First Look: Assassin’s Creed III – The Revolution Of Assassin’s Creed
As the camera pans through the trees, hovering mere inches over snow-covered branches, the cold ever presence, crows swarming in the background like vultures upon discovering their latest meal, our protagonist appears. Ratohnhaké:ton, or the more memorably named Connor, stands between the fork of a trunk, several meters above the deep snow covering the ground below. He rests casually to one side, before relinquishing control to the player who hurtles him forward. From branch to branch he fleeted, knocking patches of the snow to the floor beneath, finding the smoothest and most efficient route. Swinging from the branches above, pressing against the coarse skin of a tree to manoeuvre around it; instantly this is different.
Ever since the first time I laid eyes on the quite frankly staggering tech of the original Assassin’s Creed it’s a franchise that’s gone from strength to strength. Now four games strong, Ubisoft has nurtured it into a well established series but it’s one in danger of becoming stale following three titles in as many years. It needs new vigour, a new lease of live. It needs a revolution.
What a better setting to undergo such a challenging task then than in the heart of one of the greatest uprising in history, the American Revolution. It wasn’t an era that the veteran team at Ubisoft decided upon lightly; they spent weeks deliberating and brainstorming potential time periods, and then months researching. After all, authenticity is essential for the Montreal studio. If it’s not grounded in reality and appropriate then it fails to make the grade. Even gameplay elements showcased in a never-before-seen target render were dropped soon after, as the studio either felt they were too “fantasy” or they simply contradicted the facts.
“Ubisoft has stated that Assassin’s Creed III is to be the biggest game and biggest launch in the studios history, and it has big boots to fill.”
Discovering characters and locations, pinpointing their positions at particular times in history, and establishing the most interesting and engaging ones are all involved in the early stages of pre-production. With thirty years to cover in one of the most well documented periods of history, it was always going to take some time. Not that it would deter the French studio. Tommy Francois, Director of IP development at Ubisoft, said during his presentation to the press that the key is in the details. It’s those details that Assassin’s Creed has always cherished, it’s what has set the series apart from many others. Details give a world life, they give it meaning, it is those small details that make a world a world, and not just a game’s environment.
Ubisoft has stated that Assassin’s Creed III is to be the biggest game and biggest launch in the studios history, and it has big boots to fill. It must attract new fans whilst appeasing the ones that have been around since the series’ inception. It all comes down to freshness, bringing something to the table that will entice those outside of the Assassin’s Creed fan-club to come and take a look inside, whilst also giving the now lengthy series a new approach, and most importantly, doing so without losing the franchise’s core principles and style.
It’s not surprising then that Ubisoft not only have a new game in Assassin’s Creed III, but a new era, a brand new hero and some impressive new technology behind it. In the form of the AnvilNext engine, Assassin’s Creed III will see some staggering advancements in all three pillars to the assassins: social, stealth and combat.
CG animation has seen a huge improvement, with better facial animation as a result of twice as many bones in the face – mainly around the eyes and mouth, as the motion-capture is the simultaneous recording of both facial expressions, body movement and voice work makes it the first of its kind in the industry. Social elements are far more dynamic than ever before, trying to steer interactions away from pre-scripted events to provide a far more spontaneous experience for players, with the primary focus being on role of NPCs.
Interactions between the NPCs and their reactions with the player will be far more advanced than anything the series has seen so far, with dynamic involvement being the driving force behind it. NPCs will make you feel part of the crowd by engaging with you as a citizen – they’ll try to sell or barter with you or perhaps wait to allow you to pass within a crowd. A specific example that stands out was seeing a woman dropping a crate of apples and in the process of retrieving them a thief runs past and steals one; you can choose to chase after him or just let him go – one of the many more fluid events that Ubisoft said to expect. There will also be the inclusion of children and animals (such as dogs) within the city limits for the first time, although how they will affect gameplay is yet unknown.
“Assassin’s Creed III will see some staggering advancements in all three pillars to the assassins: social, stealth and combat.”
