We also can’t help wondering if the American Revolution setting plays better in the US than it does in Europe. After all, while Samuel Adams and Paul Revere are major historical figures over there, they’re not so iconic over here (perhaps because the British lost the war). Beyond this, there’s a suspicion that the mission designs aren’t consistently that great, with some great stealth and combat missions followed by the most mundane or frustrating ‘do three things then come back’ quests imaginable.
And there are technical issues too. Playing pre-release Xbox 360 code, we had reason to hope that some of the glitches we’d seen had been ironed out by the time you played the game, but apparently not. Some colossal patches have helped, but we’re not the only ones to have experienced mission-critical characters disappearing or enemies and wild beasts that get stuck in the scenery. Even though the context-sensitive controls have got better, you’ll still find Connor making a disastrous move because you weren’t quite pointing in the right direction. And why are so many frontier areas closed off during sections of the game? Is it to ensure that the player doesn’t go off track, or to cover limitations of storage or memory?
The Wii U version isn’t immune to glitches either. For the most part it’s a solid port, feeling very close in look and feel to the 360 version, if a little more prone to frame rate collapse when things get really busy. Use of the Wii U Pad is restricted to an onscreen map and some shortcut keys for summoning your horse or selecting weapons, but having the map to refer to clarifies some of the more obscure objectives in some missions, and a larger radar helps in naval battles.
However, we’ve still experienced the same issues with the stuck critters mentioned above, not to mention some odd low-resolution textures and flashing shadows – albeit more pronounced in some sequences than others. The early scenes in Boston seem particularly problematic. We’ve yet to find a technically flawless Assassin’s Creed 3, and this one isn’t it.
It’s disappointing to find the Wii U port so slim on features, but we’d rather have that than some of the unsuccessful gimmicks of Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition. And Ubisoft has supported one of our favourite features of Wii U; the ability to play the game on the Wii U Pad instead of your TV. Assassin’s Creed 3 is a huge game, and it’s not always convenient to stop the game just because someone else in your household wants to watch TV. Now there’s no need to. Flick the toggle in the General options screen and you can carry on playing on the Wii U Pad’s built-in screen. The detailed visuals hold up surprisingly well.
These things spoil what’s otherwise a rich illusion of the American frontier, and mar the early sections of the game. But here’s the thing: AC3 is a grower. Where the first Assassin’s Creed stunned you for the first five hours then bored you for the rest of its duration, AC3 just gets better. The more you play, the more you become caught up in Connor’s adventures and the intrigue of the time, and the more engaging and coherent all the different shards of narrative and gameplay become.
There are still dodgy sequences, like a reimagining of Paul Revere’s famous ride, while a strategy segment in the battle for Lexington and Concord falls a little flat, but these are always balanced by something much more exciting. Best of all, the Desmond bits are reasonably exciting this time around. The lad finally gets his own exciting missions, even if he has to spend a little too much time exploring a confusing and slightly dull First Civilization complex.
If anything, AC3 is slightly too ambitious, and you suspect that a few fewer game mechanics and a slightly shorter story might have made for a tighter and more consistent thriller. Yet we’d always rather see a game suffer from an excess of ambition than a lack of it. And that’s why, on balance, we love AC3. Rather than simply dress its old game in a new period and new clothes, it does everything it can to shake things up.
Epic in ambition, scale and scope, Assassin’s Creed 3 is anything but another lazy sequel. At times it even tries to do too much, and some might find the initial few hours a bit slow moving. However, persistence is rewarded with some impressive spectacle and exceptional gameplay. It might not displace Brotherhood as the high watermark of the series, but it revitalises what was in danger of becoming another tired franchise, and sets it back on track.
As for the new Wii U port, it's not the most ambitious we've seen but it looks great and plays well and supports playing on the Wii U Pad instead of your TV. So definitely worth a go if you didn't play it first time round.