News and reviews on the latest tech, games, gadgets, software and the Web.
A patriot is born in Ubisoft's epic title 'Assassin's Creed 3'
In the “Assassin’s Creed” series, Ubisoft has immersed players in key historical cruxes like 12th Century Damascus and 15th Century Venice through the eyes of “Brotherhood Assassins,” who track down and kill assigned targets (usually the Assassins’ archenemies, the Templars). Ezio Auditore, the charming Venetian as adept at taking maidens’ hearts as he is taking contracts’ lives, has been the focal point of the series’ popularity boom, but Ubisoft’s freshest face is poised to take control.
“You see Ezio costumes very often…but about half the people were dressed as Connor,” said Philippe Bergeron, one of Assassin’s Creed’s directors, about a gaming convention in Sydney. “And the game hadn’t even come out yet.”
Connor Kenway is the star in Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed 3”, which is set in the 18th Century American Revolution. He is the first mixed-race assassin in the series, born to a British man and a Mohawk woman. This grants Connor a unique position: He has a stake in two different cultures, unlike his predecessors. He rushes to join the Brotherhood in an attempt to protect his people after he sees a vision of his village destroyed by white settlers.
Connor’s lineage is set to serve as a vehicle for his missions: Connor is able to don colonist clothing and blends in with American settlers. His colonist façade is reminiscent of Jack Sparrow, sans makeup (though he does command a ship later on…savvy). However, Connor was raised in the Mohawk village of his mother, and learned the martial skills of his maternal people – rapid arrow releases and hand-to-hand tomahawk slices so smooth Connor seems to be dancing around his enemies – and this completely changes the experience.
“His weapons reflect his background, like the tomahawk and the bow,” said Joshua Sheetz, a historian and former GameStop employee from Norfolk, Virginia. These weapons are new to the series, and Connor’s style is primed to change the way the games are played. His fluid fighting style is a fresh take for the series, whose previous protagonists required much tedious, static hack-and-slash action. This dichotomy is readily apparent throughout Assassin’s Creed 3 as Connor battles redcoats (British soldiers), who use a formation-based, reticent style reminiscent of previous assassins.
“You just stood there and pressed X, X, X and maybe R1. Then you blocked,” said Mark Katz, a veteran of the Assassins series. He welcomes the changes Connor brings, expressing his distaste for the stale combat in previous games. “It got so boring. We needed something new to play.”
Connor isn’t brandishing a cumbersome broadsword in the streets of Damascus – his armaments are built to complement the new environments Ubisoft crafted. The new assassin will explore locales like Boston and New York, but a major portion of the journey will be spent in the wilderness. The Assassins creators had to sculpt the landscape to play off Connor’s hunting skills, but the environmental shift was as radical as the combat change.
“We knew how to build cities, we were good at those,” said Marc Antoine Lussier, the technical director of Assassin’s Creed 3.
He oversaw the code and numbers that come together to form the coherent pictures players see on their TVs. Lussier’s team had experience crafting the regularly shaped polygons that made up the cities in the first two games, but Mother Nature proves a tougher mistress than Venice. If Connor’s movement in the forest was going to look natural, the forest itself had to look natural.
“If you put trees and branches at right angles, it just looks silly,” Lussier said.
Instead, the frontiers look organic and unplanned, despite the deliberate placing of flora and fauna. Connor interacts with his “natural” surroundings much like a real person would – seasons change and affect the way Connor, animals, and enemies react and move throughout the world. Heavy snowfall, for example, causes Connor to trudge along to his destination or risk snapping already-weakened branches jumping from tree to tree. Connor can also interact with the animals as person could – he is able to hunt the creatures he finds in the wild and sell their skins.
Though Connor’s predecessors were able to explore the cities they were given, they were still quite shackled – Altair and Ezio could not freely travel on foot between multiple cities at a player’s whim, let alone sail down an entire coast. This newfound sense of wanderlust is central to Connor’s character, and the mimicry of an open world fueled by travel lets players discover Ubisoft’s recreation of colonial America with new eyes – with Connor’s eyes.
Assassin’s Creed 3 has been on sale since October 30th for the PlayStation3 and Xbox 360. Ubisoft will release the Wii U version on November 18th and the PC version on the 20th.