One of the longest wait lines at PAX East 2012, aside from Aliens: Colonial Marines and Borderlands 2, was to get a glimpse at Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed III. Much like other special preview events, I was brought into a closed off room filled with small crates to use as (surprisingly comfortable) chairs. The hallway leading into this room was adorned with historical tidbits on weaponry used during the Revolutionary War, detailing things like the destructive force of a cannonball and comparing a musket to a modern day carbine assault rifle.
What Ubisoft had to show wasn't a live demonstration, but a pre-recorded video from creative lead Alex Hutchinson. The video starts with him sitting on a staircase in front of a brickwall, thanking everyone for coming, and hoping we like what he has to show.
The gameplay begins. It's a slightly snowy, somewhat wooded area, and there's a small army of redcoats looming on a hill in the distance. Hutchinson explains that what we are seeing is the historical Battle of Bunker Hill, complete with an American general giving the famous line of firing "when you see the whites of their eyes". He also explains that because of the nature of the setting, the development team worked very hard on making sure that soldiers use actual tactics from the war, including firing lines and standing in ranks.
The new assassin hero Connor starts alongside the Americans, and his target is a British general at the top of the hill with the opposing army. Connor dashes forward, and the gameplay briefly pauses as Hutchinson talks about player options in approach. In this particular scenario, Connor can head left to sneak around the side, or head right to blitz through the combat zone. In this demo, he heads right.
A lot of new animations were created for AC3. Connor runs and moves differently from previous hero Ezio, and has a few new maneuvers such as vaulting over objects or sliding underneath. He also has reaction animations. During his sprint forward, he flinches and throws his hands up as a cannonball blasts the ground nearby him. It's an entirely minor thing, but I'm happy to notice the difference. The animations are built from the ground up, which means they've definintely spent more time on this sequel than they have on the last two.
Connor runs to hills and boulders to use as cover as a hail of musket fire rains in from the redcoats. He eventually sways off to the left, and begins using a tree to latch onto a cliff facing. The gameplay pauses again so that Hutchinson can explain the climbing mechanices in Assassin's Creed III. It looks to control very similarly, but he assures that trees were designed to have a natural shape, so we shouldn't expect a bunch of "poles with branches". The tree that Connor uses splits into a Y-shape, and he suspends himself between the split to gain altitude. He leaps off the branch onto the cliff facing. Like the trees, the rocky edges are made so that they don't look "man-made". Which rings true, since there wasn't a straight, horizontal line Connor can sidle across like the buildings of every previous Creed game. Hutchinson says the team worked with actual rock climbers to make Connor's ascent a little more believable, using multiple hands for traction and the like. It's lost on me; it just looked like climbing.
While resting upon a tree branch, five British soldiers are wandering underneath. Here, we get to see some of the new tools and attacks Connor has. The newest item is the knife on a rope, which Connor throws into a soldier, and then leaps from the branch holding the rope, slowing his fall and pulling the poor sap into the air, his feet dangling. The other soldiers immediately set up a firing line, and even though muskets are crappy guns, Connor's best tactic is to close in. He dashes forward and the soldiers switch to using their bayonets. He immediately takes out two using a counter-attack, and uses his tomahawk to make quick work of the other two. It's difficult to tell without actually playing it myself, but combat looked mostly unchanged. I'm sure they've made improvements, but I couldn't see any from what I was shown.
Now Connor is in the enemy camp, near his target. New stealth and approach options are shown here, with Connor moving into bushes and ducking to remain out of sight. When near something he can hide in, Connor will automatically duck down, and players can move slowly to avoid detection. This is easily one of the better things I saw, as you have options to remain hidden while still being close to your target, instead of running along roof tops all the time.
With his target in sight, Connor sprints out of the bushes and does the iconic assassin leap with his hidden blade onto an unsuspecting soldier. Alex Hutchinson explains that they want Connor to feel like he's always in motion and always has momentum. As such, even after performing hidden blade assassinations, he'll keep moving. After the leap, he rolls forward and goes right back into running. He stabs another man in the chest and rolls over his back to maintain his forward path. It looked butter smooth, and I can see this being essential in making escapes or closing distance when chasing a target. A few steps later, Connor leaps onto the general, assassinates him, and the demo ends.
As someone who was rather unimpressed with Assassin's Creed: Revelations, AC3 looks to add in some refreshing gameplay. The combat didn't really grab me as all that striking, and while the new animations are nice, it's just a fresh coat of paint. I really like the stealth options, however. Seeing Connor hiding in a bush and be able to move along it is a much needed improvement, and the continued momentum after assassinations could open up interesting sequences and set pieces. I am feeling slightly more optimistic for the franchise now than I did after Revelations, and I look forward to getting my hands on it in the future.
Assassin's Creed III releases on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC on October 30th, 2012.
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