The sun is shining and the water -- an inviting turquoise -- leads up to the warm, white sandy beaches of the Caribbean islands. A welcome sight for Captain Connor as I (as him) commandeer the French ship Aquilla past these beaches and scenic rock formations.
Just as we cruise towards a bay leading out to the ocean, the English Armada ship Randolph crosses our path up ahead. It lets off a barrage of cannon fire making contact with our ship, and then it flees for the open seas. So I order the crew to hike the sails to half mast and man the cannons, as we set out to give chase. They were already in full motion with the wind behind their sails and have made it out of the harbour to open waters. Full sails and hopefully we can gain on them.
Catching up I ready the crew to unleash an array of chainshots to take out their mast. But just as we fire on them we take fire from our other side. Two armada warships are closing in on us, it appears we’ve been led into a trap. Not only that, the weather has changed to suit the occasion; rough seas, high winds and grey skies.
Game director Alex Hutchinson, originally from Melbourne, when asked if we’ll see the Beaufort simulation sea conditions coupled with the Anvil Next weather system had this to say. “Absolutely, and that’s the fun part. It’s not just setting it, it’s that we can actually turn it up. You can start out as you would have seen at the E3 demo, in very calm, crystal-clear waters, and we can crank that up until it’s a pounding storm.”
I order the crew to fire another round of chainshots at the Randolph and manage to take out the mast, disabling it. I then steer to starboard and line up to unleash a load of round cannon shots on the first of these warships. The crew holds until we are parallel to it and I give the order to fire just as they fire on us again. A decent hit on them as I see some of their red coat crew thrown overboard from the assault, but surely I’ve lost some of my own.
I turn hard to starboard, controlling shots from the single cannon while the crew reloads the cannon array. Coming up on them again I give the order to fire and this time it does enough damage to sink the ship. In spectacular fashion, I might add.
As I turn the Aquilla to meet the last English ship, they are already firing on us and I give the command to brace. Connor grabs the wheel and ducks, the rest of the crew grab whatever part of the ship they are closest too and hold on. This minimalises my crew losses and casualties.
Both ships double back and they are now on our port side. Our cannons are ready and as we pass each other both ships fire, delivering damage on both sides but our port side cannons are disabled completely.
I turn to starboard as they double back on the same side. With them on our right side we fire on the ship just as they approach, delivering severe damage to the front of the vessel, enough to sink them. I steer back alongside the Randolph and we ready to board.
This is merely a glimpse of what we can expect from the Naval missions within the storyline of Assassin’s Creed III. Not to mention the whole side-story and Privateer contracts. All consisting of sinking, boarding, mined areas and fort missions as well as escort missions in the open-world map along the Eastern seaboard.
Alex goes into the inspiration for this section of the game. “When we looked at the history of this period of America we realised that sailing ships were so important. It’s how you arrived there if you were foreign, it’s how all imported goods arrived there. The French fleet at Yorktown basically blockaded the port; stopped the import. Stopped the British resupplying their soldiers, which leads directly to the surrender of the British in the American Revolution. So it was part of the history of the time and the history of the Revolution. And once we got that we thought, well it’s really something we should do. And when we looked into it we realised too that no one had done third-person action-adventure sailing, you know in this period. So we’re like, great, it’s brand new; it’s probably too risky to do as it’s own game. Although now I think it’s been successful enough that we probably underestimated it. But it felt like an appropriate and exciting risk to take.”
The battle of Chesapeake offers another glimpse of this aspect of the game on a larger scale. Connor is captaining one of the two French ships that are defending the Chesapeake Bay from eight British Armada Man-of-War ships. The British need to fight through to Yorktown to resupply their blockades. Connor is awaiting backup and needs to hold them off.
Instead we see Connor and the backup ship sink most of these enemy vessels but in the process the backup is sunk and Connor is completely out of ammunition. With one enemy ship left Connor rams straight into the enemy vessel hull, jumps the sides and engages the British crew hand to hand. Using the tomahawk and blade to string together combos, Ubisoft’s impressive rebuilt combat system is displayed in full flight.
“Well it’s a brand new fighting system we built, not just in terms of the fact that Connor duel wields now,” Alex explains. “He has two weapons at all times but also brand new weapons: the tomahawk, the bow; we changed the hidden blade, one of them to be able to be grasped, we can use it almost as a knife as well. So we really wanted it to feel fresh, on every level, including player strategies. So how you need to think about the fight to be successful, is very different. We wanted to make it fresh.”
“Yeah, we like this idea of combos and combo chains and the idea that a casual player can stumble through a fight but tat a good player can link together kill moves consistently and, you know, sort of wipe out all of their targets without ever being touched.”
What I played and saw the majority of was running in visual style on the PS3, but perhaps more impressive was that a parallel demo presentation was running on Wii U and it was very difficult to see any difference in visual presentation.
Now with clear stealth or action paths, more movement options in the environment, hunting, forest and cliff areas, stalk zones and Connor’s predator style approach in dealing with the enemy, there’s a vast amount on offer. Especially when you consider the game’s 30-year span.
“I think it’s one of the strengths of the Assassin’s franchise, that we can jump time,” Alex concludes. “Games often take place over hours or days, and I always liked the idea that you can tell a story that took 30 years. So you can have these big moments of, well big deltas, you know what I mean? One minute you’re, you know, 20 and another you’re 40. Your attitude towards things changes. You can have the character evolve, you can have, you know, big events occur that were separated by a lot of time. So we can visit the Boston Tea party, but we can also be there at battles that were years later.”
Assassin’s Creed III is due to arrive on PS3 and Xbox 360 October 31st, and on Wii U at launch. PC arrives on November 22nd.