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Assassin's Creed 3 review: The birth of a nation, the end of a trilogy

America's angsty teenage years provide the backdrop for the biggest Assassin's Creed yet

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Menus are another of the game's conspicuous flaws. The map is a mess, and so over-stylised that you can't clearly identify where you've been and where you haven't. Unexplored areas are dark blue, and explored areas are a slightly different shade of dark blue. You can imagine how irksome this can be when you're trying to explore somewhere as big as the Frontier.

During combat you have to bring up a separate menu to switch between tools, and sometimes it takes a few seconds to load. Minor issues on paper, but ones that will eat away at your patience as the hours roll on. It's like living with a friend: at first you put up with their annoying habits, but soon they become a constant source of irritation.

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If you've been following Desmond's story since the beginning, the game does provide some sense of closure - while simultaneously opening things up for a new set of sequels. We may have seen the last of him, but the series isn't going to suddenly grind to a halt.

But at least we get a chance to try out his new assassin skills (courtesy of the bleeding effect) in the present day, with three missions set outside of the Animus in various corners of the globe. The biggest mystery left unsolved at the end is how the hell the modern-day Assassins manage to travel so freely around the world in a van when they're the most wanted people on the planet.

We expected more. That sounds unfair when you consider the scale of the game, but size isn't everything. The leap from the first Assassin's Creed to the second was notably dramatic, and a master class in sequel-making. The leap from the second game to the third isn't nearly as bold. They've made advancements in a lot of areas, but in others they're still making mistakes they were making five years ago.

We'd had enough of slowly tailing NPCs through alleyways in Assassin's Creed 2, and we're even more tired of it now. So it's disappointing, but only relative to its predecessors and our lofty expectations. It's still fundamentally a brilliant game.

It's ambitious, grand in scale, and technically impressive - albeit with some visual hiccups. It introduces you to a fascinating period of history, spins a gripping yarn, and sets you loose in a huge, detailed open world. The free-running and fighting are slicker than in previous games, but the cities don't instil the same sense of awe, and a lot of the missions are too mechanical. Ubisoft have described it as a 'next-gen experience' - but they're not quite there yet.


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MULTIPLAYER TEST

First, the bad news. Assassin's Creed 3 multiplayer uses a free-to-play inspired microtransaction system. You can buy an in-game currency called Erudito Points with real money and gain access to, in Ubisoft's words, "some game items, disregarding your current level." So you can't pay to reach a higher level, but you can forcibly unlock items that you'd otherwise have to earn through honest playing.

While this is incredibly lame, and a depressing sign of the times, it doesn't completely break the game. Some players may have the edge in the new Domination mode, which relies on the use of gadgets and special abilities (more on that later), but the standard gameplay remains largely unaffected. You could spend all the money in the world on the game's most powerful unlockables, but if you can't act, you don't stand a chance. Allow us to explain.

Like the single-player game, multiplayer is all about hiding in plain sight. Six players are set loose in a map, each with their own unique appearance. The catch is, there are dozens of identical NPCs wandering around. You have to hunt and kill targets while being stalked yourself, but if you accidentally kill a civilian rather than your target, you're punished. It's all about studying the people around you, looking for clues that they're a real person and not an AI bot. To give your pursuer the slip you can stand among groups of NPCs or sit on benches to blend in.

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