If there was a single iconic moment you remember from the original Assassin’s Creed, it was probably your first leap of faith. Altaïr perched on a dizzyingly lofty minaret high above the hustle and bustle of Damascus, launching himself majestically into glittering sunlight before plummeting towards a postage stamp-sized haystack far below. It left your stomach in your mouth and your mind in no doubt that this man was the original extreme sports athlete. You half expected him to pop back out onto the vibrant city streets clutching a can of Red Bull.
The leap of faith simply but effectively captured everything Ubisoft was trying to achieve with Assassin’s Creed. Something exciting, daring and original, executed with an air of confidence and attention to detail that said “Trust us, this is going to be great.” As Jerusalem and Acre became Florence and Venice, then Rome and finally Constantinople however, while sales figures soared, the evolutionary leaps, unsurprisingly, shrunk. Both the series and the feats of urban acrobatics that had heralded its arrival were in danger of becoming mundane.
After its rather uneventful Revelations, Assassin’s Creed was in desperate need of a revolution, and with the luxury of having the complete works of humanity to crib from, Ubisoft simply went out and found itself one. Although, to be fair to the French Canadian developer/publisher, it’s been significantly smarter than simply grasping at the first off-the-peg uprising it stumbled upon in the history books.
Like the Crusades and the Renaissance before it, the American War of Independence maintains the series record for inveigling itself into defining periods in world history. So rich in setting, celebrities and skirmishes, it’s appropriately epic and romantic to inspire both the birth of a great nation and ambitious works of fiction; and Assassin’s Creed 3 is definitely aiming to be the latter of these. It’s also a period of direct relevance to a large portion of the Assassin’s Creed audience, something that almost certainly wasn’t lost on Ubisoft when searching for a subject to stimulate those bored of bringing death to the age of cultural rebirth.
Into this era of recalcitrant colonists, restless natives and unyielding imperialists, Ubisoft have inserted young Mohawk warrior Connor Kenway. Of all the indigenous tribes, the Mohawk were perhaps the most divided over which side to support in the conflict, and this, combined with Connor’s part-English, part-Native American mixed heritage gives his character a compelling ambiguity. Assassin’s Creed has always been a series built on a grand scale, one whose elaborate environments consistently dwarf the depth of its characters. While Connor may not be a match for his predecessor Ezio Auditore in the savoir faire stakes, with him, Ubisoft have the opportunity to make a more complex and conflicted protagonist than ever before.
If Connor is going to steal the scene from the scenery, however, he’s going to have his work cut out. The Assassin’s Creed 3 game world comprises an extensive portion of America’s north-eastern seaboard. In simple square-footage terms, it substantially bigger than the settings of previous titles, but while its size is imposing, the most impressive thing about it is that it surrounds the kind of grand urban conurbations – this time New York and Boston – that have become series staples with vast swathes of ruggedly beautiful frontier wilderness.
Unlike in the original Assassin’s Creed, where these tracts of hinterland were little more than attractive corridors to funnel you from one city to another, here the wilderness is not only incorporated into, but integral to the experience. It’s a major setting for main story missions and many other ancillary activities. More importantly, it’s also Connor’s home and a place where his assassin abilities come to the fore, whether it be stalking silently through the undergrowth on the hunt for one of the game’s many forms of local wildlife, or descending from the treetops to take out human prey.
When the time comes to engage the enemy, a rebalanced and more intricate combat system will also set Connor apart from his ancestors. The rather simple and repetitive block-then-counter mechanics that defined confrontations in previous games have been usurped by a fresh emphasis on offense, building momentum and kill-streaks by linking attacks together, and specific enemy types resistant to the old approach. To further assist, Connor will also have his pick of period weapons from bows and arrows to flintlock pistols, some of which, like his trusty tomahawk, he’ll be able to carry out assassinations with and others he’ll be able to duel-wield.
Spanning 30 years of Connor’s life that take in the simmering prelude to the American Revolutionary War and the boiling hatred of its hostilities, the scope of Assassin’s Creed 3 is ambitious in the extreme. You’ll even be giving the chance to captain ships in large-scale sea battles and nurture a homestead where you can invite helpful characters to live with you. Of course, there will also be more pivotal developments in Desmond’s modern day story and the return of multiplayer, including a new hoard-style mode called Wolf Pack, to round out a package bursting with exciting potential. Under Ubisoft’s grand designs, America really is shaping up to be the land of opportunity.
Assassin’s Creed 3 is due for release in the UK on the PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360 on the 31st of October and on the PC on the 23rd of November. In the US the game is set for release on the 30th of October.
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