The latest installment of one of the biggest franchises in gaming over the past five years has arrived at last! Redcoats! Assassins! Intrigue! Aliens! El Jefe de Santo climbs atop the turnbuckles, perches precariously on the top rope and gives you a Cross-Body Splash review of Assassin's Creed 3.
The first thing that players are going to noticeabout the latest entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise is just how god damn big it is. The scope of this game is massive yet it does not totally lose itself in setting alone. It is a game that is utterly rich in character-driven storytelling and full of moments that really hammer home just how well Ubisoft Montreal and it's sister-studios have honed their craft. This, the fifth entry in the series, delivers on the promise of a series that debuted what felt so long ago.
The biggest draw of an Assassin's Creed title has been the fusion of actual history with conspiracy lunacy and alterna-reality. We've had settings that included Acre during the time of the Crusades, Italy during the Renaissance and even the present day. The American Revolution is already rife with potential moments, personalities and places to insert into an already engaging narrative that it truly results in a match made in Heaven.
Boston and New York, the two major cities represented in the game, are vast and sprawling. They are vibrant and so full of life that I found myself getting detoured often just to explore. I found myself stopping to pet random passing animals and pausing to listen to conversations as I walked on by. These cities were alive and, frankly, it only got better once you were tossed into the Frontier.
The sheer space of it all was downright intimidating at first and lead to one of my only real gripes with the game. Sometimes the travel time between missions was a BIT long, but it was made up for by all the random side-missions and activites one could pick up along the way. Feel like hunting some deer or perhaps some bear? Go for it. Find a random hunting lodge that doubles a brawling club? Knock yourself out. Destroy random British forts just for the heck of it? All you, buddy. All that and not to mention the dynamic weather system in the game made for a varied experience each time I made my way out. I'd be greeted by driving blizzards, harsh rains, drizzles and scorching heat at times. The environments were lush and had such variety that I never thought to myself, "Great. Another tiled forest section with the same enemies with the same spawn points.." that usually comes to mind with open-world games such as this.
So, the setting is very engaging but what about the historical timeline? The main character, Connor Kenway or otherwise known as Ratonhnhakéton, is a force of nature, as is to be expected. He is, however, a very nuanced and well-written machine of destruction that is struggling to maintain a balance with what he wants to be and what he is. It is acknowledged early on by his Mother in the narrative that when she found out what it was that Connor's dear Father did for a living that she despaired at the notion that her little boy might follow in his footsteps (By the way it's not really a spoiler to say that Connor is half Native-American/half English). You, of course, have the downright insane lunacy of the pieces of Eden that come across from the prior narrative here. (Aliens under the Vatican!) It is, however, the plot that is truly the beating heart of this beast.
We not only get to see that the American Revolution was a very messy affair that featured heroes and villains alike but also that the Templars get to tell their side of the story for once. A little bit of info for those uninformed of the prior games. The struggle between the Order and the Templars has been ongoing for a VERY long time now and these battles often have helped to shape the very foundations of what we know as mankind. So, naturally, the Templars are our antagonists but it was, well, refreshing to see things from their perspective at points.
Connor, however, is on this great journey of vengeance but ultimately he becomes a cog in a much bigger conflict that, really, doesn't necessarily concern him. He gets to see the conflict from the outside and sees much more than either opposing faction can gauge from their vantage. There is this underlying theme of it all that asks is it better to trade one group of wealthy white men for another? Is this just more of the same? This quest for vengeance and, ultimately, freedom is one that Connor fights tooth and nail for. Is it folly though? Was there really all that much hope for this so-called freedom to begin with?
All of these questions and more are wrapped up in a very well done and respectful treatment of the entire period. We get to see that things were murky. It wasn't just black and white but, instead, had a lot of gray areas that this budding nation had to deal with. Discord and violence were a reality of the time and Assassin's Creed 3 does not skirt that issue at all. All that said the plot unfolds at a rather measured pace. This is a game that is willing to build to its final crescendo and, man, does it ever do that. The only sections I felt semi-disappointed in were the ones involving the current day descendant of the assassins, Desmond. There was some distinct polish missing from these sections.
The gripes I had with the game are fairly minimal. Some of the chase sequences were, well, a bit of a trial to get through at times. There are strange graphical glitches here and there that are downright hilarious, though nothing too gamebreaking. There are segments where you walk a few feet and are hit with a cutscene. I had flashbacks to Metal Gear Solid 4 more than a few times.
The naval combat, which was something I was really worried about, is fantastic. These are brief but intense exchanges between vessels that play as exciting as they looked in all those trailers we saw earlier in the year.
What I found most interesting, above all things, about this game was that this is a AAA title. This is friggin' Assassin's Creed. I did not expect for there to be this much care placed in developing a narrative let alone making you feel as though it wasn't just as cut and dry as it had been in prior games. You normally don't expect this sort of cerebral quality from such a high-profile name. You expect quality, sure, but I was estatic to see that this much work went into laying the framework and telling a compelling story. We've jumped from buildings and done air-assassinations, run courier missions and collected flags and feathers. Why, though, is just as important as the what, in this game.
Oh! One last thing. There is DLC coming down the pipe where, yet another twist on history, General Washington declares himself sovreign ruler of the newly formed America. You, of course, have to stop him. If THAT doesn't make you want to at least try this game I don't know what will.