“Frontier Free-Running” is one of my favourite terms I’ve put together of late. I love it for its base oxymoron, but more so because while “frontier” and “free-running” certainly don’t fit, the forced marriage of the two makes for some interesting visualisations.
Of course, we don’t need to visualise anything, because said oxymoron is actually an up and running contender for Game of the Year in Assassin’s Creed III - likely the only
videogame series actually capable
of bringing something so ludicrous to light.
It’s an interesting concept when you think about it though, because while we were all blown away with the level of animation and agility of Altair, the first assassin in the popular series, his bridging “levels”, those being the country roads that linked each of the game’s three cities, had little-to-no such offerings in the parkour space (hence most of your time being spent on horseback), and when they were there, it was done in mini-city form. By and large, the game’s freedom of movement was actually quite confining.
Each of the game’s subsequent offerings then expanded the idea of the parkour playground in city form, and did an amazing job, but honestly, climb one and, well, you’ve climbed them all.
Enter Connor and the American Revolution where, by default, cities were far smaller in size; burgeoning on the up, but not to the scale of the likes of Constantinople. Moreover, the basis for the game (beyond the expanded Assassins versus Templar conflict and all the conspiracy fiction that comes packaged with it) was a spark of rebellious unrest that moved from city streets and ports, to the open, harsh wilderness of the American Northeast. Suffice to say, and wrap things up, crafting a playground on par with the previous games for Assassin’s Creed III is no mean feat.
And yet, the team has done it. Recently I sat down with the single-player campaign for a Last Look
at what’s on offer ahead of review, and felt a need to express some of the elements Ubisoft Montreal (and Singapore) has added to keep a familiar and welcome cadence for a now-popular series, while also taking brave, bold and uncharted steps into a world built almost in antithesis to everything we know and love about Assassin’s Creed and its protagonists.
So, on that frontier part, my hands-on actually begins with a mission I won’t spoil because I didn’t even attempt it as the cut-scene ended. Rather, I took to the trees like some predator
, though my goal wasn’t quite yet to hunt down any commandos, or even wrongdoers. The first that jumps
out at you with the new free-running system is its dynamic nature. Connor will contextually scale, traverse or sidle around whatever’s in his path, and in this iteration, it’s less Mario control and more camera-focused. This means as you have Connor running along a line of tree branches that intersect with one another, you’re free to peripherally look for variant path and simply swing the camera in that direction for him to change his. This existed in a slightly less robust form in the other games, and I’m sure many of you have plenty of painful memories of escapes gone sour simply because Ezio or Altair caught the side of a building and decided that was the new path they’d scale.
I actually found the climbing and movement system in Assassin’s Creed III far more forgiving, but equally more tangible. Connor’s other abilities are also a big shift from what we’ve known, such as a bigger focus on ranged options. The actual mission I was given at the beginning of my hands-on was the contextual introduction of his new Rope-Dart, given to him by his Revolution-era Alfred, and it’s a damn neat device.
Ultimately the Rope-Dart can be used in stealth scenarios to harpoon enemies below and then hang them from tree branches, or, depending on how evil you are, they’re also capable of creating a pretty big scare for the harpooned-now-hanging person’s friends. In battle you can pull enemies closer to you as well as plain harpoon bunnies running about the field. You can even de-ride the bad-guys riding horses, though I didn’t get a chance to try this.
There’s another interesting element that stems from the changes in bolstered ranged combat with the game, by way of actual stealth. The Assassin’s Creed games have certainly allowed you to move about the place out of sight of the enemy, but by and large you’re always seen by someone
. Moreover, in, say, Ezio’s case, his ranged weapons were pistols and grenades - the ability to take out the enemy stealthily came in sneaking. But here, with Connor’s long-range bow, there’s a massive expansion to the stealth area of the game, which is real-estate I’ve always felt Assassin’s Creed lacked in (moreso now than ever with the likes of Agent 47 and Corvo sneaking onto screens this year).
The emergence of this comes buried in the game’s new focus on hunting and living off the land, as well as Connor’s Native American heritage (they’re pretty much actually one and the same), and so does the game’s greater sense of brutality. The Assassin’s Creed games have all equally harboured a staunch foundation of harshness based on the periods they’re set, but the American Revolution and, specifically, the alien invasion of Native Americans, is an especially dark moment in human history and thankfully Ubisoft doesn’t appear to have held back one iota in its portrayal of events and the period.
I spent most of my time avoiding missions throughout the game, but I did eventually make my way to Boston, where I was charged with being more than a helping hand in sparking the Revolution, as it were. Ubi’s ability to spin a fictional yarn around a real-world series of events and documented history is arguably their strongest point as far as Assassin’s Creed is concerned, and given the spanse for AC3 is some 30 years, there’s a good chance the tale here will be a tall, and enjoyable one indeed (I hear tell of UFO conspiracies actually hidden within based on a specific sighting during the game’s said 30-year period, from real-life).
I also dabbled in the naval combat, and will give you one word for it: awesome. If you need to know more about it, head to AusGamers contributor, Naren Hooson’s hands-on report
, but it’s shaping up to be one of the most enjoyable companion experiences the team[s] have added. There’s so much more I want to tell you, but am happier leaving it at the idea that the few additions they’ve thrown into the mix are game-changing from a foundation perspective, but will happily report that everything you love
about this series is well and truly intact.
It’s not far off release now, and we’ll have our review ready for you as soon as humanly possible where we’ll delve into more, but so far, this one is looking like it’ll take top-shelf in the series, and perhaps even this year.