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Assassin’s Creed 3: revolution or deja vu?

Thursday, 25 October 2012 09:17 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman speaks to Ubisoft’s Alex Hutchinson and Jonathan Cooper to find out what tricks new protagonist Connor has up his sleeve to impress those jaded by the annual release cycle of one of gaming’s biggest brands.

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution

Assassin’s Creed 3 marks the fifth home console title in the franchise since the original title was released in 2007.

Connor’s story spans 30 years and takes in Boston, New York and frontier regions. The Frontier map is around 1.5 times larger than Brotherhood’s Rome.

Assassin’s Creed 3 runs on Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine, which is also being used to power the Vita-exclusive Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation.

Creative director, Alex Hutchinson, estimates that around “30-35 percent of the story missions are set in the wilderness,” together with a slew of optional content including hunting and trapping the newly introduced wildlife.

The wheel turns, the seasons pass and another Assassin’s Creed game hits the shelves. In the past, I’ve been critical of Ubisoft’s decision to subject its franchise to an annual release schedule cycle, while at the same time I’ve had to acknowledge the futility of such a position: Assassin’s Creed is one of the industry’s mega-brands, with each entry in the series selling millions and garnering strong critical reception. What’s more, so long as Ubisoft can continue to create compelling experiences, its flexible fiction could conceivably support a decade’s worth of releases.

Sitting down with Assassin’s Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson and animation director Jonathan Cooper, it’s evident that they’ve addressed this subject many times before. They seem bemused by it.

“I said this at the GDC talk in Germany a few months back and I don’t know why people were weird about it but it’s just about quality: if it’s really good it will come out as often as we can make but if it’s crap, then it’s a problem,” Hutchinson sums-up.

Certainly, none of the Assassin’s games can be accused of being crap. The first is perhaps the weakest link, falling victim to both its own hype and a lack of variety in its core game mechanics but the series took off with the introduction of Ezio in 2009’s Assassin’s Creed 2. While the quality dipped a little with last year’s Assassin’s Creed Revelations, it still provided a solid conclusion to an aged Ezio’s story.

With the change of time period and grand backdrop of the American Revolution, Assassin’s Creed 3 is set to reinvigorate the series, but it’s not just the time, place and central character that have changed. The suggestion that the fifth game in the canon may simply be piggy-backing the expanded game systems of Brotherhood and Revelations is met by an emphatic shake of the head by Hutchinson and a firm rebuttal.

“There’s actually more new stuff than stuff brought forward from the previous games,” Hutchinson insists. “We took core concepts of the assassin, open world, combat and navigation but everything else is new and to get that opportunity is super-rare: we get to do pretty much whatever we want and have a budget, which is amazing.”

Hutchinson goes on to list the areas that have either received an overhaul or are entirely new, name-checking navigation, controls, the weather system, combat, naval warfare, two dozen species of animals, and hunting before Cooper interjects.

“The mission structure is a new, too and that makes a big difference. While you always know where your main mission is, every other mission can be played concurrently, so your log book accumulates all of the other side activities that you can do.

“There’s a bigger difference between this one and Assassin’s Creed 2 than there was between AC2 and AC1. We’ve been working on this for around 3 years, after AC2 we started working on AC3 and other studios did the other sequels. So, they went in one direction and we went in another.”

The end result, based on several hours play across multiple preview sessions, is a game that feels more open-world than any previous iteration. The new mission structure contributes significantly to this, as does the strong presence of life outside the city. Where previously the space in between cities served as a pleasant enough way to while away time between story missions, the frontier now asserts itself as a fully-featured playground where around a third of the critical-path missions take place and some of the games most colourful characters come into their own.

The combat, too, has benefitted from several improvements and while counters are still incredibly effective, there’s now more variety in how Connor behaves based on the type of counter and the enemy archetype. As Hutchinson explains, “The bigger challenge for us could be with the hardcore fans who want to play in the same way that they always have … we were watching people play and it’s clear that trying to use the same techniques as they did in Revelations simply won’t work.”

