If you have never played any of the Assassin’s Creed series, there are some mild spoilers contained within; nothing that will really change your game experience – but you have been warned.
As a huge fan of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, I always experience a moment or two of hesitation before starting the latest and greatest title in the franchise. As any successful series ages, expectations build for future titles due to the ever-increasing richness and complexity of the tapestry woven by the development teams. Assassin’s Creed III had a lot to live up to, thanks to one of the most complete and beloved video game characters ever – Ezio Auditore*. Can Assassin’s Creed III and Connor Kenway, the protagonist, ever hope to approach the bar set by the series thus far? The answer, dear readers, is a clear and resounding “yes”.
Like the other Assassin’s Creed games before it, the majority of Assassin’s Creed III tells the story of the past through a character in the present: Desmond Miles. Desmond has a strong connection with the memories of his ancestors (an elite group of Assassins who strive to save humanity), and can access these memories by the use of a device called the Animus. Not only can Desmond access these memories, but with repeated and lengthy exposure to them, the abilities of his forefathers are passed on to him through an effect called “bleeding” – turning Desmond into the most skilled Assassin of his time. The original purpose of the Animus was to have Desmond search the sizable historical record contained within his DNA to find some ancient artifacts; this plan was concocted and executed by the Assassins’ enemy: The Templars (the bad guys). The other important part of Assassin’s Creed III is the story of what Desmond does with this knowledge and these skills.
One of the greatest parts of any Assassin’s Creed title is the story – so I’m not going to go into too much detail so as not to spoil the experience for you. What I can tell you is that this chapter in the tale of Assassins takes place during the American Revolution. Through Desmond, we find out that the Templar-Assassin war, fought behind a veil of secrecy all throughout history, has spread to America. For most of the game, Desmond has to live the life of Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor), to aid in their quest in the present to unlock the mystery of the precursors and help all of humanity. Now, for those who have played the series before (or for the impatient), a word of warning: the pacing at the beginning of the adventure is painfully slow – but all for good reason. You will really feel like the wait was worth it once you get into the adventure proper.
Some people really don’t like it when you tell them you dislike Justin Bieber’s music.
I mentioned before that the longer a successful series continues, the more expectations are piled upon it. Over the course of the Assassin’s Creed series thusfar, I believe that Ubisoft has constantly raised the bar for themselves. Not only do they add game-play improvements; but they also increase the quality of their story-telling. In a lot of ways, Assassin’s Creed III is the riskiest title so far. For one thing, while history is well-documented in the times of Ezio and Altair, it is far more distant from current memory than the time in which Connor lives. One of the largest game-playing audiences is North America, so the dev teams had to do their homework to make sure that they portrayed historical figures as accurately as possible while fitting new characters seamlessly into history. Not only that, but there were problems that existed back then that are a source of shame; but Ubisoft pulled no punches, incorporating societal issues like slavery and the maltreatment of the natives into the plot. Kudos to them for taking that risk because it definitely creates a charged atmosphere in which the story unfolds.
While the majority of the story is quite serious and dramatic, though, there are moments of levity where we learn bits about historical figures that we might not otherwise have known. One of my favourite moments in the game occurs early on in a conversation with Benjamin Franklin. The old codger is quite the womanizer, and he’s not afraid to share his theories with you, such as the virtues of making love to an older woman – awesome.
Ubisoft also took another risk when they changed engines. While new technology is always welcome, it sometimes comes at a cost: namely, alienating a faithful audience, and glitches. The AnvilNext engine does a spectacular job of delivering amazing visuals with very few glitches. There were times when an animal would get stuck in foliage, or a victim of an assassination would somehow sink into the ground when killed – these few events are small, easily forgotten quibbles that are dwarfed by the awesome visuals and physics of the game. The game is a work of art. Colonial North America comes to life, both in the wilderness and in the towns. The game world is more realistic than any other Assassin’s Creed game that has come before: the environment feels dynamic (with weather and time of day); audio is absolutely stellar with great use of surround, immersing the player in whatever area they are standing in; character animations are definitely a cut above a lot of games that are currently on the market. All of the aesthetic factors feed into some of the new mechanics – like hunting and dual-wielding weapons in close combat.
Desmond is so cheap that he never pays full price to see events. He just sneaks in.
Parkour is undoubtedly better – simpler to manage and more beautiful to watch. Not only are you able to scale walls and buildings, but you can also sail through the treetops like a robed monkey. The system takes a little getting used to for of us who have played the previous games – but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. Stealth is improved: not only can Connor hide in crowds and haystacks; he can also conceal himself in tall grass and foliage, allowing for more realism in sneaking about – elegantly simple.
