Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Preview: Assassin's Creed III

Normally, when the Game of the Year discussion rolls around, I usually have things in the bag. Going back in time, my 2011 pick was Bastion, hands-down (a revelation I never revealed on the blog before this point), and 2010 was Mass Effect 2, one of the greatest RPGs ever made (yet only just edging out Red Dead Redemption for the year)! But when I reach 2009, I find myself with a conundrum.

2009 was a big year for the games industry; plenty of fantastic games were released that year and all of them were worthy of acclaim. Yet my personal Game of the Year award is always a split decision: Batman or Ezio? It's always a tough call. Arkham Asylum was excellent, with a fantastic combat system, a great story, amazing acting and a fun experience. ACII was a continuation of a new intellectual property that I was excited about, and really transformed the potential of the original into something real and fantastic. It's a very tough call to make! And yet, part of me knows the answer, and the proof is in the trophies.

Assassin's Creed II is the only game I have ever gotten a platinum trophy for. I have come close with the original Dead Space, one of my favourite games ever, but ACII is the only one to bear the platinum within my catalog. Even if I disliked Brotherhood and have yet to play Revelations, even if the story took a needless twist at the end of the game, even if I needed to collect all those stupid feathers twice because of a glitch; despite all of that, ACII holds a special place in my heart. And, truly, ACII is the primary reason why I am looking forward to Assassin's Creed III.

Anything I Should Know First?

For those who don't know, or for those who enjoy lots of spoilers, a brief synopsis of the story of Assassin's Creed up to this point: Desmond Miles is a young man who was unwittingly born to parents who belong to the secret guild of the Assassins. In the original Assassin's Creed, Desmond is captured by the Assassins rivals, the Templars, and forced into a machine known as the Animus. The Animus is a machine that allows the users to relive the memories of their past ancestors; in the case of Desmond, this originally means reliving the memories of his ancestor Alta├»r, a Muslim assassin during the time of the Crusades. Through he memories, Desmond realizes that the Templars are trying track down the lost Pieces of Eden, powerful artifacts with otherworldly abilities, in order to fully control the world.

In Assassin's Creed II, Desmond escapes from Templar custody with aid from a member of the assassins, who takes him to meet up with other assassins. Together, they decide the best course of action is to send Desmond back into the Animus, this time to relive the memories of another ancestor, Ezio Auditore, an Italian from the age of the Renaissance. Through ACII, Brotherhood and Revelations, Desmond relives the memories of Ezio as the assassins try to find where the other Pieces of Eden have been hidden so that the Assassins can find them before the Templars do. While in the Animus, Desmond discovers many pieces of a conspiracy to hide the truth behind the birth of civilization: that the world and the life on it was created by an extremely advanced, possibly otherworldy, race of beings know as "Those Who Came Before", and that the Pieces of Eden are tools of their making. These beings also tell Desmond (through his ancestors) that, if he is not careful, the world could end and civilization could be destroyed once again, as it happened to them.

The Assassin's Creed games have always heavily fostered conspiracy theories regarding the Templars and other secret organizations, and how individuals who are part of these organizations have controlled every major action in the world for centuries. Ubisoft has even utilized the end of the Mayan calendar (December 21st, 2012), using the mythos surrounding it as a launching point for the end of civilization foretold by "Those Who Came Before". Evidently, things will come to a head in Assassin's Creed III; Alexandre Amacio, creative director for Revelations, revealed that ACIII would be released before December of 2012 because Desmond's story was set to end around that time, and Ubisoft believed it would hinder the game's immersion if they played a futuristic game after the time during which it is set. If that doesn't scream Mayan calendar, I'm not sure what would.

Anything Else?

