This newest installment shows that the stealth and stab franchise is one of the most electrifying – and playable – around.
Assassin's Creed 3 gets five stars
Assassin's Creed 3
PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC
Jump on the mushroom, shoot the bad guy, save the princess. There aren't many video games that require a lot of getting to grips with the story. Assassin's Creed, however, was never that simple.
Even the first in Ubisoft's hugely successful historical open-world stealth-stabber had a somewhat head-scratching plotline, with the Knights Templar, ancestral lineage and some device called the Animus thrown into a millennia-spanning battle to control the fate of mankind. Now on to the fifth major instalment (don't be fooled by the "3" - there have been two significant add-ons), it's fair to say even the most hardened fan is going to require a few minutes to take all the convoluted twists in.
That said, while newcomers to the guild might struggle with the developers' "previously on Assassin's Creed"-style intro, this update is a remarkable and outstandingly playable game by anyone's standards.
This time around the continuing battle between the Assassins and the Templar takes place in the revolution-era America of the 1700s, a blood-soaked land of red coats, patriots, muskets and cannons. With it comes a new protagonist, the half-English, half-Native American Ratonhnhaké:ton, thankfully also known as Connor Kenway.
The game begins in London with Kenway's father, a somewhat emotionless killer who journeys to the American colonies to locate a secret hideaway. A few throat slits and unexpected plot turns later, we're given control of his son, and the fun really begins.
The stealth and climbing aspects of previous Creeds are still there, but much of it now takes place in dense woodland, ripe with trees to clamber up and branches to balance on. The all-important assassination elements start with small furry rodents, move swiftly to gigantic bears and then to vast armies of gun-toting red-coated British imperialists under influence of the evil Templars.
As with the nature of the times, there is now firepower at your disposal. But keeping with the history, these require emptying and reloading after each shot. You're better off with a Mohawk-style hatchet or bow and arrow to keep things quick and simple.
While it's true that the cobbled streets of 18th-century Boston and New York might not conjure the same religious mystique of Crusader-era Jerusalem or Renaissance Venice of previous episodes, there's still immense satisfaction in scampering up buildings, leaping between rooftops and performing acrobatic hidden blade kills on targets below.
In classic Creed fashion, efforts have been made to incorporate actual characters and events into the gameplay. You'll meet Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and other revolutionary figures while also helping lob boxes overboard as part of the Boston Tea Party.
Although it's not really anything to do with the original sneak and stab premise, perhaps the most exciting new bit of action occurs at sea. As the story progresses, you're given the helm of a trusty frigate with which to steer through rolling, sea-sickness-inducing waters and numerous missions to blast British ships to pieces with your cannons. It's quite brilliant.
Perhaps the only negative is Kenway himself, who despite his wide array of death-dealing options possesses the personality of a grumpy teenager. The Mediterranean suave of Ezio in the previous episode is much missed.
But Kenway doesn't detract from the majesty that is Assassin's Creed 3, a sublime game that will enthral both newbies and assassins of old. Just remember to take in the glorious surroundings. And don't worry too much about the plot, because it's only likely to get more complicated.