Welcome to the frontier
1,891SRP: £44.99PC Version Update:Assassin’s Creed 3 on PC - as with every Ubisoft game on the ‘one true platform’ these days - puts its worst foot forward from the off. Ubi’s insistence on forcing uPlay onto an unsuspecting PC crowd means that we’ve yet another front-end system to endure, another in-game overlay (shift and F2 this time), separate achievements and their own rewards system. On top of Steam or Origin it just represents a faff; another layer, and an almost entirely pointless one at that. It’s not really a meaningful videogame store (although you can buy some games direct from the publisher, at their RRP), it’s just an additional set of menus and forced updates before you can get into the game proper.Rant over.Once you’re past that system, the PC version of Assassin's Creed 3 is actually a pretty decent port, managing to bring due care and attention to the details that matter most for PC gamers. Textures are suitably up-rezzed, controller support works out of the gate; lighting, visual effects and anti-aliasing are all vastly improved. There’s a decent range of control for those visual tweaks also, although Ubi labels everything with medium-high-ultra rather than letting you know specifically what’s going on under hood; the exception to that being Nvidia’s own TXAA anti-aliasing, which is explicitly labelled as long as you have a 600-series GPU or above.It runs at a fair clip as well. Our test system is a medium-spec'd unit based on an Intel i5 3570k processor paired with an Nvidia Geforce 660ti and 8GB of RAM, and setting everything to maximum was perfectly feasible during regular gameplay. The engine managed a virtually constant 60fps apart from some notorious sections of Boston and New York that dropped to around 40, but even with those minor blips (Nvidia have since released new drivers that improve performance slightly), AC3 is a sight to behold running at 1080p (or downsampled from higher resolutions if your rig can handle it) with a fluidity that puts the ageing consoles firmly in the shade.For once, it’s not purely a cosmetic difference either. Connor’s free-running abilities feel a heck of a lot more more responsive when running through trees at a higher frame-rate, and the level of reaction and control you have over his turns and jumps feels vastly improved. Of course you’ll still spend the majority of the game holding forwards and pulling the right trigger anyway, but on the occasions it matters, it’s nice to know you can react in time. The general ambience of the revolutionary environment is really thrust into the limelight with those visual improvements also, meaning you’re likely to be invested in his tale and want to explore the frontier just that little bit more.Having played both the 360 and PC versions now then, there’s a clear winner. Although Assassin’s Creed 3 is perfectly playable on consoles, we’re at a point in time where the gap in technology makes the PC version undeniably superior, and in a manner that’s tangible both in gameplay and visual terms. If you have the luxury of choice, please do tear yourself away from those Xbox achievements or PSN trophies, hook your computer up to the telly if you can, and bag yourself a wireless receiver for a 360 controller. Once you’re past uPlay, AC3 is a treat.It’s taken nearly five full games to work out exactly why I fall in love with every new Assassin’s Creed, but Ubi’s latest opus put everything into perspective during its opening sequence. It turns out it wasn’t the tactile combat, nor the pseudo-platforming or clambering up buildings to reach those cinematic panoramas; it was the sense of theatre; the act of peering with childlike eyes at a colourful period of history, watching as those larger-than-life caricatures are breathed life amidst their atmospheric and convincing set dressing, and the delivery of narrative sequences in which established fact and fiction are blurred to pulpy and entertainingly implausibility. It’s the best history lesson you never had as a kid, and it’s as anchored in the period as it is utterly, utterly ridiculous.
360 Review:In that regard, Assassin’s Creed III’s revolutionary America setting is the equivalent of a full change of props, script and lead actor; but the director, their production company and the creaky stage on which they stand remains absolutely resolute. Indeed, regular visitors might notice the peeling paperwork and cracks in the plaster with more prominence this time around, mostly thanks to a fresh lick of paint that only serves to accentuate their problems amidst a smattering of rather obvious touch-up work. A full restoration is now surely around the corner, despite the welcoming charms of the venue. Indeed it may well be necessary to secure momentum in the long-term.In terms of the framework on which those beautiful new backdrops hang, AC3 introduces several additional meta-systems to its already overwhelming tapestry of addictions, and it swaps Europe and the Middle East for the relatively flatter townships of Boston, New York and the wild frontier land in-between. The basic gameplay loop of stealthy missions, assassinations, modern-day Desmond vignettes, exploration and cutscenes is replicated wholesale from previous titles, and despite the introduction of a few new props with which to take on your opponents (namely the excellent tomahawk and rope dart), and a smattering of new attack types (lines of gun-toting soldiers and artillery sequences), these are the same gameplay rhythms that you may well know by heart. The compulsion to pay full attention to each of AC3’s story arcs will either suffer or be buoyed by that as a result.
