Assassin's Creed: Revelations was an odd game for longtime fans of the series. Judged by its own merits, the most recent entry in the franchise was a perfectly enjoyable and well-made adventure. But for those who know the series inside and out, Revelations had one persistent flaw that was difficult to ignore: the whole thing just felt too familiar. It was a game that left a lot of fans wondering if Ubisoft's creative momentum had stalled, stirring up quite a bit of concern over Assassin's Creed III in the process. Something tells us that the worrying won't last for much longer.
See, here's the thing about Assassin's Creed III: what we've seen looks terrific. This sequel appears to be the breath of fresh air that fans have been clamoring for in ever-growing numbers. One obvious reason is the brand-new setting and protagonist, with 18th-century New England serving as the backdrop and half-Native American, half-English assassin Connor acting as the main character. While Connor's journeys between Boston and New York have him living through the American Revolution, he's very much an outsider with no horse in this race. It's a really interesting premise, but what has us most excited is that this new setting is more than just a chance to explore a new historical era. Ubisoft has cleverly used the Revolutionary War backdrop as an opportunity to evolve the core strength of the game: player movement.
From the beginning, the series' empowering sense of momentum has been a critical part of its overall success by letting you freely dart across rooftops and perform feats of acrobatic wizardry. But what so many of us loved about leaping across rooftops in those early games failed to evolve in any meaningful way with each subsequent installment. With Assassin's Creed III, however, it looks like that might just change. As Connor, you'll spend a good deal of time stalking your enemies not only on rooftops, but also in the wilderness. He can climb trees, leap across branches, and scale sheer cliff faces one handhold at a time. It's more than just an extension of the city navigation on trees: there's a much more feral look and feel to Connor's forest exploits.
Seeing Connor in motion is impressive, and you really get the sense that controlling him in this world will feel very different from controlling Ezio. Part of that is the revamped animation system; Connor really moves like a new man, not some Revolutionary War version of Ezio. You see it in little details like the way he vaults over low obstacles with a single outstretched arm, or the way he sidesteps tree trunks when jumping from branch to branch. Beyond that, Ubisoft is promising a revamped control system, giving you more control over when you want to scale straight up an obstacle, or simply run over it. It's refreshing to see that Ubisoft has gone into such detail to make sure the sense of movement looks just as different as the world around you.
Connor's journey through this world also requires him to deal with weather effects in a way that Ezio never had to worry about. The story spans a number of years, with chapters set during various seasons. In the wintertime, you might need to stick to the trees because the ground is covered in knee-deep snowfall. It may be fun to see Connor trudging through all that powder like a skier who has lost his skis, but it also means you're in dire straits if a bear happens to sneak up behind you as we saw in our demo. Yet not every type of weather is a reason to worry, as Ubisoft has promised that you'll be able to exploit certain weather effects to your benefit, like using thick fog as a chance to increase your stealth levels during nighttime assassinations.
If you're worried that Assassin's Creed III has basically become Far Cry, don't be: you'll still be spending plenty of time in real, honest-to-goodness cities. According to Ubisoft, Connor will be splitting his time between Boston and New York. We got to see the former in all its British-occupied, pre-war glory. It's a different look from the dense medieval cities of Italy we saw in the Ezio trilogy, with wider streets and more open space to contend with (which Ubisoft can now exploit with up to 2,000 people onscreen at a time). The cities not only look different, but behave differently as well, with opportunities to run through open windows and through people's houses in order to break from your pursuers during a chase scene.
Naturally, each city you visit is awash in turmoil considering the whole American Revolution currently going on. Connor is in an interesting position during all of this. Ubisoft is very careful to stress that this isn't some "Woo! America!" type of game. Connor is an outsider: he doesn't identify with his English heritage, and he has taken issue with his Mohawk tribe after they were ravaged by enemies, and the elders refused to retaliate. Long story short: Connor has found a new home with the assassins, looking to eradicate the newfound Templar threat on this side of the Atlantic.
At times you'll see Connor assume the role of the lone wolf on the battlefield, similar to those scenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 where Snake crept through an ongoing war independent of either side. One scene has Connor running downhill through a full-on warzone, dodging cannon balls erupting in clouds of dirt and debris in pursuit of a British officer. It's an interesting form of stealth compared to previous games: rather than blending into a crowd of people, you're trying to blend into a scene of chaos and death, sneaking toward your goal while trying not to die yourself. It sounds a little impractical until you realize it's an awfully effective way to catch your target while he's distracted.
This being an Assassin's Creed game, it's not all watching other people fight: you'll be doing plenty of that yourself. Ubisoft has promised a number of tweaks to the combat system, including dual-wielding weapons, human shields, and even the ability to stab enemies at a dead sprint without breaking stride. There even seems to be a little bit of the most recent Batman games in there, with Connor being able to string up enemies from tree branches to distract the attention of a larger group.
So yes, Connor is a very impressive assassin. His tactics are a little more feral (climbing trees and blending into the wilderness) and a little more guerrilla (those enemies you string up from trees? They can be dead), and moreover, he moves with a distinct style and animation set all his own. We really like what we've seen of Connor the assassin; now we're just wondering about Connor the hero. Ezio was one of those wonderfully memorable protagonists you got to see grow and mature over time. We're hoping Connor will be just as interesting, but in his own distinct way. So far Ubisoft isn't revealing a whole lot about Connor's backstory, so we've got our fingers crossed that we'll be given reasons to care about his role in the story as opposed to, say, Altair from the original game.
All told, Assassin's Creed III looks like the type of sequel that we were hoping for all along. There's a new historical era to explore, a new main character to learn about, and a whole slew of tweaks and outright overhauls to the gameplay that should make this a fresh experience compared to the deja-vu-inspiring Revelations. Naturally, all that comes with the caveat that we've seen only a small slice of this game and haven't had the opportunity to play it for ourselves just yet. So keep an eye out for more Assassin's Creed III coverage coming your way this year. This is definitely a game you'll want to have on your radar.