October 30, 2012
As is tradition for the franchise, every new numbered iteration sees the arrival of a new protagonist. First it was Altair, then Ezio and now Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor Kenway as he's more commonly known.
While Altair perhaps wasn't the most thrilling of characters to play as, Ezio was the exact opposite - quite the leading man to live up to. In many ways, Connor manages to do this, but in a very different way. He's a strong, honest individual, who isn't afraid to stand-up for what he believes in. It's something that shines through as he develops throughout the game's single player campaign under the watchful gaze of Achilles Davenport.
As is customary for the franchise, there are a few twists and turns throughout the story, even right at the start of the game. And due to the nature of the story and the time period that its set in, the narrative is very strong throughout. You'll get to meet some famous faces, such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, but also Charles Lee and John Pitcairn.
The Templars also play a much more active role in the entire experience and this is perhaps the first game where you get to see the conflict between the Templars and the Assassins for what it truly is. It's always been a running theme throughout the games, but the way its handled in Assassin's Creed III is by far the best.
Fans of Desmond will also be pleased, as Ubisoft has been able to deliver more gameplay in the "real" world. Desmond is now a full-fledged assassin, and his father is more than happy to utilise his talents as they search for artifacts around the world. These segments in the game make you appreciate the Animus for what it is, as when you're controlling Desmond, there is no HUD at all and no helpful hints - it's quite surreal.
In short, the story is one of the best seen in the franchise so far from both Desmond and Connor's perspective. You'll receive answers to some pertinent questions, such as the roles of Juno and Minerva, but also reasons for Lucy's death at the end of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.
Assassin's Creed III uses many of the new gameplay elements introduced with the previous two Assassin's Creed titles. Climbing is now much more refined, to the point where Connor will do most of the free running by himself and it makes the whole system much more fluid. With the introduction of the Frontier, this becomes much more beneficial, as things aren't as clear-cut as before. Trees don't have nice vertical walls to scale, so a quicker system was needed and it works well.
The same can't be said for the combat though, which feels like a digression of the system that was perfected in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Connor can counter, disarm and break guard, but while the climbing feels more fluid, the combat feels more cumbersome now. Perhaps it's because of the new enemy types that end up making it a stop-start affair. However, it's nice that Ubisoft were also to make the animations more akin to the type of fighter Connor is though and if two enemies are attacking at the same time, Connor will perform a spiffy kill animation.
This seems to be the general theme of Assassin's Creed III and it's a bit disappointing. Elements from previous games have been ported over, but in many instances, they now appear to be worse than in previous iterations. One such example is the whole concept of territory - a system that was introduced with the Borgia towers in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. This is now called "Liberating" and to help liberate a district in one of the two cities, you have to perform lots of menial tasks, something which harkens back to the original Assassin's Creed. It's not quite as bad as collecting flags as quickly as possible, but having to perform each individual Liberation Contact three times is rather mundane. You're an Assassin, you shouldn't be having to put down rabid dogs that in all honesty, don't look very rabid.
On the subject of Liberation Contacts, compared to previous games, it's also quite unclear what you're actually achieving by completing them. The ultimate goal is obviously to liberate an area and recruit an Assassin, but it takes so much doing, with so little reward at the end of it.
Another area that feels watered down is the Assassin's Guild. Once you've recruited Assassins, you're able to use them in battle and send them on missions throughout the East Coast of America. There's nothing new here, but it feels tacked on, as opposed to something that's been put in to improve the experience.
On the positive side, what's new in Assassin's Creed III defines the experience. Yes, many elements have been inherited, but the whole Frontier, navigation experience and sea combat are rather exciting. The game also expands on a system that was introduced in Assassin's Creed II, with Connor able to improve the Davenport Homestead by helping people. In return, they will move into the area and provide useful services - they also have their own individual stories too.
Outside of New York and Boston, you're able to traverse the Frontier. This is a massive expanse of land, which is ripe for activities such as hunting. Think of areas, such as in the original Assassin's Creed and other games, where you aren't in a city, but the outskirts. Make this much more expansive, with full objectives, scenery and personality and it's like a massive playground. How this area transforms during the game's different weather seasons is also very impressive. Needless to say, if you like exploration, this will tickle your fancy.
For all you buccaneers out there, Assassin's Creed III sees the introduction of naval combat. It just so happens that near the Davenport Homestead is a derelict ship, which is in need of some repairs. Once it's all patched up, you take to the seas to take part in some rather engaging combat at sea. This involves full-on battles, but also the bombardment of forts on the coast.
Even in the early stages of development, it was clear that Ubisoft wanted to make playing as Connor a very different experience from the previous games. Due to the setting, this has been made much easier, but the range of animations that Connor goes through is rather impressive. Even simple things, like the animation changing once he picks up running speed, or the new ability to side-step while running at top speed, they make all the difference. When you're in the Frontier and it's snowy, the animations are also top notch.
For all the hard work in this area though, the game does have numerous glitches, especially when it comes to the horses. Firstly, when you call a horse it literally just appears and they are constantly getting stuck on things. They also disappear rather randomly too. You'll also see "interactive" objects that you can't interact with and NPCs spawning in the air so you can't speak to them. It's a bit annoying and it's by far the buggiest Assassin's Creed experience to date.
In terms of longevity, Assassin's Creed III delivers and continues delivering even after the game has been completed. There's the Liberation Contracts, collecting Almanac pages to receive inventions, naval missions, improving your Homestead and getting better at trade. The list just goes on and on and if you happen to look inside the Logbook you may be there for a while. More things unlock after you finish the game too, as if there wasn't enough to do already, such as Animus Syncing.
And then there's the multiplayer, which has been re-worked yet again, with a host of new game modes. There are now over 12 modes, including Domination, where you have to gain control and keep control of certain points on the map. There's also a new mode called Wolf Pack, where you team up to co-operatively take out NPC assassination targets.
Assassin's Creed III perhaps isn't the huge leap many might have expected, but there is enough here to make it well worthy of anyone's time. Yes, certain elements have been inherited from previous games, and not always in a good way, but some of the new gameplay options, such as naval warfare, more than make up for it. The introduction of the Frontier is also a strong step forward and with perhaps the franchise's best narrative so far and more content than you can shake a stick at, Assassin's Creed III doesn't disappoint.
Assassin's Creed III was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.