Review: With a new time period and main character, will ASSASSIN’S CREED III be able to pull the series out of its slump and offer something revolutionary?
Assassin’s Creed III has a lot to prove. After three years of Ezio and the ensuing diminishing returns of running around Renaissance Italy (and eventually Constantinople), the new protagonist has a lot on his shoulders. Well, once you actually get to those shoulders. It was four to five hours of faffing about before I even got to the half-European, half-native American assassin.
If you thought experiencing Ezio being born was something, you haven’t seen anything yet. Assassin’s Creed III starts several years before Connor is even a twinkle in his dad’s eye, as you leap and bound about the city of Boston as his father, Haytham Kenway. Kenway’s got a stiff upper lip, he’s understated, and a right sarcastic bugger – I think he might be my favourite Assassin’s Creed character to date. But playing as him, the game feels very much like any old Assassin’s Creed. It’s not until you take control of Connor that things get markedly different.
First of all, you get the ability to free-run through the trees. It’s the shot in the arm the game mechanic desperately needed and what really sets Assassin’s Creed III apart from its predecessors. It takes a lot more forward thinking running through the trees than it does across rooftops – if you get it wrong in a city you just slow down, get it wrong out in the frontier and you can plummet to your death. To negate this, you’ll often find yourself with one simple path to follow, which does mean that tree-top running sometimes comes across a little linear, but zipping between the branches does feel fantastic.
Not just a daddy’s boy
It’s not just the way Connor moves where the differences lie either; it’s his early weapon choices, his beliefs, and most importantly, the fact that the first twenty minutes or so with the character are spoken solely in his native language. Unlike the random injections of Italian in Assassin’s Creed II, here it works because it’s the only language being spoken and really sells the setting instead of just getting in the way.
However, there’s also a lot of sensationalism going on in the actual revolutionary war plot. Not in the historical side - that’s refreshingly honest – but in the events Connor gets involved in. While Ezio would always just be off to the side, Connor’s right in the middle of it all. Take the Boston Tea Party, a big event both in history and Connor’s early career. If this was Ezio, he’d be in the background, stopping anyone interfering but not getting outright involved. Connor, meanwhile, is stood on the boats, throwing tea about. Assassin’s Creed has always played a bit loose with the stealth element of being an assassin, but here he’s outright bragging his involvement. It feels a little too obvious – for me the series is at its best when the two sides are manipulating events, not just taking part.
Despite this, the story that develops between the characters is wonderfully told, and it’s especially interesting to compare characters at the start of the game through Haytham’s eyes with the way Connor sees them. He perhaps takes things a little too seriously, extremely po-faced and racked with revenge as he is, but Assassin’s Creed III does manage to sneak some humour in. Well-timed and cleverly worded achievement pops as well as a few comical entries in the Animus Database raise a few chuckles.
This father and son combination aren’t the only playable characters, though. As usual Desmond Miles does take up some of the play time, only this time he leaves the Animus a little more to do some of the work himself. Unfortunately, it’s not really as dramatic as you might think. Since the first instalment I’ve been waiting for the moment Desmond was brave enough to pull his hood up and take on the role of an assassin proper. Instead, his hood is pulled up in passing, and Desmond heading into the field feels almost like an afterthought in the story. It is a turning point in the relationship between him and his father, though. (Notice a theme in this game yet?).