Of course, the hardcore will quickly adapt to new strategies that include the ability to use contextual attacks thanks to Connor’s newfound awareness of his surroundings. The ability to throw assailants over Connor’s shoulder and off a cliff or, when backed against a wall, to launch Connor from it into his attackers provide neat touches, while the lack of lock-on and the ability to build momentum during combat nudges players toward a more offensive, flowing style of combat.

The environmental awareness combined with Connor’s 8,000 frames of animation allow for some emergent game play moments. I relay a story to Cooper about what appeared to be a bug, as one of Connor’s combat animations took him and his unsuspecting victim over a cliff, but Cooper’s initial wince turns to a smile as I conclude that Connor had caught himself on a rocky outcropping and clambered to safety, “I’m really glad to hear that. I thought that story was going to end differently,” he admits.

I’ve not yet played enough of Assassin’s Creed 3 to categorically state that it’s the best entry in the series, but I’m fully expecting the reviews to find that to be the case. The narrative peaks and troughs are more pronounced thanks to the contrast between city life and being home on the range, which lends a welcome juxtaposition of Connor’s downtime to the explosive set pieces. The added depth of freedom afforded by his expanded move set, both in and out of combat, better enforces the feeling of playing the role of a master assassin, while Connor’s mixed heritage and conflicting feelings about his background make him a more interesting protagonist than both the smart-mouthed Ezio and stoic Altair.

Some people will remain unconvinced, of course, feeling that Ubisoft is milking dry its most prized franchise and those people can vote with their wallets by refusing to buy this latest entry in what will surely remain an annual franchise. However, those with a penchant for action-adventure titles, even those that may have previously cast aside the assassin’s cowl due to cynicism or apathy, should take a closer look. Refusing to do so on principle is just cutting off your nose with a hidden wrist blade to spite your face.

Assassin’s Creed 3 launches on PS3 and 360 on October 30 in the US and October 31 in Europe, on PC on November 20 and 23, and on Wii U on November 18 and 30.

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9 Comments

  1. Gadzooks!

    I’d much prefer these annual release games be self-contained stories in the AC universe.

    If the quality is good I have no problem with annual releases, but how many people actually buy them all?

    I’ll take a pop on every other AC, or every third one probably, and I’d like to not feel like I’m walking in to the 2nd or 3rd act in a play.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Stace Harman

    @1 I can relate to that. Those that missed AC2 after being disappointed by AC1 would have found in harder to get into Ezio’s story later on. Similarly, there would have been those that didn’t pick up Revelations because they missed Brotherhood.

    Connor’s story sounds self-contained (crossover with Liberation notwithstanding), so perhaps you’d be more inclined to get into that?

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Gadzooks!

    #3

    Yeah I’ll probably take a punt on AC3 at some point. New chapter, less overlap, etc.

    I played AC1 a bit because it was a genuinely innovative game I think. I didn’t even mind that it didn’t fulfill it’s potential because it’s sales allowed AC2 to be made which was just superb, IMO.

    I did skip brotherhood and revelation though, purely because AC2 was so huge, with so much to do, that I felt quite gorged after finishing it and needed a couple of years ‘for my dinner to digest’ before taking another bite.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. mistermogul

    @3 – that’s exactly how I felt after ACII a few years ago but earlier this year I bought Brotherhood. I didn’t realise that my dinner still hadn’t digested and it wasn’t long before I got bored of it.

    For that reason I’ll probably leave AC3, at least for now…

    I can see this is a big money maker for Ubi but the yearly release schedule is too much for me.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Moonwalker1982

    I loved ACII and i bought Brotherhood and Revelations too and then i was just tired of it, very very tired of it. Some things look really nice when i see ACIII videos and some videos really remind me exactly of those games and not much seems to have changed. It remains to be seen. I hope there’s more variety in missions, i hope the enemy can actually be challenging and not that they’ll all await their turn (but they will, videos showed it) and i just hope it won’t give that feeling of deja vu indeed.