As long as you get sucked into the intriguing politics and subterfuge of the time, the plot that carries you along to each new suite of gameplay challenges is a well-produced tale of revenge featuring the usual gaggle of templar villains and emotionally-challenged assassins, but this time in their distinctive Native American and British Red Coat flavours. A gentle introduction to the main gameplay loop takes place aboard a ship and then the underbelly of Boston’s squalid streets, but it’s not long before you’re clambering up trees and setting traps playing as Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor, in a slightly easier Westernised form), and pretty soon you’re let loose on the world amidst a sea of competing icons on your minimap.As the main attraction, the forest land connecting the two major towns is likely where you’ll end up spending your first few hours of freedom, and despite some misgivings when the vast scale of its size became clear (complete with yet more gameplay systems, in the form of hunting, crafting and trade), AC3 really sank its teeth into my veins amidst those trees. The grandeur of Rome, Florence, Venice or Constantinople is nowhere to be seen; replaced with course clifftops, rough woodland, wooden lodges and quaint villages. The free-running animation system on which the series plies its trade has been modified accordingly, with Connor able to scale branches, trees and rocky outcrops with a horizontal fluidity that escaped the previous games.In the right season and the right light, those snowy treetops and sparse forest floors of the Frontier are wondrous to behold, and running through their branches setting up traps, tackling wildlife and skinning your prey holds a good degree of charm. Anchored to those mechanics are a series of wilderness side quests that produce some of AC3’s most memorable moments, and it’s no coincidence that they all hinge on injecting a dose of personality and invention into proceedings. Peg Leg’s crazy pirate missions and the Frontiersman quests spring to mind most prominently, and - venturing further into new territory - the spectacular naval sequences (in which you have full control of your ship, cannons and all) are never less than polished and satisfying.
Once you’re back in the grip of either township however, the routine becomes a little more comfortable and a little less inspiring. There are trinkets to be found, paper pages to chase across rooftops, territory to liberate, forts to conquer and an underground network of self-contained tunnels to puzzle out and explore; all of which will be familiar in concept and excution. Boston and New York both hold a good spark of personality whilst exploring (again, all the more charming when it snows), but for the most part they’re presented as low-lying, sprawling, ramshackle towns with few identifiable landmarks with which to navigate. Although they’re clearly not lacking in immersive facets, there’s not a great degree of compulsion to seek out their dark corners and find those all-important vantage points either, and the map design almost tacitly admits to that; forcing you to uncover the outer sections of each territory solely on foot. You may not go there otherwise.In filling those towns with story and life however, AC3’s voice acting and sound design is almost universally excellent, providing the streets with a convincing bustle and hubbub as you make your way from one set piece to the next. The array of vocal talent that Ubi has assembled ranges in regional accent from Scotland to Ireland, Wales, the North of England, France and beyond, all of whom are stacked up against a main protagonist that comes across as a little bit dull in comparison. It's not that Connor’s voice actor is bad, mind you; but rather that his dialogue frequently comes across as little more than a bland cipher to reinforce the all-American ideals of liberty, justice and freedom. Suitable for the period and storyline without a doubt, but his lines consistently feel as if they could have been peppered with a little more bite; a little more personality.As a result there’s little of Ezio’s edge or banter to carry along proceedings when things get dull, but thankfully the gallery of fictional villains and historical cameos more than make up for that personality deficit. The story missions and cutscenes heavily featuring templars or key characters of the time are almost universally excellent, showcasing that Ubisoft’s talented team is capable of some brilliant design when it comes to focussing on what they do best. There are sparks of life in Connor’s relationship with his mentor Achilles too, suggesting that better things may yet be to come from his subdued personality.
And for when you inevitably get tired of the well-worn big-budget spectacle, there’s always the community theatre of multiplayer to dip into.
AC3’s online modes are once again a superb mix of stealth and role-playing, with players tasked with blending into the crowd and stalking their human targets amidst a sea of cloned characters. Success is defined by your ability to be patient and mimic the behaviour of the AI, and when chases eventually do break out across rooftops, buildings or naval vessels, they’re breathless and exhilarating affairs with no small amount of skill involved. There’s still nothing quite like this on the market, and the addition of dedicated team-based gameplay modes and a challenge-driven Abstergo-rich storyline just makes it all the better.
- Smooth gameplay
- Acres of world to explore
- Oodles of content
- Compelling storylines
- Occasionally buggy
- Familiar despite the new settting
- Connor isn't quite Ezio
Assassin's Creed III Xbox 360 ReviewAs the curtain falls on AC3 then, you’re certainly not left wanting for decent entertainment. Despite the scenery and character changes, new mechanics and updated visuals however, Assassin’s Creed 3 never really feels like that much of an update; which I’m realising is an absurd sentence when you consider the amount of new content that you’re faced with out of the box. That’s the truth of the situation though, and I’d be amazed if fans of the series felt any other way.If you skipped Brotherhood (shame on you!) or Revelations, AC3 may well be the breathtaking update that Assassin’s Creed 2 was to the original, and in which case you can probably add another full star to the score - despite my reservations over Connor’s bland posturing. If you’ve played anything from Brotherhood onwards however, this is another solid and excellently produced title with superlative multiplayer, and it’s a continuing peek at Desmond’s evolving storyline back in the ‘real world’. It might not set your world on fire like those previous titles did, but there’s more than enough good content in here to make Connor’s journey time well spent.
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