When Assassin's Creed first hit the world I was taken in the same as everyone else. Sure it was repetitive, but the ability to parkour just about anywhere while stabbing people was far too cool to resist. Since then Ubisoft has done everything it can to update and refine a series that's become the leading force in hit-and-run sandbox play. Multiplayer, limited flight, expanded moves, new weapons and just about everything else a fan could ask for has been put into the series so far; and it's not as though these titles have met anything short of critical acclaim. But despite fancy trailers, insistent friends and high metacritic ratings I never really took the time to dive very far into any of the subsequent games. AC2 just never really drew me in. So why is it that only now five years later that I'm finally taking a serious look at Assassin's Creed again?
Ubisoft enjoys letting gamers know that it is constantly in search of innovation, to their point where a large majority if their design process is purely dedicated to created new games based on design. It's one of the main reasons I always keep an eye out for whatever they're working on next; so much heart and detail goes into their games that the care really bleeds through. Focusing solely on Assassin's Creed as a franchise it can be fairly safe to say that their city building has been nothing short of incredible. When you consider the fact that Ezio or Altair have to interact with their environment the realization hits home that there's really no series without the incredibly designed cityscape. Through these cities we have hideaways to escape to, locations to plan extractions or assassination attempts, paths which to make daring chases and players start planning escape routes and shortcuts without a second thought because the city will make or break their attempts at success should they plan poorly.
But that can be said about any sandbox these days, which is the exact reason why after the first Assassin's Creed was done showing off its stuff the sequels never really hit home for me. Why would I want to run around in a city when I've done it so often, and with the advantages of having a little more freedom? GTA has let me travel at high speeds on maps that were just as detailed and expanded, Saints Row introduced a level of humor and mayhem that makes me question the definition of ridiculous, Arkham Asylum let me play as Batman (enough said), Mercenaries let me level entire buildings, and the list goes on. Yes, each of these games had a very different goal from Assassin's Creed and perhaps it's a little unfair to compare a third person "˜modern' action game to the more methodical mechanics of AC but they all sit within the same genre. Boiling right down to it players are tossed into a city (or otherwise enclosed area) and are given the freedom to roam and complete objectives at will, and often times what happens between objective A and B really defines how fun the entire experience really is.
From what we've all seen from both iterations of AC3 the series is finally breaking away from it's roots, and that's what I find to be so incredibly interesting. Not to say that there won't be some colonial town representations somewhere in the mix (it's already been revealed that a few major American cities will be explorable); but moving through more open territory, hiding within the woods, mastering the deadly seas while still keeping the combat fresh and innovative sound far more interesting than running about town from objective to objective.
It's not just the gameplay that's receiving an ambitious overall but the story as well. Not to say anything against Ezio or Altair but the last time that I was aware of a Native American main character was Prey, and seeing how well Ubisoft handle such an incredible cultural background is a lot more enticing to me than having to sit through the same main character archetypes that are fed to us on a monthly basis. Perhaps that may be a little too much pressure to place on Connor Kenway, but if Assassin's Creed plans on maintaining its relevancy then it needs to continue to bring forth characters that capture our imagination with their depth and realism. Many of us don't just play these games to run around after all, but to become immersed in the history and lore of that era.
Perhaps it's unfair to ask so much from the third (primary) entry in the series, particularly when it's not exactly like the other titles failed to perform, but for the same reasons that I enjoyed the first game for the innovations it brought forth to the gaming industry I can only hope that this entry, with its radical movement into territories not entirely covered by prior titles, continues to impress. If Ubisoft hasn't dreamed too far beyond its reach then AC3 could be an incredible start for a brand new era of parkour-based action. It may even work to redefine what we think of as sandbox gaming, and considering the staggering amount of pre-orders on the game there's a lot to lose if the game fails to live up to the expectations.