After what was possibly one too many outings into Renaissance Italy, Assassin’s Creed is back, this time with a whole new historical setting: Revolutionary America. Ezio is long dead, with Connor, a half-English, half-Native American, taking his place as the main protagonist. Of course, Desmond is still there in the modern day, reliving all the action through his genetic memory, but it’s a long established fact that he’s about as exciting as a long wait in a beige cell. Thankfully, ACIII’s story finally brings Desmond’s arc to a conclusion and, more importantly, it does so in a satisfying, thrilling way, with plenty of action and twists along the way.
Although the story elements relating to an ancient master race are still completely ridiculous, on the whole the plot presented in ACIII does a good job of bringing closure to a lot of long-standing questions, whilst also offering plenty of self-contained narrative high-points.
Obviously, anyone who hasn’t played Assassin’s Creed II and its sequels won’t have very much idea about what’s going on; this is the final entry into a long-lived series after all. Without giving too much away, the modern-day Assassins are now in America, attempting to access an ancient temple and avert a global crisis. In order to get to the temple’s innermost chamber, they need a special amulet, hidden in a secret location. To find the amulet, Desmond must re-enter the Animus and use Connor’s memories to find where it is located. Along the way, Connor will meet some of the founding fathers of America, take part in the conflict between colonists and the British, and, of course, assassinate a load of people.
I’m sure that nearly everyone this side of the Atlantic will breathe a collective sigh of relief to hear that ACIII isn’t fifteen hours’ worth of pro-American spin, full of patriotic cries of ‘USA!’ and stupid English accents. In fact, especially in respect of famous figures like George Washington, the game offers one of the most balanced and historically-accurate accounts available in popular culture. On a slightly less enthusiastic note, locations such as Boston, New York and the American countryside, as accurately realised and researched as they are, fail to inspire the same sense of majesty that the series’ other locations did. Having visited such iconic locations as the Coliseum and Jerusalem, ACIII’s locations come across as a little underwhelming. The same goes for the character of Connor who, compared to his predecessor Ezio, and the other character from ACIII, is a little bit boring and not all that likeable. Overall, he feels like more of a vehicle for the plot, rather than an integral part of it.
Fortunately, whilst the game’s main character and plot may stumble at times, the gameplay itself is better than ever. Free-running has been vastly improved, and now feels much more responsive, with errors seeing a reduction as well. It’s still not perfect (be prepared to repeatedly dive in and out of haystacks and occasionally leap for a ledge that is not there) but it’s as good as it has ever been. Combat also reaches new heights – a range of weapons and gadgets are at Connor’s disposal, allowing for some interesting and deadly combinations (tomahawk and smoke bomb, anyone?). Essentially, combat boils down to a satisfying block and counter system that, despite being relatively simple, still proves challenging enough to be fun.
Outside of the familiar free-running and combat elements, ACIII also introduces a host of new features. Among these is the new naval combat mode where players are given control of their own battleship, and are able to sail the high seas and fight for control of the waves. Success in these missions increases trade, which grants access to more abilities and upgrades. It’s a fun idea that is well implemented, as are hunter-gatherer sections. Old features, such as the recruitment and training of other assassins, also return. With these additions, numerous hidden items to be found, plus a new Homestead to upgrade, there is plenty to keep completists happy. However, it does say something about the main quest when the most enjoyable aspects of a game are the optional extras and side quests, and the sheer amount of things on offer here can sometimes prove distracting, resulting in the narrative’s pacing being broken.
In terms of presentation, this is a fantastic looking game, with beautiful graphics on display in cities, the country and at sea. The downside is that the framerate sometimes suffers, and texture pop-in will be a familiar sight. The music is consistently good – creating a strong atmosphere without over-imposing, and the voice acting is generally good (there are a few laughable moments, but these are quickly forgotten).
On top of all of this, the series’ acclaimed multiplayer returns, now with all-new modes. Whilst the new Wolfpack mode is a nice addition, pitting four co-operating players against increasingly tough AI opposition, the standard PvP mode is still the highlight. This mode is very similar to its predecessor, but still proves to be a tense, adrenaline-fuelled and exciting affair. A long list of upgrades and customisation options ensures that there’s plenty here to encourage players to keep levelling up, even after their nerves are utterly frayed.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed III achieves nearly everything that it set out to do. Against everyone’s expectations, it manages to tie up all of the loose ends from previous games and weave them into a satisfying conclusion. Whilst the setting and protagonist may not be the most inspiring ever seen, they aren’t particularly bad either, and many of the game’s side-characters prove to be some of the series’ most memorable. An abundance of collectibles, side missions and optional challenges, plus a well-developed multiplayer, mean that there is plenty here to keep people busy, even after they’re done with the main quest, which should take about fifteen hours.
After the meandering and unnecessarily lengthy Ezio episodes, Assassin’s Creed III presents a more focused and well-rounded end to Desmond’s story.
Assassin’s Creed III is out now.
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