Forget what you know about Assassin’s Creed. Revolution is not only the backdrop for the setting of Assassin’s Creed III, its an astute description of Ubisoft’s design philosophy. After 45 minutes of meandering around the open world, AC3 felt like an Assassin’s Creed game with a renewed focus on being an assassin.
I was given free rein to do as I pleased in the sizable open world. With a wealth of content to explore, my current objective was likely different to the man sitting next to me, as was his more subtle approach. I should note that we never get to preview games like this. The previews you read are normally formed from carefully constructed snippets of a game, as to best demonstrate its strengths and unique qualities. Ubisoft removed the shackles, which means I saw little of the core objectives, but got to admire the niceties of the colonial wilderness.
From accidentally shooting an innocent civilian in the face (he looked suspicious) to standing perched between two tree branches and being on a boat: Assassin’s Creed III is an intriguing world to explore before, during and after the American Revolution.
From accidentally shooting an innocent civilian in the face to standing perched between two tree branches and being on a boat: Assassin’s Creed III is a fascinating world to explore during the American Revolution.
It’s an interesting slice of history, and one that I’m told is accurately recreated as the backdrop of Assassin’s Creed III. Particularly as an Australian, and someone who didn’t grow up in school learning about these things, it’s an intriguing history lesson, even if the forefront of the action is away from the historical highlights. The new timeline and heritage of our protagonist evolves the landscape of Assassin’s Creed around relatable themes of hypocrisy and injustice.
"Homestead is our take on the American dream," associate producer Julien Laferrière told us ahead of our hands-on session, immediately spiking my interest. This is the first we’d heard of a huge new addition to Assassin’s Creed III. Rather than purchasing your way into a city, Assassin’s Creed III’s half-Native American protagonist Ratonhnhaké:ton, who I shall hereby refer to as Connor, takes a more active approach to developing his Homestead. Starting with little, he has to assist the locals to in-turn earn quests and their help within his village as a farmer or trader.
Mission Director Philippe Bergeron explained that combat has been redesigned, taking considerable influence from the undisputed leader in the stealth genre, Batman Arkham City (keep an eye out for the full interview next week). In the previous games, ”combat became more, and more easy as time went on,” Bergeron told me, ”and it became the path of least resistance when you were doing missions.”
”You could just pretty much murder anybody.”
Despite innovations to weaponry, the combat mechanics had stayed the same since the original Assassin’s Creed and didn’t require the player to take the stealth route or behave like an assassin. It’s something the development team wanted to change from the beginning, Bergeron explained, leading to a complete redesign. With that, comes a learning curve.
Even the most experienced Assassin’s Creed veterans will have to relearn how to play, both in tactics and in controls. In previous games, Ezio was able to slay dozens of men with ease as the player grew in confidence. Connor has no such superhuman abilities within the new timing-based combat system. He’ll need to pick his battles and know when to flee the scene.
Combat is entirely based on timing. Counter-attacking at the perfect moment is the recipe for success, whilst using your gun’s one shot -- as reloading takes forever -- wisely can make a world of difference against a barrage of enemies. However, fighting for survival played out entirely differently against a lone vicious wolf. As it pounced to eat Connor’s face, I easily disposed of him using a simple quick-time event. This was a little disappointing, as I never felt threatened by a territorial beast in contrast to the fierce contest presented by human opponents.
The increase in difficulty is matched by barbarity in Connor’s arsenal of weapons. His tomahawk devours opponents before they hit the ground, and his hidden blades are as sneaky as they come. Each kill is matched by a gruesome animation that doesn’t hold back; if it were any more violent and released next year, it would have tested Australia’s new R18+ classification. His long-ranged weaponry is just as varied; although best saved for special occasions. Bows require precision, whilst these old-timey guns waste precious time reloading.
The new approach removes the flow of combat and makes it inherently more challenging, but also presents several scenarios. Connor won’t win every fight, and stealth is always the preferred option. Veteran players will have to adapt to this new thought process and look for the subtle path instead of needlessly tussling with twenty-five redcoats. Should you bite off more than you can chew, health automatically regenerates, but only when Connor is away from combat, prompting a quick escape.
Traversing the world is similar to previous games, but running on new framework. Connor can quickly scale a wall to momentary safety as he tries to evade his attackers and regain precious health. That extends beyond the rooftops the series has become renowned for to treetops, perilous mountain ridges and even through buildings as a means to lose a committed pursuer with a newfound grace and fluidity.
Assassin’s Creed has always given the illusion of being able to climb on whatever you want, but it feels more instinctive in AC3. There are no glowing pipes or blatant steps inbuilt in a wall (common traits in similar franchises). Connor’s surroundings look natural, and it’s up to you to determine what best to climb. If you try hard enough, he can get pretty much anywhere, but there are always preferred methods to traverse each diverse landscape; especially if one does not wish to be seen.
Running throughout the vast world could become tiresome, but it’s littered with fast travel points intertwined with the naval focus. On land, we see the return of the horse, in what could be the best use of a gallant steed since Red Dead Redemption. With tight controls and a spring in its step, she’s genuinely useful and seems like she’d hold up well in battle; although, I didn’t get a serious chance to put her through the paces of war.
Assassin’s Creed III is shaping up to be the compelling, original experience that revitalises the Assassin’s Creed series. With a new protagonist, new setting, completely overhauled combat system and some trees to climb, it has the makings of a blockbuster, so long as it can live up to the hype that will only continue to build as we edge closer to release.
By Ben Salter
Assassin’s Creed III will be released in Australia on October 31 for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. It will arrive on Wii U for its launch.