Gamers, apparently, love a sequel. In spite of noisy protestations by some, to everyone else it seems, sequels are synonymous with success. The briefest of glances at any top-selling list will immediately turn up a roster of games with the numbers 2 and 3 attached.
For obvious reasons, publishers are only too happy to facilitate such appetites. Sequels carry much less risk. Those publishers without an assured-cash cow are desperate to see one of their properties ignite the public’s imagination and provide the reasonable expectation of predictable profits for financial years to come.
Small wonder Ubisoft quickly moved to annualise the Assassin’s Creed series. Ever since, each instalment has been eagerly anticipated and more eagerly purchased. But if last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Revelations still sold well, it also carries the ignominious distinction of being the series’ poorest-reviewing game.
When it comes to franchises, a player’s experience with the previous instalment will have more determination on purchasing decisions than anything else, meaning a poor game will impact on sales of the next, rather than the current offering. It should also come as no surprise then, to hear Ubisoft quickly distance the Assassin’s Creed III development teams from those who worked on Revelations.
The third numbered Assassin’s Creed title will see Desmond accessing the memories of his more recent ancestor, Connor, a half Native American, half European assassin, living in the American north-east during the tumultuous American Revolution. The secret war between the Assassins and the Templars has finally traversed the Atlantic Ocean and arrived on the shores of the New World.
Beyond the more contemporary setting, the most striking difference to previous games is the increased emphasis on wilderness environments. Ubisoft’s goal is for Connor to be as comfortable on uneven surfaces, trees and cliffs, as Altair and Ezio were in their city settings.
Weather in this area is particularly inhospitable. Snow is more than texture or decoration. Tactics must change depending on the season. In winter, Connor must wade through banks and drifts at a very slow speed.
To work with the greater variety of objects available for clambering, Ubisoft has rebuilt the climbing system: players should see barely any animations from previous games, and what animations they do see are all mapped on real-world climbing abilities.
Ascending one such rock face, Connor surveys the vastness of revolutionary America’s untamed north-east. This particular new map, the frontier, is almost one-and-a-half times as big as Brotherhood’s Rome, says Ubisoft. It’s filled with a scaled interpretation of the locale, including villages such as Lexington and Concord, and natural formations and landmarks.
Unlike the city guards of previous Assassin’s Creed games, the British at this time were the pre-eminent military force in the world. To that end, Ubisoft promises all new behaviours, reactions and systems to cope with an organised military force. Connor hangs in a tree as below a British patrol marches below to the tune of a jaunty flute. In the distance, we see the chimneys of Boston. Behind the patrol there’s a wagon carrying hay, as it passes underneath, Connor performs the series' iconic leap of faith.
The demonstration moves from winter to summer, 1775. Connor steps off a boat on Boston’s docks. Here, Ubisoft demonstrates the improvements that have been made to the crowd system. The goal, says Ubisoft, is two-fold: first is to make characters aware of one another; the second is to ensure these characters are aware of Connor. Characters will track him, follow him and pay attention to him. No longer will mission-givers stand inactive in a corner of the world.
Children and animals such as dogs have also been added to the world, and every non-player character is busy performing a unique activity. A woman attempts to lift a box of fresh produce, and then catches sight of Connor at which point she spills her wares onto the street. A nearby opportunist watches the accident, breaks of from the group of men he was speaking to, snatches the fruit and runs deeper into the city.
As we walk the streets, we can overhear citizens discussing Bunker Hill, a famous landmark-come-battle in the American Revolution, just outside of Boston. Other conversations are much more benign, concerning themselves with mundane activities and day-to-day existence. It’s a deft play at authenticity from Ubisoft – in spite of the myths America has cloaked its creation in, and in spite of it’s ultimate importance in world history, for the majority of those living in the 13 colonies at the time, the war between the redcoats and the blue was a nuisance imposed upon them by their wealthier fellow colonists.