Assassin’s Creed III Preview
There comes a time in any gaming franchise where the ideas and characters need a bit of a renovation to keep everyone entertained, instead of dragging new titles through the snow like a dead bear. Oh yeah, you can kill bears in the new Assassin’s Creed game… in the snow. It’s pretty awesome.
We got the chance to have a first look at Assassin’s Creed III, which showed off the brand new era in the Assassin vs Templar story – the American Revolution. We are still following an ancestor of Desmond’s through the Animus, much like the previous titles in the series, except this time we have jumped several hundred years into the future. Set between 1753 and 1783, the Colonial American setting has been in development for over two years now, and is the biggest AC game to date. Using their new engine, AnvilNext, Ubisoft are hoping AC3 will look far better than anything they have formerly produced.
Our new protagonist, Connor (or Ratohnhaké:ton – pronounced Ra-doon-ha-gay-doon), is half-English half-Mohawk, and his ethos is primarily for justice (whereas Altair was all about duty, and Ezio sought revenge for his family). Due to his heritage he is very in-tune with nature and his surroundings; he is respectful to the animals he kills and is one with the forest.
His attire, although keeping the assassin peak, is one more fitting for the setting and his culture; Connor wears both feathers and skins as part of his outfit, while also wielding traditional weapons, such as a Tomahawk (small two-handed axe) shaped familiarly like a certain assassin logo, and a bow. He is both accurate and brutal with his two-handed weapon, as well as muskets and pistols, typical weapons of the era, and of course that hidden blade we have become so accustomed to.
The makers of AC3 at Ubisoft are constantly trying to incorporate historical facts into their games, and this title is no exception. While playing you will learn about key figureheads of the American Revolution, relive certain events that have lead to the way we live today, and explore locations you may recognise by landmarks, or simply by name alone. The majority of the game is set in Boston or New York, with the frontier of the revolution being over 2km square (which is 1.5 times bigger than the map of Rome in Brotherhood). The architecture and layout of these locations meant that the traditional Assassin’s Creed movement of scaling buildings and jumping from rooftop to rooftop had to be tweaked, as the streets are far wider than that of Italy or Istanbul. Trees, stalls and monuments have been added for easier movement between avenues. There are also times where Connor can run through buildings, which is a first for the series.
Trees play a huge part in AC3, as the frontier is made of a vast forest, all of which can be climbed and explored. Our protagonist can also now jump over or slide under objects in his path, which hasn’t been utilised by any previous assassin. He can also lean against trees for a better vantage point, can take cover, and can climb or jump into moving vehicles; something that is also brand new to the AC world. Scaling rock faces has also been added, which has been created using professional rock-climbing techniques and movements.
Throughout the game you will encounter various weather types and seasons; this will alter gameplay greatly depending on the situation. If it is raining the use of guns will be thrown out the window, as muskets cannot be used when wet, and if there is snow it’s often harder to move around. Connor can trudge through the forest, often finding it difficult to move through the deeper snow, or he can flow through the trees for an easier route.
Snow is also a great addition for Connor’s character, as he can track injured animals or enemies using blood trails, or can soften his approach to an unsuspecting victim. He can also skin animals that he kills, and depending on how ‘clean’ the kill was will pertain how much he can sell it for. Obviously a knife kill would be cleanest, whereas a shot from a musket will leave lots of little holes, making the fur less desirable.
In some of the original concept videos we were shown, Connor uses a weapon they have called the ‘chain-blade’, which was essentially a long-ranged chain. The decision was made that this weapon was far to fantasy for the realism the team are trying to create with the game, so they have opted instead for a rope-dart. An authentic weapon from Chinese history, the rope-dart can latch onto a target and pull them in various ways. We were shown Connor using this weapon from a tree branch, and jumping backwards to the ground, fundamentally hanging his victim from his previous perch. Another concept that we saw, but has now been disregarded, was the idea of scalping. After considerable research it turns out that Connor’s tribe were never known to scalp their victims, so keeping true to history that idea has been removed.
We were shown a 10 minute gameplay video, in which Connor transverses trees and rock faces, and follows a blood trail through the snow. As he comes across the body of his victim a bear comes out of nowhere. He attacks it with his hidden blade, causing a ‘clean kill’. This is just one example of the ways in which Connor can interact with his natural surroundings. The footage then moves to a small forest settlement, in which Connor is given a mission to take out a troop heading through the trees. He sets off at a pace through the village, grabbing a musket as he passes a stand. This happens in one fluid motion, and makes the whole scene that bit more exciting and natural.
Walking around Boston docks, Connor experiences the hustle and bustle of town life. Every character seems more vibrant, and now children are also present (although they are invincible for obvious reasons). Events unfold in front of him, such as a man stealing an apple, and you can choose whether to acknowledge it or not. Connor casually walks up to customs and charges the guards, escaping via a series of jumps over stalls, moving wagons, trees, and through a building, which as I mentioned previously has not been possible in previous games.
We then go to part of the siege of Boston during the battle of Bunker Hill, in which we see Israel Putnam give the famous speech to the troops – ‘don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes’. It’s moments like this that really show off the research into the American Revolution that will leave you learning while experiencing it. Connor must pass through the battlefield to a British camp on the other side. He must wait for the opposing army to fire and start reloading before progressing to the next hiding point, which is obviously not real time, as the gameplay wouldn’t be as much fun if you have to wait a few minutes per reload (the usual time taken at the time to fire and reload a musket).
The scene is chaotic, and Connor must take cover against rocks to make his way through to a flanking position. He takes to the trees to the left of the battle, ambushes a group of soldiers using the rope-dart, and then finishes them off brutality with his tomahawk. Heading to the enemy camp on the cliff edge, he is able to crouch in shrubs automatically, which helps with a stealthy entrance. He then charges in, and launches an attack on a British commander.
This last scene, of what was claimed to be 2000 NPCs on screen as part of the two armies, has the new AnvilNext engine to thank. Not only will it bring the game to almost new-gen graphics, but the developers have also included a more intricate expression system to faces; adding more bones around the eyes and mouth to really convey emotions in the historical scenes.
The Animus has also had an overhaul, with brand new visuals stylised especially for AC3. The menu screens and other features, such as the loading room, markers, blend state, and critical state, are all there to reinforce the idea that you are still in a simulated world. The new design (although still in keeping with the series) gives the game’s Animus features a ‘unique visual signature’, and attempts to show off the true power of the machine.
With eight of Ubisoft’s studios working tirelessly on Assassin’s Creed 3, and from what we have seen at this unveiling presentation, this is set to be an amazing game. Brand new movements and environs make for a fresh approach to the franchise, and with a new character to follow it makes it all the more exciting. Although it was sad to finally learn the end of Ezio and Altair’s stories, it is great to see a new era, a new hero, and what promises to be an exhilarating new adventure.