A tomahawk in the back and a bullet to the face. This seems just like
the Assassin's Creed I remember...
Excitingly, Assassin's Creed III has been in development since January of 2010, shortly after the release of Assassin's Creed II. This means the game has been in development for almost two full years, the longest development cycle for any game in the franchise since ACII, and was most likely worked on by the same team who crafted ACII. This is good news for those who loved ACII but had reservations with Brotherhood and Revelations as it most likely means that ACIII will meet the same quality as its predecessor without being mired by the minor faults in the rest of the ACII trilogy.

Another interesting bit of information is that ACIII will be released beside Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, a portable title exclusively for PlayStation Vita, that allows players to play a female assassin for the first time in the franchise. The game will be released the same day as ACIII and will feature some extra exposition to add to the ACIII experience, showcasing a story that takes place in New Orleans and surrounding area roughly around the same time as the events of ACIII.

Also, fun fact: Assassin's Creed III will actually be the fifth major release in the franchise, and the seventh or eighth (I've lost track) if you count portable titles. These developers really need to learn how to count!

What Do We Know?

Assassin's Creed III brings the return of protagonist Desmond Miles as he attempts to put a stop to the Templar conspiracy that may bring about the end of the world. To do this, he must use the Animus to once again go back into the memories of someone from the past; this time, the character Desmond will inhabit is Connor Kenway, a half-Mohawk, half-English man from North America during the time of the American Revolution. It has not yet been made clear whether Connor is another of Desmond's ancestors or if Desmond has access to Connor's memories by some other means but the change of both character and setting is sure to be a great boon for the Assassin's Creed franchise.

The majority of the game will have Connor wandering around the Eastern seaboard, hanging out in both colonial Boston and New York, as well as wandering the Frontier and even sailing the seas off the coast. Connor gets involved with the American Revolution because the Templars and Assassins end up being major players in the event; Connor will supposedly work for both the Redcoats and the Revolutionaries as he tries to stop the Templars from enacting their plot. I say 'supposedly' because, as of yet, all the demos and screenshots for ACIII has depicted Connor killing Redcoats and not the Americans, but perhaps that's just good publicity when trying to sell the game in North American markets.


You will encounter various individuals in the American Revolution, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and numerous other important figures, mostly on the American side. These figures will play as contacts for you and may give you different missions to enact, but the game will also allow for some free-roaming gameplay similar to what was found in Red Dead Redemption; as you wander about the Frontier, you will have the opportunity to hunt wild animals for food and other rewards. I imagine similar activities will be presented as you wander around Boston and New York, though the game will obviously focus on the Templar/Assassin conflict and what part Connor plays in it.

"This is not the donkey you're looking for..."
The combat looks as good as it ever has, featuring a number of different attacks (and counter-attacks) to go with the assortment of new weaponry afforded by the more modern setting. Where the Assassin's Creed II trilogy took great pains to give Ezio a single pistol (and even greater pains to get the crossbow), ACIII features muskets, a bow-and-arrow and various thrown weapons, giving the game more of a focus on ranged combat than in previous installments. Still, given the inaccurate nature of such weapons, you can be sure that Connor will still have to get his hands dirty with some swordplay -- including the addition of his signature tomahawk, featured in most of the publicity for the game thus far.

Some interesting additions to the game come in the way of the setting; because the game is set in colonial America during the War of Independence, you will spend a portion of your time wandering the wilderness looking for your target. This has been shown in two variations: one, having to sneak your way through a battlefield through which musket- and cannon-fire flies back and forth; and two, having to traverse through the wilderness in the dead of a frontier winter. The former creates its own obstacles -- how best to avoid detection from an entire rank of musket-bearing Redcoats -- while the latter has shown to have its own share of troubles -- deep snow seems to slow Connor down, making the pursuit of an escaped target that much more difficult. Both of these will provide interesting difficulties, I'm sure, and I am excited to put Connor's free-running skills to good use in both.

