Today I was lucky enough to sit and watch a preview demo of Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed 3, and would like to share some of the details with you here. It was exciting to see the game playing in real time, and I was happy to see that there didn’t appear to be as much copy and pasting as there was in previous releases such as Revelations or Brotherhood. A separate Ubisoft team has been secretly developing this newest installment for over three years, and a lot of their hard work really showed in the demo. The Assassin’s Creed series most certainly isn’t for everybody, with many people criticizing the gameplay as being little more than holding down two buttons and pressing forward on the joystick. While this criticism isn’t completely unfounded, I have found myself falling in love with these games over the years.
The demo started off with an introduction by Alex Hutchinson, the creative director of Assassin’s Creed 3, as he gave a brief description of the game’s setting and new protagonist, Connor. For those of you who don’t already know, this game takes place in Colonial America during the time of the revolutionary war. The new protagonist, Connor, seems to be on the sidelines of the conflict, with a heritage of half Native American and half British. The demo being shown here at PAX East showcases one of Connor’s early missions, as he moves through the 1775 battle of Bunker Hill. With the battle between Assassins and Templars still raging, Connor has to make his way through the firing lines of the bloody conflict in order to reach his target on the other side of the battlefield.
Connor rides in on a horse and dismounts beside a small gathering of blue coat soldiers, while a military commander spouts out an inspirational speech to his men. After dismounting, you are given a clear view of Connor’s weapons, with two black powder pistols holstered on his sides, a bow and arrow strung across his back, the classic hidden blade from the previous games about his wrist, a simple straight dagger on his belt, and of course, his trusty tomahawk. The American soldiers seem to pay him little attention as Connor strolls calmly through the crowd, looking out at the approaching ranks of British troops making their way down the hill ahead of them. With large scale battles being new to the Assassin’s Creed series, Alex Hutchinson mentions that a great deal of care went into making the armies stay true to the tactics and battle formations of the period (you line up your dudes, and we will line up ours, and we’ll see who wins!).
Hutchinson also pointed out that the number of characters moving and interacting on the screen has been drastically improved. While previous Assassin’s Creed games were only able to support around two hundred characters moving within a given scene, Ubisoft developers are now able to have up to two and a half thousand characters all on the same screen at once. While this might not sound like an integral part of the gameplay, it can have a surprising impact on the player’s immersion within the game’s environments and open world settings.
As Connor makes his way past the soldiers and starts running into the action, it is explained that his animations have been redesigned from the ground up. While you can still see some of Ezio and Altair’s style in his movements, everything from Connor’s running animation, to his free running has a look and feeling of its own. New reactive animations have also been added, which make Connor respond to things happening around him, such as flinching and shielding his face when a cannon ball lands beside him. We were also shown Connor’s new sliding move, as he does a running slide beneath a large arch shaped root sticking out from the ground. He will also peak around corners, and crouch down when making his way through designated ‘stalking zones,’ such as bushes or other hiding spots. Imagine that, an assassin who actually sneaks around. Who’d a thunk it?
Before running out onto the battlefield, the player is given the option of taking the more combat heavy path on the right, or the stealthier path on the left. Taking the path on the right, Connor begins making his way up into the trees. Hutchinson explains that the designers have been hard at work making the tree climbing experience feel natural and convincing. Jesting, he mentions that the development team had to be very careful when designing the tree climbing, because they didn’t want players to feel like they were Tarzan. As Connor makes his way through the organically shaped tree tops and branches, he uses several new moves, such as monkey baring from limb to limb, shimmying his way around a tree trunk, and using his hands to perch himself between a V shaped tree top. This was very impressive, as many fans were concerned that climbing through trees would be little more than running along a clear cut path of horizontal branches.
Jumping down on some unsuspecting Redcoats, we were then given a taste of the newly redesigned dual wielding combat system. Stringing up the closest soldier with his new Rope Dart, the man dangles helplessly about, while Connor charges forward. Taking down the next closest soldier with his dagger, Connor then uses the man as a human shield while four more soldiers bring their muskets to bear. As the man is riddled with the bullets of his fellow soldiers, Connor lets him fall to the ground, then quickly closes the distance before the remaining soldiers have a chance to reload. Once he is in the middle of the group, Connor then quickly and fluidly takes them down with a devastating series of attacks using his dagger and tomahawk.
Finally making his charge toward his final target, after a quick climb up a rocky cliff face, we see that the trademark hidden blade assassination now allows players to seamlessly roll out of the attack, then charge forward toward any remaining enemies. The demo then ended with the iconic tomahawk jump attack that we saw in the announcement trailer (bellow), as Connor strikes down his Templar target sitting on horseback.
In closing, I was very impressed with what I saw of this game, and can hardly wait to hear more details in the coming months, and then finally play it for myself on October 30th. I have a strong feeling that Connor’s adventure will prove to be the greatest Assassin’s game yet.
Stay tuned to Platform Nation for more news coming straight to you from PAX East 2012!