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E3 Preview: Assassin's Creed 3 Hands On

Steve Butts | 6 Jun 2012 16:00
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I confess it: after the amazing GDC demo, I was a little underwhelmed by the showing Assassin's Creed 3 had at the Ubisoft conference. Then we saw naval combat at Sony. Then we saw Boston at the Ubisoft booth. Then we saw Revelations on the Vita. Then we played multiplayer on the PS3. With all five pieces in place, I once again feel justified in making this one of my most anticipated games of the year.

The earliest of the demos showed Connor in his wilderness environment, running down and then shooting a deer in the snowy forests, then fending off an attack by some hungry wolves who have been drawn by the scent of blood. Watching Connor move easily through the trees and the forests, I'm getting more and more used to the idea that this latest Assassin's Creed isn't an entirely urban game. The character still makes sense in the same ways, so the new context just adds more interest without necessarily breaking what makes the franchise so appealing to so many fans.

Connor soon makes his way to a nearby Rebel camp, where he has the chance to take on some extra work, either gathering medicine for the camp doctor, or meat for the camp provisioner. While the player's free to indulge in these little side missions, Connor's really here to kill a Templar, who just so happens to be a British officer stationed at a nearby fort. After grabbing a horse and riding off through the woods past Rebel sentries crouched in the snow, Connor finds the fort guarded by nearly a dozen Redcoats.

I'd felt that Brotherhood and Revelations had begun to hit feature creep with regard to the tools and toys of combat. Between the bombs and the hook blade, it seemed that combat in the previous games was more about managing your inventory than being an unqualified badass. Thankfully, the team at Ubi have streamlined the game somewhat, while also bringing in some cool new counter moves that keep the player focused on the action. There are also running assassinations that allow you to take out a target and not even break your stride. After dispatching the guards, Connor climbs the rock face on the other side of the fort, climbs in, shoots a few exploding barrels - yes, apparently, King George made sure all his soldiers were well stocked with exploding barrels - and then takes out the rival Templar.

Sony showed the real goods at its press conference with the naval battles. We got to watch them again at the Ubisoft booth, and even saw them running on the Wii U. Here, Connor's dressed as an actual ship commander, sailing the ship Aquila against a couple of man-o-wars. The sort of third-person commander perspective works well for the game, and the camera and shot overlays give you a great sense of control over the fighting. Steering to bring your broadsides to bear and then unleashing a barrage on the enemy is crazy satisfying, especially when you add in all the little touches, like the way Connor ducks when he breaks for impact, or the way the sails are thrown out and drawn in as you order changes in speed.

The weather actually matters too, and as the battle goes on, the rain starts to pour down and the waves begin to toss the ships about. It's all incredibly cinematic and, just as it starts to look like the game's going to simulate boarding actions, the demo ends. As much as I love the naval combat, I still don't understand its context in this particular game. The team at Ubi promise that the story will make sense, and that this isn't just a sort of diversion from the core game experience.

Next, the demo moves to Boston 1773 for some town-based gameplay. Connor's up on the roofs with the old State House on one side and the Long Wharf on the other. The first thing to notice is that it's raining here too. After those endlessly sunny days in Rome and Istanbul, you're finally going to have to cope with the rain, not to mention the rats and birds, and with haywagons that actually move this time. Boston, and the game's other city, New York, offers up loads of small events you can get involved in. In our demo, a lady came up to ask if Connor would help free her husband from the stockades. Not wanting to appear totally insensitive, and perhaps suspecting that saving him might involve killing lots of other folks, Connor agrees.

Doing these types of missions will offer a range of benefits, from giving you a new recruit you can use for group missions ot skilled laborers who can work to repair your homestead on the outside of town. Some grateful folks might even open up their homes of if you're being chased by the guards and need to cut through a house to get to the other side of the block.

The final of our four demos of this game finally gave us some hands on time with Domination multiplayer. The whole affair seems like a slightly less complicated version of the targeted assassination modes in the previous games. Here, instead of wandering through crowded streets filled with a wide variety of NPCs, you're just marching back and forth across a snowy landscape and climbing over and through large ships to capture control points.

While this is likely not the end of the Assassin's Creed franchise, we're likely going to see the end of Desmond's part of it. The team isn't yet talking about what's going on with Desmond, but we're excited to see some resolution after the near total lack of story in the last two games. Either way, October is the stabbiest month.

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