Assassin's Creed 3 preview: The New World
by Steve Watts, shacknews.com, Sep 24, 2012 11:00AM PDT
More than any other game in the series, Assassin's Creed 3 is trading on our shared sense of history. It's chosen a historical event that many Americans hear about a young age, through a mixture of legend and history. More generally, it's centered around very recent world history, and some themes of justice, political manipulation, and hypocrisy resonate more closely with modern society than the more distant Crusades and Renaissance ever could.
In an extended hands-on demo, the backdrop felt perfectly organic. The largely untamed wilderness of colonial America provided a stark contrast against the bustling city of Boston. And while I did get into my share of tussles with Redcoats -- or "Regulars" as the game accurately calls them -- it was enough to put any concerns of jingoism to rest. Connor is a character between two worlds, and his character's interactions with founding fathers, British officers, and even his own village show him more concerned with justice than fealty to a fledgling nation.
This edition makes two major revisions to the mechanical interface of Assassin's Creed. The first is the removal of what Ubisoft cheekily called the "assassin's claw," the need to hold down both the RT and A button for smooth free-running. Instead, only RT is required, with A serving as a triggered jump when required. What seems like a small change became much more significant when I realized that this method freed my right hand to manipulate the camera and direct my run. This made Connor's movements over rooftops and through trees nimble and light, in stark contrast to his fighting style.
That combat gets a revision with a new counter system, which is now centered around providing a host of quick options upon a successful parry. When a counter is successful, a subtle slow-motion camera effect cues the player to a short window to choose the counter type: kill, throw, or disarm. But a kill isn't fool-proof, and could be blocked or defended against with armor. When facing multiple foes, it became important and even difficult to judge which move to use in the split-second that I had an enemy in my grasp.
Connor's arsenal is noticeably more brutal, thanks in no small part to his tomahawk. The hidden blades still serve as the quick and quiet method of doling out death, but the axe is much more effective for crowd management -- so long as you have a strong stomach. The tomahawk animations were ruthless, and so varied that I'm not sure I saw one repeat.
My taste of the game took place roughly midway through the game, and spanned from inciting rebellion to the familiar Boston Tea Party and beyond. I won't spoil just how the sequence ended, but suffice to say that the lens of hindsight gave ample assurance that Ubisoft is exploring the moral grays in what we often interpret as a righteous war.
Ubisoft emphasized the new Homestead mission types, an update to Ezio's city-building. Rather than purchase your way to a fully stocked private villa, building Connor's homestead takes a more active approach. Rescuing individual skilled (and fully voiced) laborers like farmers and trappers will convince them to set up shop at the homestead, functionally making Connor's home into a small town.
Similarly, I saw hints that building a crew of fellow assassins would be more character-focused. I only welcomed one fellow assassin into the fold, but he was a character with an arc, and I can hope that means the others will be as well.
Assassin's Creed games have each introduced new elements, and this game brings naval combat. I was skeptical about the notion, but I found it played better than it appeared. The videos don't quite do justice to the frenetic feel of multitasking as captain of a ship, determining speed, navigation, and aim all at once. It's just enough to be challenging without feeling overwhelming. I only took a taste of the naval combat, and I can't say if it will hold up throughout all of the optional missions, but I'm certain it won't inspire the backlash of Revelations' tower-defense game.
Assassin's Creed 3 has a lot to live up to. After two annualized games, Ubisoft has made it clear that a numbered sequel should mark a larger event. Placing the game in such familiar territory was a risky move, as any benefits of the setting are counter-balanced against reasonable concerns about accuracy and tone. From my time with the game, it seems to be navigating these areas with aplomb, and Connor already stands out as deserving of Ezio's mantle.
This Assassin's Creed 3 multiplayer preview was based on a pre-release Xbox 360 demo of the game at an event where transportation and accommodations were provided by Ubisoft.