's skills are so advanced that most objects can be overcome.
Once you head into the cities, this kind of efficiency provides a totally different style of gameplay. When Ubisoft first conceived Assassin's Creed it promised to punish players who caused disturbances in public. In reality, the series hasn't done this so far. Any false move used to be evened out with a burst of pace into darkness. The streets of AC3 aren't so kind.
Commit a crime in public and you'll face the consequences. In one portion of the game, Boston is overrun with British tax collectors. You have the option to eliminate them and aid a revolt against the occupying forces. Sticking a blade into their neck will turn attention your way. Guards will be on alert across the city, waiting for you to appear so the action can begin once more. I spent over twenty minutes trying to become anonymous at one point. It wasn't scripted, but it was extremely thrilling. The cities are bustling, and if you disrupt normality, expect to pay.
|Free-running is far more fun and challenging this time
As usual, Ubisoft has filled its world with an array of interesting characters. The British ooze enthusiasm. From posh stereotypes to cockney geezers, scripting is excellent. Charles Lee bears an impenetrable gaze and Benjamin Franklin bumbles into shots.
Connor's personality is seriously lacking in comparison. He acts like a promotional speaker who motivates himself to achieve better things. This comes across cheesy in areas. It's fair to say the hero lacks the natural charisma of Ezio. He is uncompromising, forthright, and charmless. For a game that carries themes of colonisation and oppression, it's perhaps difficult to see how Connor could be anything else.
The lastest assassin is ready to fight for his freedom. Combat has evolved into a more rhythmic affair, taking note from Batman: Arkham City and Sleeping Dogs. A counter-attacking strategy bypasses the threat of most opponents. Stronger foes will need to be disarmed or eliminated hastily, especially if they're loading their musket up. You no longer have to target one enemy at a time and can initiate impressive sequences of mass slaughter. The ability to sprint during combat is useful, even if it does look completely ridiculous. While there's a wealth of options to taking down hostiles, I wish counter-attacking wasn't so effective.
Much has been made about AC3's naval warfare. The implementation is surprisingly seamless and will have you fighting the sea's mightiest sailors in no time. You must steer the ship so that its cannons face the enemy's deck. Positioning is easily lost, so the fire command must come quickly. A barrage of cannonballs will launch towards your opposition, leaving a major dent in their vessel or a major splash in the water. An accurate mini-cannon can be used for when you can't get a shot with the main weapon. If you see your rival launch an onslaught, don't forget to duck.
These detours have become a staple of the series. Locations are scattered with activities to complete—many of which are entertaining sidesteps from the main storyline. You can play a few rounds of Nine Men's Morris in the pub, or challenge George Washington to a game of bowls. Clubs might challenge you to complete specific objectives. You can even craft items and set up trading routes if you have the inclination.
|Once the game gets into gear, expect the fireworks to fly
Multiplayer remains largely the same as AC: Revelations. You are welcomed into the Abstergo setup as a budding assassin and must showcase your skills against human opponents. A quick tutorial provides the basics of staying alive. You must pursue a target whilst being pursued yourself. Small maps make for interesting affairs, but it would be nice to see some larger variations. Hunting your enemy is an intense experience, especially as you have to watch your back at the same time. Competitive play doesn't bring anything new to the franchise, but it is a decent alternative to the main campaign.
Connor's adventure is an excellent one. His story is methodical and meticulous, much like the land his people inhabit. A slow build-up may deter players, but plenty of memorable moments are worth sticking around for. The game is so rich with content and minor activities that it's almost impossible to tackle it all. The title tells a gripping story and invites you to create tales of your own. In many ways, Assassin's Creed 3 delivers on what Ubisoft set out to do in 2007.
Platform Played: Xbox 360
TOP GAME MOMENT
A conglomeration of small advancements that deliver on Ubisoft’s initial AC vision.