Just like Harry Potter, Assassins Creed releases are regular as clockwork and give a sort of reliable comfort to console and PC gamers alike. Unlike Harry Potter, however, the annual dose of Ubisoft’s stealth-parkour adventure with a side order of conspiracy-laden history lesson just seems to keep getting better.
Now listen to this: Assassins Creed is big. It takes place over a geographically huge area (which still manages, on occasion, to feel a little claustrophobic, due to the camera being slightly too zoomed-in). But it is also big in timespan and big in ideas. Before you even get to walk in the stealth-moccasins of the main character, Connor, you have to plough through the intro (which lasts about five to seven hours, depending on how much mucking about you do), a prequel where you play the part of another important character. This introduction really helps set the scene for the conflict between the British and the people of the Americas, be they colonist or native. Throughout this rich and complex plot, the game threads a dozen story missions designed to teach you the basics. But newcomers to the series will be dazzled by the amount you can do, and dizzied by what needs to be learnt. Even after the first ten hours you will still find yourself learning new things…
“Now I am going to show you the under city tunnel system, which you will need to become familiar with if you wish to evade your enemies...” A new tunnel system? I’ve only just learnt how to track and hunt deer, wrestle bears, chase lost parchment across rooftops, dismantle cannons and figure out how to murderise more than one person at a time while dropping from a third story window. If all that is not enough, you can build up your homestead by adding businesses and you even get your own ship to sail the seas - from a first person perspective.
AC3 menu is too cluttered
Sadly, ingesting this crucial knowledge isn’t as easy as it could have been. Important game concepts are often communicated in tiny white text, sometimes on a near-white background, that flashes briefly before your eyes while a character is talking about something else. I could never read it all and listen to the dialogue at the same time, and it gets particularly confusing when the speaker is talking in a Native American tongue. Then it’s right into the mission itself, armed as you are with half a clue as to how to do it. Once, I had to escort an NPC to a mission target, and there were some guards in the way. I tried to climb over the rooftops, but the little bugger wouldn’t follow me, and once I’m too far from him it’s “mission over”. After searching every square inch of the map for these secret tunnels I’ve been told about, then digging through the confusing menu system for any clue as to what’s going on, I just gave up. Went up to the guards, slashed a couple of necks, and just walked to the mission target. It felt like I was being punished for trying to use my head and look for another way around.
So it’s a lot to take in, and it’s an unforgiving learning curve. But the story keeps marching unstoppably forward and sooner or later you’ll realise it doesn’t matter too much how well you wrestled the bear, just so long as it didn’t eat all of you. And when you eventually do find it, the menu system does provide a way to replay badly executed missions.
AC 3 parkour is still cool and now easier
The free-running that is at the core of all Assassins Creed games has been smoothed out, requiring fewer button presses to get it going. This frees up a button to allow you to force your character to climb higher into the treetops, or to jump out of his free-running trail in case you suddenly need to do something else. Combat is really fluid and imaginative. Even hours into the game I was still being surprised by cool new attack animations and there is just enough interaction from the player to make it feel like it’s the player actually causing the mayhem. While this all works really nicely and makes the game feel smoother than ever, the menu system seems to have gone in the other direction, feeling clunky and unintuitive particularly to newcomers.
Consider waiting for Assassins Creed 3 on the PC
I really missed my PC while I was playing Assassins Creed on the Xbox. It’s easy to fail missions, and after each failure you’ll need to sit and wait for a while for the game to load again, and I’m certain that this irritation would be lessened considerably on my year-old but still far more powerful PC. Graphically, Assassins Creed 3 does two things. It shows how much developers have learned about squeezing every last drop of performance from the aging console, but it also highlights that, at the top of the Xbox’s game, it still falls far short of the modern PC. You need to squint to read text, and the draw distance is less than impressive in most cases, especially when you know just how huge the AC3 maps are.
A couple of things that stood out to me as worthy of mention. After countless hours dashing around in the wilderness I still found myself unable to comprehend the wolf encounters in the wilds. They are kind of quick time events mixed with button mashing, and the player does not seem to be tutored in how this works. I still end up getting killed 50% of the time by a wolf encounter despite frantic button-mashing.
But on the plus side, Connor looks very cool. There are all kinds of sweet little touches: when you leave him in a tree for a little bit he then just slides into a very casual lean. The ship is a great touch and its controls and perspective are actually pretty unique. You get to play as Desmond from time to time as well. One mission has you parachuting from the top of a skyscraper onto another and then clambering around on some scaffolding, including metal girders reminiscent of the ones in that old photo with the men eating their sandwiches. This scene really delivered a wonderful sense of perspective and vertigo.
Assassins Creed 3 is exceptional value for money
Be prepared for a great deal of story you have to play through to get to the heart of the game, but keep in mind that this huge story is what makes the locations and characters so believable and fun. Visiting a place where you were many years ago as a different character lends a real sense of nostalgia. However, if I lost my save game now, I really wouldn’t want to have to slog through the long intro before I could get to the core of the game again. Assassins Creed 3 offers a huge amount of solid entertainment; with great scripting, excellent voice acting, a vast, detailed, believable environment that you will get lost in and that with time will become familiar enough to call home. Without being prompted, I practiced the tree canopy routes back to my homestead in case I ever needed to know the area better than an invading enemy.
Assassins Creed 3 is exceptional value for money and a worthy finale to a mighty series, but I want to play it on my PC not on console. Providing the port is done well this would likely earn a massive 10 out of 10 for the PC version.