Assassins Creed 3 is a game of two halves. Luckily the brilliant half accounts for the vast majority of the game, but the poor, frustrating, boring half is so bad it detracts from the experience every time rears its ill-judged head.
Let's deal with the good stuff first. There's a lot of it, and it really is quite superb at times.
The game world for the historical stories is brilliantly realised. 18th Century New England is completely convincing (even if I have no idea how accurate it really is). The cities in the game (Boston and New York) are some of the most convincing city environments you'll come across in modern gaming and allow almost complete freedom of movement whether you're exploring the streets, rooftops or sewers.
Whats more the environment, whether it be the crowded streets of Boston or the lakes, mountains and valleys of the New England frontier, looks beautiful and full of life. You can wander the streets of New York eavesdropping on the citizens as they go about their business, or spend a happy few hours hunting bear along the salmon rivers and crafting their hides into various items.
The location and timescale give plenty of opportunity for interesting stories, and indeed the historical stories are really engaging and often have something insightful to say, whether on the nature of war, or the plight of the native American tribes in the area. The story also gives you the opportunity to rub shoulders with some interesting historical figures, such as George Washington or General Lee.
There is absolutely loads to do during the historical story game as well. You can choose to follow the storyline, or go off hunting, deliver some mail, build up your settlement, help a city district rise up, explore and find viewpoints (sometimes you'll come across a mountain that just begs to be climbed for no other reason than to see what's up there), and much, much more. At times it can be a little overwhelming. I haven't even tried the multiplayer game yet.
More than any of the other Assassins Creed games, for the majority of this one I actually didn't feel like an assassin much at all. There is so much non-assassin stuff to do. When they do come up though the assassination missions are as fun as they have ever been.
The sea battles (new to the series with this game) are worth a mention as well. They are a definite highlight, bringing a great atmosphere and some genuine tactical thought to the game. It's only a mini-game in itself, but still manages to be one of the best naval games I've ever played.
There are a few issues with the historical story game however. Whilst the story is excellent, there seems to me to have been a missed opportunity. I really feel that the inclusion of a female protagonist would have deepened the experience (and why not as we play other ancestors of the game's main character, Desmond), but barring one notable exception near the start of the game there are hardly any female characters in the game at all; a real shame.
|The one interesting female character in the entire game|
Still these are minor issues when given such a fun, open and compulsive playground to explore.
Which brings us to the bad half of the game. Ubisoft have tied themselves in knots by including the terrible, unconvincing and utterly incomprehensible overarching meta story in the Assassins Creed games. The modern sections of the game are just so poor compared to the meat of the experience. They are boring, with horrible characters, a terrible father-and-son-relationship subplot, and no freedom to explore.
Every time the game yanked me out of the historical story into the modern one I had to turn it off. It was frustrating and depressing, and I just wanted to get back to the good bits.
Really the game would not have suffered at all, and indeed been improved even, by completely excising the modern storyline.
So, Assassins Creed3 has been a slightly schizophrenic experience, but overall one I've really enjoyed. When it hits its stride it does things better than any other game out there. It's just a shame the party is spoiled by Desmond and his boring, annoying, family and friends in the modern world. If only we could find some kind of killer-for-hire to put him out of our misery...