Assassin’s Creed 3 review
Just a year after the last iteration, how can Assassin’s Creed 3 justify being the next numbered game in the series?
Pushing through a crowd, the hidden blade aching to be released, the original Assassin’s Creed tapped into our excitement with taking an historic journey through real world 12th Century cities, while using superhuman free running and assassination skills to take down your targets, hopefully without being spotted. Almost five years later, four sequels and numerous spin off games have fed our insatiable lust for the journey, most of which has centred around Desmond Miles, a modern day Assassin, using his genetic memory to relive his ancestors’ lives and find ‘pieces of eden’, immensely powerful items created by the previous occupants of our planet, that can bend humanity to their will, while fighting off the Templars, their oldest rivals, and preventing an upcoming cataclysm.
Sure the story sounds confusing, and after four main games in the series there is a lot to catch up on, but Assassin’s Creed 3 starts with a well created recap that should bring you pretty much up to date. AC3 however, thrusts you into a new story. Desmond is still the overarching link between the characters, but the bulk of the game places you in the mind of Connor, a native American dealing with the events surrounding the American Revolution. With a new setting and time period, our new hero justifies the ’3′ of the title, and that’s before we even go into the major changes of the game.
Generally, with a long running series such as Assassin’s Creed, you’ll expect the same basic game play with some new areas to play in, but little development, especially with just a year since the last release, AC3 breaks the mould in a most welcome way. Sure, you’re still an expert in free running, and returners to the series will find most of it very familiar, but even the storytelling techniques have been pumped up a notch to establish a story that is both more complex and for want of a better word, much better executed.
Rather than tell us the back story throughout the game through conversation, we are thrust into the thick of it from the start. Living Connor’s past, right from the beginning takes time to get going, but pays off tremendously when we realise that our assassination targets aren’t a list of random names, but characters we have already learned about and have insight in to. The stakes seem higher, and these missions become far more poignant than the previous games in the series.
Much has been made of the fact that there is a heavily upgraded engine being used for the game, and while the graphics are impressive, it’s not like the prequels weren’t beautiful, with jaw dropping vistas and enormous cities. Masters of their own diegetic design, Ubisoft even explains the changes away by an email Desmond receives early on in the game documenting the patch that another character has installed into the Animus. So that’s why we haven’t had proper weather systems until now.
Fed up with all these ‘reboots’?
Without labelling this game a reboot, it feels a lot more like one than just the next game in the franchise; fortunately continuing, and certainly concluding Desmond’s story arc. The controls have been tightened, making it easier to free run without fearing silly controls sabotaging your most important jumps, and even the health system has been changed, controversially, when out of combat it will regenerate. My first reaction was of the casualisation of the franchise, but thinking back on it, once you were out of combat, it was simply a hassle to find a doctor to heal you, or buy medical kits, so this does end up being a welcome change. Combat has been tweaked a little, to make it seem simpler, but still retains a lot of the depth from before, and the addition of the ‘rope dart’, a long range dart on a … rope… which allows for a few new and exciting combat techniques, especially when fighting in the wilderness.
The plot zips backwards and forwards between places and settings. Rather than making this jilted and confusing, changes occur at logical and well plotted points keeping things fresh in a way that has barely been touched upon in the series before. AC3 has the kind of variation that you might expect in a more linear game, but rarely sees the kind of light in this genre. Sure, if you are distracted by the ridiculously plentiful series of side tasks, you may get lots of repetition, but we’re talking about hunting in the wilderness, controlling a ship (which incidentally works so logically and easily that it doesn’t feel like a ‘minigame’).
Filling in the blanks
Unlike the previous chapters, revelations about the whole Assassin’s Creed story arc come regularly, explaining pretty much every question I had for the series through the game, in a nice drip feeding manner. Despite the massive story based structure, the lengthy story missions are padded out by the ridiculous collection of optional tasks, but having come a long way from the first game’s infuriating flag collecting, they are logically uncovered, and appear on the map once you’ve explored the areas enough, and climbed up high enough to ‘synchronise’, as usual. The concept of fully synchronising a mission (i.e. completing it with certain specific objectives fulfilled) returns, and while some of them make attempting the mission a real pain to begin with, they all add to replayability.
Given the pre-release information given, and the trailers, I was expecting a fully pro-American anti-British ‘freedom-fest’. Surprisingly, the sentiment is far more mature and a fair portrayal of both sides; the kind of intelligent handling that is rare in our wonderful medium. It all adds up to a game that has taken a pretty well-loved franchise and tweaked it to perfection, even in terms of storytelling. The voice acting stands up well to scrutiny, which certainly can’t hurt, and even the music, which is a combination of eclectic and varied styles is a true high point for me, bringing emotive power to the fold.
Despite the plentiful set pieces, or perhaps due to, some of the early missions, when you’re hoping to get your teeth into the large open world, setting are limited by where you’re allowed to go, or pedantic mission objectives that restrict your actions, despite the side missions already showing up. Certainly early on in the game, the missions swing between complete freedom to achieve your tasks however you see fit, and specific tasks that must be precisely worked through; the slightest deviation causing ‘desynchronization’ and a quick restart.
The old system of buying property and gradually taking over entire cities has been axed in favour of the new Homestead missions. My own collector nature, and joy at earning ridiculous amounts of money early on makes me lament this loss, but the Homestead has replaced it for good cause. Based around simple missions, each task accomplished will grow your home area, adding another inhabitant, and improving what you can buy, create and sell there. You will however still be able to send off recruited assassins to complete their own missions, much like before, though it doesn’t seem as intuitive.
But that’s only half of the game
Multiplayer has returned. Taking up an entire disc on the 360 version, you’ll be immediately at home if you’ve played the previous multiplayer. Much the same, with a (now usual) levelling system to unlock new visualisations for your characters and abilities, the tutorials to get players into the game have certainly improved. In addition, there’s a new ‘Animus Story’ section, to try and tie the mode to reality as a games system played through the Animus, which is presented cleverly with an effective tongue in cheek style. Unlocking more videos and features comes through completing various challenges, and it all adds up to a unique and well realised mode.
In addition to what has come before is the new Wolf-Pack mode, a coop based horde-esque mode, where groups of up to four assassins compete against the AI to take down targets before the timer runs out. Eliminating groups of targets increases your time and brings you to the next ‘sequence’ of targets. While it is my favourite mode to play with others, there is a certain tendency for players to all rush towards their targets to attempt to kill them first, rather than perfecting the art of stealth killing, which nets more points and is certainly more rewarding. The ticking clock may have a part to play in this, but I feel like the mode isn’t currently being played to its maximum potential.
Ultimately however, Assassin’s Creed 3 is the best in the series so far; I honestly can’t imagine the series improving on the current generation of consoles. Sure, much like Mass Effect 3, the ending may divide the audience, but if you’ve had any enjoyment from previous games, then you must play it. If there’s really nothing in there for you, then… I don’t know… Farmville 2 recently came out, didn’t it?