On the flip-side of the story, little seems to be known about what Desmond will be getting up to in between sessions in the Animus. We know that Desmond's father, the leader of the Assassins, showed up in Revelations and will most likely want to take the fight to the Templars, though the exact nature of such a confrontation has yet to be explored. Expect some crazy modern-day assassinations when in control of Desmond, perhaps even getting a modern city to explore (in some small amount) as Desmond tracks a Templar target to be killed. I am excited to see where Ubisoft takes the conspiracy and how they plan to resolve the story -- if they plan to at all!


Which one is the copy and which is the real agent?
AC multiplayer at its finest!
There is also the matter of multiplayer to discuss, a feature that I originally found unnecessary but has found some merit in its execution. While the established multiplayer modes will return (simply assassinate your target while remaining undetected by those targeting you), there will also be the addition of a new mode known as Wolf Pack, a more cooperative mode where players team up to eliminate NPC targets. This mode seems to be a play on the typical Horde/Firefight mode of multiplayer as it will apparently feature waves of enemies and the players will need to work together in order to secure victory! As a sucker for cooperative gameplay, this certainly sounds much more intriguing than your typical deathmatch.

And Why Do I Care?

Assassin's Creed has become one of the biggest franchises this generation and ACIII looks to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, taking great strides to improve upon the formula by giving us an unique and interesting setting and a brand-new character. The graphics look much improved, the gameplay is always fantastic -- truly, ACIII looks to be the sequel ACII deserved. Where Brotherhood and Revelations were met with mostly favorable reviews, I imagine ACIII will be in the running for game of the year specifically because of its new take on the franchise. Ubisoft are finally realizing the true potential of the franchise and giving us something brand new to explore.

So What Should I Do Now That I Know?

The game is released on October 30th, next Tuesday, so I would rush out and try to preorder a copy from somewhere. The game is being released on all platforms, though the developers themselves support the use of a controller, so keep that in mind when choosing what to get it for. As usual, there are also numerous preorder bonuses, most of which boil down to which edition of the game you would like to purchase: some of the special editions (of which there are about five) give you additional multiplayer characters, some give you exclusive singleplayer missions, while some give you tangible collectibles to add to your desk.


The bonus most of note, however, is the deal Ubisoft and Sony have made; not only will ACIII be found bundled with new PS3 consoles but all PlayStation gamers will be gifted with four exclusive missions where Connor is sent to deal with Benedict Arnold, the biggest traitor to the American cause during the Revolution. The reveal, featured above, shows quite an interesting and intense set of missions and should prove to be quite entertaining. Take that, Microsoft!

Last Remarks?

Scaling trees for a vantage spot is now a viable option. That alone is
worth the price of admission.
While the Assassin's Creed II trilogy was met with mostly positive reviews, the franchise has long been mired in the same Italian Renaissance setting with the same characters reappearing over and over. Though I have yet to play Revelations, the general consensus at Loading Checkpoint is that Brotherhood was an unnecessary addition to the franchise, more of an expansion pack than a full release. Brotherhood was a wasted opportunity to move forward with the franchise; instead, the game remained in the shoes of Ezio, an initially captivating character that became lost in a setting that had already been explored.

The Assassin's Creed franchise was an exciting new intellectual property specifically because the premise could allow player's to explore any historical setting from the eyes of an assassin; imagine Assassin's Creed as a ninja, sneaking through feudal Japan. Or a French partisan, seeking out targets during the French Revolution. Or even a Native American sneaking around during the War of Independence, attacking Redcoats and Revolutionaries alike!

Exactly.

I am excited for Assassin's Creed III because they are finally acting on the potential initially created by the original and taking the franchise to a new setting with new characters. The only reservation I have is that, thus far, all of the content shown for ACIII has been incredibly jingoistic and supportive of the Americans. While I understand the intent behind that sort of publicity campaign, I really hope that they can deliver a more level-headed presentation of the world during that time, as opposed to allowing it to become an American press piece. As a non-American, I don't think that's too much to ask.

We'll be doing a written review of ACIII after we've had some hands-on experience with it, so keep an eye out for that in the week following its release!

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