It's clear from the off that Assassin's Creed 3 is aiming to be a game of epic proportions. From the rousing score to the vast setting, it screams big budget blockbuster. It deserves as much, with Desmond Miles and his time travelling adventures taking place over nearly a thousand years. From Altair during The Last Crusades and Ezio Auditore during the Italian Renaissance, the scope of the franchise has so far been nothing short of superb. This time Desmond's journey in the Animus takes him to Boston and New York during the American Revolution and puts him in the boots of Connor, a native-American with a score to settle.
But the protagonist in an Assassin's Creed game has never really been the main focus. It's always been about the cities and environments, and the historical events that they have come to represent. The ability to put Desmond in the Animus and have him connect with the memories of his ancestors gives Ubisoft the chance to basically explore any era that it sees fit. The streets and rooftops of Boston and New York become your playground.
Unfortunately this location doesn't quite live up to the settings of previous games, namely Italy. There's nothing that makes the city of Boston seem more special than what we've previously seen. Buildings are also smaller, which means that climbing isn't as fun and striving to synchronise those viewpoints is much less compelling. Move away from the city for a while, however, and you'll be rewarded with a much richer experience.
This is because dense forests have been recreated for your pleasure. As you would expect from a native-American, Connor is at his best when surrounded by nature. Jumping from tree to tree, climbing to the top of cliffs and taking in the beautiful surroundings, this is a much different affair to the cobbled city streets. Wildlife also makes an appearance in an Assassin's Creed game for the first time, so deer, wolves and bears come together to make the environment really seem alive. The newly added snow is also a lovely effect and you'll marvel at the tracks left by Connor as he trudges along.
Climbing seems to have been simplified slightly, now players just hold down the right trigger and move in the direction that they want to go and Connor will do all the jumping and climbing for you. It can make the game feel like it's on autopilot at times, and lead to a few sticky situations. I accidentally climbed the wrong building or jumped off the wrong ledge more than a few times due to the sensitive nature of the climbing mechanic.
Connor himself isn't what you'd expect from your usual Assassin. While Ezio had an endearing arrogance and charm, Connor brings with him youthfulness and an enthusiasm that can be mistaken for naivety. He's undoubtedly a good guy, who wants to protect his people and the land they live on, but there are times when you wonder whether he's up to the task. Think Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and you get the idea.
Players will have a long time to make their minds up about him. Assassin's Creed 3 can't be faulted for not telling a story well, even if it does take a while to get there. Several hours will pass before you feel like anything is really happening, and that's if you choose to ignore the numerous side quests and assignments to fill your time. These include the returning assassination contracts and courier missions from previous games, and the chance to try your hand at property management by recruiting workers for your homestead. Unfortunately it all seems like a chore instead of something players would seek out to do, and you could play through the entire game without touching these extra tasks.
The same can't be said of the newly introduced navy battles, which are an excellent addition. Players can now take to the sea for the first time as they commandeer their own ship and do battle with adversaries across the open water. You steer, control how fast the ship goes and command your crew when to fire. Missions are simple enough - catch up to those bad guys and fire your cannons at them - but it's an addition that hasn't really been explored too much in other games and adds yet another layer of depth to the franchise. There are only two missions in the main story that feature the navy battles, but there are extra ones available for you to undertake whenever you like near your homestead.
While combat on the water is new and exciting, fighting foes with your fists remains largely untouched. It's always been a weak spot of the series, with multiple enemies being dispatched with ease and seemingly little effort, but some changes are being made. Now players have to tap the attack button after they block an opponent's move if they want to finish him off, which at least makes you feel like you're doing a little bit more to earn the kill. Connor will also have to watch out for gunfire, as enemies will now stand back, take aim and pull the trigger if given the chance. Taking down rivals with Connor's tomahawk also leads to some entertaining, gruesome animations that wouldn't look out of place in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The trouble is, combat occurs far too often. Sure, you're advised to avoid being spotted by guards as you try to infiltrate a certain area, but it isn't imperative to the success of most missions. It's far quicker to just run into a large group of enemies and take them all out within seconds instead of spending time carefully climbing over buildings and avoiding their gaze. It makes Connor seem more like a simple brawler instead of a skilled assassin.
Throughout the game you'll pop in and out of the present world with Desmond and the gang, who are still on the run from Abstergo. As usual, this part of the game is the weakest point but a necessary one. There are some highlights though, with Desmond visiting a few compelling locations and using the skills he's learnt from his ancestors along the way.
Effort has been made to add to the multiplayer side of the game, with a new cooperative Wolf Pack mode being thrown in with the usual mix of stab-heavy gaming. This allows players to work together in teams of up to four people to kill NPC targets. It's wave based, so going back and trying to complete it is a good challenge, while working in a team of assassins makes a nice change. Another new mode is Domination, where players try to gain control of areas on a map. If anything the new modes show that time and energy is being spent on the multiplayer, which will be appreciated by players, and there are a good few hours of fun to be had here.
The game's biggest strength is definitely the main campaign, which doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of Assassin's Creed 2 but is still an engrossing, captivating affair, full of plot twists and impressive battles. Ubisoft is aiming to tell a story on a grand scale, and while there are a few minor niggles along the way, Assassin's Creed 3 takes the series up yet another level.