Monday, 5 March 2012

The conclusion to the biggest videogame trilogy of this generation (no, the other one).

It's certainly taken us long enough to get here, but at last details on the climactic installment in the Assassin's Creed franchise are starting to flow thick and fast. After being confirmed by developer Ubisoft only a few days ago, here we get our first glimpse of the series' fresh setting, that of America in the throes of the Revolutionary War, and of out newest hooded protagonist, ostensibly named Connor.

George Washington himself seems to be making an appearance at the end of the clip here, begging the question of exactly how the backdrop ties in with the series' ongoing conflict between the Assassin brotherhood and the Templar order. Obviously we don't now much yet about story or motivations, which will doubtlessly be revealed in dribs and drabs as we inch towards the game's prospective release date of October 30th (I'll be disappointed if they don't do something with the Adam Weishaupt conspiracy theory though, that one's ripe for the picking). What we do know is that all of the dangling plot threads, including the journey of Desmond, the modern-day Assassin being made to relive the genetically inherited memories of his ancestors, are due to be tied up in this installment. Ubisoft kind of have to, after all; the end of AC2 tied the series' conspiracy obsessed narrative in with the events of December 21st, 2012, and as such, the series needs to explain its entire elaborate fiction before that date ceases to be in the future.

Gameplay-wise, this installment looks to represent something of a paradigm shift for the franchise, moving away from the densely packed, parkour-friendly European cities that have characterised proceedings until now and moving instead towards the natural environments of the American frontier. It looks to be going a little Red Dead Redemption, with emphasis placed on traversing and surviving unpopulated swathes of wilderness (one gameplay element is apparently killing wild animals for their pelts). All sounds pretty badass to me - Brotherhood and Revelations, while fun, often felt a bit claustrophobic, confining the player to Rennaissance Rome and Constantinople respectively, and this could be the breath of open air the series needs. And of course, the game looks great. Assassin's Creed has always been a handsome series, but in recent years it's lagged behind the very best of the best in terms of technical performance. No more, it seems. That entire trailer was made using the in-game engine, and in terms of the level of detail in environmental effects in particular, it just looks like a step up from previous entries.

All due respect to Mass Effect 3, but for me, this is the videogame event of 2012. Assassin's Creed is damn near the most intriguing and refreshing blockbuster franchise in all of gaming, and its continued success is one of those things that renews my faith in the taste of the consuming public. It's one of the few attempts at a story-driven, high production-value series of games that presents an alternative to the drab, monosyllabic uber-machoism that characterises most Western gaming and the syruppy, rainbow-vomit melodrama that's a staple of the Japanese gaming diet; offering characters who are badass and masculine while still being charismatic and likeable, environments that are colourful and pretty but still feel tangible and lived in. There has been criticism of the series' lack of innovation and forward movement over the course of the last two, non-numbered installments on both the level of story and gameplay, but I don't really see that as a problem. Returning to the universe of Assassin's Creed year on year has felt like watching successive seasons of a really well planned TV show, one that reveals its secrets slowly and deliberately, methodically building to that one big payoff.

Now that payoff is finally on its way. October 30th can't get here fast enough.