Ladies and gentleman, it is a glorious time in our lives; Assassin's Creed III has been unleashed upon the world for us to enjoy, and by God, will you enjoy it (at least until December 21st). Below you will find my review of the single player campaign, in all its splendour. Please be aware that this review will contain spoilers, so do not say I didn’t warn you.

So, without further ado, let us begin.

The End Days have come. December 21st, 2012, the world will end in a ball of flames, as earthquakes tear the world asunder and civilisation as we know it comes to a screeching halt; at least, that is what we’ve been told. With Desmond and company unable to access the Inner Sanctum of the Grand Temple, the group are forced to, once again, delve into history and explore the memories of his ancestor; the Native American Assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton.

With only days left till the world burns, will Desmond have enough time the find the Key and save the world?

This game has been a long time coming, development started not long after the release of its numbered predecessor (that’s three years ago!) and has slowly, but surely progressed, despite the diversions of Brotherhood and Revelations fueling the misplaced belief that the beloved Ezio Auditore da Firenze was going to fight his war against the Templars singlehandedly. With the game’s new protagonist, comes a whole heap of new weapons, animations, locations, characters and, most importantly, gameplay. Unfortunately, however, it’s not all smooth sailing for the game which shows us what the current, if aged generation of consoles can do when an experienced developer is behind the scenes.

The game starts Desmond awaking from his coma at the doors of the Grand Temple, in New York; by his side are the exuberant (and staunchly British) Shaun Hastings, the tech-savvy Rebecca Crane and everybody’s favourite omnipotent celestial being: Q William Miles (you might know him as Desmond’s father). Entering the Temple, the Assassins are greeted by the aged and decayed, but still impressive, extravagance of First Civilization architecture. Forced into the Animus once more, Desmond must view the memories of his ancestor – Haytham Kenway – to locate the Key that, ultimately, saves the world. Hold on a second! Do you say Haytham!?

Haytham Kenway

Haytham Kenway, ancestor to Desmond Miles, and a traitor to the Order.

Yes I did. Believe it or not, Ubisoft pulled a real shocker here by opening up the game, not with the dude seen brutalising Redcoats, flaunting the American flag and acting in a staunchly uncivilised way, but with his father: Haytham Kenway, who is already and aged, experienced Assassin, and a thoroughly English gentleman. It’s through him that we get to grips with the controls once more, introducing us the one of the series’ new features - the ocean – and opening up the world of Colonial America to us. Eventually however, as is inevitable, we move on from Haytham and begin to explore he memories of his son: Ratonhnhaké:ton (or Connor, by his adoptive name).

It is with Connor that this game truly shines. Native American, born and bred, the high reaching trees of the American Frontier are Connor’s playground, just like the cities of Italy were Ezio’s. Connor’s ability to smoothly, skilfully journey through the trees above his enemies and his prey is evident from the get go, and certainly one of the biggest draws of the game. Just as Ezio’s ability to swim drew awe from all who watched, Connor’s ability to travel almost the entire length of the very lengthy Frontier without ever touching the ground will keep gamers glued to the trees for days to come. Hell, we might even be calling the next game “Tarzan” at this rate. But it’s not all trees for Connor, who must eventually travel to the heart of European culture in the New World, the cities of Boston and New York.

Unlike the cities of Constantinople, Rome and Florence before them, the new cities feel much more alive. The wide streets and busy market places throng with a form of life not witnessed in a game before. Whether it be a man buying his supper, or orphans waylaying well suited gentleman, or a band of British Regulars marching along the beat of a military band, you get the sense that life in Colonial America extends further than the draw distance available to your machine. The side-missions available to you in the cities only help to accentuate that feeling. Missions vary from the simple “Boston Brawlers” (read: fight club (Can’t really talk about it though)), to protecting a farmer from encroaching soldiers, or even saving locals from the firing squad. Often time you will be rewarded with a new member to add to your roster of aspiring Assassins, although this aspect of the game is almost entirely optional and has no effect on the story per se.

