Sunday, 11 November 2012

Review: Assassin's Creed III (PS3)

Assassin's creed as a franchise has become one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world alongside Battlefield, Call of duty and Frogger, every release has been to bigger and bigger applause and with bigger and bigger budgets.

In total on the PS3 at least there have been 5 major titles released in the franchise all dealing with Desmond's story of discovery.  Although this latest title is the third numbered title, it is the fifth game in the story with a whole lot of new features compared to Ezio's adventures in Italy and Constantinople.

Now I admit I was the initally a little wary of the new setting.  The american revolution just seemed like a developer caving in and going the easy route to please an american audience who wave flags and shout "USA, USA" like it means something.  It's an understandable apprehension really since there are plenty of other settings to run around in that would suit the gameplay, but Ubisoft have done a pretty commendable job here with the story, characters and setting.

Character detail and animation are very good and add to the experience
Despite the barrage of marketing images showing us our new protagonist Connor, the game throws us a little by having you start in the boots of Haytham Kenway as he travels to America in the 1750's in search of a first civilisation vault.  It works as a great extended tutorial as you are introduced to all of the basic gameplay features along with a few new ones, such as using human shields to block musket fire.  After a few hours of running around doing the odd side mission and exploring the early map you transition to a younger version of Connor.

Connor's early life is another tutorial that introduces the new hunting elements and frontier tree running mechanics unique to the native americans.  This again takes a few hours to playthrough but the great thing is that this doesn't feel like a tutorial since you have plenty to do during these segments.  Side missions still spring up and the ability to practice your new skills is always available.  After around the five hour mark you finally get to play as Connor when he is all grown up and the game opens up fully.

Without spoiling anything with regards to the story it continues directly after the events of Revelations as Desmond, Shaun, Rebecca and Desmond's father replacing the now dead Lucy find the location of a first civilisation facility which has some importance in preventing a massive solar flare that will destroy the planet.  Desmond must once again journey into his ancestors memories to discover the location of another key to activate something in the facility.

Boston and New York are very detailed and fun to explore
Obviously the most interesting part of the story is Connor's tale as it has always been with the Assassin's creed franchise.  Altair and Ezio are both far more interesting characters compared to Desmond and here Connor is the same.  A man born of native american tradition and culture coming into contact with the new world as it rapidly encroaches on his, is a far more interesting tale than Desmond and his daddy issues.

Compared to Revelations this game has made numerous gameplay additions and improvements including being the first title to open up the game world outside of the normal urban setting.  Yes the original Assassin's creed had travel locations between cities and Ezio did journey on horseback between a few locations, but these where linear and had little that you could do while there.  The frontier in ACIII is a vast location at least the same size as Boston and is teeming with distractions.  Hunting wild animals, collecting feathers, collecting trinkets, opening treasure chests and completing side missions.

Hunting can absorb a lot of your time as you play.  Using eagle vision you can see clues in the enviroment.  Checking them allows you to discover which animal was there recently allowing you to then set traps to lure the creature in.  Depending on how you make the kill affects your reward.  Sloppy kills mean a less valuable fur, while assassinating them from a tree branch will yield a much higher quality fur.  Other parts of the animal can also be harvested for sale or in the use of creating new items.

Quick kills can be chained with the right items equipped
Your Assassin HQ now has more of a metagame feel as you recruit new settlers to live on the homestead with you.  The more settlers you have the more items and shops will appear, basically turning the area into a small town.  Settlers are recruited by completing missions specific to them, usually involving the assassination of some poachers or wild animal.  Once they set up shop they can then start producing raw materials for you to sell via convoys or use the materials to create new items to upgrade your equipment or to sell for a higher profit.  The more you have these settlers work for you the more experience they gain eventually becoming able to produce better quality items for you in return.  It's a great expansion of the previous games assassin HQ mechanic which to be honest was very under utilised until now.

One of the area's that has probably seen the least in terms of updates or tweaks is combat.  Although it uses the same kind of combat system seen in the Batman Arkham games with a basic counter system, Assassin's somehow suffers in comparison to it's superhero bretheren.  I guess it's because in Batman you are encouraged to attack to unlock special attacks during combat and counter's are seamlessly woven into the balletic brawling, where in Assassin's creed you simply stand there and wait for a red marker to appear and then you press to counter and then another button to kill them.  Attacking only breaks the flow of combat so it never really benefits you to be aggressive.

They have added double counters which shows off a pretty cool double kill animation and the aforementioned ability to grab a foe to act as a human shield is a nice touch in the middle of a battle.  Being able to utilise your equipped weapon like a bow or pistol adds another means to kill someone during a counter, but not much else.  It is also possible now to pick up weapons as you run so you can grab a musket on the fly and shoot one opponent before stabbing another.

Naval combat is a joy to play and really deserves a spinoff
Naval combat is an entirely new feature to the proceedings as you become captain of the Aquilla a fast and nimble frigate which could be made into a seperate game all of its own.  It is immense fun to sail around the east coast battling privateer ships run by the templars, seeing your vessel take punishment from opposing broadsides and become more broken and damaged and navigating treacherous waters while battling the elements.  Honestly the naval sections of the game are some of the best parts and could easily be expanded into a new gaming franchise in and of itself.

Graphically Assassin's Creed III is a step up from previous titles and really shows how much power can be squeezed out of those older GPU's.  Characters are expressive and well detailed, the enviroment oozes personality whether that be in the frontier or the cities of Boston and New York. Weather finally becomes part of the game although it has no effect on Connor, but it does alter the enviroment visually which adds to the overall ambience.  There are the odd error such as characters not animating during cutscenes resulting in stone face men talking to each other with unblinking eyes but this is a rare occurence.  I would say the dullest parts visually are Desmond's which take place in largely grey underground facilities or buildings which actually detract from what is otherwise a brilliant game to look at.

The enviroment looks stunning in this game
The sound work is of similarly high quality.  The music, voice acting and sound effects are good.  The returning cast do a good job despite the weak script while the new cast are all memorable and far more entertaining to listen to.  The soundtrack runs the gamut of american frontier themes and the music the franchise is now known for.  I wouldn't run out and buy it but it's a good quality soundtrack all things considered.

I don't really have much to say that is negative about Assassin's Creed III.  It's only major flaw being it's bland combat system and sometimes shonky free running which can screw up and have you jumping in the wrong direction.  If you are a fan you will love this anyway regardless of these issues, it has become part and parcel of the AC formula by now.  If you are new to the franchise then this is probably the best game to jump into as it represents the most advanced version of the gameplay of all games to date.

SCORE: 8.0/10


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