The most important thing to know about Assassin's Creed 3 is this - it was made alongside Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Revelations - and has been in development since January 2010. Ubisoft has explained this before in interviews, but it is made clear by the game itself - otherwise AC3 would have had a chance to learn from their missteps.
That said, it is also more ambitious than previous games. Much more ambitious. The scale of Assassin's Creed 3 world is much larger than the Italian and Turkish cities of Ezio's travels and this is most immediately displayed in the geometry - whereas previous games had some hills and slopes, AC3 is brimming with cliffs and steep inclines. Coupled with the addition of trees, this makes the areas outside of the two cities (New York and Boston) feel much more natural.
Connor can't climb all trees, but the ones he can are everywhere, forming paths throughout the wilderness. Impressively however, climbable trees still look like natural parts of the landscape, instead of obviously manufactured. It may be a trick of the imagination, but he seems to run quicker through trees than on land - and it certainly looks a good deal nicer.
The cities of Boston and New York on the other hand, are disappointing. It comes down to two factors - Connor's free-running and the nature of the cities themselves. Connor now begins free-running by holding down Right Trigger - and that's it. If there is a jump he needs to make, he does it without extra input from you - just hold down RT and point the analogue stick in the direction you want to go.
Unfortunately, Connor was struck down with the then untreatable syphilis or something, because at times he has difficulty following simple instructions. This was a problem for Ezio and Altair in the previous Assassin's Creed games, but never as much as it is in Assassin's Creed 3. Sometimes it seems like Connor just can't run past a barrel without hopping on top of it.
At other times you might want Connor to jump diagonally across from one beam to another, but he'll decide you wanted to dive into the water. Connor isn't only about going where he isn't supposed to though - sometimes he will refuse to move at all, perched on a beam like a gargoyle while guards start getting curious and you pop a blood vessel screaming at your television.
Rooftop guards are everywhere for some reason - pairs of them hang out on little railed wooden platforms throughout each city. This is so if you need to progress past one Connor can approach the railing and hang off of it, motionless, presumably thinking 'I don't understand what you want me to do' as you shout 'GET UP AND KILL THE FREAKING GUARD YOU GODDAMNED SIMPLETON' and the guards ready their rifles.
Guards aren't just hanging about on rooftops however - they are on the streets too. Boy howdy are they on the streets. In New York on three separate occasions I walked out of a shop or completed a mission while incognito (meaning guards don't pay attention to you) and walked within a metre of a guard. The guard then flipped out, sent every guard in the area to high alert and I had to run for my life as a swarm of redcoats chased me across the city. Wait, racist men with superiority complexes tried to kill me for being a minority in a hoodie? Things sure were different in America back then! (social commentary.)
Fortunately, while jumping across rooftops and running through cities was the thing to do in previous titles in the series, the emphasis in Assassinís Creed 3 is firmly on running and jumping through nature. Of the four locations you traverse - Boston, New York, the Frontier and Connorís Homestead - the final two are dedicated almost entirely to this. You come across the occasional guard patrol or house, but most of the time youíll be hunting - or being hunted by - animals.
Hunting is largely unimportant - you donít need to hunt animals to survive, or for money, or for anything. Nevertheless, it is a great way to kill time - while hunting rabbits and deer is simple, hunting bears, elk and cougars can be a challenging and intense experience - with a decent (albeit pointless) payoff once you sell the various pelts, teeth and antlers.
In fact, a lot of what makes Assassinís Creed 3 good is completely incidental to advancing the plot. Naval combat is without a doubt one of the strongest aspects of the game - and yet it is only touched on a few times by the main story. There are quite a few ship battles to take part in, but they are optional - whether you do them or not is entirely up to you.
Youíd be mad to skip them however, as they are ridiculously well done. While I had previously been given the impression you could sail up and down the coast at your leisure (possibly a naive assumption given how taxing that would be to make function) I was only a little disappointed when it turned out ship combat was packaged up - you select a mission on the map and things start with you sailing in close to the action.
Connor steers the craft and issues commands and your crew fires cannons and changes the rigging. Telling your men to crouch will help them avoid damage - and thatís mostly it. You sail about shooting down enemy fleets - carefully timing your attacks so you arenít shooting into waves and trying not to get caught out sailing into the wind. Itís simple, but holy heck does it work.
Along with sailing, hunting and collecting the various collectible chests, feathers and pages of Poor Richardís Almanack, Connor also herds villagers for his Homestead. The various villagers he wrangles give him missions to complete, providing a second story dedicated to their attempts to escape their past and begin a new life.
Itís a bit of a cheesy, feel-good story - full of nervous suitors and moments where the townsfolk come together to help their own - but it works and is actually probably necessary - because the main story - the Assassinís vs Templars story - is a hell of a lot more bleak than the previous games.
If there were themes to Assassinís Creed 3, the important ones would be Ďfathers and sons donít get along because they are too alikeí and Ďeverybody sucksí. Everybody does bad things all the time, nobody cares about anyone but themselves and the best you can aspire to is being able to spin your story in a positive way.
It isnít a tragedy, itís just... a downer. Connor canít rely on his dad, he canít rely on his mentor - he canít even rely on George Washington, Americaís First Superhero. Everybody lets him down - and he lets the people relying on him down too. Desmond, likewise, is let down by and lets down everyone. Itís like watching a video of my life, except with jumping on things. That said, after seeing how it ends I am keen to see where they go with it next.
The other problem with the main missions is how incredibly directed they are. Connor follows checkpoints until he reaches where he is supposed to go - and if you do something the game isnít expecting, prepare to desynchronise. Invisible walls, omniscient guards and boats and buildings mysteriously missing handholds outside of the set path abound - and it's honestly kind of a travesty.
There is a thin line between telling the player a story and letting them experience it, and itís one the previous games parkoured along with only the occasional misstep. Assassinís Creed 3 however, falls flat on the side of telling you its story - and it would be unforgivable if it werenít for the billion other things you can do in the game.
Connor isnít particularly likeable and the story is about what we've come to expect from the Assassin's Creed franchise - not as clever as it thinks it is. Still, it's a necessity to unlock the best part of the game - it's a requirement if you want to maximise your fun in the gorgeous open world the Ubisoft team created. With the backdrop of the American Revolution punctuating your plight then, Assassin's Creed 3 is appropriately about the struggle and then celebration of freedom.