When he’s not visiting the cities of the European colonists, Connor helps to develop the Davenport Homestead from a lonely Manor in a field to a fledgling town in its own right. Bringing people from all backgrounds and professions, Connor is able to, through a dedicated set of side missions, improve his town’s infrastructure and, resultantly, the quality of goods he is able to trade throughout the American North East and Caribbean Sea. Early on in these missions, Connor is introduced to another of the game’s more important characters.

Robert Faulkner is First Mate of the Protagonists own warship, the Aquila introduces us to what is, undoubtedly, the biggest and most well thought-out addition to the series to date: naval warfare. A game all in itself (seriously, a standalone game using this engine and gameplay would own!), the extraordinary power afforded to game by its AnvilNext engine allows for a truly immersive seafaring voyage; and whilst you won’t be fighting undead skeletons or journeying to World’s End (pun not intended) anytime soon, battling the Royal Navy on the high seas, protecting against tidal wave and cannon fire is an exhilarating affair and one you will undoubtedly be wanting to replay time and time again.

AC3 storm naval warfare

The Aquila in combat, during one of the game's new Naval combat missions.

Unfortunately, it’s not all rosy for gamers over in the New World. Along with a slew of new features, this game re-introduces a few that were lost to the ether early on. Remember those cutscene glitches from Assassin’s Creed, well they’re back. But unlike the originals, which changed our view and allowed us to see things from a different perspective, this games glitches lets us see men pirouetting above the stalls, or a horse and cart melded into the side of a wood cabin down the way. At one point, an unfortunate Patriot soldier fell to the ground after being hacked to death by my tomahawk, and twisted in such a way that he undoubtedly broke every single bone in his body. To call my laughter a little twisted at this sight is, indeed, quite fitting. Other glitches, like disappearing NPCs or custom markers deactivating are also prevalent. Whether these bugs comes as a result of the AnvilNext engine struggling against the confines of the Xbox 360’s dated hardware, or sloppy bug-hunting on Ubisoft’s behalf is unknown, but one would hope such things will be fixed in future.

Other faults in the game lay with its lacklustre and often confusing story. Several times in the playthrough I found myself wondering just how exactly certain characters had got into that particular situation. A good example being the introduction of Lafayette: we are never introduced to him, yet as soon as Connor and he meet, the two are sharing their life stories (and their true allegiances) to no end. It’s not just Lafayette either, but I’ll admit that my confusion my may stem as much from my rather spotty knowledge of Patriot characters in history, as to the story itself.

That said, the lack of any real gravitas to the story, whether it be Connor’s or Desmond’s modern-day sequences, is evident throughout, and gives the impression that story took a back-seat to gameplay in the eyes of the developers.

One thing of particular note, and something that should be subject to serious praise, is the portrayal of the father-son relationships between Desmond and William, and Connor and Haytham. Both relationships were fractured at an early age (Desmond’s by his fleeing the Order, Connor’s by his father’s true allegiance), but in the end it becomes clear that, despite their differences in opinions and believes, each is proud of the father/son’s achievements and commitments to their cause.

All in all, Assassin's Creed III is a worthy end to the story of Desmond Miles; offering fans of the series a satisfying, if not entirely awe-inspiring conclusion. The game does stumble at times, with the story falling flat throughout and that ever nagging feeling of “the British Imperium” being so closely entwined with the Templar Order that, pears or apples, they’re both fruits, but it makes up for it in terms of gameplay, character and sheer stunning beauty.

Assassin's Creed III is, without a doubt, a game that must be played, and soon. Some may be happy that Desmond’s story has come to an end, others not so much, but whatever your preference, you cannot deny that his story has been an exhilarating one to follow and an honour to be a part of. The End Days are coming. All of this has happened before, and it will happen again. Won’t it?


*Final score:

Top moment

Not so much a moment, as a feature; developing the Homestead into a strong and thriving village. This new feature really gives a sense of changing the world that refurbishing the shops of Rome and Constantinople never gave.

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