Assassin's Creed III Review
|Release Date:||October 31st, 2012 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Andrew Hemphill (Bandit)|
Having been a fan of the Assassin's Creed series for some time, I was looking forward to spending some time in the world of revolutionary America - and I wasn't disappointed. After turning the game on, I was pleased to be met with a decent introductory video detailing the epoch-spanning battles of the Assassins and the Templars - rival groups working for freedom or order through control, respectively. So, if you were worried that you'd be dropped into the thick of it without a reminder of the AC series' odd multiple-timeline sci-fi storyline, rest easy.
Stepping quickly into the boots of another ancestor of modern series hero Desmond Miles, AC3 starts out with sophisticated Englishman Haytham Kenway offing a gent at a theatre in Covent Garden, London, in the mid-1700s. This intro section does an admirable job introducing the gamer to the AC series' trademark free-running gameplay, as the lithe Haytham shimmies his way around the theatre, before offing his target with a thrust of his spring-loaded hidden blade.
Fast forward a bit and Haytham finds himself being sent to Revolutionary-era America, just before it all kicks off and the yanks decide the rule of the King ain't so good after all. As usual, the true star of the show is the environment and historical period chosen for the game, and 1750s-era America more than fits the bill. The first city you visit, Boston, is bustling with settlers and pilgrims, full to the brim with British 'Redcoats' and offers a huge amount to see and do - but the majority has to wait for the next generation of Assassins to make their first appearance in the colonies.
In fact, I have to admit I was a little worried when the Assassin on the box - Native American hunter Connor (his actual name is unpronounceable to anyone not from Wales) didn't show up, but stick with the plot, and before long things become clear. In fact, while I'm on the plot, despite the developers resolutely sticking with the dual storylines presented by the DNA-memory-unlocking Animus, everything comes together in AC3 - the mysteries are finally answered, and very well done it is too.
Outside the cities, AC3 also includes the massive, open-world 'Frontier', which is now populated with hundreds of NPCs, and - more importantly - animals. Being a Native American, Connor has an innate connection with the land he was born in, and likes nothing better than to take to the treetops and hunt. In fact, it wasn't unknown for me to get lost in the woods for an hour or so, laying bait, traps and air-assassinating wolves, in order to skin them for profit.
What is surprising, however, is just how well this new addition plays. The animals act as animals should, and learning to use your bow or poison darts from the treetops is a delight. It also helps that Connor's skills in free-running stretch to the Frontier's thick forests themselves, and bounding from tree to tree looks and feels fantastic.
Aside from the usual gameplay - which offers up a huge selection of main and side missions, and more collectables than you can throw a tomahawk at - the previous games' side quests have had a polish as well. While you can still recruit and utilise fellow Assassins - training them through sending them off to fight in faraway lands - AC3 also offers something new: naval combat.
More than just a gimmick, taking the helm of the cutter Aquila sees Connor take to the open waves, using naval tactics and a whole load of firepower to scupper Templar ships and fight for independence. There are also opportunities to search for Captain Kidd's lost treasure troves, and explore the New England coast.
The naval combat looks fantastic and plays really well, and though its conception of 1700s naval combat is perhaps a little... unrealistic, in a game where you meet American inventor and legend Benjamin Franklin five minutes in - then later run into George Washington himself - that's nothing new.
As with previous games, owning real estate (this time in the form of a decent mansion and plot of land), offers benefits, and Connor can recruit people to work on his homestead, such as leather tanners, hunters and woodsmen. This in turn provides stockpiles of material than can be bought and sold to trading convoys, netting money depending on the distance to travel and risk to the convoy.
All of this is a sideline to the main campaign, which has a considerable length of its own, and you don't need to do any of it - but it has its merits in cash and upgrades. And besides, it's a hell of a lot of fun.
And then there's the multiplayer - a personal favourite of mine. As with Brotherhood and Revelations, AC3's multiplayer is an Assassin vs Assassin wonder which pits you or a group of friends against other Assassins within the bounds of the Animus (which is now being used by Abstergo - the modern face of the Templars - as a gaming system for the public, complete with TV adverts unlockable through XP... Creepy).
As is usual in the series, the action revolves around killing your opponents in the stealthiest way possible, with extra points being granted for pulling off extra-stealthy kills from crowds or rooftops and the like.
Thankfully, this time around the matchmaking works perfectly, and the selection of modes on offer caters to every type of gamer. I myself play a lot of 'Manhunt' - a team game which challenges two four-man teams to hunt each other, or hide for as long as possible. Also, the occurrence of the 'COD-idiot' - plonkers who treat AC multiplayer like Call of Duty, and go for numbers over quality, has been negated by the inclusion of a 'Simple Deathmatch' mode, thank goodness.
As before, the multiplayer is unbearably tense, exciting stuff - it's almost a game in itself. Control-wise, the overall game's previous issues with the camera in fights and an overcomplicated interface has been largely done away with. Your character will now take actions which previously required specific button pushes, such as blending with crowds to disappear.
The combat is also a lot leaner, though as usual your character's enormous arsenal beggars belief. Also - weirdly - the black power pistols and muskets on offer in the firearm department take twice as long to reload as previous Assassin Ezio's gauntlet-mounted weapon. This means that blades are still king, despite the advanced era - an admirable way of keeping AC's swordplay at the forefront of the action.
Graphically everything looks better than ever, with only minimum pop-in and a little bit of rough textures in less-travelled alleyways. Cities and Frontier alike look brilliant, and the addition of a day/night cycle and weather conditions make the world feel far more realistic. That said, the game does suffer the occasional graphical bug, and it's not unlikely to come across a man embedded in the floor, or a horse spawning on a rooftop, then falling to its death.
The menus, also, are overcomplicated and difficult to get used to. This is especially obvious in the trading screen - which has far too much going on to make it clear what you need to do to make money, and in the multiplayer, which has six tab menus, and then a number of entries in each.
Even the quick-selection wheel has become far more clunky and difficult to use, now requiring the gamer to leave the action and enter a different screen, tab through a number of radial entries, then reenter the battle, which is more than a little disorientating. Plus, sure, it's nice to be able to configure each playable multiplayer character down to the cut of their hair, but I doubt many people will dig through the menus in the first place to do so.
The animation, score and voice acting is top-notch, as you'd expect from an AC game, and everything I did left me wanting more. That said, Connor sometimes deadpans his reactions when he should show a little emotion, which can be a bit jarring.
Whether you enjoyed the previous AC games or you're a newbie to the series, you're bound to love AC3, with its fresh, new feel, tighter gameplay, endless hours of trading, hunting and sailing and a robust, thrilling multiplayer.
- Refined AC gameplay and plot
- Fantastic multiplayer
- Enormous variety
Not so good stuff
- Slight graphical/gameplay bugs
- Confusing menus
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