Assassin's Creed 3 Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC and Sony PlayStation 3
Assassin's Creed 3 is big. Really big. Over the fifteen hours or so that you'll spend completing the main storyline you will barely scratch the surface of the world that Ubisoft have created. At times that size is utterly overwhelming and frustrating - the introduction to the game before you even see the title revealed literally takes a couple of hours to complete - but it helps create a remarkable world and setting which, when the game finally allows you, is superb to explore.
If you simply follow the main story in Assassin's Creed 3 you'll have seen barely half of the game and, if we are being honest, be a tad indifferent to it. While the attention to detail that Ubisoft have crammed into their latest game is staggering it has to be said that the story missions follow a standard pattern that has been played out in the previous titles. You will eavesdrop on targets, stalk people from the rooftops and eventually take out a high profile target. Assassin's Creed 3 however is so crammed with things to do that the main story represents merely a slice of the action. There is so much to do that to see everything the game has to offer will result in you spending a long time in its company.
Attempting to sum up the story in Assassin's Creed 3 without giving too much away is something of a challenge. The same principles apply in previous games though with the usual duel story running side by side. In the future Desmond and his Scooby Doo gang race to prevent the world ending in 2012 by following the clues in the past - this time the American Revolution as the colonies battle for independence from the crown. As usual a certain amount of knowledge is needed to work out what is going on. Desmond's investigations put him in the shoes of his ancestor Connor, a native American, just before and during the Revolution. Without giving anything away it’s an engaging story and one that doesn't simply rely on red coat bashing - Ubisoft have always insisted this wasn't the case and they've done an excellent job of blurring allegiances and battle lines. While in the past it has always been a case of good vs evil things are less clear cut this time around.
While the story missions might not be the greatest triumph in the game the amount of detail in the world is. For instance, the start of the game takes place in the Royal Opera House where the Beggar's Opera is taking place. It is a testament to just how accurate Assassin’s Creed 3 is as all the lines are present and correct. Its easy to forget to what an achievement this is because the developers have been doing it so well for a number of years now. Assassin's Creed 3 however may be their crowning achievement. You'll meet many of the key faces in the revolution including Samuel Adams, George Washington and Paul Revere to name but a few. Perhaps because the setting has been covered in a lot of films and books over the years this feels like the most recognisable world that Ubisoft have put players into yet. Boston in particular is a joy to walk around and anyone who has been to the city will instantly recognise a lot of the key landmarks which are still standing today.
The opening stages of the game are a frustrating affair however and if anything are something of a chore. To their credit they set the scene very well indeed but there is too much hand holding and too many cut scenes which wrench control from you. The early missions are extremely rigid and stepping off the path sees you mercilessly beaten by the game. It clearly has a story to set up and won't take any messing around from the player. The opening drags on for a little too long but eventually the game opens up and it starts to reveal more of the land and the opportunities that are in it.
There are plenty of activities to perform outside of the main story. You can liberate Boston and New York from the influence of the Templars by completing missions in the cities, you can hunt on the frontier, engage in sea battles, capture forts from the British, search the city for almanac pages and much more. Even after many days in the company of the game you'll still be finding new stuff to do. The truth be told failure to do these side missions doesn’t make the story any easier or harder. Some of the stuff does feel a little like padding but others, like liberating the forts (which are particularly enjoyable), give you a certain amount of freedom that the story missions don’t. The biggest bonus of the side missions is that they give you the chance to explore a very beautiful world.
That amount of content does come at something of a cost though. Assassin's Creed 3 attempts to do an awful lot and at times it doesn't do them all brilliantly. One element that does manage to excel however are the naval battles. Taking control of a ship you navigate the wind using the sails (taking into account rogue winds and rocks) and take down enemy ships. It’s a convincing part of the game as the ship realistically pitches and rolls on the sea as you stalk your prey in the water. Once you manage to get within range you can fire cannons to sink your opponent. And yet, some of the new content does feel a little pointless and tacked on. The tunnels underneath Boston and New York which open up quick travel in the city and the crafting options actually just end up feeling like mere padding.
