Continuing our theme of last minute previews, we now move our attention to Assassin’s Creed 3, the latest installment in the historic third person stealth game series. Out on the 30th of October (that’s Tuesday people; what have you been doing?!) Assassin’s Creed 3 brings us to a new location (Goodbye Rome!) with a new character (Goodbye Ezio!) and a host of new abilities, features and characters (goodbye courtesans, we’ll miss you!). We can’t wait to play it but what about you? Let’s run through the info and see if we can persuade the more reluctant readers to part with their cash.
New Game, New Hero
It would be fair to say our newest protagonist Connor is slightly different to what we are familiar with in Assassin’s Creed. While Altair was driven by duty and the charming Ezio was on a tale of revenge, Connor is bound by the desire to do good. Whether it is for the Assassins or for his family, Connor makes his decisions based off what he thinks is right. At the end of the day he is just trying to help his people. Awh. Isn’t that nice?
It is important to note that Connor isn’t taking a side in the American Civil War either. As an Englishman I was somewhat wary of the idea of killing my fellow countrymen. But he isn’t killing the British because they are British. Oh. Well that’s all right then. Why not? Because the backdrop to this game remains the same as every Assassin’s Creed game; the battle between the Assassins and the Templars.
Connor, however, does offer a fresh approach. The son of a Mohawk woman and an Englishman, we see how he develops from the very beginning; his childhood. To start with he is neutral in this battle for independence, but when white colonists burn the small settlement where he lives to the ground, Connor is driven to fight back. According to Alex Hutchison, Ubisoft’s producer, the devs wanted “someone who was fresh. We wanted a character who was more earnest, more real, a character with more depth”. Obviously we’ll only know how Connor compares to our previous protagonists once we’ve got our hands on Assassin’s Creed 3 this Tuesday, but for now it does seem like he’ll be an interesting addition to the series.
But what about Desmond? Well so far we haven’t heard too much about him, but the suggestions are that his story arc could come to an end sooner rather than a later. He might be the link through the current games but Ubisoft will be keen to move in a different direction eventually. Hopefully he’ll get a decent sending off. We’ve come to reluctantly like him despite his dozy expression and generally bland performances. Not sure why though.
Connor Has A Unique Approach To Moving
Our main concern with Assassin’s Creed was a simple one. Where the hell are the buildings? How can we jump around the place when most buildings are merely small huts and the combat takes place mostly off into the wilderness?
Well it turns out Connor is part man, part monkey because he can climb and swing from trees with relative ease. There is still a lot of emphasis on your skills on the ground, however, as our hero can duck, side step and jump over obstacles but it’s good to know there is still the opportunity to take to a higher ground, albeit via a network of branches rather than a number of convenient handholds on the side of tall buildings. And not only that, Connor’s movement hasn’t really been affected by this new method of travel, as in gameplay trailers so far it looks just as fluid and natural, if not more, than our adventures in Italy and early day Asia.
Of course he won’t look as graceful when we’re controlling him. But it’s nice to know he has the potential to look impressive isn’t it?
But what about those times where there aren’t any trees?
Well Connor can use walls and waist high shrubs for cover, meaning there should always be somewhere to hide behind when you are stealthing. And although the courtesan and thief factions are no longer accessible, Ubisoft have introduced several other features in way of compensation. Children will cause distractions while livestock have a tendency to roam around the towns too. Whether we can do anything to control these aspects of Assassin’s Creed 3 has yet to be announced but fingers crossed we can give the kids a few coins to be nuisances.
In addition the crowd mechanics have also been refined, as walking close to lots of people will give you a tiny white circle of inconspicuousness. What is more interesting though, is the ability to blend into tailor-made actions. According to Hutchinson, ”We didn’t want to have any more blending randomly, we wanted more specificity. So any time there’s two or more people doing something, say, painting a house, you can go up and you’ll paint the house. You’ll join in the action of the group.” That. Is. Awesome.
But if all of this is still not enough, you can call your Brotherhood to help you out. Dressed completely in redcoat uniforms, they will disguise you and lead you into forbidden areas.
We won’t be using them however. Didn’t you hear the man? There are buildings to paint!
Connor Can Do More Than Swim
Sea battles. Not something you’d really associate with this franchise but it is clearly something Connor has an interest in. Everybody has to have a hobby we suppose.
In order to explain this, we need to have a quick history lesson. You see, back in 1778 the area near Cuba (the Caribbean sea) was the site of numerous skirmishes as British and French clashed over the resources of the West Indies. In Assassin’s Creed 3 you get your chance to influence which way the tide turns (pun definitely intended) by controlling a ship of your own.
How does it work?
