|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Ubisoft Montreal|
|Release: October 30, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
By now, you've no doubt heard that the Assassin's Creed franchise will be returning with a new numbered entry come the holidays. It's the next step for the world's most popular blend of historical fiction, science fiction, stealth, open world gameplay, and hidden blades, so here's a quick roundup of what we know about it thus far.
First of all, the Animus will be dropping you off in a completely different setting this time around. The plot still revolves around the war between the Assassins and the Templars, but several hundred years have passed, and the action has crossed the Atlantic to the New World. Leonardo da Vinci is long since dead and buried, but a new cast of historical figures will emerge to fill this gaping hole in the Assassin's Creed soul: Rumors have included a staggering number of Revolutionary War-era figures, including everyone from the obvious (George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson) to some less prominent figures you might not remember from high school history (British general Charles Lee, famed American soldier Israel Putnam, British marine John Pitcairn). Despite its highly, er, Da Vinci Code-esque take on history, Assassin's Creed has always tried to capture the personalities of important people, and the third entry will sit firmly in this tradition.
It will also feature a painstaking attention to visual detail. Boston, New York, Lexington, and Concord will be explorable, and Philadelphia will make an appearance as well. However, aside from basic landmarks, they won't be recognizable. These cities have changed immensely since the Revolution, and while it's not clear whether the developers recreated the colonial cities place-by-place, they did make sure to capture the overall look they had, in addition to all the major landmarks. In terms of sheer size, AC3 will be an enormous improvement over the previous games in the series, which themselves were not exactly small in scale.
The Animus will transport you into the body of your ancestor Connor Kenway, who's half-English, half-Mohawk –his birth name is Ratohnhaké:ton—and becomes attracted to the fight for justice when his tribe is massacred. Kenway is an Assassin, of course, and his heritage combines with the game's fiction to create an odd pattern of conflicts and loyalties: Kenway doesn't seem to be a fan of white settlers regardless of whether they're American or British, but he likes the idea of fighting British tyranny, and his loyalty to the Assassins probably trumps all else. While the story of Kenway's childhood is a part of the tale, the game itself covers the three decades following the Revolutionary War. In terms of personality, Kenway offers a more even-keeled hero than did the loud-mouthed, arrogant Ezio.
The new setting inspires various much-needed changes to the gameplay. While the franchise has long been synonymous with the act of running across rooftops in densely populated cities, AC3 will put players on the American frontier in about one-third of the missions. In the wilderness, the seasons will matter like never before. You'll need to carefully make your way through deep snow in the winter, for example, and the free-running style of movement has been adapted to make it more suitable for rock- and tree-climbing as opposed to building-scaling. (Even the controls for running are different: The right trigger/A button "Assassin's Claw" grip has been replaced by a single button.)
Also, British soldiers are highly trained, and their weaponry and professional behavior will be a marked contrast with the old city guards. Muskets are incredibly deadly when fired in groups at a single target, so don't expect to walk in front of a line of British soldiers without paying the price—but if you get in close enough, they'll be forced to switch to their bayonets. Also, Revolution-era guns took forever to reload, so don't plan on spraying lead like Rambo.
There will be other updates as well. A major focus for the developers has been to make the world feel more alive—people on the street will each have their own tasks to accomplish, and each new mission will be given to you in the form of a scene. You'll no longer approach a mission-giver who's just standing around waiting for you. The frontier has also received a lot of attention, and it will be filled with wildlife to hunt and settlements to explore.
The basic mechanisms of combat have reportedly been overhauled as well. Two-handed combat is new to the series, and new ways to kill will include ropes, tomahawks, bows and arrows, and even a dart on a string. The button configuration will be a little different, there will be new combos, and the camera system has been tweaked.
While Assassin's Creed has never slacked in the graphics department, you can expect new things visually as well. The game is built from an entirely new engine called Anvil Next, and the developers have been working on AC3 for three years, reworking every little detail—they've said they want to ship Assassin's Creed 3.5, not just a "first draft" of a new game. Supposedly, the new engine can handle several thousand characters on the screen at once (the old engine could handle 100), a feature that will come in handy when the time comes to depict massive battles. AC3 will even feature acting performances developed via motion capture, a la L.A. Noire.
Supposedly, there are plenty of other new features that haven't been made public yet. There will be multiplayer, but we don't know what kind. There will be some new version of the "Brotherhood" mechanism to help you attack enemies, but it's not clear what that will look like. And so on.
Assassin's Creed games are always worth getting excited over, but this one promises to be a step forward in a way that the last two games simply weren't. This won't feel like a DLC pack for Assassin's Creed II. It will feel like it deserves the number after its name.
Date: May 24, 2012