Hands-On With Assassin's Creed 3

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I’m a big fan of Assassin’s Creed 2; it’s one of my favorite games of this console generation, which probably had something to do with my excitement level after seeing the reveal of Assassin’s Creed 3 back in March. It looks like classic Assassin's Creed gameplay, and that’s worth celebrating. It isn’t focused on tower defense or anything like that; it’s simple and doesn’t require all that fluff.

As excited as I was with that small taste of footage, seeing the naval battles in Assassin's Creed 3 at Sony’s E3 press conference immediately dashed my hopes. I was afraid you wouldn’t have full control, that it would just be another gimmick; rest assured, I got some hands-on time with the naval battle sequences and they are just as good as they look. Earlier this month, Ubisoft flew me down to their offices in San Francisco for a look at how the ship-to-ship combat in Assassin's Creed 3 is shaping up.

It isn’t often that you find something in games so outstandingly beautiful that you can’t do anything but stare and soak it all in. That’s exactly what happened as soon as I took the wheel of a ship in Assassin’s Creed 3. I couldn’t help it; as I took cannon fire from nearby enemy ships, I watched the waves and how the ship reacted to them. It’s truly remarkable. It was hard to believe that it was running on anything current-gen, let alone just a PlayStation 3.

As waves crashed over the side of the ship, water spilled onto the deck, shipmates slipping as they tried to reload their cannons and move about the deck. Cannons fired from the enemy ships, sending cannonballs flying my way. As I braced for impact, they struck the ship. Particles of wood splintered from the mast and railing, leaving fire where they once stood, fires that were soon doused by the pounding waves.

As much as I wanted to stand there and watch the ship slowly fall to pieces until it finally sunk, I pulled myself out of it and turned the wheel. After bringing the sails from half-sail to full sail, the ship sped to life, tearing toward the enemy ships. This is where things got interesting, as I had to plan out my course of attack, making sure that the side of my ship would be facing the broadside of the enemy vessel at the exact right moment. It became almost a game of chicken (if extremely slow-moving chicken). When the enemy fired upon my ship, I almost felt the need to duck. The vision of dozens of cannonballs flying at you is terrifying; if I would have been on a real ship when this was happening, I would have jumped off and taken my chances swimming to shore.

I lined up my shot and took aim. Dozens of cannonballs shot from the size of my ship, making contact with the enemy ship. I pulled up the weapon select wheel and selected Heat Shot. I wasn't really sure what was different about it, but when it hit the other ship it caught fire much quicker, wreaking havoc on their ship's sails. Then there's the coolest weapon of all, the chain shot, that sent two balls chained together hurling toward the enemy masts. Instead of destroying them it wrapped around them, leaving them unable to gain air and rendering the enemy vessel handicapped. It was an interesting tactic that worked surprisingly well and allowed us to get up close and board them.

While we didn’t get to go aboard the ship ourselves, we did get to see what it looked like as Connor climbed aboard the enemy ship, signature tomahawk in hand. He was able to move swiftly, using the ropes and masts to swing toward his enemies. He even used a rope shot ability to hang an enemy soldier from the mast. Not content to leave anything standing, he shot a pile of explosives and started running toward the edge of the ship, managing to jump off just in time and escape off into the sunset. It worked extremely well and looks just as smooth as land combat does, which is very impressive.

It didn’t matter how much time I spent looking at my ship navigating between the beautiful islands, I was in awe. That feeling carried over to the combat, and I can’t wait to see more than this slice of gameplay. It feels genuine, and the sense of scale is massive; if this short sequence that we played is any indication, it’s safe to say that we can expect great things from Assassin’s Creed 3. We’ll have more coverage as we approach its October 30th release date.

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