Gamers aren’t the best travelers. We always seem to pick the same locations for our holidays: war-torn towns, post-apocalyptic wastelands, fantasy forests with orcs and elves. But occasionally we break the mold and go where few have gone before; to underwater cities or lush jungles. We’re always enticed by a world which we’ve hardly experienced, which has helped put games like Red Dead Redemption and Dark Souls on the map this generation.
But few do it as well as the Assassin’s Creed series. Setting and authenticity have always been highpoints of the franchise, letting us get in between the cracks of Roman rooftops and scurry around the Crusades, picking off historical figures and admiring the breathtaking sights.
That same strength remains true of Assassin’s Creed III, which practically had us signed up at the very mention of ‘American revolution’. Seeing the game last week, it was clear that Ubisoft had made few sacrifices in bringing that same level of realism to a period that, in our books, is much more fascinating than any the series has seen before, from both a historical and gameplay perspective.
A short gameplay demo presented to us spoke volumes about the team’s no compromise attitude to getting players as close as possible to the setting the game takes place in. Since its reveal many have expressed concern that new hero Connor wouldn’t have much to climb on given the setting’s reliance on the wilderness over the many towns and cities that dominated earlier entries. It’s true that a good bulk of the game carries out in the frontier, but Ubisoft’s re-worked Anvil engine (now named AnvilNext) does a remarkable job of trading towns for trees. As the demo starts we watch in awe as Connor effortlessly weaves under and over branches all with the kind of ease that Ezio and Altair displayed climbing much simpler surfaces.
The new environment poses other interesting changes, too, like deep snow that reduces the assassin’s usual nimbleness to clumsy plodding around with the occasional stumble making getaways much more complex. As Connor investigates a body found amongst the trees, a bear rudely announces his intention to eat our hero. It takes some fancy blade work to bring him down, highlighting an intriguing survival aspect to the game that draws comparisons to the likes of Snake Eater. Imagine being lost out in the wild, low on supplies and danger behind every tree. It would be a sensation completely new to the series, which, as the critical reaction to last year’s Revelations will tell you, is something we’ve be clamoring for.
After a brief jog over the tree tops and a signature dive into a (now mobile) haystack, we find ourselves in Boston. It’s in displaying the life and soul of a city that Assassin’s Creed games have always left their mark and a short walk down the docks ensures that AC3 will be no different.
Boston docks is a bustling, busy scene. As Connor calmly strides towards the town center he’s drowned in a sea of traders and heavy-lifters. An apple tumbles from a crate, which an eager thief snatches and darts off with, its owner screaming for help. Meanwhile a dog happily trots past while Connor swims through the crowd. The developer’s knack for a creating a sense of place clearly hasn’t been lost here.
Classic Creed breaks out as we reach the edge of the docks, where Connor escapes a group of guards that catch him without the necessary ID papers. Skipping over stalls and carriages still carries that basic thrill, though showing off this kind of action within the confines of a free roaming game always feels a little forced. It’s a cinematic experience, watching the character dive around streets and through windows, but it defies the sandbox nature of the game. How can we be sure that we’ll pull off the same chase with such precision? We normally mess it up and end up accidentally leaping off of a tower and to our leg-breaking death.
But the demo’s third act is easily its most impressive. Here the game flexes its muscles with an incredible battlefield set-piece that sees Connor slip between cover, dodging gun fire from British forces. Of course, he isn’t here to fight for either army, but instead on the hunt for a target on the opposing side.
The scene is a first for the series; explosions and screams of agony fill the air one moment, while silence floods the grassy plains as both sides take a moment to reload (which is sped up, the developer admits, from the usual one minute reload time to quicken the pace) in the next. Traditionally Assassin’s has tasked you with sneaking around environments you’re already familiar with but here there’s a brilliant sense of desperation and the unknown to the proceedings.
Some patient waiting and mad dashes put Connor through his paces before he manages to flank the enemy. Back on the tree tops and round to the left of the battle, he makes short work of a patrol using a rope dart, a Chinese weapon that acts like a vicious metal death whip. The dart ensnares an enemy from above before Connor meets his foes dead on, putting the classic AC battle system to the test. Yes, we see that bayonet to chin, bullet to brain kill from the trailer and it’s every bit as glorious in-game as it is in-engine.
The demo ends with a heart-pounding dash at the target from behind the enemy camp. Connor sneaks through bushes (that he auto-crouches in) to get behind the base, then storms in, dodging gun fire and slicing obstacles before that familiar leap into the air and flick of a wrist blade close out the footage. Needless to say it signs off in style.
Everything about Assassin’s Creed III is reinforced in its setting. The woods create survival, the towns create realism and the battlefields create a stunning theater of war. For a series that prides itself on setting and authenticity, Assassin’s Creed III could well prove to be its finest hour.
So far, so very, very good, then. It was a powerhouse display, which we’d expect from a publisher of this caliber putting out its biggest game ever. And with multiplayer and a myriad of other features still in the dark, there’s still plenty more to see before the game’s October release.