History is about change. Throughout mankind’s long and storied history, nations have been united and divided by war and peace, but it is in times of revolution, where nations are changed the most; for the better in most cases.
How apt that, for the latest instalment in the Assassin’s Creed series, a series that some would argue has stagnated, due to an annual release schedule, Ubisoft should choose one of history’s most significant revolutions for its setting.
Assassin’s Creed 3 has been hailed by Ubisoft as their “biggest game and biggest launch ever”. It is the product of a development cycle clocking in at over two years, with at least eight studios working on it; mainly consisting of Assassin’s Creed1 & 2 staff, with Brotherhood and Revelations developers joining the team once work had been completed on those games. With such a sizeable team and lofty expectations, nothing less than a revolution will satisfy; especially for those who may have tired after four previous Assassin’s Creed instalments in as many years.
After watching a presentation fronted by Ubisoft’s Concept Director, Tommy Francois, I’m happy to say that this latest title is dripping with potential, and, provided Ubisoft can deliver on the promises given, we could be looking at a very good title indeed.
To begin with, let’s talk about our new Assassin, Connor. Born of Mohawk Indian & British heritage, the man also known as Ratohnhaké:ton (pronounced “Ra-doon-ha-gay-doon”) is different from the Assassins of old. While Altair was driven by his sense of duty to the Assassin Order and Ezio was motivated by sheer revenge, Connor fights for justice, as his village is attacked and burnt to the ground by white colonists. He fights for his people and his heritage, as they hold on to what little land that hasn’t been taken by the invading forces.
Sporting the Assassin’s trademark hidden blade, he also wields dual pistols for medium range attacks. For longer kills he employs use of the lo-tech, long range bow & arrows, while also making good use of a Tomahawk for close-range carnage. If that wasn’t enough, a Chinese rope dart was also spotted, providing a deadly method of bringing enemies closer (this replaces a chainblade that was considered “too fantasy” for the setting). It’s safe to say that Connor is an efficient killer and possibly even more brutal than any of the previously seen Assassins.
It was noted that in early concepts, Connor would scalp his enemies. This element was removed as thanks to Ubisoft Montreal’s thorough research (around 6 people were hired specifically to research this time period for the game), it was discovered that the tribe that Connor hails from doesn’t actually do this.
Now we come to the much publicised American Revolution setting. Spanning a 30 year period from 1753 to 1783, the Animus part of this game takes place in a variety of locations including New York, Boston, and the many forests that make up the American Frontier. As well as being a unique setting for a videogame, this period was also picked because the events of the time fit incredibly well with the themes explored in the Assassin’s Creed series (Power & Oppression, Control versus Freedom). It’s further proof of the development team’s desire to help players understand their own history and make it entertaining.
Connor will be caught right in the middle of the Revolution, as he performs tasks for both the Americans and the British. Of course it wouldn’t be Assassin’s Creed without a few historical cameos, and there will be more in this game then ever before. As well as the already confirmed appearance by George Washington, we can also expect cameos from Benjamin Franklin, Charles Lee and Gilbert du Motier Lafayette. New approaches to meeting historical figures have been promised.
It was mentioned that the Frontier area is around 2km x 2km in size, making it 1.4 times the size of the Rome area in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Originally when seeing this area in the original reveal trailer a few weeks ago, many of us at GodisaGeek.com worried that the lack of buildings would take away the many options of traversing landscapes, something that the series is known for. Thankfully we need not fear any longer, as already we can see this area is populated with enough trees, rocks, cliffs and settlements to ensure that the environment is interesting enough.
What is also immediately apparent is how good the game looks. The game is using Ubisoft’s new engine, AnvilNext, and it allows for some cracking visual and gameplay additions. Every animation from previous Assassin’s Creed titles has been scrapped and rebuilt, with experienced rock climbers assisting with the climbing animations. This new engine also allows for simultaneous voice, face and motion capture; giving the game that extra polish that has been lacking in previous titles.
Watching Connor run through landscapes is a sight to behold, as he slides under fallen trees and skips over rocks on the ground. He is more fluid in movement then any other Assassin we have seen so far; no mean feat when you consider that the previous games were no slouch in this department either. The development team’s aim was to make controlling Connor as pleasurable as possible. As this was a video demo it was difficult to see if this was true, but I’m sure we will found out soon enough.