    Not gonna buy it right away anyway, i’ll be going for Halo 4 and Hitman Absolution.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. KAP

    I loved that last passage only because its utterly true.
    These few commenters are evidence of that alone.
    A good read guys.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Stace Harman

    Judging by these comments it seems a lot of people have similar feelings.

    Certainly, my own interest has been piqued again, thanks mostly to the new setting and character, and AC3 may be one of those games that I play outside of work just for good old fashioned fun. Whether I’ll pick it up straight away is another matter.

    As ever, the list of games waiting to be played remains long. Very long.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. MadFingerz

    It’s hard for me to judge the AC games. On one hand, they are entertaining enough. On the other hand, they kinda miss that wow factor. It’s not really the kind of game that makes me go “Oh, can’t believe I just did that!” or that I play more than once. But it can also entertain you in unexpected ways. The most fun I had with the first one was when after finishing the story I was collecting all the flags and killing all the templars, because it allowed you to explore areas and kill targets in varied ways and it just gave me that sense of freedom that the linear storyline didn’t provide.

    I like how AC3 is turning out to be because it expands on (at least) two of the things that really make the AC games fun: combat and exploration. Plus, it has naval warfare!

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Moonwalker1982

    The game has so much potential, yet they don’t really use it. ACII was awesome and then it became more of the same with a few additions that didn’t really mean a whole lot. I feel there can be done alot more in terms of mission variety, especially when you see these environments, i hope they have done that. I hope i’ll be reading it in reviews that several new stuff(aside from the ship combat) has been added and that it really feels like something new.

    #9 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Sex is nothing new to the The Witcher games, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is no exception. In fact, it contains 16 hours of sex scene motion capture data. Giggity. There’s a reason for the bedroom dalliances though, as Geralt is a flesh and blood human, or a modified human at any rate, with […]

  • Here’s the launch trailer for Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered

    A launch trailer for Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered has been released after an Amazon listing was revealed for it over the weekend. Key upgrades include: High-definition Graphics — All of the in-game textures have been meticulously recreated in HD for mobile and desktop. Widescreen Support – A true widescreen (not cropped) view strengthens the game’s […]

  • The open beta for Battlefield Hardline will be dated tomorrow

    The exact dates as well as more information on the Battlefield Hardline open beta will be shared tomorrow. This is according to the latest blog post from developer Visceral Games. “We’ll share the exact dates and info on the Battlefield Hardline open beta tomorrow,” wrote Visceral boss Steve Papoutsis. “Stay tuned, thanks again, and keep […]

  • Upcoming Hearthstone patch to apply balance change to Undertaker

    An upcoming Hearthstone patch will apply a balance change to the Undertaker card, Blizzard has announced. After the release of Goblins vs Gnomes, Blizzard said it kept an “eye on the state of game balance” as more matches were played using the additional cards. Released with The Curse of Naxxramas, Undertaker is considered an overly […]

  • February Games with Gold offers up Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

    The free games on offer in February via Xbox Live Games with Gold have been announced. Xbox Live Gold members on Xbox One can download #IDARB during February. Xbox 360 users can grab Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons from February 1-15, when it will be replaced by Sniper Elite V2 from February 16 -28. […]

  • Kinguin blames unidentified Russian for deactivated Far Cry 4 keys

    Third-party game key seller Kinguin is issuing refunds to those who found their games deactivated through Ubisoft’s Uplay service. Customers which purchased keys for Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, The Crew and Watch Dogs are affected. Kinguin said 4,600 customer tickets were submitted over the last 72 hours and 35 out of 3,400 of […]

