Critical Consensus: Assassin's Creed 3
Can new killer Connor sneak his way into critics' hearts?
Assassin's Creed 3 isn't just a new entry into Ubisoft's stabby franchise, but a new chapter for it too. Gone is Ezio, who has been the reliable front man of the games since 2009, replaced by Connor the native american. Gone are the canals of Venice and helpful courtesans, and in their place are Boston and the Frontier, the American Revolution and plenty of Redcoats.
The game went on sale today, with the embargo on reviews lifting at just 4pm yesterday. Often this short period of time between verdict and release can be indicative of a lack of confidence in the product, but Assassin's Creed III seems to so far to have avoided a blade in the back from the critics.
In fact it's already managed handful of flawless scores. Greg Tito of The Escapist is just one of the reviewers that gave the game full marks, (five stars out of five) and calls it "four independently excellent games rolled into one."
While his reviews acknowledges that the actual assassinations themselves can be "tedious", and that new boy Connor is actually a bit of a drag, it's the setting that has clearly won his heart. Light-hearted scenes featuring figures like Benjamin Franklin provide "comic relief" and the world provides constant entertainment: "it's enjoyable to traipse through the woods of New England or the streets of Boston alike."
"There won't be many other games this year that represent more activity per pound or euro"
The change of scenery hasn't affected the parkour thrills either, with Tito promising that trees and cliffs function as climbing frames just as well as Rome's architecture. There's also the homestead, which a player can upgrade as he progresses through the game, and secondary content like hunting and boxing, which "increases your emotional connection to Connor's home and to the land of the free that the story missions let you fight for."
Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell was another high scorer, giving the game a nine, and also praised the amount of side missions on offer, adding "there won't be many other games this year that represent more activity per pound or euro."
But he is clear that "this enormous amount of preamble and peripheral activity isn't there to compensate for a shortfall in the central story," arguing the game can take as long as eight hours to really get going. The mix of beautiful world and surprisingly dull encounters with the people that inhabit it leaves an "uneven" feeling to the gameplay, and "the game ending itself, bringing five years of tempt and tease to a close, is thoroughly weak."
What saves it and seems to make it worthy of a high score not the stand out flaws, but the way the game works together as a whole, the rich world filled with rich side missions, and served with a side dish of decent multiplayer.
"It all serves to make this the biggest and richest Assassin's Creed game to date - maybe not the best, but a place where, for want of a better expression, everything is permitted."
It's not an opinion shared by Official PlayStation Magazine's Joel Gregory, who is quick to get to the (very sharp) point.
"Assassin's Creed 3 is one of the most high-profile gaming disappointments in recent memory," Gregory writes. "It's also undoubtedly the weakest entry since the original, with a regression in mission structure, embarrassing AI, and pacing that starts out badly and never manages to find its feet."
While others have be entranced by climbing on trees, Gregory is more concerned with how they look, and the answer seems to be ugly. He reports that "foliage textures are PS2-level in places - little more than flat, intersecting 2D blobs of green - and the pop-in is ceaseless."
His main issue is with the missions themselves though, which both lack variety and feel horribly familiar to anyone who has played hoodies and knives before. The sneaking and eavesdropping missions are back and just as tedious as before, and the less than spectacular nature of the big kills means a cycle of disappointment for this reviewer.
"We were promised a revolution, but very little has changed"
Official PlayStation Magazine UK
"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."
Again, the game is saved from a lower score by the side missions available in the world, with Gregory even commenting "the game is saved somewhat by the wealth of content it includes...and the moments that remind you just why this series remains such a big draw."
"We were promised a revolution, but very little has changed."
Falling neatly in the middle of these reviews is new site Polygon and the score of 8 handed out by Arthur Gies.
Again there's a huge amount of praise for the secondary tasks and distractions available in the world, and for the world's role as something to climb up and jump from. Gies seems most troubled by the actual mechanics underneath all of that, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.
"For a character as nimble as Connor, it's surprising how often uncooperative feet are a problem" he explains.
"Connor might do what you expect him to do 90 percent of the time, but the 10 percent where he doesn't might also screw you." Gies adds that one vital chase sequences took him 40 tries after issues with Connor performing the wrong sort of action (blending, climbing, taking cover) instead of just running.
But Gies is fonder of the clumsy Connor than most of the other reviewers, and complementary to an "inventive" multiplayer.
"Even knowing that I'll encounter issues that make the game occasionally infuriating, I want to go back. And that, despite Assassin's Creed 3's flaws, is more than I can say for most games."
What initially seems like a small spread of scores, from top marks to seven, actually represents a huge difference in opinion, and one that seems to come down to just how much you enjoy playing on the Frontier, and how invested you are in the series. And as hundreds of midnight launches for the game have proved, the answer for many consumers out there is very invested indeed.