AC3 is the best Assassin's Creed ever... There, I said it
It's Tuesday night in downtown Boston, myself and a collection of similarly sweaty journalists packed into a roped off section of a small hotel nightclub, occasionally glancing across the divide towards the collection of rich young socialites filling the air with the rank stench of their raging sexual hormones. Meanwhile, I'm busy debating the future of media with a pair of dangerously passionate webcasters named after Spider-Man villians, as well as one of those rare gaming PR reps willing to embrace the press as fellow human beings rather than potential review scores.
"Development costs are going to skyrocket as we enter the next generation" the PR man tells us. "Even now the cost of making a triple-A game is enough to put a company out of business if it doesn't succeed. Look at 38 Studios. Kingdoms of Amalur sold fantastically, it did great it Europe. Even that wasn't enough to keep that in business."
"It's becoming just like Hollywood," I opine, ignoring his glossing over of 38 Studios questionable business tactics. "Blockbuster movies are so expensive to make that they'd rather take a proven brand and revitalize it. The studios don't take risks."
"Inception?" offers Green Goblin.
"Yeah, but that's Christopher Nolan..." Doctor Octopus counters.
"Point is" the brand man cuts back in, eyes wide with half-drunken clarity. "If Assassin's Creed fails, Ubisoft fails."
It's not a bold statement, simply a hard fact. Three years in development, Assassin's Creed 3 is the pillar of Ubisoft's attempted holiday domination, alongside Far Cry 3, Just Dance 4, and Wii U exclusive ZombiU. Thing is, more time and money has been sunk into AC3 than any of the other mentioned titles, not even counting the game's extensive marketing budget. Luckily for my friend in PR, it seems he has little to worry about. Based on my hands-on preview of the game, it's obvious that AC3 is the best Assassin's Creed title to date, jam-packed with an truly baffling amount of content that justifies the purchase price several times over. I can honestly say I've never seen a game this robust, with no shortage of distractions scattered throughout the gorgeous Boston countryside.
In short, Ubisoft has nothing to worry about. Their competition however, may want to start taking notes.
Beginning my playthrough I was quickly introduced to the Davenport Homestead, a large manor tucked away in the wilderness which serves as Connor's homebase. Throughout the game, players will befriend new allies who help to populate the homestead, giving Connor access to their own unique abilities. For instance, while exploring we stumbled across a wounded female hunter named Myrium. After fixing up her wounds, I was tasked with hunting down the illegal poachers who had tried to take her out, using the "Sheng Biao" Rope Dart to reel in my victims like Mortal Kombat's Scorpion before delivering fatal blows. Thankful for this, Myrium agreed to join my humble home and make her selection of furs, herbs and hunting goods available for sale. Also scattered about the homestead is Connor's mentor Achilles (who I'm hoping will prove to be more than your standard "magical negro" stereotype), as well as Peg Leg Pete, a man happy to trade for your trinkets. The character screen revealed that there are several yet unknown characters who will also be joining the homestead, and I look forward to seeing what each brings to the table.
While wandering the wilderness, a common hazard will be the game's selection of wild animals, ranging from harmless rabbits and raccoons, to deadly wolves and massive bears. Unfortunately, the dramatic man vs. beast encounters are handled with yawn-inducing QTE sequences, reducing the epic confrontations down to a simple reaction tester. Still, hunting game was a surprisingly enjoyable distraction, especially the act of sneaking up on the more adorable critters and letting fly an arrow to their skull. Players will also stumble across various tracking clues throughout the game world, identifying the location of rare beasts to add to your hunting collection. Meanwhile, truly dedicated hunters will be able to join the game's hunting club, getting access to specific missions from the boys at the lodge. Ubisoft has even taken steps to satisfy rabid PETA protestors, making it so that Connor's synchronization rate actually drops if the player neglects to skin the animal after the hunt.
After stealing a horse from a woodland traveler and riding into the streets of Boston for the first time, it seemed obvious that AC3 was pushing the 360's hardware to the limit, as evidenced by the various technical issues the team is likely still working to fix. Graphical pop-in was very noticeable throughout my playthrough, with NPCs and background elements tending to appear and disappear at random. The shadow and shading textures were also very rough, likely in an attempt to save some memory. None of this is game breaking, though it will be interesting to see if anything is done about these issues, or if other versions of the game (PS3, PC) handle them better.
If anything, the team can be forgiven for these small graphical issues given how expansive and detailed the game's environments are. Boston in particular has been rendered with a precise level of detail, our real life tour of some famous Boston landmarks making it obvious how much attention was paid to perfectly rendering the birthplace of American independence. Not only will the architecture amaze, but the town itself is filled with tons of tiny details which add levels of depth to the stealth gameplay. Rowdy orphans will attempt to coerce coins from the player, barking dogs can be calmed with a pat on the head, and wanted posters can be torn down in an effort to keep one's profile low. Meanwhile, truly brutal players will quickly earn a notoriety level which even the classic haystack nap won't fix, requiring you to stealthily navigate towards a town criers and throwing him a few bones to shut up about your recent misdeeds.
As you explore Boston, you'll quickly see that AC3 offers too many distractions to count. Satisfy your collector mentality by chasing rare manuscript pages parkour style around the city, or try your hand at pick pocketing some of the more affluent citizens. Heck, there's even a selection of parlor games to bet on (I look forward to learning how to dominate at "fanorona"). If you hate games which force you along the main storyline, you'll be glad to see that AC3 promotes taking time off for various side missions.
Speaking of side missions, the game's naval battles are a definite highlight. Here, Connor strips off his assassin's garb and slips into Captain Crunch's uniform for some thrilling battles on the high seas. This mode definitely delivers the thrills, letting players bark out the orders to increase or reduce speed, while directing cannon fire towards the legions of enemy ships. One mission tasked the crew with blowing away the deadly mines impeding our path, taking out any Brits unlucky to be within the explosion radius. Following this my vessel came across an enemy base, a thrilling battle which involved opening fire with the cannons while instructing the crew to take cover from mortar fire. I'm looking forward to finding out exactly how this brash Native American assassin gets entrusted with captain's duties, though I was loving the frantic action on-screen, enemy boats exploding all around as my crew cheered riotously.