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Fans may be feeling some gameplay fatigue right now: the last two instalments of the franchise (Brotherhood and Revelations) have felt a bit samey, especially after the huge leap forward we saw with Assassin’s Creed II. Sure, we were treated to an incredibly innovative multiplayer mode, some questionable tower defence/attack, and some squad management components with ypour team of Assassins, but in these instalments the new elements always seem tacked on, rather than built into the whole project. Not any more: this is a completely new vision of what an Assassin’s Creed game should be.
One of the reasons for this is that Revelations and Brotherhood worked off the same engine as ACII, whereas the new game runs on a completely new engine. Similarly, the development team for the last two games was carved out from the ACII team, while a core group of developers stayed on to spend 2 years working on Assassin’s Creed 3. So we have a new game that not only looks and feels new: innovation is built deeply into its design.
To begin with we have a new protagonist: Connor, half British and Half Native American, living through the turbulent times of the American War of Independence. This is immediately interesting, because past settings have been in Europe or the Middle East, and a historiographical disclaimer has always commented that the team is multicultural and the events are purely fictional. Now the setting is much closer to home for developers (north America), and so we may see a deeper engagement with how the historical period has been constructed. Connor will be engaged directly in the events leading up to and during the Revolution, and we know that he has personal contact with many of the Founding Fathers (Washington and Franklin especially), so it will be interesting to see how the team narrates this crucial nationbuilding period.
Furthermore, the navigation and traversal systems have been completely overhauled, most obviously in the new “tree-running” sequences (haha, like “free running” but not). This is particularly applicable to the new Frontier environments: snowy, tree-filled vistas that complement urban environments nicely. Connor sinks thigh-deep into the snow, making it even more necessary to traverse the landscape via the treeline. Rather than merely running across flat surfaces, Connor can climb and jump through trees smoothly and fluidly, and there is less transition between horizontal and vertical movement. In addition, rooftops are more sloped than strictly horizontal, and animations have been adjusted so that the stance of figures is adjusted appropriately and corpses roll down slopes. It is even possible to climb using vertical as well as horizontal ledges. In general, everything is traversable.
Gameplay has also been enhanced for this instalment: assassinations can be undertaken with all weapons (including the new tomahawk, which is weighty and punishing while still agile), and double kills are also possible with all weapons. For example, one sequence showed Connor impale one soldier with a bayonet before firing the musket to kill the second soldier behind him. More generally, assassinations are much more smooth and fluid: rather than stopping to kill, pausing, and then moving on, each kill is part of a single movement, and it is possible to chain together kills for up to five minutes. Once enemies have moved into fight mode, the AI coordinates their behaviour, such that they will defend each other and work together, providing more challenge for the player. All this makes the combat system more fluid, dynamic and responsive.
Perhaps the most obvious innovation was demonstrated during the Sony press conference, where Connor was shown as a ship’s captain in the Caribbean. We saw large-scale naval battles between Connor and three separate ships, involving the control of both navigation and cannon. As the player brings the ship around to broadside the opponent, a broad white line shows the area of attack. The cannon fire is spectacular and the destruction and burning of ships is very well-animated, and the distance battle develops into boarding for the close-quarters combat we have come to expect from the franchise. This is action worthy of Master and Commander.
In addition to these big changes, a multitude of smaller innovations completes the package. Animals now live in the game world and there are hunting challenges and achievements (eat your heart out John Marston) as well as other optional side quests; interior environments to pass through and break line of sight; there is a new blending mechanism to allow Connor to blend with individuals and smaller groups; a new dynamic weather system affects NPC behaviour; a new dart rope weapon allows for distraction through assassination and hanging the victim from a tree; and we can expect lots of explosions based on gunpowder, a key strategic resource during the War.
Assassin’s Creed III goes way beyond more of the same. All this and we haven't even considered what's new in multiplayer. With a new completely overhauled navigation, traversal, combat and environments, as well as a new naval combat with both cannon and close combat, and you have a recipe for a very exciting and completely innovative Assassin’s Creed game, the likes of which we have not seen since 2009. For Playstation fans, a PS3 bundle and bonus content for owning AC titles on both PS3 and Vita should be high encouragement to get on board.
Chad Habel likes long walks on an irradiated beach, and surviving deadly test chambers. His favourite dish is hadouken stirfry, and his Achilles Heel is gibbing headshots. In an alternate reality he works at a University.
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