Assassin’s Creed 3 Preview: The Whites of Their Eyes
As can be seen above, Ubisoft had a very convincing-looking cannon in their Assassin’s Creed 3 demo theater. This propitious prop (not to mention Cliffy B and Mrs. B in the front row) set the scene for an exciting demo presentation, which expanded on what we already know about the game and its deadly half-Native American hero, Connor Ratohnhaké:ton.
The video opened with a bang, dropping the audience right into the middle of the Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place in what is now Charlestown, MA, roughly three miles from the site of PAX East. Thousands of soldiers milled about in formation — AC3 can render up to 2,500 characters on screen, up from 200 in AC2 — an entire order of magnitude, and no small feat.
As Connor walked forward, he entered history. A Revolutionary officer was in the process of delivering the famed “whites of their eyes,” speech, albeit with an unfortunate modern twist, courtesy of Ubisoft’s writing team. It’s not clear who exactly said those famous words during the battle of Bunker Hill, but he definitely did not use the word “ammo” while doing it, one of many awkward neologisms that cropped up in the video.
Thankfully, it got better from there. Via voice over, AC3 creative lead Alex Hutchinson went into more detail about Connor’s armament, which has recently been expanded to include a period-appropriate brace of flintlock pistols. He also took pains to point out that the hero will make extensive use of the series’ distinctive hidden blade.
The assassination target during the Bunker Hill mission is one Major Pitcairn — a British officer, though there will apparently be evil Templars on both sides of the Revolutionary War. Since Pitcairn was on the other side of the battlefield, Connor began to make his way over there, showing off an all-new set of movement animations that were intended to give players more choice and flexibility, as well as more complete control.
As Connor snuck through the outskirts of the battle, the video showed off an impressive array of graphical effects; explosions kicked up splatters of mud and gunsmoke puffed across the battlefield. Taking cover in a forest, the assassin climbed into some trees, which will have an important role to play in AC3. Ubisoft designers were frustrated by an ironic omission in previous titles — they could climb trees in real life, but Ezio and Altair couldn’t. Having set AC3 in the forested wilds of colonial America, the developers were determined to remedy that oversight. The series’ free-running system has been extensively modified to allow Connor to move effortlessly through the treetops, albeit in a believable fashion — Ubisoft’s team didn’t want it to feel like playing Tarzan.
Eventually, Conor came across a squad of redcoated soldiers, and deployed a new tool — the rope dart — to hang one of them from a tree branch. Taking another soldier hostage as a human shield, he weathered a volley of musket fire before dispatching the rest in a flurry of dual-wielding combos. Though the animations were impressive, the enemies suffered from a perennial series problem: they seemed to stand around waiting to be acrobatically killed, instead of attacking aggressively.
With the soldiers dispatched, Connor scrambled up a cliff, one of the last obstacles between him and his target. Hutchinson described the care lavished on making the environments look “natural.” This was apparent in the design of the trees, but particularly impressive when it came to the cliff face. Instead of obvious, designer-deployed handholds, Connor was able to use natural-looking cracks and crevasses in the rock, and the climbing sequence was one of the video’s best.
With the cliff behind him, the assassin was on the outskirts of the British camp. To avoid the redcoat troops, now in close proximity, Connor used a new stalking feature to move undetected through the surrounding shrubbery. Then, in a burst of gloriously animated homicide, he stormed through the camp and leapt towards Pitcairn. Just as his tomahawk was about the connect, the lights came up.
Dialogue missteps and cowardly enemies aside, Assassin’s Creed 3 is looking great. Ubisoft’s changes combine the sensible and the spectacular, which is certainly ideal. Check out the screenshots below (which overlap with the events of the demo), and stayed tuned for more Game Front coverage in the very near future.
Game Front is on-site at PAX East all weekend (April 6-8), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!