I have to admit I was more than a little perplexed to find out that the next true sequel in the Assassin’s Creed timeline was set during the American Revolution. Until now we had been walking and stalking through olde-worlde cities where most people wore robes but here we were staring down the barrel of a musket and jumping through the trees of the Frontier. How was this going to work? Luckily for me, I was invited to take a look at a preview thanks to the guys at Ubisoft Montreal and now my worries have been put aside. This looks like one hell of a sequel and although it’s coming out soon after Ezio’s last adventure, it has been in development for quite a while and has some new tech in there to boot to make it a worthy successor that should silence all the doubters.
So what’s it all about? Well, as you may already know the game is set during the American Civil War in the late 18th Century but although there is a lot of in-fighting between the British Empire and the North American colonies the story is still very much about a long-running feud between the Assassins and the Templars. You play as Connor inside the Animus, a character who grows up in the Mohawk village with the natives and then eventually dons the Assassin’s robe, learning all the deadly skills that go along with it. Early footage from the game shows him scalping targets to prove he killed them, however when looking into the history this was deemed inaccurate by the development team and so this element has been removed in the final game. Other weapons include muskets for mid-range combat, arrows for long-range attacks, a tomahawk with a rather cool blade shaped likes the Assassin’s logo and of course the hidden blade we’ve come to know and love when Connor decides to get up close and very personal. One other addition is the Rope Dart which can be used to snare victims and do lovely things to them such as hang them from the nearest tree branch. Robin Hood would turn in his grave if he were in fact real.
One interesting thing we got to see was some pre-rendered ‘target footage’ which the team made when the concept was first realised. Set to a Bat for Lashes track, this showed a beauitful and exciting scene where Connor is sent on a mission to intercept a carriage and assassinate a poor unfortunate. Although more stunning than the actual game will look like, it does set a target for the development team to reach and it’s interesting to see how close they will get to realising this when the final game comes out. Another video we saw was a ten minute demo showing where they are at the moment with the game and to be honest it still looks impressive even though they’re not at the stage of tweaking and polishing the game yet. What follows is a description of the events that followed in the demo.
The demo begins with Connor in a wooded area in the Frontier during winter. As he walks through the deep snow his progress is slow as his feet sink into the snow, making him stumble as he wades through it waist high. As he reaches stonier ground the snow becomes more shallow and suddenyl hes set upon by a massive bear. Out comes the hidden blade and the bear is stabbed right through the neck as it lunges towards him. Animals in the game can be hunted and killed in order to get their pelts – presumably to add to Connor’s outfit or to sell. Perform a clean kill with a knife and the pelt will be worth more than one filled with shot from a gun.
Connor then climbs up a rock face using new mo-capped footage of real rock climbers and stands at the top, looking over a snowy vista that’s bigger than Rome in the previous games. He then spies a group of soldiers marching through the pass and leaps form tree to tree to get a vantage point above a moving cart. Connor can now jump across and dive into moving objects and so dives head first in classic style to hide in the cart and be transported stealthily to his next location.
The demo now moves to Boston in the summer – one of the locations alongside the Frontier and New York. Here we say NPCs interacting like never before. Birds fly through the crod, children are seen far more than before and a thief runs off with someone’s belongings. Our demo lets hiim run as Connor sidles through the crowd towards a checkpoint. He doesn’t have the correct paperwork so legs it into the town, jumping over stalls and for the first tine through a window of a house and out the other side – another first for the series and a shocking moment for the poor lady inside. The streets were wide in Boston in those days but thankfully there were more trees back in those days so onnor can use those trees to still leap above the heads of everyone and make his way across the city higher than most.
The next area we are faced with is the Battle at Bunker Hill in the summer of 1775. Connor runs up towards the staging area where we hear the famous “don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes speech” and then we see our first cut scene with dialogue. The team used full performance capture for a more genuine performance and facial animations have been enhanced further with more ‘bones’ in the face thanks to the new engine. Connor then runs towards the battlefield using cover for the first time to stay out of the way of gunfire. This section also shows off the fact that they can now have over 2000 characters on screen at once for the first time. As the guns are reloaded Connor dashes from cover to cover to flank the army and take to the trees – ducking under logs and bounding along branches. Eventually Connor finds the camp with his target and lays low in the bushes out of sifght. Again, something new for the series. He darts out, rushes his mark and the Animus bursts into life as in slow motion, his target sees Connor’s tasty tomahawk come into view, knocking him off his horse.
And that was the demo. It’s certainly a different direction for the game but something I am looking forward to. Sure some of the ideas we’ve seen before in games such as Red Dead Redemption but seeing it through the eyes of someone in the Animus give sit a very different flavour.
It seems Ubisoft are sharing things with us at this stage that most publishers keep very close their chests and for that, I thank them. It can only be good for the industry.