When we first meet Connor Kenway, he's perched on a tree in the middle of a thick, snow-covered forest. This is the Frontier; a vast area of countryside that connects the game's two main cities, Boston and New York. It's bigger than the entirety of Brotherhood's Rome, and densely packed with trees, mountains, rivers, camps, and forts.
Developer Tommy François is controlling our hands-off demo - running in real-time on PS3 - and he spins the camera around, showing off Connor's hyper-detailed character model.
Ubisoft Montreal's costume design has always been impeccable, and Assassin's Creed III is no different. Connor's military coat is pure 18th Century colonial chic, and colourful patterns on his bow and quiver hint at his Native American ancestry. We also notice a flintlock pistol tucked into a holster, and a tomahawk (shaped like the iconic Assassins symbol) hanging from his belt.
Connor begins to move through the forest, and the animation is stunning. He leaps between trees effortlessly, ducking under low-hanging branches, and edging through narrow gaps in the foliage. To reach higher ground, he'll sometimes leap from a tree to a nearby rock face and clamber up. Ubisoft hired professional climbers to make the animations as authentic as possible, and it shows.
François drops from the trees briefly to show us the new snow effects. Some areas are covered in a light powder that you can run through without any problems, but when it gets deeper, your movement is impaired. Connor slows down as he struggles through a waist-high drift, carving a trail behind him. It isn't just for show, either; you'll be able to follow footprints to hunt down assassination targets.
It's always quicker to travel through the trees - and safer. As Connor treks through the snow, we hear an almighty roar. A black bear, twice his size, rears up and flashes its claws. It's about to come crashing down on Connor, but before it gets the chance, he flicks out his hidden blade and plunges it into the beast's heart, killing it.
The Frontier is crawling with wildlife. Animals can be hunted and harvested for resources, like meat and pelts. François made a point of telling us that Ubisoft had come up with this idea long before it appeared in Red Dead Redemption, and there are a few differences. Unlike Rockstar's game, the value of materials is affected by how you kill your prey. If you shoot a deer with a musket rifle, its pelt will be damaged, and it'll lose some of its value. But if you use a blade to perform a 'clean' kill, the skin will be worth a lot more.
With the bear dealt with, Connor continues through the forest. He approaches a sheer cliff and begins to climb. The way he reaches for outcrops and footholds to pull himself up looks impressively natural. When we reach the top, we're treated to a dazzling vista that stretches for miles. The view's made even more spectacular by the new, minimalist HUD; the top of the screen's now entirely menu-free, while health and ammo counts are incorporated into the mini-map and weapon icons respectively, GTA-style.
François assures us that everything we see can be explored. In the distance we can make out a tall mountain, a winding river, what looks like a small town, and an endless sea of trees. It makes the rural sections of Assassin's Creed II look laughably tiny.