The Good: Gripping story, new combat and parkour system are more streamlined, fantastic graphics, naval battles are a blast, a lot of things to do, multiplayer is addictive with deep customization, hunting is a welcome mechanic, a lot of little changes that add to the overall experience make a huge difference
The Bad: Parkour system still has fidgety nuances, graphics look dated in areas, club challenges can be really tough to beat, Desmond's story end abruptly with another cliffhanger, a few bugs and glitches
I can't tell you how long I have been waiting for this game, well I can, since the first one. I didn't know what AC3 would be, but I knew down the road it would come and here it is. Somehow Ubisoft can manage to make each entry feel fresh without having to do drastic reboots. AC3 is set in the American Revolution and is the final chapter in Desmond's story, or so they say. You play as Connor or the unpronounceable Ratonhnhaké:ton. He is a Mohawk indian or half British half Kanien'kehá:ka. He is actually a likeable character and after Ubisoft created such loved characters as Altair and Ezio it becomes a huge challenge to create a third. There are so many changes to the game that it feels like a true sequel, but a few flaws that have persisted through the series stay.
The first thing you will notice is the change in the HUD design. It is much more streamlined and user friendly. The second thing you will notice is that the puppeteer system is gone. You do everything with RT only and jump around with A. This is supposed to help streamline climbing (which it does) so you have to press less buttons. Connor automatically pushes people out of the way while running now so you no longer stumble and fall down. One major thing taken away was much you can blend. Being able to run away from guards is much easier now but you can still hide in stacks. There are different crowd types to blend in with like people leaning against walls, starting riots etc. but when you are notorious you can fight or lose them more easily. The whole environment just feels more natural so you can climb on cliffs in the frontier and use different handholds. Trees can now be climbed because there is a new V shape object introduced.
The same flaw persists in parkouring that has throughout every game. Connor will jump around on handholds that you don't want him to. He will even some times get stopped by invisible barriers if an object is too low. This led to cheap deaths and frustrating restarts. I guess some things can't ever be ironed out. Thankfully the combat is much improved with Ubisoft realizing Assassin's Creed is a counter fest and actually building on this. AC3 is my third favorite fight system in an action adventure right under God of War and the new Batmans. Each attack is built around a counter so you press B when a red triangle appears above an enemy's head then press X to instant kill, B again to throw, or A to disarm. The combat system is fast and fluid and leads to less deaths, but is still challenging because you need to be quick. Each assassin you recruit is unique and there are only six. Each one has a special ability like escort, marksmen, riot, and others. These unique abilities give you many more options when infiltrating restricted areas to either bring you in the heart or distract guards. You can even send them off on missions through the map menu instead of localized areas.
There are many weapons and items you can use now in combat. The punch dagger has been reduced to just one, but you have a flintlock pistol (yes it requires a lengthy reload every time but you can carry two later on), you also have a bow and arrow. Other items include mines, poison darts, rope darts and many others. You also have to watch out because enemies have weapons and will form firing lines. When they do this press A near an enemy and use them as a human shield. Good stuff.
On another note, combat leads to hunting which is a great mechanic added to this game. Exploring the large Frontier area and Homestead allows you to hunt animals and skin them for items to use for crafting. You can stalk animals (stalking is a whole new feature that allows you to hide in tall brush), assassinate them from the air, and lay snares to trap smaller animals. Laying out bait will make an animal come to the exact area you want, but watch out. Using more aggressive methods of killing will damage the animals pelts such as using a pistol or mine. Hunting also leads into the many club challenges (which are extremely difficult to complete). You can even be attacked by animals which leads to quick time events.
Now that we have the three major things about the game are out of the way let's talk about minor stuff. The menu and HUD design is much more streamlined such as your health, ammo count, and even your assassins you can call upon. Everything is minimal and I really like that. Of course when you pass by new areas you get briefed on a bit of history about it which is 25% of the fun in AC3. After you finish the story mode you can go around finding hundreds of collectibles such as feathers, chests, trinkets, and other items. The club challenges are really tough though and require you to meet certain criteria to move onto the next list. It can be fun, but some are nearly impossible to complete.
One of my favorite things in the game are the Peg Leg Trinket missions which are cinematic and a placeholder for the Templar Tombs that were in previous games. The final piece of loot for these missions is awesome, and each mission is memorable and so much fun. There is a new investigation mechanic added that has you finding clues on the map which is used for hunting, side missions, and story missions. What's more are the naval battles which are absolutely epic and really fun. Thanks to the new Anvil-Next graphics engine Ubisoft created some pretty realistic water effects that make you feel like you're really in the ocean. Steering the ship around and blasting off cannons to enemy ships is so much fun and each mission has various objectives. Probably the best use of a controllable ship in any game ever!
You are probably wondering about the story. Sure, Connor's story is touching and has him following every major event in the Revolution along with key people. The characters are entertaining to watch and hear and Desmond's story is like all the other games in the series, very brief, but the ending isn't as bad as everyone says it is. It isn't confusing, but just abrupt. Desmond and the gang are trying to stop the solar flare from destroying the world on 12/21/12 and it gets a bit complicated. Connor's story has a satisfying ending, but you just can't help but feel giddy when a historic figure like Ben Franklin or George Washington appears on screen.
Once you finish the epic story mode there is multiplayer that is just so addictive. Ubisoft has fine tuned it and nailed it with the cat and mouse gameplay that you can't get enough of. Each player gets an avatar of another player they have to kill. However, in each level there are dozens of duplicates walking around, but you can't just start killing everyone. Killing innocents exposes you and makes you vulnerable. Find your target by watching for suspicious behavior like blending, hiding, or running. You also have people hunting you, but you can't kill them just knock them out. If you confront them directly you just get an honorable death which reduces their kill score. Stay incognito and knock them out from behind. There are many modes such as Assassinate which doesn't give you any contracts. You just have to watch your compass and kill everyone you can find. There are deep customization options that allow you to change the appearance, attack moves, stances, taunts, and weapons of each character. You can unlock new items by ranking up and earning credits.
Overall, AC3 is huge and fantastic. Exploring the Frontier, Boston, and New York is amazing, not to mention the fantastic graphics for such dated hardware. Multiplayer is extremely addictive, and other small tid bits just add to that. Weather changes, hunting, crafting, side missions, the list goes on and on. The only way to truly experience this amazing game is to play it. This is definitely game of the year worthy and well worth a purchase.
Limited Edition: For $60 extra dollars you can get a highly detailed figurine of Connor, a life size Assassin's version of the American flag, a beautiful art book, and a belt buckle. This is all well worth the extra money because of how detailed everything is. The flag has metal eyes so it can be flown on a pole. The statue has so much detail, it looks fantastic. The art book is designed like a 17th century journal and looks beautiful. Well worth the purchase.
(Based on Xbox 360 version)