Monday 5 November 2012

Today's Review: Assassin's Creed III

Wait a minute, 3? This is the fifth game in the series, what's going on? Oh yes, of course, we have to be bombarded with a new iteration of the same franchise every year, or else we'll forget it. You know, like what happened with GTA, or Half Life. So yes, we've been treated with an elongated three game arc following Ezio Auditore's adventures in the renaissance, but now Ubisoft have finally delivered something fresh, somewhat.

Yes, it's the same old Assassin's Creed, but this time it's in Colonial North America. This time around you play as Connor, whose real name is long and Indian like. His peaceful village has been threatened by a member of the Templar movement, and soon he finds himself joining the ranks of the Assassins, to save his village, and maybe even the world, from destruction. Along the way he gets tangled up in the Revolutionary War, brushing shoulders with the likes of George Washington and Ben Franklin. Yes, Assassin's Creed continues to be like the Forrest Gump of games, our assassins get everywhere and seem to meet everyone of historical importance. But, the level of detail provided here is as great as always, setting the scene with several real life historic battles and providing encyclopaedic entries as you go along.

That's not the only place that's received great attention to detail. While we're used to sprawling Italian cities in this franchise, this game provides significantly different scenery. Now we are treated to the young but flourishing cities of Boston and New York, but also the wild Frontier, a sprawling wilderness full of trees, streams and wild animals to hunt. You can spend many hours running around here, jumping from tree to tree, setting snares for rabbits to kill themselves in, and it all looks gorgeous. Throw in the new addition of weather effects and this game simply looks stunning.

As far as gameplay goes, it's pretty much the same as always. The story is divided into several sequences, each one putting you on the trail of one of the people in the chain of command of the Templar group. As you work your way to the point where you can stab these people in the face, you'll find yourself trailing suspects, stealthily assassinating guards and taking part in thrilling foot chases. There's a good narrative in place, and Connor is a strong leading character, but if you just play through the story missions then the game is over quite quickly, and you miss out on a lot. There are optional objective for each mission that add an extra layer of difficulty, and while most are quite simple, some can be really fiendish. There are also, as before, some segments scattered throughout the story where you can play as Desmond for a while in various locations. It's a nice idea, but these segments are a bit short and lacking in anything particularly engaging. I just found myself wanting to get back to Connor.

The real differences in this game are in the side missions. Most notable are the naval missions. At some points in the game you get to commandeer an impressive ship, and when you sail out to sea you are given control of the ship's wheel, as well as the cannons. While a few story missions place you on the ship, there are a multitude of side missions that have you sailing out to sea. This sailing sim is actually mightily impressive. The waves are realistic, cannonballs fly and fires burn beautifully, and there are multiple methods and tactics to use to sink enemy vessels. If Ubisoft took this mechanic and developed it into a fully fledged pirate game, it would be amazing.

There are also several side missions that take the place of the typical "upgrade your mansion" side quests of previous Creeds. About a third of the way into the game you find shelter in a Homestead just off the Frontier. It turns out there are people being oppressed by the English in the cities and surrounding wilderness, and once you save their hides they agree to come and live on the property and craft items for you. As you recruit more people these missions overlap and create a nice little story of the community you have built. As you help the citizens out even more they can craft better items for you, which you can send off in convoys to earn some decent money.

So yes, these new side missions are a really nice addition, but the problem with them was they felt very separate from the actual story. In previous games it felt like liberating parts of the city and buying up different stores really helped to make your journey through the cities a bit safer. In this game, the Homestead and naval missions are provided on an entirely different part of the map. There appears to be no benefit at all for completing the naval missions, other than a couple of achievements and a new outfit, and while the Homestead side missions give you better materials for selling via convoy, I never found myself using it, as I didn't really need any money at all to get through the story missions. Still, for the completionist, these missions are a nice breath of fresh air, with the Homestead missions giving a nice injection of a friendly atmosphere, and the naval missions being completely badass.

So yes, Assassin's Creed III is not perfect. I haven't mentioned the abundance of glitches that I encountered during my playthrough, mostly in the form of mission start points and other symbols failing to appear on the map. It is quite frustrating when it happens, but I'm sure it will be resolved whenever a patch comes out. This game may not be as perfect as I'd hoped for, but it's a refreshing change from jumping around as Ezio, and the addition of extra modes and missions make this a well rounded package. I look forward to what comes next in the franchise, even if it's another Connor based Creed, I think there's still a lot more to be done in this time period.

My rating: 4/5

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