Similarly, the new fighting system is much more intuitive (to me, anyway) and easier to conceptualize; the countering system has been tweaked to give you options in a branching path, allowing you to dispatch your enemies with some strategy rather than button mashing. It is a refreshing change, and given the fact that a lot of your opponents are armed with muskets, the ability to plan ahead does not hurt in the slightest – well, not you, anyway**.
A new addition to the series (or an improved one, if you consider piloting a gondola) is naval warfare. I had the good fortune of trying this out several times since the summer – so I am well acquainted with being the captain of a large sailing vessel; in short – it is amazing. Ubisoft did a fantastic job replicating the feeling of heaving one of these things around the waves – the ships feel like they have a lot of mass, and consequently a ton of momentum. Steering and calling out commands for sail manipulation and bracing made me feel like I was in a pirate movie. Like combat, there is a fair bit of planning involved in winning the battles on the water – so be prepared to for some quick thinking if you want to achieve full sync. Also, if you choose, planning doesn’t end with the combat or sailing, either. There are other aspects of the game where having a keen mind will help you do well in the game.
That’s probably the last time any of these guys insults Connor’s mom.
Ezio Auditore was a very busy man. While Altair also did a lot of good work for the cause, most of his deeds are portrayed in cinematic flashback. Ezio, on the other hand, became increasingly occupied as the series progressed. There were headquarters to maintain, items to build, missions to manage around the continent, and a ton of local side missions. Connor is no less busy. In helping to establish a solid foothold for the Assassins in North America, there are a lot of different factions to impress through a large number of side missions (both land-based and sea-based). On top of it all, Connor manages the Homestead, taking people in to create a self-sufficient community that is able to produce goods for trading. Connor himself his hands dirty quite often; you’ll find that on top of the more structured missions, you will be raiding convoys and hunting the local fauna for the bounty of products provided (fur, oil, teeth, claws, etc.) – and the value of these products is determined by how skillful your kill is.
By virtue of following Revelations, the game is emotionally charged for fans – but on it’s own, it carries its own weight in dramatic delivery. There are no wasted moments – even side-mission cinematics add to the story. Voice acting throughout the game (in both cut-scenes and game-play) is absolutely amazing, accompanying the visuals seamlessly. The accents are all believable, adding to the atmosphere***. The voice actor who portrays Connor, is a perfect match for the passionate character, who manages to help others while trying to keep himself emotionally at arm’s length. He is naive and brash, but his heart is in the right place. The steel that is Connor is tempered by Achilles Davenport, an elderly man who becomes Connor’s mentor. Providing advice and tough love, Achilles is voiced by another skilled actor. These two alone will hold you transfixed – but there are many others who contribute to the overall power of the experience.
In addition to a fantastic single-player campaign, multi-player has been tweaked from the days of Revelations. Mostly, the scenarios are a kill-quietly-or-be-killed-even-more-quietly, in which you have targets that you are hunting while being hunted yourself. It is a fairly thrilling (and sometimes frustrating) affair; it is presented well and has plenty of tutorials so that you can learn how to die less frequently. Also, aside from competitive modes, there are cooperative modes that you can sink your teeth into as a group instead of sinking your teeth into each other.
The boys play a friendly game of Roshambo.
For those of you that don’t own a PS3, Xbox 360 or a reasonably-powered PC, there is good news! This title is also available on the Wii U! The graphics and sounds are very close to the PS3/Xbox 360 – plus you can play using the GamePad. While it doesn’t look as pretty as playing it on a big screen, it’s a nice option for those who wish to free up their television to someone else. If you choose to use the GamePad as a supplement to your main screen, you get the benefit of a decent-sized map and the ability to summon your horse by touching your screen; this frees up a quick slot for you to be able to quickly select something more useful – like another weapon.
If you haven’t bought this game yet, and you enjoyed any of the prior titles in the series, you really need to go to your local videogame store right now and buy this. Glitches aside, the game is fairly solid, and my only gripes are: that the number of naval missions is fairly small relative to the size of the game; the requirements for full synchronization are displayed very briefly (so ensure you check your objectives frequently so as not to miss anything).
If you’re new to the series (or videogames in general), you might want to pick up the previous titles in the franchise (or read the Wikis) before you get this. Once you start, you can play through the main adventure; or you can choose to do all of the side missions along the way. In either case, you had better strap yourself in for one of the most story-filled, thoroughly enjoyable titles ever*****.