  • Video Unlimited to be re-branded as PlayStation Video starting in February

    Like Music Unlimited, Sony’s Video Unlimited service is being replaced and re-branded PlayStation Video. PlayStation Video will become part of PlayStation Network to streamline digital services for the over 64 million PSN users. PlayStation Video and PlayStation Music will be added to PSN which is already a destination point for the PlayStation Store, PlayStation Plus, […]

  • Spotify arrives on PlayStation Music this spring, Music Unlimited closing

    Spotify will launch on PlayStation Network this spring as part of a new music destination called PlayStation Music. PlayStation Music is a replacement for Music Unlimited, and those with a PSN account can link to Spotify which can be used just for music, or when playing games on PlayStation 4. Existing playlists from current Spotify […]

  • Closed beta for Alone in the Dark: Illumination starts tomorrow

    The private beta period for Alone in the Dark: Illumination starts on January 29. Those who pre-order the game via Steam, will automatically be included in the beta, enabling them to provide feedback on the first campaign in single-player mode. An additional beta period will be announced in the weeks leading up to launch. The […]

  • Majora’s Mask Special Edition New 3DS XL available once more on UK store

    UK residents who want to get their hands on the shiny Majora’s Mask Special Edition New 3DS XL can once again pre-purchase it through the Nintendo UK Store. If you want one, you better hurry because units will likely go rather fast. Only one per customer is allowed, and once you drop £209.99 on it, […]

  • Nintendo Q3: 1.9M New 3DS models sold, Wii U lifetime sales hit 9.2M

    New 3DS XL has sold 1.3 million units as of December 31, 2014, Nintendo announced in its Q3 financial results today. New 3DS moved 580,000 units by the end of the same period. Lifetime sales of both systems combined total a little under 1.9 million. Combined global sales for current 3DS models available in Europe […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s exo zombies reanimate a familiar format

    Advanced Warfare’s exo suits manage to bring an undead format back to life. Dave Cook welcomes zombies back to Call of Duty. “The challenges start to spike early so seasoned zombie slayers needn’t worry about being coddled.” Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s first DLC went live this week, dropping four very solid maps for multiplayer […]

  • YouTube app and Maps will be removed from PS Vita

    Sony said that it will end support for the YouTube and Maps apps, as well as remove the “near” feature in an upcoming firmware update. Sony has revealed that a system update releasing in March will remove the Maps app and prevent the “near” feature from obtaining location address or display maps, making it redundant. […]

  • There is a Destiny loot cave Easter egg in Dying Light

    Dying Light is the latest game to take a jab at Destiny by having its own loot cave. Destiny’s infamous loot cave has been recreated in Dying Light, sort of. Of course the loot cave in Dying Light is only an Easter egg and doesn’t actually net you any loot. Instead, upon entering it, you […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 supports co-op in story mode, but only offline

    You can play the campaign of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 in co-op, but not online. 4gamer spoke to producers of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and made out with a few details concerning story, setting and more. The site confirmed that while you will be able to switch between characters in the single player, and have […]

  • The Witcher 3 may have a permadeath “Insanity” mode

    Although not yet confirmed, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt developer CD Projekt RED is working on a difficulty mode dubbed “Insanity” that will delete your save if you die. During Monday’s Twitch stream, the developer took a few questions from the chat and we’ve got a bunch of answers. There are many interesting little bits […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition is the most successful launch for BioWare, based on sales

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is responsible for the most successful launch in developer BioWare’s history, according to EA. During last night’s EA Q3 2015 earnings call, the publisher said that Dragon Age: Inquisition was the most successful launch for developer BioWare. Today, we get a bit more detail. “In particular, Dragon Age: Inquisition had by far […]

  • Here’s a walkthrough of one mission from Far Cry 4 Hurk Deluxe DLC

    Far Cry 4′s latest DLC pack, Hurk Deluxe, seems like good fun, judging from this video. The Hurk Deluxe Pack was released today on all platforms. It comes with five new missions. The video below takes a look at the “Call of the Wild” mission. In the walkthrough you’ll get to see some of the […]

