Upcoming Assassin’s Creed III Revealed
Issue   |   Wed, 03/14/2012 - 01:38
Image courtesy of media.pcgamer.com
Departing from past settings, Assassin’s Creed III will be set in colonial America, giving Ubisoft Montreal a chance to revive the series.

A few weeks ago a Best Buy employee released a photo of what seemed to be cover art for the upcoming game Assassin’s Creed III. It pictured an assassin in white, reminiscent of previous protagonists but with a colonial edge. In one hand he held a shortened musket and in the other a tomahawk. A wooden bow and quiver of arrows were strapped over his waistcoat. And somewhere off behind him fluttered the 13-starred flag of the Continental Army.

Gaming websites immediately exploded after the photo was leaked via Twitter. Was this the new setting for the Assassin’s Creed series? And if so, what direction would the series be moving in? Among the choices in a poll that months before had asked players where they’d like to see the next game take place were feudal Japan, Victorian England and, sure enough, revolutionary America.

In the following days Ubisoft Montreal not only released the game’s cover art, but also a whole lot of information on the series’ new setting and direction. The game will take place in America between the years 1753 and 1783, and explorable locales Boston, New York and a vast wilderness known as “The Frontier.” In classic Assassin’s Creed style, the player will be able to interact with historical characters like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The protagonist will be a man who calls himself Connor, a half-Englishman half-Mohawk and presumably a descendant of past protagonists Altair and Ezio Auditore.

The setting is certainly a departure from those of the past, which have always featured large cityscapes dotted with tall towers and cathedrals. Colonial Boston will be a far cry from Rome, Jerusalem and Istanbul. Successfully pulling this off will require a major shift in gameplay. Without buildings taller than a few stories to climb, Connor’s agility will be showcased elsewhere. A trailer released about a week ago showed him jumping from tree branch to tree branch and ambushing a British patrol in the middle of the woods. The addition of “The Frontier,” presumably a large wooded area with few architectural masterpieces, certainly suggests an emphasis on guerilla strategy in the new game.

This new announcement is exciting for fans of the series. Assassin’s Creed II improved upon the original in virtually every way, but made no major changes. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood added more to the same formula and wound up feeling a bit stale, but nevertheless fun. Assassin’s Creed: Redemption complicated an already-complicated system and disappointed long-time fans while alienating new players. The series is in dire need of a fresh start, and the third (but in reality, fifth) installment has potential.

I’m looking forward to seeing a renewed emphasis on actual stealth. The series’ Wikipedia page calls it a “historical action-adventure open world stealth video game” — a testament to how hard it is to define the series — but the “stealth” part has largely dropped away. In the original game, despite all its flaws, combat was actually difficult; this made stealth a viable strategy for those not wanting to start a fight. Before beginning an assassination mission, I would flip through the various bits and pieces of information I’d collected and form a plan to attract as little attention as possible. This aspect of the game was no longer present in Assassin’s Creed II. The combat system was revamped and it became possible to slaughter entire groups of enemies without breaking a sweat. The focus of the series moved from strategy to action; the action was well-executed to be sure, but the series sacrificed much of its depth to achieve a wider following.

But I don’t expect anything too revolutionary (see what I did there?) from Assassin’s Creed III. Ubisoft still wants as many people as possible to buy their game, not just a cult following. So they’ll keep the cinematic quality, the mild difficulty and the fast pacing. But I’m still hopeful that the new game will be fresh and remind me of why I fell in love with the series when it first came out. The sense of place it creates — whether the medieval Middle East or Renaissance Italy — has so far been consistently breathtaking, even though it’s been growing a bit dry. The transplanting of the game to new surroundings combined with new gameplay dynamics should give it the revival I’ve been waiting for.

And maybe Connor will be the protagonist we’ve been waiting for. Altair was cold, impassionate and ruthless. Ezio was passionate and vengeful, even if he grew into a great leader. Neither was entirely relatable; Ezio was surely likable, but not relatable. Connor surely will start off a flawed young man, but he will perhaps grow into a hero who can bring the series to its conclusion. Not that I think it will conclude any time soon — I foresee Ubisoft milking this series for all it’s worth. Expect sequels set in London and France and perhaps an entirely new series with a new focus. But as far as this story arch goes — the arch which binds all three protagonists together in a causal chain — I hope for the best.