Other new features involve you playing parts in major battles of the revolution. These see you in charge of riflemen or cannons and riding up and down the line telling them when to fire. These are essentially simple mini-games but they are done with some scale. Seeing line after line of red coat marching upon your opposition is something special. You also get the opportunity to dive right into a couple of major battles and pull off an assassination on the sly. The battle of Bunker Hill being a particularly memorable moment as you avoid troops firing on you, sneak past a patrol on the flank and finally reach your target. It’s a shame there aren’t more of these moments but perhaps by limiting them to fleeting appearances Ubisoft has made them more memorable.
Elsewhere you can convince people to live on your homestead which in turn generates items that you can sell for profit or hunt on the frontier to further increase your revenue. The homestead basically replaces the Villa and the town that you spruce up in the earlier games - albeit the visual change isn’t as noticeable as previous games when more people move in. Later in the game you can liberate forts from the British which result in lower taxes for the items you sell. It’s difficult to talk too much about the vast amount of things to do in the game as part of the joy of Assassin's Creed 3 is exploring the land put in front of you.
The core gameplay of Assassin's Creed 3 remain largely the same as before - albeit at times the amount of sneaky assassinations seems to have become marginalised compared to the earlier entries in the series. The free running side of the game has been polished over the years and is pretty good here. Occasionally Connor does snag on some of the scenery but for the large part it’s a smooth experience. In the great outdoors it gets even better with you able to scale trees and jump from branch to branch with fluid ease.
Combat is again the simple counter based system which still feels a little too easy. Countering at the right time gives you the opportunity to launch into a brutal kill, throw your opponents or break their stance and leave them open to further attack. It's perfectly fine but at times it feels far too easy to kill people meaning that sometimes you can resort to not much effort at all to avoid fights. The stealth elements remain intact but it can be hard to get it right - admittedly this is not a failure of the game and is the right kind of challenge. When you get your stealth antics right it is satisfying but the ease at which you can kill your opponents means failure to stay hidden doesn't come at any real cost - apart from perhaps failing an optional objective.
Graphically the game really shines. Assassin's Creed has always been something of a pretty game but here even more so. The crowds, physics and animation are brilliant but is the frontier which is particularly stunning. During winter you'll wade through deep snow and in autumn you'll see the sun shining through the amber leaves. It is hard not to be impressed but occasionally it’s obvious to see that Ubisoft have pushed the current generation of consoles very far indeed. There is the occasional pop up, frame rate drop and graphical glitch. More annoyingly however there are a fair few bugs to contend with as well. Horses getting stuck on or appearing in the scenery is a particular favourite. An early patch has fixed some of the bugs but a lot remain. None of them are game breakers but it’s annoying that these weren't ironed out before the game made it to shops.
Away from the Revolution setting there has been a further attempt to flesh out the world that Desmond inhabits. He is still something of an insufferable bore and frankly it’s difficult to care now. However Assassin’s Creed 3 does at least provide some reasonable closure to this side of the story and hints at the possible direction that an Assassin’s Creed based in the modern day might look like.
How much you enjoy Assassin’s Creed 3 will largely come down to how much time you are willing to give it. Stick to the story missions and nothing more and you will be frustrated; it takes too long to get going, shows you a bit of freedom before taking it back off you for another few hours as Connor is introduced and keeps you on a short leash for a sizable portion of the game. Any experienced Assassin’s Creed players are going to find it hard work getting through these early stages. The story missions are somewhat at odds with the freedom that the rest of the game gives you. It is only after a few hours does the game finally open up and give you chance to roam. If at this point if you engage with the mini map and all the tasks that it has to offer you’ll find a very rewarding game that is fun to explore and become immersed in. Assassin’s Creed 3 comes highly recommend, but only if you have the time to dedicate to it.