Assassin's Creed 3: The Wii U revolution
16th Apr 2012 | 17:26
From the moment Ezio Auditore's uncle bellowed 'Ezio! It'sa me - Mario!' in his Italian baritone in Assassin's Creed II it was destined that the historical stealth series would eventually arrive on a Nintendo console
And no, we don't mean those flimsy excuses for the franchise on DS. White hoods and hidden blades alone do not an Assassin's title make. They certainly help, but looking beyond the chiselled jawlines this is an open world so rich in history and grand in scale that a console is the only way to experience its sandbox of magic. And Assassin's Creed III on Wii U will do nicely thank you.
It's surprising that it's taken this long for the series to land on a Nintendo console. Although on the surface this looks like a stealthy stabathon that doesn't need much of a story other than 'You! Poke him with your pointy wrist thing', Assassin's Creed is driven by a narrative of baffling scale. From ancient first civilisations and the seriously evil Knights of the Templar, to a machine that lets you replay the memories of your genetic ancestors, AC is frankly barmy, and fits into Nintendo's world like a certain foot into a glass slipper.
And that's before we even mention the free-running, the ancient artefacts that can enslave minds and an enormous evil science corporation with more than its fair share of dirty laundry. Yet of all the places to start, is the fifth console title really the best place for Nintendo gamers to join the saga? Should we even care about new character Connor and his role in the American Revolution? The answer is happily a world of yes.
First off, the American Revolution is a fascinating setting for the first proper open-world sandbox on a Nintendo platform. The latter half of the 18th Century was filled with years of bloodshed as America was born as a nation. "The American Revolution is a key historical event for the world, not just for America," explains creative director of Assassin's Creed III, Ubisoft's Alex Hutchinson. "For Britain, the old joke was that the Revolution was a civil war fought on foreign soil. For Americans, obviously it's the founding of their nation, and for the rest of the world it's the beginning of events that created the dominant super power of the last hundred years."
The Revolutionary War was long and deadly, with troops on both sides freezing in bitter winters as they battled with sub-standard weaponry. As a historical setting, the War is relatively untouched by both games and movies - unless we count The Patriot, and the less we say about that, the better. "The interesting thing for us too is that the story we are telling is Assassins vs Templars," explains Hutchinson, "You aren't fighting for the Americans, you're killing Templars."
But who is the leading man in the midst of all of this? Connor, or Ratohnhaké:ton of the Mohawk Tribe, is the third historical Assassin to have his memories revisited within the series. Anancestor of 21st Century Assassin Desmond Miles, Connor's life can be replayed using the Animus, a machine that enables genetic memories to be viewed and explored in three dimensions. (See the 'Assassin's Creed 101' box (right) for a quick beginner's guide to the series.) If dinosaurs can be bred from the DNA found inside mosquitoes then of course DNA has a memory...
The successor to AC's Altair Ibn-La'Ahad and ACII's Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, Connor is born of British and Native American parents and finds himself embroiled in the tumultuous American Revolution. "With Connor we wanted to create a new and unique hero who was clearly different from previous Assassins, and hopefully from most other videogame protagonists," explains Hutchinson, "While Altair was driven by duty and Ezio by revenge, Connor is a man driven by a strong desire to do what's right. He fights injustice wherever he sees it. Whether it's the oppression of his people, the British rule of the colonists or the threat of the Templars."
Connor's Native American background means that his combat is entirely unique for some red coat slaughter. Aside from the iconic retractable hidden blade worn by all Assassins, he's accessorised his uniform with more traditional tools from his heritage. A bow and a tomahawk are just two of the weapons that are used by Assassin's Creed III's new combat system. Weaponry is now dual-wield where previously combat was dependent on primary and secondary weapons. This upgraded mechanic allows for both tools to be used simultaneously in a free-flowing bout of carnage.
"Rebuilding the combat system allowed us to bring in new weapons like the bow, and try to make it more fluid than ever," explains Hutchinson, "Connor can perform what we call running assassinations, where he can assassinate people in full sprint without losing speed."
It is this opportunity for speed that Assassin's Creed is known so well for. With huge open worlds for the parkour-skilled Assassins to hurtle across between missions, the series has given players the ultimate freedom whether they're in 12th Century Damascus or Renaissance Florence - ACII had Ezio using Basilica San Marco in Venice as a mere climbing frame. Free-running across historical skylines has always been an exhilarating experience and one that has only improved here. The setting may have changed drastically from the Crusades and the Renaissance but 18th Century America still had cities and, as well as Boston and New York, ACIII brings a new location to the series in the shape of a wilderness map known as the Frontier.
"It's a huge environment," stresses Hutchinson. "This is not just a park or asmall area. It's a huge space. Within it we have historical locations like Valley Forge, small towns like Lexington and Concord, Connor's village and more: it's as dense a location as cities were in previous AC games, with many of our core story missions taking place in it." It is in this Frontier that Connor is in his element. Climbing rockfaces and running through the treetops as he hunts his prey, he's as at home in the natural world as previous Assassins were in cities.
