You can still see the legs swinging from the trees.
Ubisoft walked us through a high-level overview of their goals for developing Assassin's Creed III earlier this month during GDC. As entertaining as that was (Powerpoints are not usually entertaining), I was far too eager to see the game in action. As the demo opened, our newest Assassin stabbed a bear in the neck and, remarkably, that wasn't the most exciting thing in the first 30 seconds.
Instead, the traversal in the wilderness expanse Assassin's Creed III features between Boston and New York actually stole the show upfront. Protagonist Ratohnhake:ton (or Connor as everyone will undoubtedly default to calling him) moved deftly across tree branches, around trunks, up cliffs, and up into higher vantages.
The fact that the AC series can move from the city to a dense forest speaks directly to the work Ubisoft Montreal has done on the engine and mechanics. AnvilNEXT will power the new entry and proves itself with sharper visuals, better contrast, pin-point shadows, and some excellent crowd behavior. As Connor entered a dock in Boston, people acknowledged each other and took notice of Connor, even more so when he took off running through a Red Coat checkpoint and broke the ensuing chase by leaping through an open window to the surprise of a 16th-century house-wife.
Still, it was the demo's major battle scene that struck me as an spectacle of the AC formula. Connor avoided pulling out an ancient Roman gatling gun, instead opting to weave his way through the battlefield populated with hundreds of American and British soldiers. The crowd mechanics and musket fire were daunting, but by waiting for vollies of fire, Connor managed to slip around the front and take to the trees behind the occupying forces.
From here, Connor could survey a deployment guarding the officer's camp. Using a new weapon called a Rope Dart, Connor attacked a soldier and, keeping hold of the rope, jumped to the ground, pulling the soldier up to the tree branch he was standing on like a pulley.
The remaining British soldiers were quickly dispatched with Connor's hatchet and dagger. Dual-wielding, as it has been in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin's Creed: Revelations, will be a major focus in hand-to-hand combat, but the rope dart left me with questions.
Creative Director Alex Hutchinson told me after the demo that if you're playing stealthy, you can kill an enemy and hang them up in the trees for other soldiers to find. Naturally, those enemies left alive will run with their red coattails between their legs at the sight of their fallen comrade.
While much of Assassin's Creed III's story and the entirety of Desmond's tale will continue to remain under wraps until the game's release, Hutchinson told us that Connor will not necessarily align himself with the British or the Americans.
In the beginning of the game, Connor's tribe is attacked and decimated by the new arrivals, and from then on our protagonist walks a path of vengeance and violence. Connor's motivations will have players treading a fine line between both sides of the American Revolution, but Hutchinson said that the line between them was never that clear to begin with.
What Ubisoft Montreal (and the other studios helping to bring Assassin's Creed III to market) hope to exploit is that the American Revolution was a war fought on Indian land, between farmers and colonists against British imperialist with the aid of the French military.
Besides all that convoluted history, underlying Demond Miles' storyline, and the advancement of some AC mechanics that grew stale over the course of three Ezio games, Assassin's Creed III will also allow you to stab some historical figures you're probably more familiar with.
"Every assassination target is a real person who really dies at that time and in that place," Hutchinson said. The trick is taking their deaths and turning the circumstances to the series's strengths. Fortunately, Assassin's Creed III looks to be playing heavily to those strengths while also training up new ones to revitalize a franchise that's starting to move slower than old man Ezio.