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November 7, 2012
Assassin's Creed III - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
31/10/2012UbisoftUbisoftUbisoft Montreal12-8
Media HDD Install Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Assassin's Creed III includes changing weather.
You know 'big game season' is upon us when a new Assassin's Creed hits the shelves. Since 2007 a new Assassin's Creed title has been hitting shelves around November every year, and 2012 is no different. The Assassin's Creed franchise has been one of the most successful of this generation and this latest game sees a major shift from earlier times to a more "modern" American Civil War setting which offers up some new and unique gameplay. By any definition Assassin's Creed 3 is a blockbuster title, but is it any good? Read on...

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.

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Surround by soldiers, with guns, in ACIII.
It doesn't take long for the team to set up the Animus, and it's there you'll spend most of your time. In previous games you played as Altair and Ezio, but this time you play as someone new - a Native American named Connor. Connor is a fiery individual, and maintaining an even temper is not one of his best skills. He's fighting the Templars so that his tribe, the Kanien'keha:ka, won't be displaced or killed like so many other tribes before them.

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.

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Assassin's Creed III is a great game.
Climbing trees and cliffs is a little tricky at first, while you get used to the visual cues on where to move to next, but after a while you'll be scampering along almost as smoothly as if you were running along rooftops. Exploring isn't as safe as it used to be though, as animals such as wolves and bears will attack you if you come too close to them out in the wild. When this happens you have to pass a quicktime event (i.e. press the displayed buttons quickly) to avoid damage. You can turn the tables on animals by hunting them for their fur and other body parts, but this wasn't something that interested me particularly, nor does it expand into something more meaningful.

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.

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Taking to the trees for some stealthy action.
New York and Boston, while visually different, are similar to the Middle East locations of prior games in terms of running around. You'll spend most of your time running along busy streets, up walls, over roof-tops and taking shortcuts any time you see them. If you've angered the guards you can still hide among the populace by walking in a group or sitting on a bench, or alternatively you can jump into a haystack and hope the guards don't investigate too closely. All in all it's very familiar.

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.

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Taking a nice paddle down the stream.
It's important that you enjoy these optional missions because the story isn't as engaging as past titles. There are a number of reasons for this, but the two biggest reasons are the characters, specifically Connor, and the direction of the story itself. Connor simply isn't likeable. He's a hot-head who's prone to childish outbursts during cutscenes. He is a young character who grows up as we play the game, but even at the end he's not as wise or likeable as Ezio and Altair were. Some of the decisions he makes, and the explanations he offers for his actions are extremely weak – enough so that I lost all faith in Connor by the end of the game.

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.

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Naval battles are a new, and fun aspect of AC3.
There are a bunch of multiplayer offerings, but they're mostly variants on the same ‘hide and seek' assassination game from previous titles. In these games your objective is to track down and kill targets while avoiding your pursuers. The area you're in is full of lookalike characters so you'll need to use all your moxie to pick out your target properly. You're rewarded with big point bonuses for stealthy kills, or innovative takedowns such as air assassinations.

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.

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Connor prepares to take out an enemy.
Beyond my grumblings about the characters and story, Assassin's Creed 3 suffers from a number of minor issues. Late in the game I found mission icons and combat cues disappeared (the latter happened on and off), and there are plenty of little visual glitches. Free-running is now ‘safe' so your character won't jump off heights that will cause damage, but it doesn't always work as expected, with your character not making jumps you want them to, and also scampering up walls and barrels you didn't want to climb. This is at its most noticeable during the few chase sequences in the game, and if you're anything like me you'll be put off playing by a couple of these sequences. Combat could also use more depth as the simple countering system feels dated. On the whole these are minor issues, only just worth mentioning.

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.

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It's not just bladed weapons in Assassin's Creed 3.
I experienced multiple glitches though, like characters disappearing and re-appearing, lockpicks that got through the wood of a chest rather than into the lock itself and getting stuck on environments. I fell through the ground in a cave once, though I'm not sure the ground was meant to be there seeing as it was half-way down a cliff. Lip-synching is way off, to the point where some characters aren't even moving their mouth while speaking, but given the audio can be listened to in multiple languages, perhaps this is unavoidable.

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

GRAPHICSNo more screen tearing, believable and detailed world and fantastic use of colours out in the wild. Many minor issues though.
SOUNDThe music sets the tone well, and the sound effects are spot on. The voice-acting is mostly excellent too, with just a few flat patches.
GAMEPLAYThe same Assassin's Creed gameplay you know and love, now with naval battles and hunting. A few irritating missions can't bring this down much.
VALUEThe single-player game will last 25 hours or more, and multiplayer should offer at least a few more. Plus you can go back and replay missions you didn't do perfectly first time through.
OVERALLMoving to a new location and time period has breathed new life into an ageing series. There are a few issues, but on the whole Assassin's Creed 3 is well worth investing in.

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