Assassin’s Creed 3 Makes Killing Contextual

Garbed in the typical white-robe camouflage of his order, Connor, Assassin’s Creed 3‘s protagonist, leans against a rack of farm equipment. The Redcoats are searching for him, but Connor has momentarily given them the slip.

I’m watching the hands-off demo of Assassin’s Creed 3 at E3 2012 (full disclosure: it ended up being on the Wii-U, and it was actually pretty impressive), and what’s most remarkable about it is how much more players are able to interact with the world around them. We’re in Colonial Boston, and as a Redcoat patrolman comes to investigate Connor, the assassin grabs him around the neck and slams him face-first into a pitchfork on the rack.

It’s pretty gross, but it’s also contextual interaction that seems to be at the forefront of what the Assassin’s Creed 3 experience will be like. The demo I saw included a number of cool moments when Connor did things I’d never seen possible in an AC game before — like body check an assassination target over the side of a boat or swing from rafters over an indoor market to avoid capture.

In general, it seems the world of Assassin’s Creed 3 will allow for much greater mobility, especially when fleeing enemies. Diving through stands is possible, as it always has been, but now Connor can mantle them in different ways. He can also go through buildings for the first time — in one moment of speedy escape, he dove through the window of a woman hanging sheets, into her house, and then out another window on the other side of the room to lose his pursuers. Connor will also be able to throw off the much more diligent Redcoats by engaging in conversations with the people around him when he blends into the crowd, and it seems as though the “Blend” system will be more dynamic, requiring greater skill from players in order to slip enemies.

Context is going to inform a lot of how you act in Assassin’s Creed 3, and it’ll open up new strategies for assassinating folks, specifically. In another situation, in which Connor came to the aid of a woman being harassed by soldiers, the assassin flattened himself against the corner of a building while the woman acted as a distraction to draw another guard toward him. As the enemy approached, Connor was able to ambush him from his corner position, taking him out instantly and pulling him out of view just as fast.

That particular incident was indicative of the kinds of side activities that go on in Assassin’s Creed 3, I was told during the demo. You won’t be repeating the same actions over and over again as in the previous games — you’ll actually encounter mini-scenarios on the street, and intervene as you see fit. In this particular case, Connor dispatched a few guards hassling a woman, who then led him to where her soldiers had hustled her husband into a back alley, potentially to hang the guy. After Connor ambushed the first guard, he sneaked toward the others in the alley, climbed a tree and used a harpoon-like crossbow to hang another from the tree.

Of course, that drew the attention of a third soldier, which allowed Connor to slip past and left him free the detained husband, before coming up behind and stabbing the final enemy. The totality of the side mission took just a few minutes, but it felt like an active, live part of the game.

The last rather remarkable part of the demo was combat, in as much as it’s a departure from what players are used to by a large degree. Primarily, fighting five or six guards at a time will be significantly more difficult than in previous installments of the series, because enemies won’t wait for one to finish attacking Connor (or for Connor to finish gutting him) before they go for blows of their own. That means you’re under constant attack in a much more realistic way.

Combating that brings Connor more contextual actions. You might grab a guy as he’s attacking you, ramming him into a tree or a sharp implement in the moment, in order to keep your weapons free as you fight the other guards. Counters, of course, will also be very important, but it seems to me that while Connor will be a mobile bad-ass on par with Ezio, running away will be the option players have to resort to more often (and perhaps more desperately) in the upcoming game.

The new mechanics in Assassin’s Creed 3 continue to look great, and the free-running and climbing in the game were quite impressive. Ubisoft continues to improve on its AC framework, and where I’ve been annoyed with the games in the past — specifically with movement and climbing abilities and the time it takes to get anywhere or do anything — it looks as though Ubisoft is continuing to improve these systems and make the game more dynamic.

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