With Assassin's Creed III, Ubisoft's open-world series has, if you'll allow me a tortured, non-period metaphor, been given a spray job, new upholstery and a mild engine and suspension tune. The result of this is that this fIfth game in the series has to go through all that long drawn-out story exposition stuff in the opening levels of the game, before it hurls you, at last prepared and unfettered into the vast and immersive game world that lovers of the series have come to know and, erm... love.
As someone who loved and reviewed Assassin's Creeds II
I have to say... the first several hours of Assassin's Creed III
are shit. Seriously, dire, linear, boring, tedious, annoying and in places pretty difficult. Because they are difficult, I found myself repeating sections, and sometimes pretty long sections, again and again.
Ubisoft must have become aware that this makes the opening tedious stuff, because the review copy of the game comes with an imprecation for the reviewer to play the game for at least 30 hours. A few days later, we were sent a play-through guide. Not one hastily sketched on the back of a cigarette packet, either - but a lavishly tooled, 272-page play guide
I'll be honest, if I hadn't had that guide, this review would not be favourable.
As I have mentioned, in order to establish the characters and set the scene, the early sections of the game are extremely linear and some of the missions are frustrating. In one, you have to accompany a fine fellow (no spoilers here) to the docks – this being set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, the docks play a big part in the game. You have to protect him from the assault of the Redcoats.
You can make him follow you by hitting the A button (which I'll call the 'Required Button'), and you can make him wait out of danger by hitting the same button. But the Required Button is also used, contextually to drop from roofs and ledges and to pick up weapons (and to pet dogs - WHY!!??!?).
So, if you want to leave the gentleman and then drop from a roof, when you press the Required Button to drop he begins to follow you. If you want drop from a roof near the body of a soldier you just killed, you pick up his weapon, rather than drop. If you want to pick up a weapon to snipe some Redcoats at ground level, the gentleman you are supposed to be protecting from the Redcoats begins to follow you to the roof edge, and into the line of fire. It's just annoying.
You end up having to take the gentleman – okay, Ben Franklin - to the far corner of a roof, so that you can track back so that he is out of range when you press the Required Button to drop. But you must "remain close to allies" so this then limits how far you can press ahead to kill troops. I was ready, halfway through this mission, to throw the controller at the screen and the game in the bin.
But for the sake of the review, I persevered. And I am so glad
that I did. Because, now, some 30 hours in, I cannot stop playing this game. And I can see hours, and hours and hours of the coming weeks being lost to it.
Much about the pre-Revolutionary USA in which AC III
is set is very very similar to previous ages, but much is tweaked just enough to make the experience profoundly different.
The prevalence of ranged weapons, which historically were not a readily available option in the periods of the previous games, means that getting away from alerts is now much more difficult. Attempts to ride away on horseback will often see the horse felled by a rifle shot within seconds.
The British Redcoats are, in the early stages of the game, extremely prolific and extremely belligerent. Whenever you arouse suspicion a great many of them will give chase. As you attempt to escape, you pass more of them and very soon you can have what seems like they entire British army in pursuit. So, dodging out of sight and taking cover is not terribly easy.
Put simply: going into open combat and toughing it out is much tougher than in previous AssCreeds
. New fighting techniques, equipment and weapons make some of the damned Redcoats extremely hard opponents. They can be very difficult to kill unless you perform an assassination or a chained attack on them.
As a result, it is easy to become involved in epic chases that can take you far from your intended destination. At the end of these, you have a high notoriety rating, so tracking back to where you intended to go can easily provoke another chase. You'll need to use stealth and blending to traverse the city. Taking to the rooftops is not an option either, they are heavily patrolled, and you'll soon trigger an alert with similar consequences.
One way to avoid detection during surface travel is to use AC III's
fast travel system. This comprises stagecoaches in the rural districts but, in the cities of Boston and New York, you have a system of underground tunnels available to you.
Of course, you have to discover the entrances and navigate through the tunnels to an exit before you can use them. Doing so involves some pretty extended and quite tedious exploration. It's spiced up in places by the odd simple puzzle and the occasional combat sequence.