Hopefully by now you’ve had an opportunity to peruse our awards from PAX Prime 2012. If you haven’t, take a quick peek, because I’m about to go into full-on fanboy mode for our Best of Show winner: Assassin’s Creed III.
Let me start by saying that I’ve lost interest in the franchise over the last couple of games. While the storyline of Assassin’s Creed has always been fascinating and managed to keep me trucking along, the length of time that’s been spent developing the story of one character, who wasn’t even my favorite assassin, has seemed more than a little drawn out. Not only that, but there hasn’t been any true innovation in the series for quite some time.
When the original Assassin’s Creed launched, we were all blown away. The way that Altair traversed the world and handled combat was something entirely new, and that first game grabbed us all immediately. Four games later, there’s not been much added to the core gameplay, except the idea of rolling with a posse. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty awesome system that allowed me to breeze through some of the later stages of the game, making it a little easier to swallow playing through Ezio’s vastly extended story-arch. But at the end of the day, it’s been, mostly, the same game for the last five years…
So when the first footage of Assassin’s Creed III started to roll out, and we received glimpses of an entirely new stage (the American Revolution), all new abilities, tools, weapons, mechanics for traversal, modes of transportation, concealment, and a shiny new combat engine it was “everything old is new again” for gamers.
PAX Prime this year showed off an extended walk-through of the game, taking place in Boston, the walkthrough lead us through the majority of the game’s changes including its improvements to the combat system that made the original game so attention-grabbing. Advancements to the way that the character flows through the world surrounding him, and a look at a few new gameplay mechanics and tools that we’ll be using to take out our opposition when the game launches later this Fall.
While I would love to be able to recount the full play-by-play or, even better, provide a video of the walkthrough directly for everyone to enjoy, I’ve instead decided to spend my time focusing on a couple of key points that were shown in the demo that is bringing a jaded old veteran of the series, who was about ready to call it quits, back into the ‘holy shit best game ever’ camp.
The characters in Assassin’s Creed have always had a unique way of getting from point A to point B; a fluid combination of acrobatic skill and strength in the form of parkour that allowed them to leap from rooftop to rooftop in order to evade their pursuers.
In Assassin’s Creed III everything is taken to the next level, a progress that seems obvious upon reflection… but when you see it for the first time leaves your jaw on the floor. Connor (this iterations lead character) now has the ability to take advantage of the modern world, and it plays out in some surprising and exciting ways. The first example provided, in our walkthrough, was the idea of a mobile hay bail. There are carts moving through the city of Boston which provide you an option to drop down from the rooftops and hitch a free ride… Even better than that though, you can still kill from stealth. After plummeting from the rooftop of a building, Conner reached out and grabbed one of the red-coats as the cart rolled by, knifing his target and then pulling him into the hay all in one swift motion that made our small crowd applauded and cheer.
A little later on there was a street-level chase where Conner found himself ramping through fruit carts, and up along the sides of buildings. The chase included to new concepts for navigating the world. The first was the concept of ‘monkey bars’. While he was running through a marketplace Conner launched himself up to the ceiling of a mostly closed-in shop, and hand-over-hand navigated his way up and over a series of counters that would have otherwise hampered his progress.
The second new mode of losing pursuers though was a little more elaborate and interesting. The idea of a ‘pass-through’ mechanic was introduced as Conner jumped up through an open window, ran through a woman’s bedroom and launched himself out the other side. From what we saw, it looks like this is a freebie action that plays out in cinematic format and almost instantly ditches whoever might have been chasing you… with the added benefit of looking completely bad-ass.
The last, unfortunately, loses weight in a text description… but I’ll do what I can to excite you with it all the same. At one point during the end of the demo Conner navigates the rigging of a ship at port in Boston. It’s hard to put into words how elegant and seamless it all was… other than to say that everything was natural. The way the Conner climbed rope, positioned himself between gaps, swung from overhand to balancing upright along beams… it all flowed together flawlessly in a way that made me feel like “Yep, that’s exactly how someone would climb from the deck of a ship up to the top of a mast.”
