Assassin’s Creed III – In-Depth Preview
With the release of no fewer than eight titles across multiple platforms since its 2007 debut, the Assassin’s Creed series is nothing if not prolific. You can get too much of a good thing though, and it is not surprising that the announcement of Assassin’s Creed III has been met with as many jaded sighs of franchise fatigue as celebratory whooping and hollering. Despite this, the recently released teaser trailer for the third instalment proper of Ubisoft’s Assassins versus Templars epic contained enough intrigue to pique ones interest, and so it was with a cautious curiosity that we attended the unveiling of the first gameplay footage of the title.
Held in the luxurious surroundings of London’s Kings Place on 19th March 2012, the event was a clear statement of intent on Ubisoft’s part: with Assassin’s Creed III, the publisher is going all out and looking to make the game’s release an event of Call of Duty-esque proportions. A hog roast was laid on and hordes of journalists from across the industry were met by soldiers in full 18th Century regalia who ushered attendees into a large theatre for the actual presentation.
Following a short gameplay video, Tommy Francois – from Ubisoft’s Paris Studio – took to the stage to talk about the evolution of Assassin’s Creed III from initial concept and prototyping through to its current state. Developed by the most ‘senior team’ of the entire series, the vision for the game crystallised in December 2010, when an ambitious CGI target video was produced to lay the foundations for the American Revolution setting and characterisation of the new hero, Native American assassin Connor Kenway. It also set out a host of planned new gameplay mechanics, many of which naturally accompanied the shift in focus away from urban environments and toward the wilds of the American frontier. Clambering through forests, hunting (and running away from!) wild animals, and the introduction of some new weaponry and gadgets were all shown, along with hints at new urban environs and the types of experiences the developer was hoping to explore.
Although the target video was impressive, there was a rather large elephant in the room – that being Red Dead Redemption. As lovely as Ubisoft’s planned vision of the American frontier looked, it couldn’t help but bring to mind Rockstar’s (now nearly two-years old) cowboy ‘em up. This was acknowledged by Francois himself, who conceded that the launch of RDR had thrown a slight spanner into the works, and had forced the studio to look for other areas within which to innovate.
Fast forward to today and the actual gameplay footage that was shown clearly demonstrated that Ubisoft has done an excellent job of delivering the vision as detailed in the concept video. The world of Assassin’s Creed III is looking hugely detailed and, although there remains more than a hint of RDR in the setting, the verticality that is so central to the series means that in gameplay terms it should offer a very different experience from that of John Marsden and co. Connor himself is wonderfully animated – stalking through the snow-covered forests with a grace belying his Native American roots and clambering on, over, under and around trees with believable poise.
The changes that Assassin’s Creed III brings aren’t just aesthetic and even at this stage it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into introducing elements that bring new mechanics into play. For example, wading through deep snow may slow you down, but it also helps muffle your steps, in turn making it easier to sneak up on foes without being heard. Blood spatter from injured enemies or animals can be used to track them down, and the means by which you dispatch animals has a direct impact on the value of their skins – a clean kill is preferential. Such details look likely to bring a richness to Assassin’s Creed III’s world that could well make the game a time-sink of Skyrim-proportions.
The game is also promising full weather and season cycles – with each bringing its own set characteristics that impact on gameplay. Rain, for example, will make it impossible to fire muskets and icy-conditions impact on Connors ability to smoothly traverse the environment and fight. Although we didn’t get to see many of the weather conditions in action, from the stills that were shown they looked impressively authentic.
Ubisoft were keen to trumpet the fact that Assassin’s Creed III will be running on the all new ‘ANVIL Next’ engine which, aside from offering smarter visuals and better character animation (in a console first, face, body and vocal performances will be captured in a single pass), will also support a massively increased number of on-screen characters. While such technological bragging can often be cheap, the latter claim was ably supported by a scene in which Connor must sneak up on an entire army.
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