Assassin’s Creed III Single-Player Review (360)
- Updated: 30th Oct, 2012
Shhh! Be vewy, vewy quiet: I’m hunting wabbits! Elmer J. Fudd
It’s also a bloody and brutal romp through the history of American Independence as Desmond Miles continues his quest to stop the global apocalypse on 21st Dec 2012. After skinning my 30th animal, thoughts of the impending apocalypse were far from my mind. I was thinking about victim number 31.
This time Desmond, who is still as crushing dull as ever, takes control of Connor Kenway, a half-English, half-Mohawk character through 30 years of his life. It’s quite an eventful life with a bewildering amount of missions to complete, cities to explore and a whole variety of animals, soldiers and tea to murder. If you think you could take on British adventurer Bear Grylls at his own survival game, AC3 gives you the chance to prove it.
The new lead Assassin is the biggest character change in the series since Assassin’s Creed II was released in 2009. If Connor was a Bond, he’d be very much a Daniel Craig version of Bond – aggressive, brutal and very physical. I see Ezio as very much the charmer – the Roger Moore of the series whereas Altaïr is, of course, Sean Connery.
There’s a New Guy in Town
Playing as Connor was a strange experience. It was all new, yet familiar at the same time. He felt like a nimbler, stronger version of Ezio but without his predecessor’s elegance when inflicting each coup de grâce.
There were a few occasions during the many mass brawls where Connor’s deft touches with a weapon really impressed. The rest of the time I pretty much bludgeoned hundreds of people to death. There was a lot of mashing the B (counter) and then X (attack) buttons to not die.
In Connor’s hands each weapon, especially his Tomahawk, made a splendidly bloody mess of anything in range. The Assassin’s Creed games have never pulled their punches when it comes to showing graphic violence, but with Conner, Ubisoft have reached a new level of brutality level. Practically every character, at some point, is bathed in blood. Connor practically rips a person’s face off with one of his finishing moves.
Along with this added brutality is another big change. The bottom left of the screen is home to a shiny new health bar which is fixed in size and (slowly) recharges when you’re injured. This slow recharge signals the end of the health vials that allowed for a quick mid-battle recharge in the previous games.
With Connor’s counter move now a lot less powerful than Ezio’s and almost every guard coming armed with a long rifle, every fight is a lot more perilous. After the luxury of the silky smooth (and easy) battles of Brotherhood and Revelations, AC3 had me outside my comfort zone from the start. Instead of running headlong into a group of guards and stabbing everyone to death, I now either avoided contact or picked them off one by one.
My old tried and trusted fighting style was getting my arse kicked, stabbed and shot to bits. So I was forced to change and become a lot more stealthy. I even had to learn new ways to fleeing too as the roof-top hideouts and tightly packed housing to quickly break line-of-sight were gone. The first time I got in to a street fight it took me about 10 minutes to finally escape. AC3 is one tough cookie.
Shockingly, the magnificently overpowered knee-to-the groin manoeuvre (AC: Revelations top tip no. 3) now cannot be executed on its own. Instead it’s part of Connors general attack and only gets unleashed occasionally. As Assassin’s Creed aficionados well know; if in doubt get the knee out. But in AC3, that’s not possible any more.
The game engine has been rebuilt from the ground up to deliver weather effects, masses of NPCs, huge environments and sea battles. Practically from the start I could go anywhere I wanted. The “memory not available” boundaries of previous games are all but gone. On the occasions they did appear I was met with a much more imposing, mirrored wall effect, crackling with electricity.
You’ll find streets of 18th century Boston packed to the rafters with traders, children, animals and masses of Redcoats (British soldiers). This is all a massive improvement over the previous games especially when I glimpsed the city covered in a light sprinkling of snow at sunrise. It looks beautiful. Wading knee-deep through snow and through torrential rain brings a whole new feel to the game. For instance, you can use the changing environmental conditions to sneak up on soldiers, who can’t see a thing in the rain.
A Walk in the Countryside
Once I’d left the city of Boston and ventured out into the frontier lands, I started to understand the sheer scale of the world Ubisoft had built. Forests that stretched far away into distance could be explored on foot, on horseback or using Connor’s new tree-based parkour skills. If you can see it, you can explore it.
Even though there were very few humans to be found, the forests were far from devoid of life. Darting around everywhere were many different species of animals. I spent a while just watching the forest live. As in real life, the smaller species were preyed on by larger predators, although I’m yet to witness any of the animals having sex. Connor’s not David Attenborough quite yet.
Hunting animals is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in any Assassin’s Creed game. Sure you can kill them with your crossbow from a distance but you get much better rewards, like undamaged pelts, hearts and teeth, if you kill with your hands.
