CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The "Assassin's Creed" franchise has been nothing short of brilliant, the breadth of the adventures of Altair and, especially, Ezio matched only by the gorgeous locales that served as the backdrop for their Templar-slaying escapades.
But after two numbered entries and four games altogether, both the settings and the characters were in serious need of a refresher. With a new protagonist and a new world to explore, "Assassin's Creed III" is that breath of fresh air the series has needed.
"Assassin's Creed III" shifts the action across the pond, replacing Renaissance Europe with Colonial America. After a lengthy introduction, players assume the role of Connor Kenway, an unlikely Assassin torn between protecting his Native American family and battling the Templars who threaten not only the ways of his people, but the rise of a new nation. During the course of his adventure, Connor becomes the Forrest Gump of the American Revolution. He's at the Boston Tea Party. He assists Paul Revere. He fights alongside the colonists at Bunker Hill. If there's a key historical moment, chances are gamers will be able to experience it through the eyes of Connor.
Of course, these story missions are only a small part of what makes "Assassin's Creed III" such a success. For the first time in series history, the game has a true open world to explore with a vast frontier connecting Boston and New York. This wilderness is full of wildlife for Connor to hunt, secret areas to discover and side missions to stumble upon. The franchise's free-running gameplay mechanic extends to this outdoor setting, allowing Connor to scale trees and move amongst the treetops with relative ease. Not only is this a neat way to traverse the great outdoors, but it gives Connor a tactical advantage in combat situations as he's able to get the drop, literally, on unsuspecting Redcoats.
Gameplay enhancements abound in "Assassin's Creed III." Basic movement - free-running and climbing -- feels more natural and intuitive, providing a new level of control that left me feeling at one with my surroundings. For the first time in an "Assassin's Creed" game, I never plummeted to my death because of a jump gone horribly wrong. Combat received a massive overhaul, too. While fighting still revolves around blocking and countering incoming attacks, the experience is more fluid in "ACIII" and Connor dispatches foes with much more style than his ancestors. The new kill animations are a real highlight. "Assassin's Creed III" also introduces naval battles to the series, which are a nice change of pace from the franchise's classic third-person action.
From a presentation standpoint, "Assassin's Creed III" is a jaw-dropping success. The amount of detail in the frontier is nothing short of amazing, with dynamic weather and changing seasons that bring the open world to life. And the streets of colonial New York and Boston are bustling with people going about their day-to-day activities while British regulars patrol to the beat of a drum. The voicework is excellent as always and the sweeping score helps frame the action on screen.
The drawbacks to "Assassin's Creed III" are few and far between. Occasional technical hiccups and an abundance of loading screens serve to spoil the immersion to a degree, and the open-ended design can be a little overwhelming at times, but the overall experience remains one of the best I've had this year.
"Assassin's Creed III" more than lives up to the high standards set by its predecessors. Connor may not be as dynamic a lead character as Ezio or Altair, but it is the new setting that proves to be the true star. Whether exploring the frontier or helping shape a nation, my experiences in "Assassin's Creed III" were memorable. With its lengthy single-player campaign and a robust multiplayer suite, "Assassin's Creed III" stands as one of the year's most impressive titles.