I bet you’re all really excited and can’t wait to see Assassin’s Creed III. I was too, and bless Ubisoft for taking the time to show us concept renders and mood boards, and for walking the gathered crowd through the production cycle from the very beginning. It was all very interesting but Dear Lord, I think they were about to get lynched after an hour. If anyone could have mind-read in the auditorium then they would have found just one thought repeating in the assembled crowd: “Just show us the game!” – thankfully, they did, and it was well worth the wait.
Assassin’s Creed III is the largest game ever produced by Ubisoft Montreal and has been in production since the completion of Assassin’s Creed II. The teams that worked on Brotherhood and Revelations have now joined up, alongside eight other Ubisoft teams from across the globe, in the final push to complete the game.
To begin with, a team of six Ubisofters researched the time period of the game, which covers from 1753 to 1783 and includes the American Revolution. It turns out that there is a lot of documentation on this time so the team were able to place George Washington in the correct location at the correct time and the Animus will be packed full of historical data.[drop]The time period was picked as it is rarely explored in video games, it would be extremely difficult for a shooter to be based at this time as the projectile weapons were rather slow. The themes of “Liberty or death” will be explored in the game and Ubisoft felt this was a good fit for the franchise. However, they also admit “It’s just pretty cool to be a pioneer!”
The American Revolution was a fight between us Brits and the soon-to-become Americans and – spoiler alert – we lost. Watching our side lose might be a hard sell over here but Ubisoft have said they see it as “The British civil war – just overseas,” and hope this will resonate with those of us still living under the Union flag.
The target render we were shown looks remarkably similar to the final product, Connor bounces through the treetops, scales cliff faces and is generally bad-ass. One difference is that the target render contained a weapon called a ‘chain blade’ which is exactly like what it sounds like: a blade on a chain that Connor can fire out and stab enemies from afar. “As much as we play with history, we do not want the brand to go fantasy” said Ubisoft. The render also shows Connor scalping his target but during their research Ubisoft found that Connor’s tribe did not scalp people, so this is no longer in the game.
“One of the pillars of the Assassin’s franchise is exploration” said Ubisoft and there will be plenty to explore as the game is twice the size of Revelations. The “Frontier” is the large forest you may have seen in the announcement video and Ubisoft say every part of it is packed with challenges and adventures. Whilst the cities have massive crowds of people, the Frontier is populated with animals including deer and rather vicious bears. There will also be smaller villages dotted throughout the forests which will hold quests and characters to interact with.
Ubisoft said “If you kill an animal with your musket it will be sloppy, the pelt will be full of holes and you will get a small reward. If you use a blade, you will get a clean kill and you will get better fur.” They are not revealing why Connor will be collecting furs for rewards but I would take a guess at there being some sort of trading system in the game.
The climbing system has been revamped to allow Connor to traverse cliffs, trees and buildings and he can now dive through open windows and out the other side of a building, a tactic useful when being pursued. Connor can also dodge under, jump over and slide past objects in his way and this looks spectacular when moving around the forests. Every single animation has been newly captured for the game so Connor will attack in a different style to Ezio.
In a first for the Assassin’s Creed series, the game features two handed combat with Connor wielding a Tomahawk in one hand and his wrist blade with the other. The fighting seems to have been improved and may owe more than a little nod to a certain caped crusader. One attack I saw had Connor grabbing the enemy’s rifle, shoving it under his chin and, well, let’s just say the guy won’t be needing his hat anymore.
Ubisoft stressed that the Assassin’s Creed franchise is based in reality rather than fantasy but they do admit that they tweak certain aspects to make the game more enjoyable. To be historically correct, the rifles in AC3 would take around a minute to reload but this would make sneaking around a battlefield rather easy so Ubisoft has shortened the reload time.[drop2]You may have noticed that some of the game is set in winter and snow will hinder your progress. Running through deep snow will slow Connor down and he will stumble and trip. The snow can also be helpful, wounded animals or people will leave trails of blood and footprints and this can be very useful when tracking a target. There will also be rain and the weather will affect Connor when fighting, as muskets and rifles cannot be used when wet.
The Animus has been the subject of a major overhaul and although it was only briefly previewed, the Animus software update can easily be described as ‘a bit Apple-y’. In previous games, when data was loading, you could control Ezio in a white void but there was nothing to do. From the brief glimpse we saw, it seems this white void is now the menu system. So, to enter a memory you will walk over and activate it. Ubisoft want to use the new Animus to enforce the idea that you are playing a simulation so, while playing in the “real world” everything has been enhanced, including the “Go to” markers and the boundary of playable areas. Previously this was a simple hex grid, now the boundary looks like an area of smashed glass, if you have ever seen the time rifts in the TV series Primeval then that’s what the new out of bounds markers look like.
The game is running on the Anvil Next engine and the cutscenes have been recorded using facial, voice and motion capture all in the same performance, something that has never been done before in a game. The models in the cutscenes have also been vastly improved, with double the number of polygons for the characters faces. Particular attention has been paid to the eyes and mouth to create the most realistic performance possible. The rendering of cloth has also been improved, possibly not the most exciting revelation but it sure does look pretty.
Ubisoft are touting the game as “Next Gen on this Gen”, a bold claim but from what I have seen, it’s mighty impressive. The draw distances are astounding and the cities really feel alive, with hundreds of characters walking around. Ubisoft consider the cities to be characters within the games, with personalities and themes and one of the biggest problems the team had when creating them is that the roads in America are much wider than in Europe, meaning Connor would have to make inhuman jumps to leap from street to street.
Thankfully, their research gave them a solution: the cities contained trees, so Connor will now jump from a building, into a tree and then off to the next building.
Assassin’s Creed is undoubtedly shaping up to be one of the best games of this generation but there was one tiny little thing that irritated me. When Ezio is clambering around Rome and Venice it is just about believable but while I was watching Connor spring about a forest, performing acrobatics and never missing a step it looks like, well, a computer game.
Ubisoft has said that the aim was to give the free running a “ski run” experience with obstacles and challenges and it looks like they achieved that. Connor can barely take two steps before he’s skipping between branches or swinging from a bough. It may be fast and action packed but it does make our hero appear to be some sort of performing monkey, no human can move that fast or quick across slimy, icy tree branches.
Apart from that tiny, tiny annoyance I would suggest fans pre-order the game now, it truly is stunning and it’s going to be a very long seven month wait until Assassin’s Creed III is on the shelves.
One last thing: having seen Spec Ops: The Line, Max Payne 3, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Prototype 2 and now AC3 in the past few weeks, it’s obvious that this is the year developers have worked out how to push every ounce of power out of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and are combining it with world class storytelling. At this moment in time, I really couldn’t care less about Next Gen as what you are going to play in the next nine months is going to blow your socks off.
Start saving those pennies, it’s going to be one hell of an expensive year.