Available on 360, PS3, WU and PC l Published by Ubisoft l Developed by Ubisoft Montreal l Classified MA15+ l Supports 1-8 players
REVIEW IN BRIEF > The American Revolution provides an attractive new setting for the Assassin’s Creed series, but the need to keep adding more features and ideas has left AC3 feeling bloated. Somewhere under all its layers and diversions is a larger-than-life historical adventure that could be something special, but it never completely lives up to that promise.
REVIEW IN FULL > Assassin’s Creed III represents a potential fresh direction for the action-adventure-stealth series, taking the ongoing battle between Assassins and Templars to the New World. It stars Native American protagonist Connor (a.k.a. Ratonhnhaké:ton), who it seems plays a pivotal role in many important events of the American Revolutionary War. Assassins are exceptionally good at covering their tracks.
In the present day, Desmond Miles (a.k.a. some bloke nobody really cares about) is rifling through his ancestor Connor’s memories in search of that most uninspired of MacGuffins: a key. The key to, um, a magical device to stop the sun from exploding? Something like that. The pseudoscience overlay continues to be dull and silly. The real point is to romp through history as an inhumanly skilled Assassin.
It takes several hours to meet the main character, and even then he needs to grow to adulthood before the game-proper really begins.
To be an Assassin is to be stealthy, strong, agile and an excellent multi-tasker apparently. AC3 is a super supreme pizza, thrown together using every ingredient in the fridge. Composed of brawling, stealth, and hit-and-run parkour. Swapping between past and present. Mixing open world with tightly-scripted sections. Throwing in myriad sidequests including naval battles, homestead management, hunting creatures, seeking pirate treasure, and liberating citizens from debt collectors or firing squads…
None of these things are necessarily bad – pizza toppings are great – but they need a solid foundation. The distractions have built up over the Assassin’s Creed series, and by this point the base is getting pretty soggy. There’s little coherent sense of how AC3 is supposed to feel, leaving roughly strung together sequences drowned out by meaningless busy-work. Most of these elements are optional, but with events happening on every other street corner, they can be difficult to ignore.
Naval missions are the pineapple on this pizza. Captaining a ship is enjoyable and balancing steering against high winds and rogue waves while commanding sailors to fire on enemies is more natural than it sounds. A popular ingredient, but it doesn’t belong on a pizza. Some weirdos will disagree.
This overloaded pizza is also far too long in the oven. It takes several hours to meet the main character, and even then he needs to grow to adulthood before the game-proper really begins. It’s a patronising amount of tutorialling and railroading, especially by this point in the series. Maybe they didn’t trust players to accept a Native American without being eased into it? Admittedly, Connor’s a difficult character to fully engage with, although not for racial reasons. He’s goodhearted but rash, and idealistic in the extreme. His naïvety does a good job of highlighting moral grey areas, which are some of the high points of the narrative, but it comes at the cost of ever completely feeling on Connor’s side.
Throughout the story, the Animus Database collects information about important events, places and people, blending real world history with this fictional version. It reads like a desperate educational program for disinterested teenagers. Constant weak attempts at humour create a cringeworthy backdrop for anyone following these extra details. The Animus also tracks game progress, including optional objectives. It’s good to have more challenges available, but it restricts missions to a single “correct” method instead of allowing the freedom of Connor’s full skillset.
Combat is tuned around giving a sense of power rather than providing much challenge. The moves are satisfying, particularly dropping in using air assassinations, but there’s very little variety. Most enemies can be defeated with a single counter attack, and the timing window is extremely generous. As for stealth, it falls apart the moment there are more than a couple of guards to keep track of. It’s much easier to mount a single-handed frontal assault on a fort than to find a sneaky way in.
It’s much easier to mount a single-handed frontal assault on a fort than to find a sneaky way in.
The melty cheese just barely making the whole recipe worthwhile is the setting. Historical Boston and New York lack the spectacular architecture of AC2’s Renaissance Italy, or even AC1’s twelfth century Middle East, but they remain detailed, compelling locations with a generally well-crafted sense of place. There’s a greater emphasis on ground-level movement this time around, with sprawling cities and limited vertical structure. It’s less exciting than the frequent rooftop chases of previous games, but the surrounding wilderness almost makes up for it. The scenery is beautiful, with fantastic weather effects and seasonal variation. Climbing mechanics translate to trees and rocks much better than expected.
Excellent though the environments are, bugs and unpolished aspects make it difficult to stay absorbed in the world. Sound can be particularly weak, with poor lip-sync and odd, repetitive ambient dialogue, especially the orphan children with their strange, whooping laughter, like small horror movie clowns. And that’s before encountering looping-dialogue errors. Most bugs aren’t game-breaking, but they’re common enough to take the shine off, and also include issues with map checkpoints, getting caught on scenery, and characters stuck in the ground, cloned several times or spinning awkwardly in place.
The garlic bread side-dish, multiplayer is a deadly version of hide-and-seek. It usually involves blending with crowds of NPCs to hunt a target or evade your pursuer, either individually or in team-based Wolf Pack mode. It’s a tense, strategic experience, with new tools and multiplayer story sections to unlock.
Even bad pizza is still pretty good, but AC3 has no excuse for just throwing in ingredients instead of working on pre-existing issues, and making sure the core game is the focal point and works smoothly. Where AC2 was a step forward over the original, this latest iteration is more of an awkward step sideways, and not as fresh as hoped.