Assassin’s Creed 3 – Hands On Preview

At home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.
  • @MikePlantGC

Romping through the wild American frontier might come as a shock to even the most hardened Assassin’s Creed veteran, as tree branches replace parapets, gnarled tree bark becomes hand-hold and wolves, not Templars, seem hell-bent on sending you to an early grave.

So it was for yours truly as I was dumped into the dense forest surrounding 18th Century Boston with only my largely redundant city-honed AC skills,and my hatchet to protect me as I guided brand new assassin, Connor Kenway, about this dangerous environment without so much as a tutorial.

After a short cutscene – during which angry words were exchanged about a naughty man in Boston who’s ambitions lie in buying the American Native’s land right out from under them – I’m prodded onward to the city. A helpful map marks my destination with an exclamation point but otherwise I’m largely left to roam, free to explore my surroundings.

What’s a parkour expert to do? I immediately charged-off in a straight line toward my destination; leaping over logs, handsomely bumping off trees and trudging through shallow streams as I went, only to find that my path was blocked by a sheer cliff. ‘Easy,’ I thought, ‘I’ll simply climb up it.’ Oh, if only it were thus. For you see, shock of horrors, sheer cliffs are unclimbable even for our nimble assassin, leaving me scratching my head and hoping none of the PRs roaming the preview event were witness to my pitiful scrabbling.

More concerning still was the fact that despite running swiftly for some time, Connor had barely come any closer to where I needed him to be. It was then however that I noticed the horse icon in my weapon selection wheel and so, a merry whistle later, I was sat astride my trusty steed following the trodden paths I hoped would lead me on through the wilderness.

It was about here when AC3 got all Red Dead Redemption on me, the feeling of trotting through the world a close approximation of Rockstar’s masterpiece, even down to side-missions indicated by cries for help. A local girl for example screams for justice after narrowly escaping death at the hands of overeager poachers; needless to say I’m soon in pursuit of said poachers (who just so happen to be Red Coats) leading me to my first experience of combat.

Much as in previous AC games, dealing out death has much to do with timing and is largely based around successful countering. The key remains in waiting for hostiles to attack, and it’s the moment at which the icon above your aggressor’s head turns red that you’ll be wanting to strike back, so triggering the more powerful of Connor’s counters and setting up a combo opportunity during which any and all enemies within striking distance can seemingly do little to stave off your blows.

By the stage of the game demoed (around the half-way point) Connor also had access to bow, musket and hook rope (for hanging bad guys from trees) and so had the option of a full frontal attack or, if preferable, a more subtle cloak and dagger approach befitting an assassin. So it was that I bumped off my attackers and came away impressed with the variety – a direct result of the extra fluidity of movement provided by the huge amount of animation Ubisoft have created.

Back on the trail and I was soon winding around a gradual incline as my steed carried me up to the top of those previously unscalable cliffs in no time. Thing is, I was assuming it’d be next stop Boston, but no such luck. Indeed the next area I came too was just as large an expanse as the one I’d just travailed; from which it can be derived that AC3 is going to be a huge in terms of area covered.

After more riding I eventually found my way into the Boston where the game returned to form, Connor (and indeed me) immediately at home in an urban setting; even if the necessary lack of any particularly high buildings makes those leap of faiths – where assassins throw themselves off tall buildings into haystacks (because that’s what assassins do) – a tad underwhelming from those we’ve grown accustomed too.

Boston remains in the thrall of the Red Coats and so you’re left with a choice, sneak around and attempt to avoid any suspicion, or meet them head on. That said the game actually prompts you to take out tax collectors anyway meant I plumped for the latter, and so off I went with hatchet in hand. Big mistake.

You see I hadn’t quite taken into account that gangs of ten or more soldiers – all armed with muskets – would hunt me down with quite so much determination. Perhaps Connor, when controlled by someone a little more experienced than I, would be able to easily dispatch said band, but without such practice my best option seemed to be to run away.

Alas it’s a lesser known fact thsy 18th Century Red Coats could parkour every bit as well Native American assassins and so it was that I was left frantically flailing about the town with an assortment of guards in hot pursuit. What’s worse, so low were the buildings of pre-revolutionary America that never was I able to get out of the soldier’s line of site. It sure looks as if players will have their work cut out when making good an escape then, though again I wasn’t privy to any training in the art of escape that might have been revealed by this point of the game.

After much cowering I eventually completed enough minor objectives to unlock my chief aim: taking charge of a certain Tea Party. Here 100 boxes of tea had to be hurled overboard by my allies as Connor and an indirectly controlled NPC ally fought back the tides of incoming Red Coats.

Handy on screen objectives revealed my goal (the tea dumping) and side goals (complete the mission within a set time limit and perform a set number of aerial kills) and once I’d dumped the tea the objective complete screen even gave me the option to replay the scenario to take a second shot at completing those secondary goals I’d missed the first time.

Having caused much consternation to the pesky English my time with AC3 was at an end and I was left with sore eyes (more due to my proximity to the TV screen than anything else) and a feeling that while AC3 doesn’t redesign the wheel it certainly makes it much more shiny and doubles the amount of spokes.

As fate would have it I was also able to test out the much discussed naval battle as it appears on the Wii U version, and again I came away impressed. I’ll write a more detailed report later but such cannon fights are reminiscent of a much more aesthetically pleasing version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! And with a PR confirming we can expect about 20% of AC3 to be waged on the high seas it seems we’ve got plenty of the same to look forward to.

For: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
When? 31 October 2012 (30 November 2012 for Wii U version)