One of 2012’s most hotly anticipated games, Assassin’s Creed III (AC3) has been so keenly awaited because it’s a proper new instalment for the franchise – not just an extension like last year’s Revelations was. Not that there was anything wrong with Revelations, not in our book.
However, AC3 makes a large number of new introductions, pushing the boundaries of the Creed games in the single player, bringing in a whole new setting – the 18th Century American Revolution against the British Empire – and making some smart tweaks and additions to the multiplayer side of the experience. Regarding the latter, I’m going to spend some time discussing the multiplayer here, as I feel it’s very much an overlooked element when it comes to Ubisoft’s stealthy action-adventure.
But first, the single player campaign. You begin the game as the very English and very deadly Haytham Kenway, sailing across the Atlantic and arriving in Boston in 1754, in search of a storehouse of the “first civilisation” (the same lot who created the pieces of Eden).
The game is somewhat slow-paced in these initial stages, introducing the concepts of combat and stealth, although it’s very nicely atmospheric, with some superb attention to detail (and a healthy scattering of mini-games, too).
The missions involve a lot of sneaking about, as ever – and getting spotted, then legging it from twenty or thirty redcoat guards, naturally. Combat, when it inevitably happens, is similar to the previous game, and still a pretty simple affair.
The basic gist is to parry then slash back with a killing move – with the timing not difficult to pull off. Fighting remains fluid and fun despite its simplicity, and there are also a load of guns to play with this time around, from pistols to rifles. One notable weak spot, though, is the enemy AI, with your opponents bumbling around like the redcoat versions of Laurel and Hardy at times.
Another major introduction for this new Creed game is naval combat – yes, you can take to the seas and engage in battles on the waves. And this element isn’t just tacked on without much thought, the ship combat controls are nicely implemented, and the whole experience highly enjoyable (far more so than, say, the humdrum base/tower defence game in Revelations).
On the whole, the single player campaign is impressively large in terms of the game world and overall longevity, particularly if you take on the side quests and all the optional stuff. The wilderness environments – which have you leaping from tree branch to tree branch, rather than the familiar roofs of buildings – and the sea combat are certainly very smart, fresh feeling introductions. All this is realised with some lush visuals, as well, although there is a price to pay for the sophistication of the graphics in terms of some pop-up being evident at times.
Okay, so what about the multiplayer? For some reason, a certain degree of scorn appears to generally be poured on Assassin’s Creed’s multiplayer as being some kind of thrown together afterthought – and we’ve really no idea why. Having played it extensively throughout AC2, we’ve been hooked by what is essentially a very different type of deathmatch – that being our favourite mode, although there are some excellent other game types to pick from.
Deathmatch in AC3 (and the past games) involves a far different mentality to the usual “get the most frags” mindset which is seen in most online action games. Stealth and cunning are truly important here, as you have to blend in with crowds, and approach your opponent obliquely (if they’re any good, they’ll spot your otherwise). Taking your time is rewarded, as your stealth meter slowly builds up, and the more stealthy your kills, the more points you get.
So a player who runs across the map madly massacring 20 folks at top speed during a 10 minute bout will only score minimal points for each kill. A cunning stalker who only achieves 7 kills can beat that mass murderer’s score – and it’s this slower, cleverer pace, and the mind games of AC3 which make deathmatch so enticing. Finding hiding places in crowds, using abilities perfectly, stunning your pursuer around the corner of a building, leaping out surprising them – there’s a wealth of tactical richness here.
So what’s different with AC3? The big additions are two new games modes, domination and wolfpack (corruption, chest capture, escort, and steal the artefact have been dropped). Domination is a superior replacement for chest capture, and essentially the game you’re likely familiar with – there are three areas on the map to capture, and each team must try and hold them to rack up points. It’s good fun, with a smart tactical edge – when your team works together well, there’s a definite sense of satisfaction. We ended up playing this mode the most, along with manhunt and deathmatch, our faves from Revelations.
Wolfpack is the new co-op multiplayer mode, a fresh introduction indeed. This lets you run with other assassins in missions where you have to kill NPC targets within a certain time limit. Achieve the goal, and you can move on to the next (harder) set of targets, with a bit of time added. Later targets will be more wary, use smoke bombs and so forth, and with the clock constantly ticking, this is compelling addition to the multiplayer mix.
In terms of new abilities, there are a few, such as a money bomb which highlights NPCs as they grub around for the dropped dosh (though it seems a rather poor version of firecrackers to me, without the blinding effect). Glimmer turns you invisible, or near-invisible, but you have to move slowly and it doesn’t last very long to keep it balanced. Then there’s Wipe, a replacement for Mute – but it wipes abilities for longer, at the expense of not taking away your opponent’s capability to stun or kill you.
One of the most interesting moves is the addition of a third ability slot for a ranged weapon, which you can equip with throwing knives, the gun, or a new poison dart. This gives players a considerable degree of extra utility, and handy ways to deal with roof-happy opponents without having to use one of their two primary ability slots for a ranged weapon. This is definitely a good thing (and the poison dart allows for a ranged poison kill, which can be handy).
The multiplayer is still great fun, and the new modes of play are impressive, but many of the same niggles still dog this side of the game. Smoke bombs still seem somewhat glitchy, and particularly prone to lag (sometimes they’ll work almost instantly, at other times, your killer just seems to waltz through the smoke as if it was nothing). Lag is still an issue on occasion, as it was in Revelations.
Some odd decisions have been made, too, such as bringing back the ability to stun your pursuer after they’ve poisoned you (which was previously patched to be impossible with Revelations). I can’t begin to fathom why this particularly gameplay element was brought back in – it means you often get stunned when pulling off a poison kill, given that you need to brush up against your opponent to get the ability off.
One final niggle is that you can no longer choose to play, say, deathmatch, and just constantly stay with that mode. New voting options mean there’s not just a choice of maps, but also the chance to switch modes to other FFA (free-for-all) options such as wanted or assassinate – so you could end up playing them instead.
That can be a tad annoying when like us, you detest wanted – and if you quit the game, even before it starts, we’ve read you’re penalised lots of Abstergo (multiplayer ranking) points. We did wonder where our points kept disappearing to – although the scoring system does seem somewhat flawed and flaky, full-stop. Awards are supposed to be in line with the rank of the opposition you’re pitted against, but we’ve seen some very strange and seemingly bugged scoring judgements.
We’ve done a bit of moaning towards the end here, but even so, we must say that despite the flaws, we thoroughly enjoyed the new multiplayer, and the new maps are definitely a step up from the previous game, with some nicely designed, very tight locations.
Assassin’s Creed III gets a definite thumbs-up on both single and multiplayer fronts, then, and if you’re at all into Ubisoft’s assassin franchise, it’s a must-purchase game.