"Our goal was to completely rebuild the climbing system from the ground up, with brand new functionality," explains Hutchinson, "Connor can move through complex branch and tree formations easily, and can pause at any time to assassinate targets from above." Our main man is a stealthy predator and one that delivers the ultimate level of freedom in this brand new location.
A condensed version of the American North East, the wilderness is made up of forests, lakes and mountain ranges and is, in another first for the series, packed with animals. Bears and wolves are among the beasts lurking here, and don't go thinking you're in Disney territory - these are dangerous creatures that can easily get feisty when agitated. Offering additional gameplay objectives, interaction with animals will involve hunting, tracking and killing across the wilderness.
Choosing to hit Yogi Bear with a clean headshot could give you access to a shooting club with its own mission objectives. "We've allowed players to layer their own experience," enthuses Hutchinson. "You can now have more than one active mission at a time, and more than one task on your plate so people will be in more control of how they play their game."
So far, so PS3 and Xbox. But where does the Wii U fit into all of this? At last year's E3, the senior technical architect at Ubisoft, Marc Parenteau, was quizzed on how the just-announced Assassin's title would use the new features of the Wii U. At the time not even confirming whether the title would be a new addition to the series or a port of a current title, Parenteau managed to be suitably vague, but also suggested some rather interesting ways that the Wii U could (for which we now read: totally will) use the brand new interface.
"Assassin's Creed on Wii U will expandthe franchise and add some new features that can only happen on this console," he explained. "The multi-core architecture on the console is a natural fit for our in-house HD Anvil engine." We now know that Assassin's Creed III will run on the Anvil Next engine, a considerable step up from its original engine. Among other powerful new features, Anvil Next allows 2,000 NPCs to be on screen at the same time compared to a now paltry 100 in previous Assassin's titles. With battles playing a major part in the new game, it means that the first armies for the series are certainly not limited in size.
The new engine has also allowed for a full weather system to be implemented. Much like walking along a street in the UK, rain, snow or fog will change the way that Connor interacts with the environment. "Weather is more than art for us," states Hutchinson. "Preparing for winter was a challenge for people in the 18th Century and wasn't something we could ignore in this setting. Each of our maps has both a winter and a summer version that will push the player to change their strategy, climbing trees to avoid being slowed by snow on the ground, or hunting enemies who are struggling to navigate through the frozen forest."
The cities of Assassin's Creed have alwaysbeen a defining feature. Packed with side missions, shops to renovate and buy from, and full of crowds of people to interact with, the cities are living, breathing entities. The processing power of Wii U means that the increased crowd size and detail within New York and Boston will be a perfect fit for the HD console.
So we're sorted in terms of processing power, but what are we going to use that shiny new controller for? "New hardware brings us to be more creative. We've been experimenting and prototyping a number of different things," teased Parenteau. "The Assassin's Creed Animus has many elements that are a natural fit on the controller screen, and they can be used in a variety of different contexts depending on what the player is doing."
The first tease was the controller being used as a persistent on-screen map. "If you are navigating, it's natural to look at an onscreen map on your controller," Parenteau suggested. "If there are database entries that can pop up, you could also display them on the screen and it won't disturb your gameflow." As a navigation tool, the controller would be an excellent fit for ACIII as maps are bigger than ever and aguide would both be a handy tool and an immersive gameplay mechanic.
In terms of database entries, as well as being a miraculous memory-exploring device, the Animus is also an encyclopaedia of historical information. Full of interesting facts about buildings and time periods, it also contains character biographies. On other consoles, these info bites are often cast aside as the option gets in the way of gameplay. But if it appears directly on your controller then it'll certainly be a great way to find out a little more about George Washington before you head into battle with him.
So, map and information - this we like. But surely there's more to come? "In a combat setting we could have weapon selection, and since we have two screens it's a good way to display an alternate view," teased Parenteau. "We could have a normal view on the TV screen and use the controller for the Assassin's Eagle Vision." Now this is juicier.
The dual-wield combat system is something that would clearly lend itself to being quickly edited by a touch of the controller screen as bloody carnage plays out on screen. A host of weaponry at the touch of a finger is certainly not an unattractive prospect. Also, Eagle Vision - a sixth sense used by Assassins to give them a different view of the world around them - could be a very successful mechanic on the controller. Rather than simply viewing on the screen with analogue sticks, using the in-built accelerometer would be an intuitive way of exploring the Assassins' world more deeply.
As the first taste of the grand opportunities offered by Wii U, Assassin'sCreed III is mind blowing. An epic sandbox with a whole world of history to explore and experience, Connor's world is just begging to be entered and thoroughly rummaged through. "We're investing more in mission variety and custom mission events than ever before in a story that takes place over 30 years," enthuses Hutchinson. "We can't wait to get it into people's hands." And we can't wait to get our hands on the finished game.
