There is exactly just one image that encapsulates the Assassin’s Creed fanchise, which is of a hooded figure balancing atop some kind of skyscraper parapet, looking down at the city below. It’s a snapshot that shows off a lot of what makes these games special which are their incredible attention to detail, breath-taking vertacality, amazing architecture and very unique historical settings. It also however represents the series limitations. These games are easy to admire, but you might often feel a bit distanced from them too, being held back from inhabiting these worlds as fully as you’d like to. We’ve always been on the outside looking in.
This isn’t so with Assassin’s Creed III which hauls the series across the ocean into a new setting that’s absolutely bursting at the seams with things to do. It turns a fascinating and quite often talked about section of history into a vast, open world, playground letting you conquer the rooftops, stalking the forests, and sail the seas of a revolutionary America and writing a main storyline that puts you right in the middle of the most important events of the Revolutionary War. It’s all about having the freedom of movement that the game provides you and immersing yourself in it’s world, along with setting up the set-piece assassinations that form the climax of each chapter.
With the storyline missions following the usual pattern of gathering information, stalking and eventually killing your target, (along with the odd and rather clunky naval mission which is thrown in for variety) out of this however you’re free to do whatever your heart desires. Hunt for trinkets, climb over the rooftops of New York to chase down almanac pages, or pick fights with with the British on behalf of the population.
There is a vast amount of content in this game from liberating Boston and New York, to building up a homestead on the frontier to sailing high seas, or just enjoying the outdoors and hunting the wildlife. It is because Assassin’s Creed III is so huge that it can be pretty inconsistent as it attempts to provide an astonishing amount to which it doesn’t always succeed.
Assassin’s Creed III follows the story of the hot-tempered Native American Assassin, Connor Kenway for most of his entire life. Starting a skillful tree climbing kid, to troubled young man, to vengeful adult. Not wanting to spoil anything however, he’s not the only character you will play as. Connor’s path intersects within key moments of the American Revolution. This path includes leading him to being part of the Battle at Bunker Hill. Connor finds himself fighting on the side of the patriots for most of the game. However since he has enemies on both sides of the conflict, his motivations for doing so has little to do with the fight for independence from the British Crown.
Connor also isn’t as straightforwardly charming as Ezio from Assassin’s Creed II, and even though the writing is excellent for the most part, you never quite warm up to Connor nor grow to resent the villains in quite the same way. It’s rather impossible to fully discuss as to why exactly this is without giving away some of the story’s plot. Which I will not do here as there are some really great moments in the game. A purely negative aspect of the plot however is that Connor feels more like an errand boy, then freedom fighter, within the missions Assassin’s Creed III can feel very scripted, fettering you with rigid objectives and punishing you harshly when you step outside the boundaries. Chase sequences here are particularly infuriating and frustrating on this front. Despite this, the game is often at its best outside of the story, when it leaves you to enjoy and inhabit its world.
Technologically speaking, Assassin’s Creed III is astounding. It has an excellent opening in a London opera house which is a great showcase for the new and improved animations, crowd physics and freedom of movement. However as soon as you hit the New World, it is all about the great outdoors. The story in Assassin’s Creed III spans decades and throughout that time, you get to see the beautiful forests and cities of Connor’s homeland covered in heavy snow, gleaming in the autumn morning light, and blooming in the summer. You can’t help but be in awe as you walk through the streets of a bustling Boston or New York, which are full of people, and activity.
Unfortunately however, Assassin’s Creed III falls victim to it’s own technological ambition. Texture pop-ins, frame-rate drops, and the occasional graphical glitches are also part of this experience. The loading times are also hefty. Although most of these problems have been fixed with a day one patch, it still feels petty to begrudge the game for these hiccups especially when Assassin’s Creed III is one of those games that pushes the boundaries of the 7th generation.
The basics of the franchise in terms of the free running and combat have been honed to near perfection. The free-running has been simplified and improved upon greatly. Scaling the rock faces and branches of the frontier is no more difficult then climbing the ornate architecture of Rome or Constantinople. The Animus interface is also more clear and less intrusive then before. Every element of the HUD is customizable letting you choose how much visual help that you actually want.
Combat on the other hand is still a fairly simplistic parry and counter system but it’s made much more exciting when it shows the excellent, yet gruesome kill animations. You also have a big selection of weapons to choose from. Although oddly in order to swap out your weapons, you will have to visit either the homestead mansion or a shop. Trying to remain hidden is can be much more satisfying then causing a giant brawl. Attempting to stay incognito during assassination missions is extremely challenging and mostly for the right reasons. Assassin’s Creed III is a much more combat focused game then any of the previous entries; there’s a lot less leaping around ruined buildings and much more stalking and killing man and beast alike.
Like before, multi-player is an unexpected pleasure, placing the finely honed running, and killing mechanics of the single player experience into an inventive and surprisingly new context. There is Wolf-Pack Mode which is a co-op score attack where you and your friends work together to kill the npc targets. It is insanely entertaining, yet at the same time it’s still the familiar Assassinate mode that holds the most appeal. By playing the multi-player you unlock an impressively built full formed branching story about the Animus and Abstergo that provides that extra motivation to keep playing.
The one thing that is really holding back Assassin’s Creed III is its pacing, as it can be very frustrating especially for the first third of the story. At the beginning of Connor’s story, it feels like you are kept on a very short leash, your actions and movements are dictated by the plot for a good threeish hours. This can be disappointing when you’ve had a taste of the epicness that is the open world. It is sure a low point that lasts too long, and the game only really recovers when it sets you free to explore at your own pace.
After that, the mini map opens up with enticing icons inviting you to join hunting clubs, explore with frontiersmen, recruit your own assassin underlings in New York and Boston by loosening the Templar’s grip on the cities, or take part in hours of optional naval missions that put you behind the wheel of your very own ship. How much you engage in all these optional stuff will depend on how much you like the game itself. If you just stick strictly to just the story based missions, you might find yourself growing frustrated and even bored with the frequent cut-scenes. However if you allow yourself an hour or two of exploration between them, the game’s rhythm gets to be much better. The naval missions in particular are a real highlight. They’re dramatic and the feeling of steering the ship against the ocean’s swell and battling through unfavorable winds is really convincing.
Even though Assassin’s Creed III’s variety and freedom is in many ways a saving grace, it is also problematic as well. There is a vast amount of things to do, but not 100 percent of it is integrated into the over arching story. While the optional things like the naval battles, fort assaults, and the Homestead missions are great, meanwhile other things feel unfinished, or tacked on just to add to the games overall length. These include the Boston and New York underground tunnels, trading and crafting, and training your Assassin recruits. These features are only half realized and overall feel like wasted ideas and opportunities. How much you enjoy the game will depend heavily on how much willing you are to figure out and engage with these optional activities on your own because the game doesn’t guide your hand towards them.
Despite it’s flaws, Assassin’s Creed III is still a very enjoyable overall yet the problems that exist hold the game down from achieving what it could be. Not everything about the game melds together convincingly and the missions unnecessary hand holding that sometimes undermine the sense of freedom that the rest of the game works so hard to create. However it achieves so much that you can’t help but respect it. No other open world game has given us a setting that is as impressive to observe as it is to play through.
Connor’s story has its flaws but it still tells a tale much larger and compelling than most other games can manage. Being set in a fascinating period of history, Assassin’s Creed III may not be a huge improvement over its predecessors, as many fans were hoping for but it’s still up there in terms for the best of what the series has achieved so far.
Final Rating: 8.7/10