Connor has tactical control over the men on the ship, who in turn control the weapons so essentially you are behind everything the ship does. You can even upgrade your vessel to improve it’s durability, or change your ramming bow in case things get up close and personal.
You have several types of ammo available to you, each with their own unique, uh, charm. The standard cannonball does damage from long range, but the variations at your disposal, such as the chain shot (ball separates to reveal a chain designed to take down masts and sails), the grapeshot (smaller lead pellets that are lethal at short range) or the heat shot (molten lead) offer other methods to annihilate your enemies. Targeting different parts of the ship can influence the fight too. Take out it’s rudder to limit its maneuverability, or destroy the cannons to prevent damage to your own ship. The biggest tip we could offer you though is to target masts as that effectively leaves your opponent vulnerable to your attacks. You’re welcome.
Be wary, however, of sea conditions. Violent and extreme weather might be beautiful to look at but they will also affect your tactics considerably. This is where the ship control is significant, as you have the ability to change the height of your sails as well as moving either port or starboard to avoid those nasty waves.
While real-life boat battles can be pretty boring, Assassin’s Creed 3 have brought them to life through these arcade sequences. There are plenty of challenges ahead of you in addition to the bad weather and incoming cannon fire, as you’ll need to navigate reefs and board enemy ships when instructed.
These naval battles will cover both a couple of missions in the main storyline, plus several hours in optional side quests, so don’t worry; you’ll get plenty of time to become a master at sea.
Where Are You When You Aren’t In Charge Of Ships?
Assassin’s Creed 3 features two cities, Boston and New York, plus several smaller settlements. NY and Boston are relatively modest towns but they compensate with a fascinating population that are capable of all sorts of behavioral traits and reactions. More importantly, as the Revolutionary War develops, certain historical events will be relayed in the game. When New York burns down in 1776, for example, you will see the change in landscape. The Siege of Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill also change the perspective of these places. On a more personal level you can explore buildings, leap through windows to avoid pursuing Redcoats and if that doesn’t interest you, you can also climb over them. All down to preference isn’t it really?
A solid third of the gameplay is accounted for through the Frontier. A huge environment that is even bigger than the Rome we saw in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Frontier is susceptible to season change, wildlife and British invasions so Connor will have to become completely comfortable in this environment to survive.
The onset of winter is the one thing you’ll need to be really aware of. Water sources will freeze over while snow slows you down, sending you tumbling if you rush, while fog limits visibility. The change from summer to winter is huge.
This, of course, is where your tree climbing abilities come to the fore, allowing Connor to get a jump on his enemies. Otherwise you’ll just be trudging through the snow for hours and hours. Uh oh. Probably should get used to sleeping in trees then.
What About Home?
The real highlight to Assassin’s Creed isn’t the Frontier or New York, however. It’s your village. It’s Homestead.
“My favorite thing about the Homestead is that in a city, you’re anonymous, you blend into the crowds. But at home, everyone knows your name,” says Hutchinson.
Our favorite thing about Homestead is how interactive it is. You can watch the rest of the town’s population go about their business which consists of something more than just walking from one spot to another. According to Hutchinson, Homestead has some of the most elaborate routines that have been created Assassin’s Creed. Each person (there are 35 of them) has around eight activities. The butcher, for example, spends several minutes expertly taking apart a pig. And you can watch it. That…that’s pretty impressive.
Furthermore Connor can recruit new tenants by completely rescue missions. The example we’ve seen is saving a carpenter who has had the misfortune of falling into a river. Once you’ve pulled him out the current, the carpenter will repay you by converting wood into commodities. Completing more side missions improves his product range which means you can bring in more income. Super! Who thought saving people was such a good thing to do?
Now you may think guns will ruin Assassin’s Creed 3. We did to start with. What is the point in sneaking towards your enemy, only to be shot by some douchey guard with his rifle? Shocking decision, right?
Well no. Guns are actually a positive addition because they actually promote stealth a lot more than previous Assassin’s Creed games. Before it felt optional because hand to hand combat was always there to be abused as the counter kill skill, plus the killstreak mechanic, just took the challenge out of proceedings. And although Connor can use firearms too, ammo will be limited so there is no chance of finishing every fight with ease.
Oh no. You’ll have to get up close to do that. Easier said than done because, while avoiding arrows through winding streets was simple enough, doing the same with rifle wielding guards in the large expanse of the Frontier? Yeah. That should be much harder.
It may seem like a cheat but we genuinely feel guns will add another layer to Assassin’s Creed 3. Get spotted in the open and you are vulnerable to the death cut scene. Suddenly running away isn’t as easy as it was before. You’ve got to play it smart. You can’t just slaughter everything in sight like you could in the old days of Assassin’s Creed. A walk in the Frontier won’t be another walk in the park. It’s time to get tough.