ASSASSIN'S CREED 101
A newcomer's guide to the series' key players
The modern face of the Order of the Templars, the corporation hunts through the past for the ultimate weapons of control, the Pieces of Eden. These guys rival Resident Evil's Umbrella Corporation for nasty.
A machine developed by Abstergo, it replays the memories of ancestors using a subject's DNA. An upgraded Animus 2.0 was built by the Assassins in ACII and has been updated again for III. But it's not without its side effects: subjects have been driven insane with over exposure.
Assassins, Brother-hood of
Fighting for the rights of individuals to be able to govern themselves, the Assassins battle the oppression that the Templars so desperately desire. Identified by their hooded garb and hidden blade, they are stealthy freedom fighters.
Son of a Florentine banker in the 15th Century, Ezio became an Assassin after the murder of his father and brother. His story is followed in ACII, Brotherhood and Revelations.
Eden, Pieces of
Ancient artefacts with the power to control human minds, these are the reason Abstergo sent Desmond and others into the past. Apples of Eden are a similar artefact that can store information as well as the handy enslaving feature.
A genetically inherited sixth sense that enables Assassins to see an enhanced version of the environment - albeit with a slightly off-putting blue tinge.
Ibn La'Ahad, Altair
Based in Masyaf, 12th Century Assassin Altair is the author of the Codex, a history of the Assassins and an encoded map of a series of mysterious temples across the world he saw via an Apple of Eden.
Brought up as an Assassin in a remote camp near New York, Desmond escaped to New York City where Abstergo kidnapped him. Forced to replay the memories of ancestor Altair Ibn-La'Ahad via the Animus in AC, his escape is facilitated by Lucy Stillman, an Assassin mole. With the help of a small group of Assassins, he continues to journey into the past to locate the Pieces of Eden before the Templars find them.
Templars, Order of
Throughout the centuries, The Templars have sought power and control over civilisation.
Those Who Came Before
An ancient first civilisation who enslaved humans, these mystical creatures created the Pieces of Eden. Wiped out by a solar flare, they appear to have been able to manipulate space and time, which means that from the past they've helpfully been able to let Desmond and co know of their existence and how to stop the end of the world.
Predicted by those pesky Mayans, the end of the world approaches in the form of a solar flare. Those Who Came Before have told of a vault that contains their potential solutions to the rather serious problem. It may or may not be located in New York. We wonder where 18th Century Connor is...
THE WORLD OF ASSASSIN'S CREED
The where, why and what of the series so far
The Middle East
(Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed: Revelations)
During the 12th century, the citadel of Masyaf in Western Syria was the headquarters of the Assassin Brotherhood. On the instruction of the head of the Brotherhood, Al Mualim, Altair Ibn-La'Ahad journeyed to Jerusalem, Damascus and Acre on the hunt for nine Templars.
While on his stealthy killing spree, Altair discovered the existence of an Apple of Eden - an artefact so powerful that the one who wielded it could control the minds of those around them. Unluckily for Altair, it turned out that Al Mualim was secretly a Templar and had been using the Apple to control more than half of the Brotherhood for quite a long time now. Returning to Masyaf, Altair overthrew the traitorous Al Mualim and took the Apple of Eden for safekeeping.
Not just an Assassin but also a prolific writer, Altair also wrote a handy Codex on a history of the Brotherhood, but also included a map that had been revealed to him via the Apple of Eden. After constant conflict to keep it in his possession, Altair left the Apple locked in a library, only accessible with five keys that were sent to Constantinople with Maffeo Polo (yup, that's the father of Marco)to be hidden.
(Assassin's Creed II, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood)
Throughout the 15th Century, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze travelled between the beautiful Renaissance cities of Florence and Venice on his quest to overthrow Templar rule. Pieces of Altair's Codex had been scattered across Italy and Ezio pieced them together to find out more about the history of the Assassins. Discovering a second Apple of Eden in the possession of Pope Alexander VI (AKA Rodrigo Borgia), Ezio journeyed to Rome to reclaim it for the Assassins.
However, the Borgias took revenge and destroyed Ezio's home villa of Monteriggioni when stealing the Apple back. Brotherhood was set solely in the sun-drenched city of Rome as Ezio took his revenge on the powerful and incestuous Borgias. The continued tug of war resulted in Ezio reclaiming the Apple and hiding it deep underneath the Coliseum, where Desmond and his fellow Assassins found it in the 21st Century. Phew.
(Assassin's Creed: Revelations)
Revelations took Ezio to the city of Constantinople. The crossroads of east and west, the bustling city was under political upheaval as the Ottomans and Byzantines fought over the right to rule. On the hunt for the keys to Altair's library in Masyaf, Ezio also travelled to the city ofCappadocia.
(Assassin's Creed III)
The birthplace of DesmondMiles, the USA waspinpointedon the map builtinto Altair's codex. Somethinglies beneath NewYork that the 21st Century Assassins must find. With Connor visiting 18th Century Boston and New York during the American Revolution, we shall have to see what he discovers and what that means for the Assassins in the future.