Assassin's Creed III: In depth preview
Someone had to say it. It was almost so terrible, so tacky and predictable that it could have been avoided but yet it has to be said. Assassin’s Creed III is a revolution.
And you will be hearing that a lot more right up until its release on the 31st of October.
The Digital Fix, plus a whole army of journalists and industry types, were invited by the kind people of Ubisoft to attend a presentation regarding, what they are claiming, is their biggest release to date. Flanked by Patriots and Loyalists, all decked out in their fineries, we were ushered into a darkened cinema to watch the first release of gameplay footage and listen to a presentation from one the series' IP and development director: Tommy François. Here is the low-down.
We have previously learnt that the setting for this game will be the American Revolutionary War, now we know the game will span 30 years, between 1753 - 1783. This should mean we will see a large amount of America before the full scale war begins and perhaps gain an interesting historical insight into all the causes. Our hero, Connor, is of part British and part Mojave Indian descent, and following the pillaging of his village as a child is on the warpath for blood, revenge and justice.
The game will feature three locations: Occupied Boston, an under siege New York and the cold, desolate frontier lands. The game is forged in a new engine called Anvil Next which has enabled the team to create larger, more realistic environments. Massive in size, the sections will be at least one and a half times the size of Rome in Brotherhood, or approximately two kilometres across. Each offers distinct personality and playing style, with the frontier lands providing what could be a very interesting and unique experience completely contrasting to previous Assassin’s Creed titles.
Out on the frontier, there are few buildings on which to run around in the free running/parkour style from previous games. Instead the trees will be your personal climbing frame. We saw Connor leaping between (seemingly indestructible and mysteriously inflexible) branches, scrambling up tree trunks and then leaping from the canopy to slaughter his foes below. How scripted these paths through the trees will be, and how easily the player will be able to manipulate these surroundings is yet to be seen. However the potential to swing through the trees like a Macaque monkey could add a new perspective to the game. In one example of gameplay footage we saw Connor spot his prey, before silently leaping up the nearest tree, following it from the tree branches. The prey remained unaware of the assassin’s presence above as it meekly munched its food. Connor then flung himself from the canopy, slicing through its flesh with his hidden blade, before proceeding to remove its skin...
Wildlife will apparently play a vital role in Assassin's Creed III. Not simply adding to the realism of the world (we saw dogs barking in the street as well as bears, rabbits and deer in the forests), hunting animals will provide a valuable source of income. It was not made clear just how this will work, or whether there will be an entire economy in the game, but the prospect of hunting animals and then selling their pelts to buy upgrades to Connor's weapons could potentially add a level of depth that arguably is missing from previous Assassin's titles. We were also informed that the value of a skin varied according to the quality of the kill. For example riddling a bear full of pellets from your pistol (yes, guns... we're getting to that...) will result in a worthless pelt compared to a clean knife kill. Unfortunately we will just have to wait to see just how interesting and relevant this hunting gameplay mechanic will be, though the designer did comment that he felt it would have been a unique and original concept, had Red Dead Redemption not got there first.
Moving into the city, we saw a very realistic portrayal of Boston in the mid 1700s. Merchants trying to peddle their wares, children playing in the streets and dogs yapping at your heel. Many have exclaimed that the era in which Assassin's Creed III is set will jar against the format we have come to enjoy throughout the series so far. Leaping across tall rooftops, climbing dizzyingly high towers and then plummeting to safety in hay bales below will be missing in a city where most buildings are barely two stories high. Sticking closely to historical fact, something the series prides itself on, the Boston we saw was very open and with few tall buildings to climb, so perhaps these fears will ring true. However the chase scene we observed was still exhilarating as Connor darted from his pursuers, over merchant stands, on to moving carriages, through an open window (much to the dismay of the occupant), out the other side and up the branches of a tree before disappearing from sight. Despite the lack of tall buildings, thin alleyways, and crushed together roofs, the scene still felt like an Assassin's Creed trademark chase.
In the final scene, we were swept away to a battlefield. With thousands of troops in view (the Anvil Next engine can apparently render more than two-thousand characters at any time) we saw the great general Israel Putnam give a valiant speech to his men proclaiming his famous words - “Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes”, with superb and disturbingly lifelike detail using facial motion capture. There were certainly similarities to techniques used in L.A Noire, however the faces felt like they grittier and more rugged. Following Putnam's speech, Connor announced he would charge through the heat of the battle, avoid every bullet and assassinate the enemy leader with stealth rather than brute force.
In an action setting, perhaps worryingly reminiscent of Call of Duty battle scenes, he darted between rocks using the new cover system as the musketmen reloaded, slowly progressing up the battlefield. Then he disappeared into the trees, swooping around the side of the battle. However, his presence was unfortunately detected by a small contingent which had broken off from the main army, whom he then proceeded to slaughter, unveiling all his new weapons in a brutal battle. Dragging one man into the trees, using the most interesting new weapon - the rope dart - he left him hanging upside down from a branch. Then dropping down he stabbed a second man through the heart using the trademark hidden blades of the assassins, before holding the body up to block the bullets of the last three enemies. As they reloaded (a musket could take up to a minute to reload at the time) he pulled out his dual pistols, and dropped a third enemy with two shots to the head. Finally he efficiently finished off the group with his close range tomahawks, swinging wildly, yet precisely like a dance through his foes.
With all of his enemies now lying dead, Connor proceeded to climb through the trees, up a cliff face, hiding in amongst the shrubbery as he searched for his prey. Upon finding his target, he leapt from cover, slicing enemies apart as he charged towards his suddenly terrified foe. The movement was incredibly fluid, with no trademark slow-motion action shots as he scythed his way forward. In one final bound, Connor flew through the air, his axe swinging for the head of the enemy army’s general. And here, sadly, the gameplay footage cut off.
In such a short presentation we learnt a lot about Assassin’s Creed III. It seemed more dark, brutal and visceral. More realistic and intelligent. Simple additions such as the way weather could affect your missions, with heavy blizzards slowing you down as you tramp through the deep snow, or rain causing people to disappear from the streets could add an extra level of depth. There is however still much to learn, such as how will skinning animals change the game or will it simply be an unnecessary extra gameplay mechanic? Will the smaller buildings, with wide open streets, change too much the gameplay style previous Assassins Creed players are acquainted with? How will guns in the hands of enemies (even if they take a incredibly long time to reload) alter how the game flows? These are all twists and turns that can only be answered when we get our turn to take a spin with the game ourselves, but until then, from what we have seen, this has the potential to be a revolutionary game. Sorry.