Ubisoft may have a left a few kinks in its armour, but Assassin’s Creed III is undeniably one of the games of the year.
I raise my flags, dye my clothes…
They keep on coming. One after another I put them to rest. A swing of their sword too late as a thrust of my blade sees them dripping crimson. I am merely defending myself from the advances as they try to heed my work. Our work. I have slain hundreds in the midst of battle, each and every one of them blissfully unaware that I am Ratonhnhaké:ton, protector of my people, securer of liberty and master assassin.
Ubisoft’s flagship franchise this generation has been Assassin’s Creed and in the latest instalment you play as Connor Kenway – as his Mohawk name provides an apt challenge for even the most linguistically gifted – whose debut as the series’ protagonist is as exciting and compelling as the sudo-threequel is itself. After all, Assassin’s Creed III is the almost the perfect evolution for one of this generations crowning achievements.
The year is 1775 and the American colonies are at the brink of civil war; Boston and New York are your cities across a trio of decades. The series’ trademark attention to detail and depth of historical knowledge never waivers granting an educational edge to what is otherwise a fantastically enthralling adventure. Spirited cities are at times breathtaking, filled with a staggering volume of characters and an atmosphere that eclipse its predecessor with unfaltering ease.
In an era where solidarity for Assassin’s is more a result of circumstance than choice, Connor, with his occasional icy persona, represents a first for the franchise. Unlike previous leads Altaïr and Ezio, Connor’s lack of arrogance and resolute loyalty to protecting not only his people, but the people of the American cities warms him as a far more likeable and understandable character. Following his story over several decades, seeing him grow, using his youth to build the narrative as well as act as effective instructional pieces creates a powerful bond with the character; one that, despite some voice acting frailties, is perhaps the most engaging persona yet. Connor may not have the swagger of Ezio but he has a strong heart and an unwavering moral compass; it doesn’t matter who he’s fighting for or against, as long as it’s the people, his people, that have their freedom.
The twist and turns we’ve come to expect make a valiant return, with often-overlooked Desmond taking a more active role in this potentially concluding chapter. He is the true protagonist of the series of course; it is his mission that you play, with Altaïr, Ezio and Connor mere vessels. With each instalment Desmond’s playable role grows larger, and within Assassin’s Creed III he even travels to multiple present day locales for story-based reasons. It’s here that you begin to understand just how perfect the Assassin’s Creed control system is.
Whilst in the Animus, you have the HUD directing you when to counter; displaying where enemies are, how much health you have remaining and such. However, when playing as Desmond all assistance is gone. By this point you must know, and you certainly will, how to use the newly tailored combat system. It was a bold and risky move to alter the combat after solidifying it across the Ezio trilogy, however as with Connor’s decision to join the Assassin’s, it was the right one. It’s still counter-based but there’s an ample increase in animations plus each attack tweens into the next with ease. Your choice as to counter-attack, block, dodge or disarm can turn a battle in your favour. Play your cards right and you’ll be nearly undefeatable – a feeling appropriate for a master assassin – but watch out for a firing squad who, unless you use another body as a human shield – can see you heading to an early grave.
It’s a revolution, I suppose…
Assassin’s Creed III has trimmed the fat from previous titles and introduced a selection of new and expertly executed features. At its core: free-running, climbing and combat have all be refined to make them more accessible, accurate and enjoyable. The assassin’s trademark mobility is even more flexible now with the ability to parkour up and along the trees through forests and scale rock faces. There are far fewer “wrong” jumps as a result of mapping free-running to a single trigger, and although jumping from branch to branch takes a bit of getting used to, it’s an exhilarating experience that almost matches the first time you took Altaïr for a spin. Not to mention the naturalist geometry of the woodlands and the technology behind Connor’s increased movement is unparalleled as those sharp edges become a thing of the past.
Outside of running and fighting, there’s the wealth of side missions and tasks to undertake. Delivery missions, liberating areas, synchronising with the animus and plenty of collectibles are present; all ensuring that beyond the main storyline there’s a wealth of content to explore. The introduction of animals – and in turn, hunting – brings new mechanics and purposes to the table, which, when combined with a new trading and rebuilding mechanic, provide new and exciting elements to the franchise. The aforementioned new arrivals replace things such as the purchasing of shops and Revelations tower-defense sections, and almost always for the better. Excluding the standard collectibles, there’s far less filler than ever before, with a huge portion of the content coming in the form of the naval combat.
Assassin’s Creed III has trimmed the fat from previous titles and introduced a selection of new and expertly executed features.
Feverishly highlighted prior to release, the sea-based segments from the most shallow of opinions would help to break up gameplay and offer something truly unique; however, their depth is akin to the very oceans you sail upon. Given the power and importance of the sea during the eighteenth century, their inclusion is apparent, yet it is their execution that is most impressive. Finding the correct balance, one that finely balances on a knife-edge, to grant these huge naval vessels their heavy and slogging feel whilst managing to see them retain appropriate maneuverability was surely no mean feat. The power of mother nature and the sea is apparent, with wind greatly affecting your speed and direction, and when a storm brews, the waves crash against the side of your ship and sets the scene for a battle Poseidon himself would be proud of. Tactics for taking down enemy ships will play a part the more time you spend at sea, and you really should. The cannons have suitable accuracy but can cause some tremendous damage – especially so when you manage to hit multiple ships with a single round. Rarely does a game so well established introduce an original and so brilliantly delivered feature.
Beyond a silky smooth control system and extremely strong feature list, Assassin’s Creed has always taken great pride in both its historical accuracy and gripping narrative so it’s good to know that III continues this tradition. Some famous historical faces make an appearance and the interweaving of the Templars and Assassin motives within the wider scene is subtly and intelligently done.
Multiplayer places the finely tuned core mechanics of the single player portion once again. The familiar Assassinate mode, whereby you must identify and kill other human players amongst a crowd of NPCs, has been retooled slightly but is essentially the same successful and popular mode. Customisation and progression has seen a face lift granting options galore, whilst its branches of the Animus and Abstergo story provides additional motivation. There’s still an issue or two with the inability and lack of time to eliminate and counter those on your rail, but the new maps and subtle design changes are sufficient.
Wolf Pack mode meanwhile, a newcomer for the series, is rather entertaining – if ultimately quite shallow. You and up to three friends work together to eliminate computer-controller targets in a series of increasingly difficult waves is a welcome one – although the franchise is calling out for a real co-operative portion.
Within this expansive and glorious world are sights to behold. Even though, at times, it can feel as though the current crop of hardware is holding the game back, it’s a stunningly beautiful game; yet it’s graphical prowess never comes at the expense of gameplay, if anything it’s always to accompany it. The weather system is a clear example of this; whether it’s snowing, raining or misty, elements of the game change – and your tactics and decisions with it. Fog provides additional cover, whilst footprints in the snow can give you away, but that doesn’t mean the environments can’t be breathtaking at the same time.
There are, as with all open world games, a few glitches here and there but nothing that has a detrimental effect on your experience. Some rather poor pacing early on, droll present day characters and frustrating chase sequences sour the experience a tad, but Assassin’s Creed is a series that continues to cultivate. It was in need of a refresh after Ezio’s outings and Assassin’s Creed III is exactly that. By stripping out the bloated aspects to replace them with honed and exemplary mechanics, it’s ensured that it retains the series’ values and traditions whilst also improving upon it and giving it a welcome breath of fresh air. Ubisoft may have a left a few kinks in its armour, but Assassin’s Creed III is undeniably one of the games of the year.