Assassin’s Creed III Preview
After murdering his way through a sizable chunk of Renaissance Italy, Ezio Auditore da Firenze has finally hung up his hidden wrist blades. In his place is Connor, a half-Mohawk, half-British inhabitant of Colonial America, who (in as-yet-unseen circumstances) comes to discover and embrace his assassin ancestry just as the restive colonies prepare to throw off the tyranny of the king and go to war.
The American Revolution might be a perfect setting for the Assassin’s Creed brand of storybook history, its open warfare making for a rip-roaring change of pace from the oft-shadowy conspiracies of Assassin’s Creed II and its follow-ups, but is Connor the perfect protagonist?
Ezio’s swashbuckling swagger gave the series a jolt of matinee charm, while Connor is a less scene-stealing lead at first glance. His sober pronouncements lack Ezio’s charisma, and his detailed assassir’s garb and European heritage muddle the faint, slightly discomfiting hints of noble savage about him. This addition to the thin ranks of gaming’s Native American leads avoids being a stereotype, but we hope a personality can be forged from all these contradictions.
Connor‘s the only weak link in what’s an otherwise thrilling demonstration of Assassin’s Creed Ill’s potential. Series fans couldn’t be blamed for feeling exhausted after three games’ worth of Ezio, yet there’s enough change on show to justify a fourth Assassin’s Creed in as many years. But as director of IP development Tommy Francois explains, Assassin’s Creed’s overhaul has emerged naturally from its change in setting.
” We had five or six people doing research on the American Revolution,” he reveals. You can imagine how much work that was, specifically because the American Revolution is one of the periods in history from which we have the most documentation.”
What this authenticity means for players is historically accurate missions (ancient Templar conspiracies notwithstanding), weaving in and out of known events. It means combat altered to account for the technology of the time, with slow-firing muskets giving packs of redcoats a one-chance shot to down Connor as he closes in from range. And it means two famous cities, New York and Boston, with wide streets and a lack of well-known landmarks representative of the settlements at the time. But it also means there’s a wild, untapped frontier connecting those settlements, and it’s here that the most significant overhaul of the Assassin’s Creed formula will be found.
“It’s a humongous area,” Francois continues. “It’s actually 1.5 times the size of Rome in Brotherhood. We needed to make sure it wasn’t just something aesthetic. One of the pillars of Assassin’s is exploration. And Connor is an American Indian. He needs to feel comfortable there.”
The trees are the most obvious change, the region’s tall canopy adding a new method of locomotion. Whereas rooftops offer flat or slanted planes that are easily jumped between, here we see Connor picking his next perch more deliberately than Ezio ever had to -sometimes clambering vertically to reach a higher branch, and sometimes bracing himself between Y-shaped splits in the trunk. A full, supple range of animations can handle most arrangements of foliage, however, with Connor hanging and grabbing branches one after another, climbing frame-style, when they begin to group closely together.
But forests offer more than trees, as lead animator Jonathan Cooper points out. “It was important to revisit the climbing system to tackle rock formations. The new system is based on real rock-climbing movements…
“It’s a humongous area. It’s actually 1.5 times the size of Rome In Brotherhood”
…researched by the team.” It certainly seems dynamic when we watch Connor clamber a rocky surface more uneven than anything the clean lines and smooth curves of Renaissance architecture ever troubled Ezio with tackling.
The forest setting looks to bring an element of consideration to a climbing system that has until now favoured’fling yourself and forget’ free-spirited parkour.
Assassins Creed III is a huge undertaking. Its scale alone threatens past games in the series, but this isn’t just a case of bigger is better. Interactions have been overhauled, and the new setting is informing every aspect of the game. Ubisoft can’t resist dubbing it a revolution, but that’s missing the point. This is still Assassin’s Creed, but it feels fresher and more exciting than it has since a boyish Florentine named Ezio was first unveiled.
Release date: October 31, 2012