One of the more impressive features enabled by the new engine, is the new seasons feature. I’m not just talking about a bit of rain or fog here or there, that does little else but obscure your view, we’re looking at logical and practical changes to gameplay that are caused by elemental shifts. For example, in Winter there is snow everywhere , snow so deep that it will actually slow Connor down, as he slowly trudges on the ground, almost to a crawl. Another example would be during rainfall, where enemies will actually not be able to use their muskets at all (as rain would dampen gunpowder, making it almost impossible to ignite).
For the first time in the series, wildlife becomes an entirely interactive part of the game. In one scene we saw Connor being attacked by a bear, with the Assassin expertly taking the beast down. Animals can be hunted for meat and their pelts can be sold, with the kill method having a direct impact on the quality of the items you receive. Take down a bear with a musket, and you’ll end up with a hole-ridden pelt that is worth nowhere near as much as if you had made a “clean kill” with a hidden blade.
Moving away from the open forests we already knew about, we were introduced to one of the game’s town areas; Boston. This American town is a complete departure from the likes of Rome & Constantinople, for a start, the cramped European streets and alleyways have disappeared and have been replaced with wide open avenues and squares. As a result, there is a smaller emphasis on jumping between rooftops, and greater usage of things like trees and other natural and man-made structures to get around. Another new feature that is possible thanks to AnvilNext, is the ability to run through building interiors; we saw Connor barge through a first-floor window as he was being chased by Redcoats, dodging the house’s inhabitant before jumping out of the other side.
Previous games in the series were known for featuring busy streets and marketplaces, crowded with NPCs that helped bring the previous settings to life. Assassin’s Creed 3 manages to improve this immersion even further, with greater variety in NPC interaction. While walking through the port at Boston, Connor passes people trying to sell him goods, a newspaper boy yelling the news, and a woman who drops a crate of apples she is holding, trying to pick them up, just before another NPC steals one and runs away. The hustle and bustle of a busy port is well represented here, and is impressively done as NPCs interact with both the player and other NPCs.
The final area we were shown was Bunker Hill, where a huge battle takes place. Here, an impressive statistic was revealed to us. Apparently, AnvilNext can draw 2000 characters on screen at once and looking at the formations of fighting soldiers in the distant hills; I can believe it. Armed with muskets, faraway soldiers fire their shots at once, with Connor having to run between cover while the distant army reload their weapons. Using a new wall cover feature, Connor huddles behind large blocks of stone while waiting for the perfect time to move around the battlefield.
Upon escaping the battlefield, our hero comes up to a camp site, teeming with Redcoats. Foliage is now a valid stealth area to hide in; which is perfect for Connor to stalk his prey. When his victim strolls nearby, the Assassin strikes, running out of cover and swiftly dispatching this poor man while still running. No sooner as he runs past the fresh kill, he murders another enemy in quick succession (thanks to the new ability to chain assassinations) before running towards a soldier on horseback. Connor leaps up to his foe, brandishing his hidden blade as the gameplay demo rolls to a close. An impressive end to an impressive demo.
“Ergonomic” menus have been promised, with weapon/item selection and in-game menus now redesigned to be easier to use. In terms of in-game UI, Ubisoft are striving to blur the line between the interface and the game; as on-screen prompts and markers are now more subtle and made to look at if they are integrated elements of the Animus system itself.
What I have seen so far is only a microscopic amount of what the full game will feature; but what I have seen is a game that promises to bring the Assassin’s Creed series back on track. Previously I was sceptical about the new setting and what fresh ideas could be brought to the table after the admittedly disappointing Revelations, but there is the potential for this latest entry to be a worthy true sequel and maybe even a possible entry point for those who are new to the Brotherhood.
There is a long way to go until the game’s October 31st release date and while I haven’t seen enough to say that Assassin’s Creed 3 will be a revolution (pun intended, and apologised for in advance), it has done enough to impress me at this early pre-Alpha stage. I’d also be very interested in seeing what Ubisoft Montreal are planning with the announced Wii U version (The game will of course be heading to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC).