When Connor leaves his village for the first time, he's a green boy with a love of climbing and little knowledge of the outside world. By the end of the game, he's a hardened Assassin with strong convictions and a deadly pair of hidden wrist blades.

His evolution between those two points is fascinating from a narrative perspective, but gameplay-wise he's all Assassin. Fights in AC 3 are somewhat simplified, though as a result they're a lot more fluid, and Connor makes fewer awkward mid-battle missteps than his predecessors did. Overall I call it an improvement.

The hidden blades and his signature tomahawk prove the deadliest tools in his arsenal, but as usual for the series, they're complemented by an array of secondary tools; smoke bombs make for easy getaways, the bow is practically silent, pistols and bayonetted rifles prove most useful in the heat of a fight, and poison darts are the best for covert kills. Rope darts and trip mines are new; the former can reel in enemies from a distance or hang them from tree branches, while the latter does exactly what it sounds like.

Fluid free-running is one of the series' most enjoyable mechanics, and movement and climbing have been overhauled as well so that, in theory, Connor makes less false jumps and lands more often where you intend him to. In practice, that's not always the case, though dying or failing from a flubbed jump never sets you back very far thanks to a generous checkpoint system. And if you don't feel like running through miles of forest, there are fast-travel spots everywhere.

In fact, smart control tweaks and other small improvements characterize most aspects of the game. "Steal" and "fast walk" are no longer mapped to the same button, for example. Connor's got new tricks like the ability to whistle and lure enemies to secluded spots, or automatically hide in tall grass and shrubs. Free-running now only requires you to hold down the trigger, freeing the "A" button up to give you more control over jumps.

Moving through the new wilderness areas is as easy as moving through the 18th century towns of New York and Boston, which have been lovingly brought to life in a way that Ubisoft should take pride in. The attention to detail for which the series is known is most evident here, and as a former Boston resident, I could almost get around the city just by sight. They've done the same with Rome, Venice and other cities in AC games past, but I still find it truly amazing.

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