If you’ve been following the upcoming Assassin’s Creed III release, with all of its trailers, first looks, previews and last looks, then you’ll no doubt have a decent idea of what’s in store. If you haven’t, no matter. Even with all of this as well as the hands-on previews I’ve been through, none of it came anywhere close to preparing me for the magnitude of this installment. This is an epic, well crafted masterpiece. Any shortfallings from previous releases have been approached, environments are bigger and more varied than ever and the narrative is full of intricate twists and turns.
The game spans some 30 years, which, with the Assassin’s Creed team at the narrative reins, lends itself to the epic story that ensues. Ubisoft has not only packed in the expected yet awesome fictional and historical stories and crossovers, they’ve redesigned the protagonist’s movement and combat mechanics as well as adding brand new environments through which emerges new game modes and mini games in each.
The first thing to leap into, or off, depending where you are in the world, is definitely the environments. If you’ve been saving yourself for the game and have resisted seeing any trailers and reading any previews, then stop reading here. If not, you’re already aware of the game’s setting and what that explores: Boston and New York, the Frontier and the Eastern Seaboard. All entirely unique, with the city settings the most familiar but still very different from the previous games.
Ubisoft’s living cities bring back all the alleys, streets, walls, roofs, crates and poles to be scaled, launched off or fled through (and on). Add to this climbable trees, the auto controlled house run-throughs, moving carts and a few stalk zones and you’ve got more ways than ever to evade a chase, beit in rain, snow or sunny weather.
The city folk go about their business in the usual manner and an updated blend system has been brought in where Connor can stand, sit or walk between any two people concealing him somewhat from the many patrols. Throw this in with the moving wagons and there’s not only more options to stay incognito but also the stealth travel option.
The frontier is where the team has grown one of the new environments. This has to be the most exciting addition to the game, of which there are many, with trees, rocks, cliffs, rivers and natural pools all there to be discovered in Connor’s forest homeland. Drop in the mentioned weather systems and moving through it looks, and feels, great. On powder days, heading off the trodden path into the deep snow slows any walking and running, just as is expected. Whiteout weather will also add other stealth possibilities where needed.
With the introduction of this new hero in Connor, primarily of Native American heritage, comes the complete new camera-oriented movement mechanics. In the city this means no more fumbling to climb the right wall or jump to a roof or ledge. No more sticky and lagging control reactions which previously lead to falling off a roof (sometimes to your demise), jumping the wrong way or stopping to climb a wall mid escape from enemies. The new controls make for a much more responsive and intuitive system for almost seamless running, climbing, jumping and diving where naturally possible.
In the forests of the frontier this movement becomes so immersive it’s addictive. Connor is inherently connected to the land he’s grown up on. The new frontier terrain is so intuitive to navigate it’s easy to get lost rock climbing, scaling trees and branches and diving off all these into leaf piles or the lakes scattered around. The only times I died as a result of my environment was when I became so hypnotised running through branches and across rocks that I was caught in a kind of dazed trance and had jumped straight off cliffs assuming the scenic bounding would go on forever.
One of my big fears watching reveals of this installment was that the tree running would be cumbersome and frustrating like navigating some of the rooftops of previous games. Not once was this the case with the combination of the intricately designed maps and Connor’s responsive movement.
The frontier is not only Connor’s home but is also home to many wild animals which naturally makes up the hunting portion (another new addition) that could be classed as a game in itself. The fruits of this tie in with trade and the currency system. New weapons and equipment, tracking clues and various objectives combined with Connor’s respect and gratitude for the land and animals made this a much more appealing part of the game than anticipated. With wolves and bears among the inhabitants and ready to attack you at the drop of a peace pipe, sometimes it’s a matter of using the trees to make the hunter become the hunted.
Connor’s range of weapons make predator and combat situations the most rewarding yet from this series. At the top are the hatchet and the rope hook both bringing new elements to the combat but also extremely useful in hunting. When eliminating a group of enemies these combined with the double hidden blades throw up many options for disposing of hostiles complete with different finishing sequences. Grabbing a rifle opens up the combat even more and shoots a few more objectives at the player.
The naval section hikes the sails to full mast as another important yet underestimated part of the game and story. Another piece of the overall narrative that compliments and ties in extremely well, it could have been another game all of its own like so many other components of this product. With a variety of main story missions as well as additional objectives on offer, all of which add such a unique element to the game, my only disappointments here were not seeing more objectives around the development of this section.
While the game’s main story never truly gets off the rails like some other assassin and frontier games of yesteryear, there is room for side and Liberation missions and at a certain point the game definitely opens up for free roaming in the cities and forests to indulge in exploration and hunting. That said, I found the game’s story, missions and cut scenes all worked incredibly well and were paced perfectly. Everything introduced piqued my interest and had me wanting to delve further and further into the game.
Additional objectives in missions offer more of a “how to” style than a list of things to achieve. This proved a much more rewarding experience when all objectives were executed and had me striving for full synchronisation, to complete all objectives, when not achieved the first time round. These add-ons could dictate how stealth or gung-ho you are in your approach as well as set-up techniques within missions and plans for escape or a number of other additional tasks.
Initially the overall story and setting could have been seen as confining and narrow to those outside the US or not interested in the American Revolution. It’s never been an area of interest for me until playing this game that’s for sure. A deep story is not only woven throughout the fiction of it though, but also in the rich historical content delivered. If my history classes in high school were ever as interesting as this or even the written notes in the game, with Ubi’s humour peppered amongst it, I would have studied and remembered so much more.
While the world is completely open for exploration from a certain point, the main narrative definitely stays linear throughout. It works and keeps it true to what it really is, considering the story and historical content and how well it’s put together and revealed throughout, this overall delivery is ideal. When it can be done this well it becomes this perfect representation and visceral experience. Those games with numerous variable options for sequence and completion of objectives have their place and offer that freedom, this game offers its own unique experience.
The multiplayer I’ve experienced with Wolf Pack and Domination modes brings back the unique team experience that require the patience and stealth blending to assassinate targets or protect an area from another team. These really add a unique revolutionary dimension to multiplayer gaming, tying in all the overall important elements of the game.
I never used to get chills playing a videogame, not the way I would watching some epic movie scenes or reading an incredibly engaging book. That has changed in the last few months and this game has set the benchmark. If you only play two assassin games this year (because let's face it, you've probably already played that other
one), make this one of them. I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t make Game of the Year for most.