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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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out in just two weeks, and if you want to know more about Geralt’s latest adventure, CD Projekt is hosting a live Q&A now on Twitch. There’s also a new developer diary below which focuses on monster in the game. The Witcher 3 is out on May 19. Huzzah! […]

  • Forza Horizon 2′s Alpinestars Car Pack has five cars and is ready for download

    The Alpinestars Car Pack for Forza Horizon 2 is out now on Xbox One and its the only way you will ever be able to afford a 1992 Bugatti EB110 Super Sport. Unless, of course, you win the lottery or are left in some rich person’s will. In that case, I’ll take the ’53 Corvette, […]

  • Shadow of Mordor – Game of the Year Edition is now available in North America

    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – Game of the Year Edition has been released in North America. It will be made available in the Europe on May 7 and in the UK May 8 for £49.99 on consoles and £34.99 on PC. As previously announced, this edition contains all previously released DLC content as well as […]

  • Two GAME exclusive versions of Halo 5: Guardians now available for pre-order

    GAME has announced two exclusive versions of Halo 5: Guardians, and both are now available for pre-order exclusively through one of the retail chain’s 318 stores or online. The £79.99 Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians, which delivers new digital content wrapped in a steel book. There’s also the £199.99 Halo 5: Guardians Limited Collector’s Edition […]

  • Deals with Gold: Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Bioshock Infinite, more

    Microsoft has announced its latest Deals with Gold discounts for Xbox Live Gold members. Franchises on sale include Far Cry, Call of Duty, along with individual titles Assassin’s Creed Unity and Bioshock Infinite. The full list is below. Bioshock Infinite discounts are available for both Xbox Live Gold and Silver members. Xbox One Far Cry […]

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has released, watch the launch trailer here

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has launched on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can watch the launch trailer for it below. Boxed copies in Europe arrive from May 15, and in Australia/New Zealand on May 14. You can grab digital copies from the following online services: Steam, PlayStation Network, Xbox Store.

  • GOG’s online service GOG Galaxy is now in open beta

    GOG Galaxy, the DRM-free online gaming platform from the folks at GOG, has left Alpha and is now in open beta for all to try. As previously announced, the online service, similar to Steam, is option. Players do not need to play online as all games are stored by the service and can be played […]

  • DayZ-inspired Goat Simulator DLC GoatZ is out this week on Steam

    Goat Simulator players can download DayZ-inspired DLC this week called GoatZ. According to Coffee Stain Studios, GoatZ is “the only survival game on Steam that isn’t in Early Access.” Jokingly of course. The DLC features: Mandatory crafting system because everyone else is doing it. Zombies that bug out. There’s a pun here about actual living […]

  • No, Far Cry 4 is not currently free on PSN

    You may have seen a few Tweets from people saying that the PS4 version of Far Cry 4 is available to download from PSN for free. This is not true. A few readers have tipped us off to what looked like a glitch on PSN that allowed players to download the full version of Far […]

  • Metal Gear Solid: The 1984 Collection confirmed to be a clothing line

    Konami is teasing a Metal Gear Solid thing called “The 1984 Collection.” The Metal Gear Solid Facebook page posted this image about an hour ago: The caption reads, “Step back into the 80′s with our new MGS collection coming very soon! Stay tuned!” This is supposedly in reference to the clothing line that was announced […]

  • Portal, The Simpsons, Jurassic World & Scooby Doo packs listed for Lego Dimensions

    Lego Dimensions is likely getting a few unannounced content packs. One of which is themed around Valve’s Portal. A set of unannounced content packs for the upcoming Lego Dimensions have been revealed by US retailer Walmart. The listings include packs for The Simpsons, Scooby Doo and Jurassic World, and most interestingly, Portal. The listings have […]

  • This is the most authentic recreation of GTA 2 in real life ever

    Affordable drones have many uses. Most of them are not nearly as exciting as recreating GTA 2 in real life. I am surprised it took us this long, but someone has finally captured footage using a drone that resembles the protagonist’s experience in the classic GTA 2. These aren’t just shots of cars from a […]

