Assassin’s Creed is back in its long-awaited third chapter, beating Half-Life and Kingdom Hearts to the “putting out several expansions/side stories before putting a 3 on the end of the title” punch. This is especially impressive since the first Assassin’s Creed came out after Half-Life 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2. This new Assassin’s Creed game is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and PC (I tested it on the PS3), and it’s the broadest and most polished of the series, earning it our Editors’ Choice.
While you still play Desmond Miles, the protagonist of the Assassin’s Creed series and modern Assassin, the Animus puts you in the shoes of another of his ancestors, just like Altair from Assassin’s Creed and Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed II games. This time you play Connor, the son of an English man and a Native American woman, raised by his mother’s tribe in North America in the mid-1700s.
Connor isn’t as single-minded as Altair or as calm and clever as Ezio, but his dual heritage in the face of the colonial rebellion makes him one of the most personally interesting characters in the series. Connor is torn, not just between his two heritages (he identifies primarily as Native American, spurning his father’s ancestry) but between the looming shadow of either the English or the colonies, if they win their revolution, eventually destroying his tribe. Apart from the standard Assassin versus Templar intrigue, the specter of what the colonists eventually do to the Native Americans adds a weight and hidden desperation to his actions. He fights with the American Revolution, but he is not one of them, and that informs his actions as much as his training as an Assassin.
The basic gameplay is the same as that of the previous games, with a few tweaks and polishes. As always, you’re given the freedom to run and jump through the environments, which in this case include Boston, New York, and the frontier of New England. Free running and climbing is Connor’s primary mode of transportation, coupled with an easy-to-summon horse that makes long-distance travels slightly quicker. Since a third of the game’s setting is wilderness, Connor gets the new ability to climb trees and cliffs, with organically laid branches providing running lines that are just as quick and acrobatic as the rooftops of Boston. There is tremendous freedom and impressive variety, though the copied trees and churches you have to climb to fill your map are too similar to each other. A flipped tree model that makes you climb counter-clockwise instead of clockwise would have made the otherwise identical viewpoints feel fresher.
The cities of Boston and New York and the sprawling frontier look great, with plenty of lush foliage in the summer and dense snow in the winter, and seasonal and weather effects to make the same places feel fresh when you come back. The game stays relatively smooth when dozens of characters appear on-screen during action sequences, and Connor’s animations look more varied and elaborate than Altair’s or Ezio’s. My only minor complaint is the somewhat jarring pop-in and pop-out of people and animals when you spin the camera around quickly, and the bizarre way your horse appears behind you when you call it, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
Both stealth kills and combat are similar to those in previous games. Connor can use his hidden blade and other weapons to silently and secretly kill an enemy, then drag his body away. He can also use guns, bows, and knives to attack enemies from afar. If open combat is triggered by other guards seeing Connor’s work, he can easily fight off a crowd of them using a counter-kill system similar to the one found in Batman: Arkham Asylum, in which you hold the guard button when a marker appears and then strike back to instantly kill most enemies. Guards with guns now form firing lines that trigger different markers, signaling to either jump out of the way or grab a guard and use him for a human shield. Guns add a bit of variety, and they prevent the combat from being too easy.
Besides exploring, stealth, and combat, Assassin’s Creed III adds hunting as a mechanic. When in the wilderness, Conner can stalk and kill wild animals like hares, badgers, deer, and bears. Connor can kill animals and slaughter them for parts, which he can sell for money or use as crafting material at his homestead. Hunting includes stealthily killing animals from trees, using a bow and arrow, or even setting traps and bait and coming back to them later. Connor can even find frontiersmen who tell tall tales in front of campfires and point him towards rare and unique animals.
Ship combat is another new mechanic in the game, letting Connor take the helm of the Aquila, his own ship. There isn’t any free running or stealth in naval combat in this mode, just navigating small sea areas in discrete missions, jockeying for position against enemy ships, and firing a lot of cannons. The combat is surprisingly satisfying, with a variety of ships to fight and a variety of upgrades for the Aquila. Smaller ships can be destroyed with the quick-aiming swivel gun, while frigates and larger vessels need to be broadsided with a volley of cannon fire to damage them.
The game is long and full of side quests, such as collecting items, upgrading your homestead, and fighting privateers. You could probably push through the story in 10-15 hours, but taking the time to do everything is fun and rewarding, and it lets you see more of colonial America. There’s also a fairly complicated crafting and trading system that lets you build things in your homestead and trade them to stores throughout the colonies, with different stores offering different prices and risks based on their routes. The menu system for this aspect is clunky, with a lot of layers to dig into and few ways to organize your different resources, but it’s an optional mechanic. You’ll have to do some crafting to get some of the game’s upgrades like ammunition capacity, though.
The multiplayer mode from previous Assassin’s Creed games returns, letting you play cat and mouse with other Assassins online. Most modes boil down to you taking the role of the assassin or the prey, and success depends as much on blending in and sneaking up on enemies as reacting quickly. There are plenty of customization options, including a Call of Duty-like leveling system that unlocks different skills.
Assassin’s Creed III stands as the best of the series, edging out even the excellent Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood in size, scope, and story. The stealth and combat elements are polished and it’s packed full of content that will keep you playing. Assassin’s Creed III is a clear Editors’ Choice game for a wide variety of platforms.
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|Platform||PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS Vita|
|ESRB Rating||M for Mature|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc