Come the autumn months, the pedigree of the video-gaming market get set to release their latest venture. The longevity of franchises such as Halo and Call of Duty have placed their names at the top of the year’s most anticipated lists for over ten years now. Yet in 2007, breaking from the first-person shooter mould, we were given a breath of fresh air with the arrival of Assassin’s Creed, a sprawling period action-adventure saga that used the backdrop of historical, political and religious conspiracy to create a wholly unique narrative driven gaming experience that has earned its place among these industry heavy-weights.
With that reputation established, Assassin’s Creed III nonetheless has a lot to prove. Since the series hit a dizzying high in 2009 with Assassin’s Creed II, there has been the sense that the franchise has been running on auto-pilot, resting on the laurels of that game’s Renaissance setting to produce a number of enjoyable but inferior spin-offs. Now once again in fresh territory, with the promise of a conclusion to the ‘trilogy’, the series feels like it can breathe once more.
Set against the backdrop of the American Revolution, players now take control, for the majority of the game, as native-American assassin Connor Kenway. With this new playground comes a new set of features to play with which on the whole work brilliantly and cement the joy of the gameplay that the series has become known for. The game features the familiar thrill of leaping across buildings and performing missions in key towns but for the first time lets you loose in the wilderness, with the smoother free-running control system allowing for seamless movement through forests and the new ability to hunt animals. The introduction of a strong economic system within the game means there is the option to sell goods you catch and a sub story that sees you aiding the construction of a colonial town. All of this helps the world feel alive and thriving, in a game that gives you plenty to sink your teeth into. Also still strong as ever is the simple combat system that is as blood-thirsty and satisfying as ever, with a host of new weapons and assassination techniques to try.
Gameplay is only worthwhile if you invest in the story and this is a fact Assassin’s Creed has always taken seriously. On this occasion the story takes its time in the early hours to invest your interest in the characters and the setting, something that here runs dangerously close to being boring and as such the story never has the immediacy or power that ACII had.
Like previous instalments, the game also has sections in the present day where series constant Desmond is embroiled in a plot that is fuelled by the historical narrative. More so than before there are interesting thematic parallels between the two settings which provide a sense of relevance to the ideas of the story that break the confines of a set historical period. Despite this the modern day episodes are by far the least interesting portion of the game, even though this is the most fleshed out they have been in the entire series and as such there isn’t quite enough investment in them to make us feel the full impact of the conclusion to the story.
Yet when this game is at its best, the story does manage to thrill thanks to some great writing, beautifully lush visuals and epic scale, making an engrossing and above all enjoyable action game, one that may not be the pinnacle of such a strong franchise, but certainly a worthy addition to it.
Assassin’s Creed III was released on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 in October. It’s due for release for Microsoft Windows on November 23rd and Wii on November 18th.