History Repeating Itself?
A friend of mine teaches a history class at a high school. A few years ago he noticed his students were going from C-grade mediocrity to A-grade brilliance almost overnight. He was perplexed, so he asked them what exactly it was that had suddenly made them such experts on, of all people, the Borgias...
The answer, of course, was the Assassin's Creed series. Ubisoft's incredible open-world action games use people, events and locations plucked from history to form the basis of their sprawling, Grand Theft Auto-style adventures. And on the basis of Assassin's Creed III, my friend's students are about to become experts on the American Revolution, because once they get stuck into Connor Kenway's story, they will be just as hooked as they were by Ezio Auditore.
Connor isn't as funny or compelling a character as Ezio was, and the men and women of the American Revolution aren't as engaging as people like Leonardo da Vinci, but it won't really matter, because the game world is every bit as captivating. Set across the wooden cities of Boston and New York and the vast wilderness of the Frontier, this is a beautiful new universe to play in, and new gameplay ideas - like treetop traversal - mean that moving across it is more varied fun, too.
Making a Killing
The main story missions Connor undertakes can be a little bland in places, although there are some incredible assassinations to perform if you persevere and don't get upset by having to restart missions when you're seen by a guard. But the real heart of Assassin's Creed III is the more freeform play that emerges when you load up the game, pick an icon on the map, and then travel towards it, delving into whatever distractions you encounter on the way.
There are more of these than there have ever been before - probably in all of the previous Assassin's Creed games put together. You can captain a ship, which is fantastic fun, or build up a Frontier Homestead, or attack convoys, invade forts, hunt for treasure, collect numerous items, meet strange people who give you unusual tasks, investigate ghost stories, and so many more things. This review could be a dozen times as long and we would still have more new things to talk about. Hunting is a particular highlight, as it brings together the wonderful tree-climbing free-runs and the new rope-dart, which is Connor's best new tool along with the tomahawk.
Assassin's Creed is also famous for the multiple layers of intrigue that it sews throughout its fiction, and Assassin's Creed III is no exception, although it is perhaps a little lumpy in how it goes about this. There are a few too many playable prologues before the game gets going, and the end of Desmond Miles' story, the man whose genetic memories you are exploring as Connor (don't worry if you missed all this - there's a handy recap video just after the title screen), won't please everyone. There is unlikely to be the same uproar that greeted the conclusion to the Mass Effect series, but people who have invested themselves in the games' fiction may wonder why Desmond's adventure is allowed to go out the way it does.
You won't mind in the long run, though, because as soon as the (seemingly endless) credits roll, you'll be back on the Frontier, hunting animals, gathering feathers, stirring up trouble with the Templars and British army, and working on that overall completion percentage, which may only be at around 40% when you finish the game after 25-30 hours anyway. This is an incredibly vast game that represents astonishing value for money.
Creed Of The Crop
Another example of that is the multiplayer, which features various new modes like Wolf Pack on top of the already-excellent ones that were born in Brotherhood and Revelations. The simple game of trying to identify and kill your target in a field of non-player characters - while someone is trying to do the same to you - remains ingenious, as you try to blend in and avoid suspicion at the same time you're trying to move closer to the person you're aiming to kill.
For the first time, the action in multiplayer has been forced to spill over onto a second disk (at least on Xbox 360), which is a testament to just how vast the single-player game is, but also to how much more effort has gone into multiplayer, which now feels as fully formed, deep and interesting as its equivalents in shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield. You level up, you unlock abilities, you have tons of goals and awards to work towards, and you can even unlock more content for the campaign.
Assassin's Creed III isn't a flawless game - it feels a little creaky at times due to the age of some of its control systems and the sheer hard work that the engine is being subjected to by the desires of its developers - but it is an astonishing achievement on a number of levels and represents the current pinnacle of the series' ambition, if not its finest hour, which is probably still Brotherhood. This is a different kind of adventure to that of Ezio, then, but it's no less brilliant. Buy it. Your teacher will be impressed.
- Incredible value for money - so much content.
- Wonderful American Revolution setting.
- Fantastic multiplayer.
- Technology is starting to feel a little long in the tooth.
- Not as funny as its predecessors.
- Takes quite a long time to get going.