Still concerned? Don’t forget that Assassin’s Creed 3 is set in the 1700′s. Obviously you can’t just storm an enemy in a straight forward line, but if you draw their fire and they miss, it’ll take a while for them to reload. That is when you strike.
How Do You Strike?
As we mentioned before, Assassin’s Creed combat has been heavy on entertainment but low on satisfaction and challenge. Everything was overpowered and not very realistic. Stylish, but at the same time, rather bland. Killstreaks made things even worse, as the toughest fights became a mere exhibition.
But thankfully the location of Assassin’s Creed 3 results in a demand for more. The Frontier, the guns, the climate, the wild animals…all of this has resulted in an overhaul of the previous system.
The most promising change is in the counter attack system because it has now been transformed into a two part maneuver. First you hit one button to initiate your counter. Then time slows and triggers another decision. Hutchinson explains.
“When you counter, you create a counter window and then you decide what you want to do. If you counter correctly, time slows down and if you hit the same button again you’ll dodge, but if you attack you’ll assassinate.”
Connor can wield two different weapons at once too. In one hand he can carry a melee weapon while in the other he can pick up a pistol. Each hand corresponds to a different button, allowing you to select different load outs for various and unique attacks. The right combination can result in devastating and flowing moves that will help whittle down your enemies. But unlike previous Assassin’s Creeds, it won’t be as easy to complete them perfectly, meaning there will be greater satisfaction when you counter two enemies at once, for example.
More importantly the enemies you face will be a lot smarter than their predecessors. They’ll form firing lines if they spot you, so you’ll need to form a strategy to break this formation. Then you can shove a Tomahawk into somebody’s skull or something.
Don’t get us wrong: Assassin’s Creed 3 won’t be this amazingly difficult game but it will give us something to think about. Final thoughts on the matter from Hutchinson (he’s made my job a lot easier, I tell you that).
“We’re a relatively mass-market game so we can’t make ridiculously hard combat, but we can make it hard to be amazing at it.”So you can stumble your way through 90 per cent of fights as a casual player, but if you want to run into a fight, assassinate a guy on the move, immediately begin a kills chain, pick everybody off, switch between pistols and close combat moves and basically wipe everybody out without ever being touched, this should be quite tricky.”
What about wildlife then? Well the Frontier is home to beavers, elks, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, turkeys and uh, grizzly bears. All these animals can be harvested for pelts, bones, meat and oil, which can then be sold or used to create new items at the right facility in your Homestead.
We should warn you that you’ll be spending a lot of time gutting animals whether you want to or not. According to Ubisoft, Connor is not the wasteful type, so slaughtering a beast without taking everything that you can will actually desynchronise you from Connor. So not only can you not kill civilians, you can’t just leave animal carcasses littered around the place. Damn. They are taking all the fun out of this game. If it wasn’t for the fact we could paint houses we’d probably have to say something…
But before you start harvesting your prey, you have to kill it first. And of course hunting itself isn’t the most easiest of tasks. Obviously you could just blow the cute little rabbit into oblivion with your pistol, but that will ruin it’s hide and organs. The trick is to get up close and gut it with your blade. Use thick vegetation to sneak up behind a dear or whatever, then time your move to perfection. Alternatively you could use a bow and arrow if all that sneakery is too much for you. Lazy.
But that’s not all. How do you even notice these animals in the first place? After all they are hardly going to stand still and let you kill them are you? Oh no.
The environment holds the key. Half eaten bushes suggests rabbits, flat grass means deer while broken branches could imply that foxes have been around. Unfortunately the skill of spotting these features has been made redundant by eyeglass symbols that flag them up for you. Hopefully there will be the option to take off the assistance so we can properly test our hunting abilities.
Oh and by the way, if you see a blood trail from a wounded animal, we should warn you that you might not be the only predator interested. Before you can get your kill you’ll have to deal with something else, such as a wolf or a moose. You’ll do this via the dreaded QTEs, pressing a button or two in order to dodge or hit the onrushing wolf or moose. Hopefully it won’t be too bad *cough Resident Evil cough*. Otherwise though, this hunting sounds pretty cool.
Do You Want It?
Climbing trees, destroying ships, hunting bears, roaming the Frontier and fighting those invading Brits. What is not to like about Assassin’s Creed 3 (ignoring my conflicting loyalties? It has everything, and all of it it will be wasted on us because we’ll be spending all our time in our Homestead, painting houses and watching the butcher gut that pig. But if you still need convincing, here’s a gameplay demo from E3. Enjoy!
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