  • Battlefield Hardline beta date confirmed on Xbox Store

    The beta date for Battlefield Hardline has popped up on the Xbox Store, confirming the rumoured date. The listing for the Battlefield Hardline beta is available for anyone to see right now on the Xbox Store. Granted, it’s for Xbox 360, but unless EA is starting this beta early on Xbox 360, this will pretty […]

  • GTA player flies jets backwards in impressive stunts

    Doing stunts with jets in GTA 5 can be impressive, but it’s nothing like flying them backwards. Making videos of your jet stunts has become too mainstream. Which is why the latest video from YouTube channel GTA5Videos is all about defying that. The video below features some insane stunts mostly done by flying jets backwards, […]

  • CoD: Advanced Warfare balance patch out, System Hack nerfed, HBRa3 buffed

    The latest patch to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is here with some major changes to game balance. Making good on the promise to nerf System Hack, developer Sledgehammer Games has released the latest patch to Advanced Warfare to do just that, and much more. The patch is out now on Xbox platforms, with PlayStation […]

  • Grinding three purples in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel may crash your game [UPDATE]

    Update: Gearbox Software has announced there’s currently a hot-fix in place for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as a temporary solution to crashes caused with the DLC update. Until a permanent fix can be made, the hotfix should correct crashing issues. All will be fixed in the next major game update. Original Story A bug that snuck […]

  • Havoc maps up the tempo for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

    Dave Cook dons his Exo suit to find the new Havok DLC maps a great change of pace for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Given that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare places great emphasis on verticality, it’s little wonder that Sledgehammer Games has designed the first of its four DLC map packs with elevation and […]

  • G2A responds to deactivated Far Cry 4 keys debacle

    G2A, one of the third-party sellers that were named in the ongoing episode of deactivated Far Cry 4 keys has decided to release a statement. G2A is a well known third-party key sellers online. Most users know it through its sponsorship deals with many YouTube and Twitch channels. The service sells keys both through its […]

  • Petroglyph’s Victory resurfaces with Korean co-developer

    End of Nations, Mytheon and Grey Goo developer Petroglyph Games seems to have salvaged a stalled project. Victory popped up back in early 2013 after Trion Worlds took End of Nations in-house. Petroglyph’s attempt to crowdfund the unusual strategy title ended in iniquity, but it vowed to do whatever it could to bring the game […]

  • Far Cry 4 Hurk Deluxe DLC now available

    Far Cry 4′s latest DLC pack adds new story missions and a pile of new weapons. Far Cry 4: Hurk Deluxe is now available on PC and Xbox platforms, and is rolling out to the PSN in line with local network updates. The pack bundles five story missions, including Yak Farm, Blood Ruby and Hurk’s […]

  • Yes, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has microtransactions

    Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has microtransactions, but thankfully they’re not as outrageous as initial reports suggested. The subject of Resident Evil: Revelations 2′s microtransactions arose earlier today with reports filtering out of a European press event that you’ll be able to pay to keep playing after your character dies. The ramifications of this are pretty […]

  • Play mini-games to unlock Magicka 2 content

    Magicka 2 publisher Paradox Interactive has invited fans to earn in-game rewards by playing other games. The Magicka website will host various mini-games in the build up to Magicka 2′s launch later this year on PC and PS4. Playing these games controbutes to a community score total which will eventually unlock in-game content as well […]

  • Deactivated Far Cry 4 keys were purchased through Origin

    Far Cry 4 owners who found their games deactivated without warning may be surprised to learn where they came from. Many copies of Far Cry 4 purchased through third-party re-sellers have been deactivated without notice. Although resellers affected by the deactivations argued that they had made authorised purchases, Ubisoft has denied this. The publisher told […]

  • Will Assassin’s Creed visit Japan in 2016?

