If there’s one thing about Assassin’s Creed it’s this, the whole of history is open to adventure. It’s a brilliant idea because everywhere and every when can be mined. The critically acclaimed series has gone from Jerusalem to Rome to Constantinople. Ubisoft has brought the series a few hundred years further with the American Revolution as the backdrop. I’m not the first to say that I’m very much looking forward to the next numerical entry, especially having felt Ezio had pretty much run his course. We have a whole new protagonist with Connor and this time a fierce new world hangs in the balance as talk of war comes to a boiling point. It sounds really exciting, so I jumped at the chance when offered to hang out in Boston for a couple of days stalking and stabbing in Assassin’s Creed 3!
I got to play around 3 hours of single player at Ubisoft’s Boston event and I must say that they have once again breathed life into whole era. The demo featured a mission to chase down a Templar in the British ranks, taking Connor into colonial Boston to meet Samuel Adams and kick off the American Revolution. However, before going into old timey Beantown, I decided to explore a little of the frontier countryside.
What I found was an expansive and wild world full of danger around every bend. If you’ve play the very excellent Red Dead Redemption (if you haven’t, you really should) you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect. America’s pioneer land comes alive with fauna both great and small. Rabbits and beavers scurry under the brush while deer frolic in forest clearings. It’s not all furry friends, though, as wolves and bears also stalk the woods, sniffing out the unwary player. In fact, the first enemy to successfully take me out was a pack of wolves I happened upon while hunting a couple of poachers. When you’re not being mauled by bears, you can turn the tables on the predators in a number of ways employing traps or just using your trusty bow. You'll even skin the pelts for a number of random side quests- no doubt they’ll also play a role with crafting.
The wilderness is very lush and beatiful but might be a bit dense visually compared to urban settings, which can make it a little difficult when searching for a climbing point. The world has a day night cycle with a good range of weather. I experienced a torrential downpour with flashing lightning and blinding sheets of rain while making my way to Boston. It felt wild and a little haunting even.
Moving through the forest proved to be smooth enough, with only a few trip ups here and there. Ubisoft has simplified the movement controls by getting rid of the dreaded ‘assassin’s claw’ and assigning the right trigger as the freerun button. Simply, hold the trigger and Connor will shuffle up ledges, branches, or whatever you as well vault over any other obstacle in your way. Previous games were notorious for having the player hop from roof to roof during a heated chase only to shoot the character suddenly in another direction as if jerked by an invisible wire. The real culprit was the need to constantly press the B (or circle) button to leap. Freeing up your right thumb to look around solves this problem in an elegant way. Thankfully, Connor wasn’t prone to spazzing out and was sure of foot in woodland and city alike.
Much like his predecessor, Ezio, Connor has access to a homestead featuring various friends and compatriots to help him defeat the nefarious Templars. Inside, you’ll find a few places to make additions to the manse, such as a smith. Think of it as your one stop shop for any and everything you’ll need along the journey but it’ll be up to you to discover all its secrets and hire the staff. The homestead will have several missions to undertake. Oh, and outside the house is a small port which you can launch a naval attack- which leads to one of the highlights of my time playing.
Connor takes to the high seas in a number of off coast skirmishes. Originally, when I learned there would be a sailing mechanic, I was a little hesitant. I was thinking at best it would be side annoyance to further the story; and, at worst, a painfully intrusive and unintuitive mini-game that was the antithesis of the franchise. So, I’m delighted to say that the couple of naval adventures were thrilling. Essentially, you play as the captain, manning the wheel and issuing commands. The controls are similar to arena style dogfighting in so much that the ship moves forward automatically and you push the left stick to steer. You can raise full sails or call all stop with the A and B buttons. With the d-pad, you can select a number of munitions to sink the opposition. Press X or Y to fire the cannons, though each shot has a short cool down so make them count. It sounds a complicated but after a few minutes in the water you’ll get the hang of it.
From any port you can launch an aquatic mission, which range from simply drowning British vessels to escorting colonial ships. You’ll have several hotspots along the east coast from Massachusetts all the way down the Florida. One mission had me meeting up with a smaller ship being chased along the shore of Boston. I had a dozen or so opponents to blast out of the water and the sortie took place at night.
In a lot of ways the sea battles are far more intense if only by all the fanfare. You can really feel the impact when a perfectly timed cannonball volley would rip apart a ship in a massive explosion. The turbulent sea churns and tosses your ship about shooting sheets of saltwater over the hull. The deck is alive with shouts, as men man turrets and sails, relaying commands back and forth. It’s a very thrilling experience and a welcome break from rooftop running.
After sailing for a few missions I decided to head back in town and get up to a little bit of mischief. Boston opens up to a rather impressive size, with a great attention to life and times during the shaky beginnings of war. British Regulars patrol the streets accompanying tax collectors as they harass the denizens. These actually provide dynamic side missions in which you can attack and stop the British tax machine. You’ll also encounter militia and mercenaries who often ignite quick battles causing all kinds of mayhem for the public. You’ll want to tread lightly on both parties because, even though Connor falls mostly on Colonial side, he’s foremost an assassin of the Brotherhood. So you can easily find yourself against either of both sides if you’re a wanted man.
Combat largely remains the same brutal affair from the previous games. Your first instinct is to play defensively but Connor has range of moves and gadgets to wear down any opponent. The hatchet is a great way to beat back opponents and smacks with a very satisfying squick. Your bow is pretty good at taking people down but I found the pistol more useful. Countering is still the name of the game. A simple tap of the Y (or Triangle) button right before an attack engages a brief slowdown in which you can choose your next attack or dodge, such as shoulder check toppling over the enemy. You can even disarm some baddies with a will timed counter leaving them open for a quick hidden blade stab. You'll have a bunch of tools at your disposal to dispatch foes such as poison darts, smoke bombs and even a rope dart tool (think Scorpion from Mortal Kombat). The rope dart was especially cool as you can climb up a tree and sling it around an unsuspecting soldier and then hop over a limb and hang him.
Connor’s investment into the budding nation stems from a little backstory about his people defending themselves from the British. He quickly gets involved with the Colonists as they have finally had enough of the tyrannical British rule. Once in Boston, you'll soon meet up with Sam Adams who has a thing or two about the latest tax on tea and it's up to Connor to make a few runs against the Brits shipyard. After blowing up a few shipments, thwarting a couple of tax collectors, and riling up the general populace with a man name Stephon, the Sons of Liberty were ready to thumb their noses at King George with the famous Boston Tea Party.
The mission took maybe an hour or so but it's only a small part of what is guaranteed to be a pretty lengthy game. Along with all the side missions, naval battles, hunting, and multiplayer, Assassin's Creed 3 is shaping up to be a beefy game. I'm especially thrilled about joining the revolution and can't wait to see what secrets will be uncovered with Connor.
[Assassin's Creed 3 releases October 30th. Played on Xbox 360. Event and travel provided by Ubisoft]