Published on August 15th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
Avast! We Go Sailing in our Assassin’s Creed III Hands-On Preview
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC, Wii U
Release Date: Oct. 30, 2012 (Wii U TBA)
It was recently made aware that tree hopping and redcoat stabbing is only a few of the things that Connor, the lead of Assassin’s Creed III, is able to do. Connor’s wandering range in the game is not limited to the original 13 colonies; as the captain of his own ship, the entire Eastern seaboard is his to explore.
The game itself spans approximately 30 years of Connor’s life and at one point, he commanded a ship capable of battle. Recently I was able to put on the pointy captain’s hat and take Connor’s warship for a cruise.
The ship itself isn’t particularly large–it’s built like a brigantine, but handles like a schooner. At least I think it does. My nautical experience doesn’t reach far beyond flying out of inner tubes and skidding over water like a tubby seal being fired out of a cannon.
The ship cuts through the rough blue sea with ease and the speed can be controlled at the press of a button, in which Connor orders his crew to bring the sails to half or full mast.
As soon as I got my bearings straight with the controls, my target made its appearance. A second boat appeared and Connor gave the order to chase it down, but to not have it harmed. The opposing vessel however did not share the same sentiment, as it fired its cannons as soon as I drew close. Without warning, two other ships appeared to protect my target. This was starting to get more complicated.
Luckily for me the two ships that appeared were not part of my target list; their destruction would pose no problem.
Captaining the ship in Assassin’s Creed III is not meant to be a simulator so most of the technical stuff, such as reloading, is done automatically. You can change between ammo types quickly in a weapons wheel, but in the case of the two newcomers, I stuck with regular cannonballs.
To use the cannons you have to hold down the “fire cannons” button. While holding it down a wide path of white appears over the water, designating the path of the cannonballs. There is a slight delay in cannon fire once the button is released. The trick is to release the button when enemy ship is just breaching the fire range, which will result in the most amount of damage. Another approach is to sail to the side of the ship while heading in the same direction. This will result in more damage, but it also means that the enemy has the same opportunity to do just as much back.
As the battle began, the calm blue waters of the Atlantic darkened as a storm began to rage overhead. High waves began to obstruct my targeting, but on the reverse, the ocean swelled at some moments just in time to stop a volley of cannon fire from reaching me. The fight was like a high stakes chess game, where one wrong move could mean the difference between knocking out your opponent or eating cannonballs for breakfast.
Another weapon in your ship’s arsenal is the swivel gun. This weapon was mounted on the ends of the ship and can be fired far more quickly than the regular cannons. It only did a little damage with each shot, but the guns could be aimed manually which made it easy to fire off a few rounds between clashes.
The ships displayed some realistic battle damage over time. As cannonballs ripped into decks, large holes and small fires appeared, giving the sense of intense battle.
Once I took out the other ships I was able to focus on my original target. Using the weapons wheel, I switched my ammo type to the bar-and-chain shot and, with only a few misfires, took out the rigging, crippling the opposing ship. As I drew close, the game cut to a video showing Connor prep himself for some close-quarters action. He told his crew to fight off the enemy, but the target was his alone. Sadly I didn’t get to witness the final fight, but I have a feeling I know how it ended.
The naval battle is but one small element that will make up the whole that is Assassin’s Creed III, but I’m glad that Ubisoft Montreal included it. It’s challenging and though I may not be the greatest captain of the queen’s navy, I had a blast exchanging fire on the rough seas of the Atlantic. The physics powering the ocean through calm or storm are impressive, as are the smaller details such as the wind whipping the rigging and filling the sails.
The addition of a ship brings something new and refreshing to the series and I look forward to seeing what else Ubisoft plans to do with it. I hope to experience something beyond just chases and battles, as a man with a ship in his command would certainly have the explorer’s itch.