    The next Assassin’s Creed game after Victory may finally bring ninja and assassins together. An Assassin’s Creed fan has spotted what certainly looks like a heavy hint that the next game after Victory will be set in Japan. Ubisoft forums member Cornik22 was looking through the Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag official art book when […]

  • Resident Evil HD modder aims to restore original, terrible voice acting

    Resident Evil and its early sequels are justifiably famous for their simply dire voice acting. Some Resident Evil fans feel they just can’t enjoy the experience of exploring Umbrella facilities if someone isn’t talking at them with absolutely no regard for pacing, content or tone. As a result, modder Bunny has stepped up to the […]

  • Record iPhone sales drive Apple to revenue spike

    The iPhone is still going strong – in fact, it’s selling better than ever. Apple has announced its financial results for the quarter ending December 27 2014, exceeding expectations with a 29.5% increase in revenues to $74.6 billion. This was a new record for the company. One of the key factors in this spike is […]

  • HoloLens has “mind-blowing” potential for games, says Microsoft CEO

    Microsoft’s VR wearable HoloLens is going to be great for games, according to CEO Satya Nadella. Speaking to investors, Nadella made Microsoft’s entertainment plans for the device explicit. “It’s also getting clearer how the games people love today will evolve to mind-blowing experiences in the future when designed for the mixed reality that Windows 10 […]

  • EA Q3: Battlefield 5 still on for holiday 2016, PGA Tour 15 spring release confirmed

    EA announced its financial results for its Q3 fiscal year 2015 quarter, ended December 31, 2014, noting total net revenue $1.13 billion in total net revenue compared to $808 million year-over-year. For the nine months ending December 31, total net revenue came in at $3.3 billion. Net revenues were up 39% and net income came […]

  • Players logged 113M single-player hours in Dragon Age: Inquisition, other EA games stats

    Ahead of its Q3 2015 earnings release, Electronic Arts has released a game infographic showing some interesting stats compiled through gameplay from October – December 2014. For FIFA 15, over 3.3 billion goals were made; 73 million knockouts occurred in EA SPORTS UFC; over 10 million families were created in The Sims 4; 113 million […]

  • Hyrule Warriors has shipped 1 million units worldwide

    Koei Tecmo has announced shipments of its Wii U hack and slash action title, Hyrule Warriors, has shipped one million units worldwide. The Omega Force-developed title was released in Japan on August 14 and in the west on September 26. Two packs of DLC for the game are slated for February alongside the version 1.5.0 […]

  • Xbox Games Store discounts Never Alone, Dragon Age: Inquisition, more

    This week’s deals available through the Xbox Games Store will be valid until February 2 with titles such as Battlefield 4, Dragon Age Inquisition, Never Alone, and Titanfall discounted. Discounted titles with an asterisk are for Xbox Live Gold members only. Xbox One Just Dance 2015* – 40% Another World* – 50% Never Alone* – […]

  • Say hello to Mortal Kombat X’s latest character: Reptile

    As promised, one of two character reveals this week for Mortal Kombat X has occurred: it’s the acid-spitting Reptile. Nice! Watch the video above. Mortal Kombat X is slated for release on April 14 and will be available on PC, PS3, PS4,Bxo 360 and Xbox One. Thanks, MrTGJelly (Trent).

  • Twisted fairy tale Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries hits Steam Early Access

    Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries, the successful Kickstarter from GRIN Studios, has launched on Steam Early Access. The PC title is described as a “cinematic fable featuring a vengeful Red Riding Hood,” who armed with an axe sets out on a quest to avenge the murder of her parents. Gameplay features action-platforming, combo-based hack ‘n […]

  • Dead or Alive 5: Last Round delayed to late March on Steam

    Koei Tecmo has announced it is delaying the PC release of Dead or Alive 5: Last Round to March. According to an updated listing on Steam (thanks, AGB), the fighter was delayed “in order to provide you with the best experience possible.” To apologize for the delay, Team Ninja will offer the Halloween 2013 Set, […]