Enemies will react differently amongst the variety of weathers and seasons that will be included. Through rain or fog, snow or shine, winter or summer, you will see a noticeable change in other their actions and your own options; NPCs may slip on frozen lakes or struggle through the snow, muskets won’t fire in the rain, and fog provides greater cover for both engaging and fleeing from foes. They’ll also be able to see your tracks, and you theirs, with blood being a particular giveaway, providing the ability to track and thus adding yet another dimension to hunting your target.
As for stealth, the climbing mechanic has not just been improved upon, it’s been completely reworked. The necessity of the new environments was a driving factor of this, as Connor requires to not only climb rocks and trees, but move around objects in the world in different ways now. In regards to tree-running, the movement was not only incredibly smooth and seamless, but allowed for huge possibilities in traversal. The gameplay footage witnessed showed our protagonist moving around trees, along and across branches, scaling up walls – which has been based off real life rock climbing, jumping onto and across moving objects such as carriages, vaulting boxes and obstacles, sliding under tables, snapping to cover and looking round corner, crouching in stealth-providing foliage and even diving into indoor environments – a series first. Ubisoft has said that the difference is so dramatic, that there has been a new control scheme developed for players (in addition to the odd and more “restrictive” current one), allowing for more organic free-running across rooftops and through forests.
It’s not just movement that has been overhauled; combat has also been rebuilt from the ground up. All animations have been redone to incorporate Connor’s dual weapon attack approach, which, having seen it in action, is both wonderful and brutal. Amongst his array of weapons are dual pistols and a bow and arrow, as well as the previously known hidden blade and tomahawk. There’s an expected mix of fast flowing attacks, fatality-avoiding dodges, inventive executions, cat-like reflexes and speed and enough raw power to take down a bear. One things clear, Connor is a highly adept fighter.
During battles there’s a greater focus on tactics, something that has been altered by the more prominent use of muskets. In one scenario, Connor’s sat above a group of six soldiers who are quickly closing in, who, when in range, won’t last long. He throws a rope dart – a speared rope invention from China – at the front target pulling him into the branches and out of the fight; with four of the soldiers raising their muskets to take aim, Connor grabs hold of the fifth before using him as a shield from the oncoming musket shots. Now down to just four, Connor engages in a close-combat battle – as remember the reload times for gun-powder weapons was quite considerable – executing each in viscous fashion.
Then there’s the inclusion of wildlife that will see players hunt in order to reap rewards from the selling of their spoils. However, how effectively you kill your prey will determine the level of rewards you reap. Kill an animal sloppily and you’ll receive a far poorer return than you would for a clean kill.
“Keep your eagle eyes fixed firmly on this one as it’s going to be a mammoth; after all, “this is our revolution!”"
One thing the Assassin’s Creed franchise has never been short of is top-quality presentation and that’s not about to change. With a brand new style for both the animus and it’s feedback system, players will feel a greater sense of involvement with the futuristic toy. As it’s realised in 3D for the first time, there are more visual markers within the world, as the art style retains the series’ look and feel as it also moves away from the Ezio and Altair style. As after all, each character not only had their own story and style, but their own underlying ethics. For Altair it was always about the duty, about staying true to the Assassin’s, whereas Ezio was driven by revenge; Connor on the other hand is all about justice, and the distinction is something Ubisoft want to make abundantly clear.
There’s everything you’d expect in an Assassin’s Creed game as well: a host of famous figures including Charles Lee, Gilbert Motier de La Fayette, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington; locales bigger than any before, breathtaking vistas (even at this stage of development), fantastic animations, chained assassinations, leaps of faith, and much, much more. Even at this stage, showcasing a gameplay build eight months ahead of release, it was visually stunning. Character models were detailed, cloth rustled in the wind, environments were filled with life and bustling with activity. We were given just a small taste of what is to come in Assassin’s Creed III and providing what we don’t yet know is as promising as the gameplay features we have seen, we’re in store for one of the biggest and greatest action-adventure games this generation. Keep your eagle eyes fixed firmly on this one as it’s going to be a mammoth; after all, “this is our revolution!”