The Assassin’s Creed story began to drag on with that charming Italian protagonist – no, not Mario – known as Ezio. Most loved him dearly and so his departure from the series comes as something of a hard pill to swallow. For those of us who had grown tired of the Assassin’s Creed world after the third installment of Ezio’s adventures, Assassin’s Creed III sets out to be that refresher we sorely need; placing Desmond in the shoes of half-English, half-Native American Connor Kenway. After having tested out what Connor’s sea legs were like during Gamescom, Eurogamer Expo gave me a chance to see what the assassin can really do when he’s given some walls to run up.
Unlike the free and open sections that tie missions together, this demo was very much your linear mission and saw Connor sneaking into English occupied Fort Wolcott in search of a mysterious scrap of parchment left behind by a pirate captain who had been held prisoner. After a rather stunning cut scene – you’ll be pleased to know that this build looked much better than the earlier naval demo – I join Connor while he hangs from a rock face. It’s here that I get a glimpse of the impressive new climbing engine that allows Connor to leap and move gracefully between natural objects such as cliff faces and trees.
It must be said that it’s a real pleasure to move, while it was never a horribly clunky system, ACIII makes everything feel so much smoother in movement. Connor automatically jumps gaps, and moves quickly enough that you won’t be holding down the ‘run’ button out of frustration. Upon reaching the top and scaling the side of a watchtower Connor then stealthily takes out a watchman with a ledge takedown. This then prompts a ‘bonus mission’ thread to pop up – signifying that Ubisoft have decided to keep these extra optional challenges.
For the most part, the rest of the mission played out almost exactly as you’d expect from Assassin’s Creed. Sneak in; stealthily take some guards out; grab your prize; leave. While Ubisoft have left the core of the series relatively untouched, it’s the small changes they’ve made that create such a vastly more enjoyable affair than previous Creed games.
Now when skulking the streets and corridors of mid 1700s Colonial America Connor will sidle up to walls and peer around corners, meaning you no longer have to pretend you’re stalking your target – because you actually will be. You can now gain a guard’s attention by whistling – thus luring them away from their patrol route – and then quickly stab them in the stomach to perform a corner assassination; which sees Connor sitting the dead body down against a wall rather than leaving it strewn across the floor, as Ezio previously would have.
Sneaking up on enemies has also been improved, allowing you to go in for the kill effortlessly. No longer do they have eyes in the back of their heads, or a sixth sense about another presence nearby. If they haven’t seen you, or heard you, then they won’t know you’re there – meaning you can go right in for the kill. These subtle changes transform it into a much more involving and exciting game to play, one where you really have to use your wit and cunning to overcome a situation – rather than just wading in and tearing everyone a new one.
Assassin’s Creed III also seems to be more cinematic than its predecessors, something that seems to be happening to every title under the sun now. The demo tied wrapped up with an intense escape scene as the fort was being torn apart from supporting gunfire from the ship you arrived on. Running and swinging along beams as the roof and walls cave in around you; fighting off enemies as debris falls; and leaping from burning rooftop to burning rooftop as you escape, finally reaching the fort walls where Connor dives into the watery depths of the sea below.
There was one change about ACIII that didn’t sit well with me though – and it’s only a small niggle: the weapon wheel. Where ACII and on used a HUD style weapon wheel that would appear overlaid on the screen, ACIII opts to fire a full menu up onto your screen at the pull of a trigger. It may be instantaneous; it may disappear as soon as you let go of the weapon wheel button, but it really manages to impose on what you’re doing. It breaks the flow of combat and creates quite a jarring experience in comparison to the rather unobtrusive HUD weapon wheel.
Compared to the open nature of the naval sections and the freedom found in hubs and Assassin’s Tombs, this demo was rather linear and restrictive – practically offering only one way through to play it. This is only a demo though, and it’s only one particular mission too, so to judge ACIII’s solely off this experience would be foolish. This may seem like and, for the most part, feel like your well-worn yearly Assassin’s Creed entry; but under the surface this is far from what has come before – it’s refined to the point where everything feels brand new again.