Assassin’s Creed has always touted a combat system that is fluid, easy to pick-up, and rewarding to master. Assassin’s Creed III, again, advances the core concepts that have been staples of the game since day one, and brings it all to the next level to introduce that ‘wow’ feeling once more.
Conner has received the ability to stalk his enemies a little more realistically in AC3, with an obvious addition that, when it was shown for the first time, made me wonder “why hasn’t this always been here?” Conner has the option of pressing up against walls, corners, and trees now in order to get a line-of-sight on his enemies without being seen himself. In the first showcase of this, it was in order to prep himself for a killing-blow whilst one of the game’s AI characters caught the attention of one of the red coats. As the character approached the corner, which Conner was positioned behind, he was grasped all of the sudden, knifed by the hidden blade, and then left crumped in behind the wall as Conner progressed forwards.
Everything was fluid and natural, and it seemed like it was a mechanic that had been in there since the inception… But it hasn’t, and it’s a prime example of how the game is advancing its technology in an intelligent manner.
The second glimpse we got was through a new mechanic that people have been talking about since it was teased in one of the gameplay trailers: the rope-dart. Conner spends a good chunk of his time in Assassin’s Creed navigating the branches of trees in the American wilderness, and as a by-product of that one of his new abilities (which I’m personally quite excited about) is a hanging mechanic. From a perch on a tree branch you have the ability to toss down a rope around an enemy, and then dive backwards off the tree to string him up in a flash. It looked smooth and natural, and it seems like something that I’m going to be doing a whole hell of a lot… as not only does it disable enemies, but provides a distraction to capture the attention of others and allow you to sneak forwards undetected.
Of course most people won’t be spending the entire game in the shadows, and our demo provided ample opportunity to check out the game’s open combat engine as well.
After being cornered by a large group of red coats, Conner went to work dispatching a series of guards with his staple weapons: his dagger and tomahawk. Conner seems to be focused, primarily, on a dual wield technique that is, again, fluid and natural. He moved from opponent to opponent in a way that, even when the player missed combo opportunities, strung together beautifully: parrying attacks and redirecting blows to open up opportunities for killing blows. The most impressive though was how he was able to switch between weapons, tomahawking one guard, before spacing out his circle of advancing enemies with a couple of quick shots from his pistols, returning then again to melee combat and quick-knifing a couple of others with his hidden blades.
Nearing the end of the demo, again on the boat, there was a scene where Conner performed the ‘coup de grâce’ where combat in our walkthrough was concerned. On his way onto the boat were a series of muskets, lined along a rack. Conner nabbed one and walked on board… where two red coats stood guard. In a flash he quickly speared the bayonet of the rifle through one guard, and then instantly pulled the trigger, firing THROUGH him to kill the second person. Again: applause, gaping maws, and a whole lot of cheering from the crowd.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood might have brought forward the concept of it being dangerous to go it alone, and bringing back-up, but Assassin’s Creed, again, advances everything to the next level.
To be fair, the example provided in our demo was singular, but it was powerful enough to still warrant its own section in this (extended) preview.
Conner, at one point, found himself with a need to get to the docks (near the end of the demo) so like the previous two games he called for some backup. Unlike the previous two games though, it wasn’t to start an all-out brawl. Conner’s colleagues showed up incognito, dressed as red-coats and casually wrapped around him. As soon as they were in position Conner folded his hands in behind his back, as though he’d been bound, and was able to advance (with his posse) through the guarded gates of the dock with no hassle what-so-ever (the red coats guarding the dock under the impression that their kinsman had nabbed Conner and were bringing him in).
Again, simple changes, but smart and game-changing. Assassin’s Creed’s showing at PAX might not have been the full hands-on experience that were we hoping for, but watching one of the game developers play through the 15 minutes or so of gameplay was an eye-opening experience that had this game rocketing, instantly, to the top of our awards list… and I personally cannot wait to see what happens in the full release; there is bound to be plenty more game features that we’ve yet to see.