  • PlayStation 4 sales reach 2m in the UK

    Sony has sold 2 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the UK, faster than it did with the PlayStation 2 – the company’s best-selling machine in the country. MCVUK is reporting that as of last weekend, 2 million PlayStation 4s have been sold in the UK. The data is based on GfK Chart-Track estimates. This makes […]

  • H1Z1 gets female characters, skin colour options planned

    In an effort to improve diversity in the game, H1Z1 developer has added female characters. Female survivors can now be found throughout the world of H1Z1. Developer Daybreak added the new feature in a patch released last Friday. You will be able to choose a female avatar in the main game and in Battle Royale. […]

  • Possible teaser site for Castlevania creator Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s new game opens

    Either Castlevania creator Koji “IGA” Igarashi is working on a soon-to-be-launched Kickstarter for his new game, or someone is pulling an elaborate prank. At PAX Prime last year, during Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 panel, a flyer was handed out to attendees that showed what appeared to be a 2D game of some sort with […]

  • Destiny weekly reset for May 5: Heroic and Nightfall strikes detailed

    Tuesday is here and Destiny’s weekly reset is also here. Bungie announced that your weekly Destiny grind has now begun. The Nightfall and Heroic strikes are now live too. This week’s strike is Winter’s Run. Rainbow burn is back for the Nightfall, which means you do more damage with all elemental weapons, but also receive […]

  • PC version of Project Cars delayed in Australia due to severe weather

    Recent weather conditions in Sydney, Australia are responsible for a slight delay of the PC version of Project Cars in the country. Sydney recently suffered from storms that caused flooding in some areas. One of those is the place where publisher Namco Bandai was storing PC copies of Project Cars. The stock was “severely damaged,” […]

  • Twitch’s new process makes it easier for streamers to appeal flagged content

    Twitch has updated its appeals process concerning videos that have been flagged by the audio ID system. Towards the end of last year, Twitch introduced a new audio recognition system that scans archived streams and automatically mutes the audio whenever copyright music is identified. The system has been in-use ever since and Twitch has today […]

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a day one patch, but it’s not a major one

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will indeed have a day one patch, to make the first-time experience as smooth as possible. Like many modern games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will have its day one patch. According to the developer however, it wasn’t born out of necessity. Miles Tost, level designer at developer CD Projekt […]

  • CoD: Advanced Warfare owners get free pistol today

    Advanced Warfare developer Sledgehammer Games is adding a new pistol to the game, free to all players. The M1 Irons is a new pistol that comes to Advanced Warfare starting today. The weapon is offered as a thank you gift from the developer. Sledgehammer says the Irons is good at range and packs a punch. […]

  • Fall down the Skullgirls Big Band music video rabbit hole with me

    Skullgirls is a pretty amazing fighting game, but did you know it’s also a passable music creation suite? Earlier today I was idly perusing an episode of PlayStation Underground showing off Skullgirls 2nd Encore, a re-release of the indie fighter packing in loads of new features and coming to PS4 – with full cross-play! – […]

  • The many uses of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood’s pipe weapon

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood adds a sick new weapon to BJ’s arsenal: a pipe. In Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a pipe is not just a pipe. Not only can you bash nazis with it, you can use it to climb walls, reach hatches, and even break through some walls. Plus? You can dual wield it. […]

  • Mortal Kombat X teaser gives first look at Predator

    Mortal Kombat X’s next celebrity guest was teased during the latest Kast. Today’s Mortal Kombat X Kast was mostly about all about Jason, but also included a very brief nod to Predator. You can watch the full livestream to see the tease in situ if you’re really keen, but IGN shared this convenient edit: There’s […]

  • Rock Band 4 has count-ins, drum fills and vocal harmonies

    Rock Band 4 will more closely emulate the feeling of being a real musician with some neat personalisation touches. For Rock Band 4, Harmonix elected to double down on player ownership of their experience rather than technical precision. To this end, it has implemented a number of cool new features. I am wildly envious of […]

  • Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, Lost Planet 3 developer shuttered

    Spark Unlimited has gone down with all hands. The Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z and Lost Planet 3 developer has been shuttered and all staff laid off. Chief technical officer John Butrovich confirmed the news in a statement issued to IGN. “Spark Unlimited is closing as a video game developer. The ongoing opportunities for smaller mobile […]

  • PS Now subscription available on PlayStation 3 this month, Vita coming soon

    PlayStation Now’s all you can eat service has finally been dated for PS3. Subscriptions to PS Now, Sony’s cloud-based gaming service, will be available on PS3 from May 12 in the US. The all you can eat package will also be made available on select Bravia TVs and Sony Blu-ray players on the same date. […]

  • GTA 5 is even better with a gravity gun

    GTA 5 modders have made a dream come true, adding a gravity gun to your arsenal of mayhem-causing weaponry. GTA 5 isn’t ready for this. It looks like a heck of a lot of fun, but the poor old Los Santos po po can’t deal with the resulting carnage at all. If Rockstar were ever […]

  • “Mod makers should be able to make money from their creations,” says DOOM creator

    DOOM co-creator John Romero has weighed in on the paid mods debate. Paid mods are a hot issue right now. For years, Valve has been enabling content creators to make money from their work on Counter-strike: Global offensive, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2, but when it partnered with Bethesda to offer the same for […]

  • Watch WRC driver Kevin Abbring smash through a DIRT Rally challenge

    WRC driver Kevin Abbring has been participating in Dirt Rally’s daily events – and kicking ass. Dirt Rally seems to have ticked one of the most difficult to attain boxes of racing development – creating something professional drivers like to play, and which rewards their years of experience. Codemasters published the video below showing Hyundai […]

  • Mortal Kombat X patch to bring PC version up to console standard

    Mortal Kombat X PC will be fixed tomorrow, NetherRealm has promised. The PC version of Mortal Kombat X has come under fire for poor performance, including stuttering frame rate and bugs as plenty. About 45 minutes into a recent Twitch stream, NetherRealm boss Ed Boon said an update will drop tomorrow to address many of […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: all new Crucible maps detailed

    Destiny’s House of Wolves DLC will add four new maps to the Crucible, the game’s competitive multiplayer mode. Let’s take a look at all of them. Alex brings you new footage showing all of the four maps that will drop with House of Wolves. He goes over the layout, landmarks, gameplay styles, and other important […]

  • Custom Xbox One Star Wars controllers look very tempting

    Microsoft is celebrating May 4 by showing off concept designs for Star Wars-themed Xbox One controllers. May 4 is of course Star Wars Day and the controller concepts you’re about to see are just that, concepts. Or at least that’s what they said they are. There are four designs and they don’t look very practical. […]

  • Project Cars launch trailer is an anthology of race cars, set to the beats of Deadmau5

    Project Cars comes out this week and there’s just enough time for one last trailer. Project Cars, Slightly Mad Studios’ ambitious racer that has been in development for ages, is finally coming out this week. The racer received plenty of changes throughout its development based on community feedback and the final product will be in […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront dev reveals planet Sullust

    Sullust, a planet that has not been previously shown, will be featured in one of Star Wars Battlefront’s maps. Star Wars Battlefront developer DICE revealed today that planet Sullust will be one of the game’s locations. The planet was mentioned in the films and other Star Wars works, but was only shown today. DICE posted […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: Tower vendor changes

    House of Wolves will change the inventory of some of Destiny’s vendors and add new roles to others. Here’s everything that has been announced so far. You know that House of Wolves will bring a new social space to the game in the form of The Reef. But did you also know that the good […]

  • Nintendo apologises for Amiibo shortages, will reissue some out-of-stock figures

    Nintendo released a statement today to apologise for fan’s frustrations in finding some Amiibo figures and promised to handle distribution better going forward. Nintendo has been criticised recently for its lack of communication when it comes to new Amiibo figures. Something which has lead fans to not know if certain figures are limited to some […]