With Ezio a thing of the past, Connor Kenway takes up the lead as main protagonist in the most ambitious Assassin’s Creed title to date. Of course, a new direction for any established franchise can prove to be a dangerous gamble – but it’s a gamble that Ubisoft Montreal has pulled off with astonishing results.
The introduction to Assassin’s Creed III sets the scene like never before. A recap of previous titles, players are treated to a slick, high-end walkthrough of the story to date. A story which, as you might know, is coming to a head with the end of 2012 pending. When players first get their feet on the ground, they take control of main man Desmond. Desmond, as revealed in Revelations, is on the cusp of opening a vault left by Jupiter and the First Civilisation. Once in the animus though, players then take control of Haytham Kenway. Haytham, who proves to be the father of Connor, is a mysterious character who, in time, goes on to play a crucial part of the Assassin’s Creed mythology – but the less said about it at this time… the better really. Arriving at Boston, Haytham strikes up a friendship with numerous characters, but the most impressive character of all is actually Boston itself. Boston, in all its enormity, is a breathtaking respresentation of the world at that time. The feeling in the air, the stray dogs begging for attention, the washing lines that litter the land – it all feels alive and it feels real – as if the earth below you breathes. The sheer scale of Boston cannot be underestimated as it roughly equates to about twice the size of content previously built for Assassin’s Creed titles. Of course, it’s not only the scale of the city that’s daunting, it’s the respective content within it. There’s plenty to do with pages to collect, sights to synchronise with, people to speak to, mini-missions to be had, stores to visit, treasure to be found, upgrades to be purchased and weapons to procure but to name a few.
Content aside, controlling Haytham around the Boston era proves to be very similar to previous Assassin’s Creed titles with movements operating in a similar fashion with stealth, the hidden blade and general control working the same in nature. But it is the very moment you take control of Connor, as a young adult in the frontiers, that is arguably one of the most significant break-through moments in the history of the franchise. The sense of freedom, the ability to move with ease and feeling of fluidity is outstanding – navigating treetops becomes second nature quickly and there’s a real sense of stalking and truely hunting a target this time around that never quite existed before. Moving back into the frontiers, players can expect a wealth of new abilities at hand. You can now hunt and skin prey, set traps, find clues and tackle bigger beasts than ever before like mountain bears. Taking on such a large animal means the game will cut to a QTE event – providing you can’t kill it before it gets close enough. The savage nature of such an attack means you can expect sweaty palms as you struggle to bash the correct buttons at th right time. Maneuvering through the trees is easy and relatively intuative as the game handles all the intricities on the fly. Connor will scale, leap between and latch onto ledges with very little effort from the gamer as general motion will propel him. This attention to detail, through the development by Ubisoft, means you can expect to feel a tremendous sense of power and confidence as you escape or hatch a plan of attack from the trees above.
Leading up to the release of Assasssin’s Creed III, Ubisoft spoke openly about the power of the AnvilNext engine. Graphically, the engine delivers a landmark result for the firm. Boston, as described above, looks beautiful – with some streets featuring an abundance of NPCs going about their daily business. There’s also new weather effects in place that accurately portray the respective seasons. Take for example Boston during the winter – players can expect to see the streets peppered with snow, rooftops caked and a general chill in the air as you crunch your way through the snowfall. Removed from civilisation slightly, the frontiers will see the ground thick with the white stuff and navigation reduced significantly. Factoring in all that detail, one could argue that one of the most impressive highlights for the engine sorrounds the opening mission as Haytham. Set in an opera house, the room is alive with bodies and the scene is literally a hive of activity. Without going into technical details, the opera house itself is sumptuous and extravagant to the eyes with texturing, mapping and design all key points of interest here. While the area proves to be a little on the dark side to show off all of its detail, the feeling of life and commotion is very real.
