Assassin's Creed has been one of the biggest success stories of the current console generation - a series that went from unknown quantity to triple-A blockbuster seemingly overnight. That being said, it comes as no surprise that Assassin's Creed III, which comes three years and two retail detours after the series' last numbered outing, was one of the most-anticipated games heading into E3 2012. Ubisoft Montreal responded by showing up in a big way, with two separate press briefing demos and a third behind-closed-doors level. We saw the latter portion, which took place in colonial Boston... Oh, and it was being played on the Wii U.
Assassin's Creed III takes place over many decades during the 18th century, focusing on the seminal events that eventually lead to the American Revolutionary War. Ezio has come and gone, making room for Creed's new half-English, half-Native protagonist Connor. While Ubisoft has publicly gone to great lengths to portray Connor as a chameleon capable of taking either side depending on the situation, the demo we saw leaned decidedly toward the Redcoat-slaying end of the spectrum - our demonstrator didn't seem to get the corporate memo. As a descendant of British Loyalists, I hope my fellow Canadians at Ubisoft Montreal can capture the complex ambiguity of the conflict, resisting the temptation to take the Mel Gibson route.
As mentioned above, the behind-closed-doors demo took place in colonial Boston, during the 1773 British military rule of the city. This was the first time we had seen the signature Assassin's Creed formula of urban traversal in its new revolutionary context, and while it feels appropriately familiar, many subtle improvements have also been made. For example, Connor can make use of moving carriage hideouts, run through the interior of certain buildings, and strategically disguise his apprentices for the first time. In this case, Connor's comrades impersonated British soldiers in order to clear a military checkpoint and eliminate the Templar commander inside.
This scenario also provided Ubisoft Montreal with an opportunity to show off Assassin's Creed III's combat, which apparently features enhanced enemies behaviours - the hope is guards won't stand idly by during a frantic confrontation. In reality, the muskett-on-tomahawk duel they showed easily met the high animation standards Creed has set for itself, but the promised dramatic change in AI wasn't immediately noticeable.
It's certainly worth mentioning all of this Assassin's Creed III footage was running on Nintendo's upcoming console, the Wii U. Third-party support has been a hot-button issue for Nintendo in the past, so the significance of having one of Ubisoft's marquee "core" franchises on display at E3 cannot be understated. The Wii U version looked essentially identical to its PS3 / Xbox 360 counterparts, with sharp lighting, detailed environments and lifelike animations. In addition, the GamePad controller can be used as an enhanced map, removing some of the other HUD requirements. It's unclear whether Assassin's Creed III on Wii U will have any other unique functionality.
Bottom line: Assassin's Creed III is looking very impressive. Stay tuned for more coverage leading up its October 30th release on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC.