- Format: PS3 (version reviewed), 360, PC, Wii U
- Unleashed: Out Now, 30th November (Wii U)
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft (various studios)
- Players: 1 (offline), 1-8 (online)
- Site: http://assassinscreed.ubi.com/ac3/en-gb/index.aspx
With charming mass-murderer Ezio finally dropped from the series, Assassin’s Creed III is the platform from which to gleefully push Desmond and his accompanying prophecy storyline into the cliché-ridden pit of ‘closure’. Because of this, the campaign sees a stronger emphasis than ever on story and scripting – with mixed results.
To properly assess this game, it’s important to lay out what it does wrong – so let’s do that first. The traditional Assassin’s Creed problems are present and correct, which means frame rate issues when things get busy (which they often do) and the modern day sections offer by far the most uninspiring gameplay. Unfortunately, the second ‘proper’ sequel brings with it new issues. For one thing, the player is usually expected to cover far too much ground between mission trigger points, something that your horse and fast travel – once they become available – do little to remedy. There is a commendable amount of optional tasks and side missions, but they’re unevenly spread over the maps.
The process of fighting and/or escaping from guards has been worsened slightly, too. Battles are usually still satisfying, if a little too easy; button mash if you’re feeling lucky, or stick with the far more effective tactic of waiting for a counter opportunity to break defence or instakill. The further you progress, however, the more enemies you’ll encounter who soak up far too much damage and are invulnerable to most counters for no discernible reason other than the developers wanted to slow you down. If you’re spotted and simply want to escape, well then, good luck; especially in Boston, where the sheer volume of guards and town layout can sometimes lead to protracted Benny Hill chases lasting minutes at a time.
Then there’s the bugs. Oh, the bugs.
Even after the day one patch, there’s a bug to be seen scuttling around almost every corner. Examples we came across include (but are not limited to) audio blips, a character talking without moving his lips throughout a cutscene, an NPC rising ghost-like from the ground, a soldier marching on the spot in a bush, levitating muskets, and a vibrating horse.
Disgraceful as the plague of bugs is, it’s not nearly enough to destroy the experience. The technical failings are doubly disappointing because, when everything’s running smoothly, Assassin’s Creed III offers a sense of place that is truly remarkable. Sometimes, on a ship, you can almost taste the salty air; there are moments in a forest you can almost feel the leaves brushing against your face; now and again, on a battlefield, you can almost smell the fear, and blood, and poo.
As previously mentioned, story is king here. The Brit Haytham, who you control initially and come across again later in the game, is dully written but superbly acted. American native Connor on the other hand is written a little better, but let down by the one-note performance of his actor. They are thrown into the midst of a script which doesn’t feature quite so much Brit-bashing as the marketing campaign, but – sadly – does little more than dance around the major issues it could so easily have tackled, mainly racism and colonialism. The endgame, belonging to Desmond as it does, was always destined to disappoint. A much more profound speech is in fact to be found as part of Connor’s epilogue.
Despite undeniable flashes of Red Dead Redemption and the Arkham games, ACIII retains a definite sense of self. In fact, the idea of hunting and skinning animals taken from RDR is done much better here. You can lay traps with bait and snares, or stalk your prey through bushes and trees until you’re ready to strike. Air assassinating a hare will never be anything less than hilarious overkill.
The other major new feature is naval battles. It seems like a horrifically out of place idea, but is in fact fantastic, and provides the most appealing side quests. Sailing and commanding a ship is oversimplified, but for this very reason tense, tactical fun. It’s never really explained why your ship will escape unscathed if everybody on board ducks at the same time, though…
As has been the case in every AC game, your role is closer to psychotic thug than subtle assassin. Opportunities to silently kill compulsory targets then slip away are few and far between, and so all the more relished when they are presented. This time around, most story missions carry a few optional objectives to take your mind off this such as limiting health loss, beating a time limit, or avoiding open conflict. Combined with the aforementioned side quests, there’s plenty of incentive to return once you’ve finished the story.
Who would’ve guessed that the multiplayer would be more consistently addictive than the singleplayer? The basic template remains unchanged from previous entries. There are several game modes, both free-for-all and team based. The idea remains the same throughout however, and it’s genius. Each of the maps is populated by dozens and dozens of NPCs, most or all identical in appearance to characters chosen by the players. Your job is to work out who is a human enemy (you’ll be assigned a specific player to hunt in certain modes), and kill them before they kill you. It’s all about acting like an NPC until the last possible second, and trying to spot anyone else attempting the same (though there are visual and audio cues to help). It could be argued, though, that the multiplayer would be even better without certain items and abilities which make identification easier – some of which require levelling to unlock.
Essentially, what we have here is a masterpiece wrapped up tightly in failure. The masterpiece bursts through everywhere, but only in patches. The point is that the good parts are great and, because you know there’ll always be more of those, you’re willing to persevere when the experience sags. Speaking of which – please Ubisoft, no more modern day filler.