With such a vast list of changes in place, you might be wondering how combat fares? While a mixed bag if truth be told, it still works well. If you’re a fan of the franchise, there’s one change you’ll notice immediately: how much closer combat feels. Enemies won’t stand around in a wide-ranged circle anymore, but in fact, they’ll come much closer to you during combat. While this helps to cement a feeling of danger and intimidation, it does however feel very claustrophobic very quickly. In fact, it feels claustrophobic to the point where it starts to feel rather uncomfortable to the player. Settling into the game means this feeling fizzles away progressively, but never really disappears. Targeting is a thing of the past, which means that gamers only need face an opponent to initiate prospective combat. The counter system is now revamped so enemies can be countered – but not necessarily killed. You can counter-kill, counter-grab, counter-disarm or simply just perform a counter. But with so many bodies surrounding you, there’s generally a feeling of disorganisation and confusion mixed into the fray, rather than a sense of ownership.
The introduction of multiplayer to the franchise is something that was generally received well by the fans, and while the multiplayer this time around retains much of the same, there’s some nifty changes in there that aim to keep you playing well past the sell by date. The premise, again, is rather simple: players are dumped onto a map with the aim of stalking and assassinating each other – with more points earned through stealth than all out attacking. The multiplayer, it has to be said, feels more in tune with the single player this time around with the music, menu system and more complimenting the overall experience. There’s a greater sense of progression this time around too with XP built on almost all of your functions – be it assassinating, stalking, escaping etc – so you really feel rewarded for your actions. There’s also an expanded social element to the multiplayer with kills, escapes and rewards all synchronised onto an international/friends based database. This encourages you to better yourself and ultimately, better your gameplan. One of the complaints about the previous multiplayer inclusions was the lack of skins for players and thankfully, this has been addressed as there’s a much broader collection of skins to earn through XP, as well as to purchase direct from the menu system. The actual gameplay incorporates new changes like taunts, more blending options and a expanded whisper feature. As enemies get closer to you, you’ll start to hear a whispering sound effect. This, as Ubisoft instructs you through tutorials, means you should keep an eye on your surroundings as an assassin is close. Ignoring this means potential death and you’ll have to drag your name up the leaderboards instead.
Attackers can be potentially semi-countered, and now, Ubisoft has revamped this split second decision to feature a worthy kill element. Let’s propose you hear whispering around you. You know an enemy is near. Scanning the crowd you set eyes on a character drawing closer. Taking the initiative you press the counter button – not to be confused with stun. While the attacker will naturally have the upper-hand, as outlined by the rules of multiplayer, your counter will see the killer slightly disabled after the kill for a moment and face a collective reduction in points because of your attempt. The reasoning behind this? You anticipated the attack.
One of the more frustrating elements that overshadows multiplayer is not a design flaw, per se, but a player driven one. TGL’s time with Assassin’s Creed III’s multiplayer featured an all too common problem faced by previous Assassin’s Creed games: people ascending to greater heights and running around the map – effectively ignoring the stealth. It’s not something you can enforce sadly and once it happens, it spoils the concept of stalking and assassinating immediately. What essentially happens at that point is the players in question deconstruct the very fabric of the intended gameplan issued by Ubisoft. This in turn reduces the actual concept behind multiplayer to ashes. If the community continues to engage the multiplayer in this fashion, the stealth element will die – and so will the multiplayer. Admittedly, it’s a little frustrating to see that Ubisoft has done nothing significant to reduce/prevent it this time around.
All positives aside, there’s no denying that there’s still bugs in there. Booting the game, prior to launch meant it updated twice (a total update of 25mb). Bugs, at the time this review goes live, include some characters that vanish off the screen while walking through Boston for example, missing audio cues and erratic AI. There’s also issues like repetative voice acting, obvious narrative gaps that will frustrate those that really appreciate and respect the lore, as well as issues with subtitles being very hard to see and horses not responding well to even the smallest rock or obstacle. These issues might not be detected by some, but they’re worth a note.
A final note must be paid towards the composition by Lorne Balfe. The music in Assassin’s Creed III is yet another element to the game that helps shape a worthwhile and endearing experience. The combat music, the ambient tracks, the menu music, the Native American chanting as you meet Connor – it all helps to create a sense of purpose, and ultimately a more rounded and engaging experience.
Ultimately what Assassin’s Creed III has brought to the table demonstrates Ubisoft’s intent for the franchise. This reinvention of both aesthestics and gameplay ushers in a new sense of direction, conviction and intention by the firm. Assassin’s Creed III is bold, vicious and beautiful.
TGL Score 9/10
Format: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: Now