Assassin’s Creed 3 PS3 review – struggling to break the shackles of the old world
And it’s an even more pronounced shame because those supplementary activities offer up perhaps the most enjoyment in the whole game, particularly for those with a completionist bent. There’s more to do outside of the story missions than ever before, and this time it’s been implemented in a way that’s seamless with your general activities in the world. Whereas before each activity – even minor ones such as footraces – was structured as an actual mission to be started and completed, now you can do things on the fly as you feel like it. For instance, each district of the cities can be liberated from Templar control by performing a certain number of positive actions, such as preventing people from being executed or stopping the bent tax collectors from ripping off citizens. But rather than having to formally undertake these you can simply stumble across them, complete the given task and move on without ever breaking the game’s flow.
While certain things are enjoyable follies, for instance hunting wildlife on the Frontier, other activities are more substantial and provide rewards to help you on your various missions. Building up the Homestead, your idyllic countryside base, is a good example of this. Various small but engaging missions allow you to recruit followers who each take up residence on your patch and provide a certain service, including farmers and lumberjacks. You can then use their produce to craft various items, either for yourself (such as weapons) or to trade with merchants in Boston and New York. By doing this you can create a regular source of income, enabling you to purchase pricey tools, armour and the like. It’s a more in-depth version of the Monteriggioni construction from AC2, and while it requires greater amounts of time and input, it also has more meaningful results.
And then there are the boat sections, one of the more spectacular additions this year. By and large these work well: your ship is simple enough to control, and the latter Harbourmaster missions are grand, multi-part battles. At times things descend into an ugly oceanic dance as two frigates clumsily circle one another, repeatedly failing to line up cannon volleys, but thankfully things flow nicely for the most part.
Some of the secondary activities badly miss the mark – discovering all of the fast travel points in each city means trawling through mazes of dark, underground tunnels – but overall they combine to be the game’s most compelling aspect. Helping citizens battle against the British oppressors, infiltrating and overthrowing Templar forts, taking on assassination contracts: these all help add to the sense of time and place, and the fact that your actions are turning the tide of the Revolution.
As for how that Revolution plays out, it’s frustratingly inconsistent. The game tracks historical events from the Boston Tea Party to the Battle Of Bunker Hill to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but only at times do the core missions make you feel like you’re playing a key role. The Battle Of Bunker Hill itself is a highlight, as you sprint across an open battlefield, taking shelter from huge volleys of musket fire before tearing through a collapsing town and boarding two offshore warships.
But at other times you do little more than direct the fire of some troops under your command, after which you’re told that you apparently saved the day. Perhaps it would be stretching credulity too far to insinuate that one Native American Assassin was the vital cog in the Revolutionary machine, but past games have given a better sense that it is your actions that are having the strongest bearing on the course of history – and it’s this feeling of empowerment that games strive for, after all.
Unfortunately our new Assassin is, somewhat predictably, also a disappointment. Although you track Connor’s development from a young child, through his apprenticeship, into an expert killer, at no point does his personality develop in co-ordination with his skills. He’s relentlessly strait-laced and humourless, and attempts to imbue him with character extend little further than a tantrum being thrown every now and then. Duller than Altair and a world away from Ezio, he’s another sad step in the wrong direction.
If this review reads negatively given the score, then that’s little surprise: so much was promised, and so little that’s new has been delivered. Certain fundamentals are woefully sub-par (the horse riding is absolutely shameful), and it’s either laziness or a troubling lack of creativity that’s led to such a generic and repetitive selection of story missions. And yet the game is saved somewhat by the wealth of content it includes (and the well-integrated, largely compelling nature of these side-dishes), and the moments that remind you just why this series remains such a big draw. A perfectly planned and executed assassination, a gloriously smooth free-run through a tree canopy, taking down a troupe of guards with a flowing set of dual-wielding attacks, or even seeing the fruits of your labours as you create a functioning village. At times like this, the ills melt away and you get sucked into the game’s additive charms.
But those ills are many, and have been tolerated within the confines of this series for too long. In a year when Dishonored and Hitman: Absolution have shown just how well stealth games can be realised, Assassin’s Creed’s take on unseen murder is stuck in the past – doubly so when we were led to expect so much more. We were promised a revolution, but very little has changed.