The game begins with a cinematic showing Desmond's father William contemplating the end of the world, and how its fate may very well lie in Desmond's hands. You get a brief rundown of the themes from prior games, how Desmond is an assassin who is at war with the Templars, now run by a company called Abstergo Industries – the same company that developed the Animus. The war between Assassins and Templar's has always taken centre stage, but the bigger concern now is the impending destruction of Earth, scheduled for December 12, 2012.
How do we know this? Visions of a prior race, perhaps from the very first civilization on Earth, have been appearing before Desmond, and they've brought him to a long-lost cave where Desmond must figure out exactly what's going on, who he can trust, and, most importantly, how to save the world.
If you've never played an Assassin's Creed game before, don't worry, you get a quick tutorial at the beginning of the game that takes you through the basics of how to play. On-screen prompts will alert you any time you have a new move at your disposal, usually at a time when you can put the new move into action. For returning players the game's mechanics will be immediately familiar, as not a whole lot has changed with regards to controlling Connor and Desmond.
The game takes place in Boston and New York, starting in 1753 (and spans a couple of decades) -- a time when Americans are fighting the British for independence. This setting is in stark contrast to prior game which were set in the Middle East, and Ubisoft has taken advantage of it in a number of ways. A large section of the game's map is called the Frontier, a forest region full of trees, cliffs, streams, caves and vicious wildlife.
Another area of the map is the Homestead, where Connor lives. During the game you'll meet plenty of citizens who have been displaced from their homes for one reason or another, and you can encourage them to set up shop on the Homestead. Doing so gives you access to new items which can be traded with stores (at a tidy profit), or in the crafting of recipes which you'll find in your travels. The more citizens you recruit the more items you'll have at your disposal, and the livelier the Homestead becomes.
The Homestead, as well as the docks of Boston and New York, give you access to an all-new mission type, namely naval battles. In these missions you are the captain of a ship, so you control the steering and speed of the vessel, as well as the aiming and firing of its cannons. Smaller ships can be dispatched easily, either with guns or by ramming. Bigger ships require the use of cannons, which are only fired off the starboard (or right for you land-lubbers) side. Enemy ships will happily fire back, but you can limit their damage by bracing the ship with a well-timed press of the square button. The naval missions are entertaining and generally short, with many lasting less than five minutes.
Along with story missions there are plenty of activities to keep you busy in Assassin's Creed 3. There are a ton of collectibles to find, including missing pages from Benjamin Franklin's almanac, rare bird feathers and treasure chests. Collecting trinkets for a ‘touched' sailor might even lead you to a mysterious buried treasure. As with previous games you can also scale the tallest buildings and trees to synchronise a view, revealing everything in the area on your map.
If tracking down collectibles isn't your cup of tea there are plenty of missions to complete. You can liberate the people of Boston and New York by helping the citizens, or take down a serious of hard-hitting boxers in boxing matches. There are standard assassination contracts and more forts to overthrow. You can even debunk urban myths such as the Headless Horseman and UFOs for freaked out frontiersmen. You can also hunt animals in the Frontier if that's more your style.
It's not just Connor that disappoints on the character front, as many of the secondary characters feel generic, and the tasks you have to perform for them lack inspiration. Of the ten or so people I convinced to move to the homestead only the Irish loggers held much interest for me, with the rest being entirely forgettable.
Actually, the most interesting characters in the game are Templar's, but this too was problematic. The writers have deliberately blurred the lines between right and wrong in the fight between Assassin's and Templar's, but at what cost? It makes for some interesting plot developments, but it also devalued much of what has gone before by inferring neither side is right, and the battle between them has been nothing more than petty squabbles. That sucked a lot of the epic-ness out of not just this game, but the entire Assassin's Creed story for me.
New to multiplayer this year is the cooperative Wolfpack mode, where up to four players take down a series of AI targets, aiming to score enough points to proceed to the next level. There are 25 levels in all, and getting there is no easy feat. Again you receive the most points for stealthy kills, but in my experience players simply sprint from one target to the next, not bothering with stealth in the slightest.
There's also a surprisingly deep Abstergo Story mode, which unlocks as you level up your multiplayer character. Here you get to watch videos and read articles about the development of Abstergo Industries, as well as unlock new avatars and abilities for your character. This gives you a strong reason to keep playing the multiplayer games, though whether you'll have the necessary commitment to make it to level 50 remains to be seen.
Visually the game is frequently excellent, but it is let down by plenty of small glitches. The most impressive element is, as always, the fantastic world Ubisoft have created. Whether you're in New York, Boston or onboard a ship, the level of detail is outstanding, and you really do get the impression of living in 1750s America. Out in the wild the use of colours is fantastic, making almost every view a sight to behold. Weather has been introduced, and you'll now get to walk through rain and snow as well as sunshine. Characters and animals look genuinely impressive across the board too. One big thing I've neglected to mention up until now, but still very important – the screen tearing that plagued the previous games is gone. Completely. Top marks Ubisoft.
The sound, as you'd expect from a blockbuster title, is top-notch. From the sweeping music to the sound effects of wild animals, just about everything is spot on. The voice-acting is mostly great, but there are some lines that lack tone or expression, and feel mailed in. Also at times voices get extremely soft for no apparent reason, which can be annoying when it causes you to miss details. Overall though, the sound is an area of strength for Assassin's Creed 3 those small issues aside.
Assassin's Creed 3 is a massive game that freshens up the series with a move out of ancient times and into an all new, exciting location. The addition of naval battles goes down well too, with these missions offering the most interesting new gameplay mechanics. The story and some characters were a big turnoff for me, but this is highly subjective, so it's hard to criticize too much. For the most part Assassin's Creed 3 lives up to the high-quality games that have gone before it. Whether you've played the previous games before or not, Assassin's Creed 3 is definitely worth checking out if you like action/adventure games.
Review By: Mike Allison