Assassin’s Creed fans have been waiting for this for a long time. The last instalments, Brotherhood and Revelations, were extensions to the adventures of ACII’s hero Ezio Auditore in Renaissance Italy. Excellent as both games were they weren’t the great leap forward gamers were looking for. Well, finally Assassin’s Creed III is here, complete with a new lead character and a completely different historical context, but does it deliver on all those expectations?
In the present day our long suffering hero Desmond has been taken to New York. The Earth is in danger from some deadly space MacGuffin but the knowledge of the ‘Ones Who Went Before’ might yet save the day provided Desmond’s associates can send him to look for information in the right place and time. So, despite a near total mental collapse last time round, Desmond is plugged back into the chair and blasted back to his ancestors again. This time it’s 18th Century America and the period before, during and after the American Revolution.
One of the criticisms levelled at AC:Revelations was that it was bit short. You can put aside any fears on that score because Assassin’s Creed III is absolutely massive. The adventure begins with you playing as Haytham Kenway, an experienced assassin. His mission starts with a murder in London’s Covent Garden Opera House and then a journey to the New World with bloody work to do in Boston and the surrounding frontier wilderness. There is intrigue on the ship before he even arrives in port and then there are encounters with natives and a series of challenges in America before a big plot twist and the game starts in earnest. Some readers will have spotted that Haytham is not the name of the hero from all the pre-release publicity. Quite right, the real hero, Connor, doesn’t turn up until after the prologue levels and that is a good four hours of gaming after the start. The fact that at that point you have barely scratched the surface of the adventure tells you all you need to know about the size of this game. It’s a monster. The scope and ambition here is breath-taking. The story covers 30 years of American history from 1753-1783 and places Connor at the heart of many of the most famous events of the period.
The game mechanics have been stripped down from the Ezio games although the core remains the same. Objectives appear on your map display guiding you to the next episode in your adventure. The challenges are many and varied, preventing things from getting repetitive. Most of the mission types are recognisable from the earlier games but there are new variations which include hunting based tasks and some huge fun set pieces such the Naval battle early in the game where you commandeer a galleon and try to blast a British frigate out of the water with cannon broadsides. Features from earlier games such as trading for goods and training and assigning junior assassins still remain but are much less prominent in the mix. The emphasis on stealth is not quite as strong as before. A lot of missions do require ninja-like stealthiness but there are also many that are much more about all-out action and open combat which helps vary the pace nicely.
Ubisoft have said that they rebuilt their AnvilNext game engine from scratch and it allows for some very impressive design upgrades. The maps are huge and the locations are beautiful. The two main cities, Boston to begin with and later New York, are as vast and complex as any of the earlier cities, but the frontier and wilderness maps are equally rich and impressive. America may not be as pretty as the Italian settings of ACII but what it lacks in spectacular architecture it makes up with impressively rugged and wild terrain and, with the weather changing with the seasons, the geography adds an extra layer of complexity. Character animations have also been improved and the much vaunted ability to climb trees and jump from branch to branch is really impressive. It could just have been a pretty gimmick but it is actually integrated onto the game mechanics really well and becomes a crucial tactical element in many of the Frontier challenges. The controls are intuitive and remain similar to the control systems from the previous games. Shoulder buttons give easy access to menu wheels for weapons and equipment and, once you have opened them by synchronising with viewpoints, the map icons are clear and well organised.
The main game is enormous and will keep you occupied for many an hour before you eventually reach the final showdown with your arch-nemesis. However, the Assassin’s Creed games have always offered more than the main story. If you want to go off-piste there is plenty of opportunity and masses of things to do. You can go hunting, help frontiersmen to gain allies for your homestead, collect missing almanac pages, deliver messages, find treasure, ransack forts or just generally annoy your Templar enemies. And when you’ve had enough freestyling there is always a clearly flagged route back to the ongoing adventure.
Assassin’s Creed III also comes with online multiplayer games. If you’re familiar with the options from Brotherhood and Revelations you’ll find that this is more of the same although there are a couple of additional variations to keep things fresh. Essentially you and the other players arrive on one of the maps trying to locate and eliminate the other players before they get to you. It isn’t massively complex but it does get very tense and exciting at times and makes for an enjoyable diversion from the single player experience.
All in all, this is a massive, ambitious and immersive game to get lost in. It looks beautiful and the gameplay is full of imagination and inspired ideas. On the downside there is some glitching and occasional camera issues that can leave you frustratingly unsighted at crucial combat moments but, fortunately, these are too few and far between to cause a real problem or spoil your fun. A small number of moments misfire and a handful of the missions are very restrictive and linear but, for the most part, ACIII is top quality entertainment and comes very highly recommended to any lover of free-roaming open world adventure.
Reviewed on PS3