The line snaked back and forth on the Expo show floor constantly throughout the weekend. It would move in bursts before everyone settled waiting for the next group to move into the theater and the line to advance again. The booth was a large cylinder; the line wrapping around one side and then back again. The Assassin’s Creed III logo was printed on one side.
Once I entered the booth the aesthetics changed. It became a tunnel that curved along the inner side of the outer wall. It had a high ceiling with Colonial American flags and TVs continually playing the original Assassin’s Creed III teaser trailer interspersed with video of artist Alex Ross creating unique artwork for the special metal case available for a limited amount of pre-orders of the game. One wall was made to look like the stone wall of a castle with fake torches embedded. On the other wall were images of Revolutionary era artifacts, quotes from journals and famous figures of the time as well as passages to explain the true conditions of the war and not the idealized form that many imagine the era to be. In truth the pain and devastating harshness of what the Colonial army went through only makes it that much more awe inspiring. Of course this was all only a preamble, it was a way to get the fans in the right frame of mind for the demo within.
Once the line got moving again we were led into the circular center of the closed off booth. Inside were rows of crates for seating, a bunch of muskets leaning against one wall among other artifacts scattered around. Photography was not allowed in the room, so I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of it. In the back was a glass display case of the pre-order bonuses including a PAX East exclusive T-shirt. Any of which you could chose from by pre-ordering the game outside of the room near the exit. Once all the seats were filled, the doors were closed, filtering out the thumping noise of the show floor beyond. Then the video demo of Assassin’s Creed III began.
It started off with an intro from Creative Director Alex Hutchison thanking us for coming to see the video and that we were encouraged to cheer, applaud, yell and whatever else we felt by what we saw. The demo started with the assassin, half-English, half-Mohawk Connor Kenway at the Battle of Bunker Hill on the American side of the fortifications listening to a speech by the commander saying (sigh) “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” As Connor moved around the group they reacted to his presence, with soldiers turning their heads and shifting away as he walked through them. He was not some invisible ghost until he bumped into someone, he had an actual presence in the world. Then the battle began.
Intermittently through the demo the game would pause and Hutchison would talk over the image and point out specific details about what was going on and the improvements made to different aspects of the game. For instance, where previous titles could have maybe 200 people on screen at a time, this game will be able to handle over 2000 in the large battle set pieces, such as Bunker Hill. Speaking of which the armies will use Revolutionary era tactics and formations to dictate the flow of battle.
The mission: Assassinate the British Major in command who is also a Templar. Like in previous games there are Templars on all sides of the conflict and you will have missions to assassinate members of the both the British and Colonial armies. The demo points out there are two paths. In this case to the left is the stealth heavy option and to the right is the action option. The demo goes to the right, taking cover behind boulders to escape the incoming cannon fire. Connor rushed in and out of minor skirmishes between the frontline combatants of the British and Colonials several times, the developers switching between running and walking to show the difference in options and Connor’s animations. Then Connor ducked down a forested path. Here he climbed a tree to which Hutchison noted that they finally implemented being able to climb the one thing you actually could climb in real life as opposed to previous games where they were mere obstacles. The trees in this game are organically grown so that they wouldn’t become just poles, but an actual environment you had to navigate. They also introduced a new move in the free running, being able to shimmy around the trunk of a tree in one fluid move to continue moving through the treetops.
At this point Connor came upon a small group of redcoats. The demo opened Connor’s inventory and pulled out the roped dagger, which the assassin used to stab the lead soldier in the neck and hoist him up into the tree as Connor jumped down to confront the rest. The soldier’s feet just hung there in the top of the frame. Connor then grabbed the next man to use as a hostage as the other redcoats lined up into a shooting line formation. The developers pointed out that yes while guns are more common in this era than in previous entries, they are inaccurate but still lethal and manageable. Once they had fired, executing their fellow soldier, Connor moved into the center of them for what was probably the most impressive improvement in the game: the close quarters combat. The combat engine allows the player to use all four of his main weapons: the tomahawk, assassin’s blade, pistol and bow. Fighting against the bayonets of the British, Connor was able to take out two at once with his two handed combat style that flowed from one set of attacks to another with near on the fly weapon switches. The camera followed and managed to get into the right angle to show what Connor was doing while showing the next threat in the frame as well. The key to Assassin’s Creed III’s combat is to keep Connor always in motion, never stalling.
Once the skirmish was over, Connor took to the trees again which showed off the different variations trees could grow in, for example: forks and toppled trunks. Eventually he arrived at a cliff that the developers evidently spent a lot of time crafting the crevices into natural formations so that it didn’t become a strange looking building. Additionally they did research into barehanded mountain climbing and incorporated it into Connor’s animations. Once he made it to the top of the cliff he was behind the British command encampment. There Connor moved into the bushes where he automatically crouched down and we were told that he would automatically take advantage of hiding by crouching and moving slowly in such things like bushes both in the cities and the wilderness. It would aid players who want to go the stealth route.
The nearest redcoat guard was about 20 feet away with his back to Connor. In one final explanation, the developers told us about wanting Connor to be able to keep moving as he rushed in a final assault. They showed us just that. He rushed the guard, using his Assassin symbol shaped tomahawk to take out the guard’s leg and flip him over, slice another’s throat with the hidden blade before using a table for leverage to launch himself over a hedge and right to the Major on horseback. The demo ended there with Connor in midair and the horse rearing up, the Major’s fate sealed. Sufficed to say, the group I was with cheered as loud as they could. Afterwards we were led out of the booth and back onto the expo floor, one fan was pulled to the side to be asked what they thought of the demo on camera.
Ever since Ubisoft announced that it would take place during the Revolutionary era I’ve been hyped for this game in a way I haven’t been excited for an entry in the Assassin’s Creed series since the first one. I love the Revolutionary history and to see a major AAA title creating an entire game space in that world is enthralling to me. However, I've tried (mostly failing) to temper my enthusiasm, because if they screwed it up I would be more angry than if it were set in another era of history. They've shown us bits and pieces before and now they've shown us how it they are going to fit together. I feel what few reservations I tried to keep with regards to Assassin's Creed III slipping away. Of course I’ll still end up nit picking the historical facts, but you only do that with something that managed to get nearly everything else right.
Assassin’s Creed III is developed by Ubisoft Montreal and set for release October 30th, 2012.