I don’t think Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed III will have as much of an impact as the American Revolutionary War, but the masterfully crafted open-world game does give you a front row seat for watching the drama of the Revolution unfold. You’ll get to ride with Paul Revere, fight in the battle of Bunker Hill, and meet a future President or two – which is great for history buffs, but you don’t have to know who those guys are to appreciate the game. You might learn a thing or two as the story whisks you from Boston to Philadelphia to New York, but it’s the richness of the world and all its diversions that you’ll remember most about Assassin’s Creed III.
The story starts a bit slow and I don’t want to spoil anything by telling you exactly why. You should go in realizing you control a separate character to start out and this sequence serves as a tutorial for the game’s many systems, but it drags a bit as you sometimes have to cross long distances of boring countryside. The game opens up considerably once you meet Connor, the half-Native American you see on the box, but unfortunately he’s just not very endearing. He’s had a hard life, but Connor reacts with anger or indignation at the slightest provocation and spends most of the cutscenes yelling or complaining. Thankfully the supporting cast of characters provides comic relief with scenes like Benjamin Franklin dictating his treatise on the virtues of sleeping with older women.
With the series’ concentration on athletic leaps from rooftop to rooftop, you might be wondering how Assassin’s Creed III pulled off the Colonial American setting. Brick buildings and ramshackle wooden warehouses are a far cry from the skyline of Rome. Well, you needn’t worry, it’s just as fun to climb cliffs and trees, taking the characteristic Leaps of Faith from the top of Beacon Hill or the upper branches of a tall tree, into handily placed piles of hay. Running and jumping is fluid, and other than the occasional hiccup making you zig Connor when you should have zagged, it’s enjoyable to traipse through the woods of New England or the streets of Boston alike.
True to Assassin’s Creed pedigree, there’s a seemingly endless stream of secondary content to indulge in. First off, it’s actually fun to play as Desmond as he explores an ancient temple to unlock the secrets of the meta-story. As Connor, the larger land mass gives you so much to do that it’s almost overwhelming. You can map the underground tunnels of Boston, hunt animals to fulfill the challenges of the Hunting Society, and beat up boxers in the Boston Brawlers club. You have a homestead and you invite people to settle on your land. Once they move in, you buy materials like lumber or raccoon skins from them and then send convoys to merchants to sell your goods for profit. You can even assassinate Templars and infiltrate their forts to increase the Assassin’s influence and attract new recruits to the order, which you can in turn send on missions. Each activity increases your emotional connection to Connor’s home and to the land of the free that the story missions let you fight for.
Of particular note are the dozens of mostly optional naval missions. There’s something extremely satisfying about how easy it is to captain Connor’s own ship, the Aquila, as you hunt down British fleets or privateers. The missions in storms are just exhilarating, huge waves crashing over the rails as you frantically steer to loose broadside cannon fire on your pursuers. As with all the missions, you can replay them to fulfill secondary objectives like taking less damage or sinking enemies using specific tactics like ramming; the missions are so fun and bite-sized enough that it’s a joy to try them several times back-to-back to try to fulfill each special condition.
Truth be told, sneaking around to assassinate a target on land can be tedious at times, but usually these objectives aren’t tied to the completion of the mission. Stealth is typically a secondary objective, which means you can fight your way to beat the missions if you don’t feel like sneaking. Sometimes though, just being seen by a guard will force you to restart the mission. In those few cases, get ready for some repetitive trial-and-error because Connor’s usual loping stride will make him pretty dang noticeable. Then again, perhaps the effort to remain stealthy is exactly what makes a successful assassination so satisfying. Just be aware that you won’t be able to run through every mission.
Fighting Redcoats or Patriots – yes, Connor is an equal opportunity protagonist who attacks both sides, if warranted – can feel a bit simple at times, but the animations are smooth. There’s a huge variety of movements Connor can take in battle from slashing with a cavalry sword or inserting a hidden blade in the soft skin of an opponent’s neck. Reloading firearms takes too long to rely upon within battle, but it’s incredibly fun to snatch up a musket from a fallen foe, and get off a shot at a charging Redcoat before dropping the unwieldy weapon and dashing into the shadows.
The multiplayer keeps with the engaging cat-and-mouse gameplay from Brotherhood in which your avatar looks like townsfolk NPCs and your human opponents have to figure out who is an assassin and who is just another Native American strolling down the lane. It’s really fun to try to blend your movements in with the crowd so you’re harder to detect, but over the course of a ten minute match, you’ll start to recognize your opponent’s costume and know when he or she is tailing you. There’s even a neat little story you can unlock in the multiplayer that expands on the Order of Assassins’ struggles against Abstergo Industries and the Templars who control it.
Bottom Line: Assassin’s Creed III lets you jump into an intriguing point in history, and it succeeds on nearly every level with nimble combat, fun diversions and the chance to captain your own ship. Connor might not be an altogether likeable hero, but the New World he’s fighting to protect is one you won’t forget.
Recommendation: Grab it as soon as you can. For how much quality gameplay it offers, Assassin’s Creed III feels like four independently excellent games rolled into one.[rating=5]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.