Unlike most of the human characters in the game, animals get spooked by the slightest noise or movement so you’ll have to be ultra-quiet, setting traps and surprising your prey. This meant I spent hours exploring the forest, tracking down raccoons, elks, rabbits, beavers, bears and even baby bears. Yes, I killed a family of bears. I’m a monster.
You also have a new home in the frontier, called the homestead. It’s initially a bit dilapidated and in need of renovation. By completing various nearby missions and saving people from bandits, bears and other disasters you can build up a town of workers to produce the raw materials for trading via convoys and crafting new items. This both earns you money and helps rebuild your house.
The homestead missions are entirely optional, as are the missions for tracking down and killing different types of animal in each of the frontier areas. If you want to kill (forgive the pun) a few hours, exploring the wilderness is the perfect place for it.
Prepare for Ramming Speed
Another big addition to the game is the sea missions. Taking command of a rather nimble ship (at half sail at least) is simple enough. But before you’ve had chance to find your sea legs you’re thrown in to full-on marine warfare. These battles aren’t easy. They required a certain amount of controller dexterity to both aim and fire the ship’s cannons at the same time as avoiding rocks and enemy cannon fire. These missions did provide a nice distraction from running about on land.
In all the hours spent playing the game I didn’t once have to play any sort of tower defence game. Thankfully, Ubisoft have realised the error of their ways and consigned what was a very unwelcome addition to AC: Revelations to history. Down with tower defence!
AC3 is not without its fair share of faults. The pacing throughout the main plot missions is annoyingly inconsistent. Ideas that (probably) worked well on paper have been transformed into mind-numbingly dull sequences with little or no interesting gameplay. What is more frustrating is that you have to relinquish control of Connor to get through many of these sequences. From a game that gives you a magnificent open-world to freely roam around, to then constrain the player, crippling them to conform to the needs of another cinematic moment feels odd. The game should be designed to guide the player, not force them into actions, as Journey from thatgamecompany so beautifully demonstrated.
Maintaining the Legacy
Even with a new game engine, AC3 still suffers from a number of graphical and AI glitches, many of which can be found in previous games. I came across one poor NPC, half buried in the middle of a Boston street. Watching him struggle to escape his unexpected situation made the whole scene even more macabre.
A similar fate befell numerous soldiers too, the most annoying of which forced me to restart a mission. I was attempting to infiltrate a ship, but this one soldier became stuck in part of the scenery and ended up simply spinning round on the spot to foil my every attempt to sneak up on him. This of course took place in one of “insta-fail the mission upon detection” sections that Ubisoft’s designers love to put in the game.
The in-game camera also has its problems. Practically all the viewpoint synchronisations have the camera set too low. Rather than showing a nice view of the surrounding environment, instead you get a close up of Connors feet and ankles. It ends up looking a bit odd and unfinished. [Worse than that, it destroys the whole reward of climbing up the bleeding viewpoint in the first place - ed.]
I lost count of the number of times I had my view blocked by a tree, bush or bit of building. The camera, especially during fight sequences, had very little spatial awareness. It was almost as bad as playing the first Tomb Raider game from 1996. Connor even went so far as committing suicide during one battle as his killing animation rolled him straight into a burning section of ship.
For an open-world game, AC3 gets really arsey if you don’t follow a set path when partnering up with a NPCs during plot missions. While exploring some sewers under Boston my companion kept saying, “I don’t think that’s the right way.” They even refused to walk any further at one point. So what the hell was the point of building a map that I’m not meant to explore?
Sure you can buy a nice sword or a heavy weapon but these provide minimal improvements. There are some new outfits too but these are so cheap that you can purchase them all quickly enough. It’s also pointless buying any supplies (bait, traps or arrows etc) as there are more than enough dead bodies to loot to keep your stocks well replenished. The only thing that does suck up tons of money is upgrading your ship to take out on the (optional) treasure hunting missions. Buying reinforced hull or adding new cannons can cost up to £19,000. This amount of cash, in the new AC3 economy, is a lot since you only get around a few hundred from each animal kill.
With no financial incentive, the whole trading, stockpile and crafting mechanic at the homestead is purposeless, unless you’re achievement hunting. Even the missions to train your assassins – achieved in a similar fashion to AC: Brotherhood – are not necessary to burn through the main plot.
Assassin’s Creed 3 is a mightily impressive game. Its huge playing area never ceases to amaze. I spent so much time deep in the woods lying in wait, hunting bears and wolves. From commanding a ship to taking part in huge land battles, AC3 is never short of challenges.
But the enjoyment unravels somewhat as the game mechanics force you to comply with a pre-determined path, an NPC that refuses to deviate from a set route or cut sequence that must be activated by standing in exactly the right spot. It’s frustrating.
The various graphical and AI problems that have dogged the series since its inception still remain. However, ultimately it is worth persevering past these annoyances to lose yourself in an beautiful 18th century American wilderness.
The Assassin’s Creed series continues to be escapism at its best.