"We're going to drop you guys into Memory Sequence six - that's about half way through the game," says Steve Masters, lead game designer on Assassin's Creed 3, who introduces my very first hands on with the game. "And basically, you can just do what you want from there". The rest is white noise. I've stopped listening.
No offence, Steve, but the enormity of trying to sum up the intricacies and key features of a game that lasts 25 hours minimum - with a game map that covers most of America's north-eastern coast - is grinding my mind to a fine powder. What's more, there's no context. As I sit, pad in hand, Connor Kenway stands in front of his homestead in Davenport, New York, just waiting for me to fulfil his destiny, to unpick the knotty Templar conspiracy that is bringing conflict to his home, and help him birth the new world via the cutting edge of his tomahawk.
Yet I'm clueless about what happened in Memory Sequence five. Has he just killed a British General turning the tide of war forever, or has he spent three hours hunting a deer in the woods so George Washington can have venison burgers for lunch? Given the lack of meaningful context or consequence to anything I can do, I decide to just behave like a dick. For three hours.
FREE AS A BIRD
Okay, that sounds more flippant than it is. A large part of Assassin's Creed 3 - as I quickly find out - is discovery and side-missions. While previous games provided concessions for those who wanted to explore beyond the central story, AC3 is the first in the series to go truly open-world. Here, you've got two cities (New York and Boston), sea battles, and a vast open expanse of New England countryside to explore. It's vast. No, really: VAST. The map itself is one huge area, and you can zoom out with L2 to reveal the entire north-eastern coast, or zoom in with R2 to see specific spots inside major cities. (We played it on PS3.)
The first thing I decide to do, though, is frolic in the trees. Connor's gaff is in the middle of some beautiful woodland, so I head into the nearest copse of trees to check out the new one-button free-running (just hold R1). He nips pleasingly quickly through the branches; it's effortless. Pretty soon, I spy a deer minding its own business, chewing grass. I put an arrow into its cute face (using L1 to aim and Triangle to shoot). It tries to run away, but collapses in a nearby stream, so I nip out from my vantage point and skin it. Deer meat, deer hide, deer marrow - delicious.
Now 'familiar with the controls', and with plenty of deer-based good to sell, I use fast travel (you can fast travel from anywhere) to go in search of Sam Adams in Boston, who can help me find out why some rich white guy is trying to mess with Connor's native village. I arrive at the docks, where a smattering of grimy men are hacking at things with pick axes.
I immediately pick the pocket of the nearest worker, yielding... a piece of charcoal. Oh. He seems upset, so I sprint around the corner and hide in a trusty stack of hay. From here you can whistle to attract attention, but there are no Redcoats around, so I quickly get bored and start heading towards the mission start marker on my mini-map.
On the way I bump into a crowd of people in the docks, and they ask in a fierce northern accent if I want a fight. The population of Boston seem more reactive than in previous games - some even taunt you because of your native Indian heritage. I sprint off, trying to avoid conflict and keep a low profile, but spot a viewpoint marker on my map and head towards that.
The building is easy to climb, and I'm at the top in seconds, pressing Triangle to synchronise the view. Boston appears authentic, but there are few distinct buildings - unlike the Florence of Assassin's Creed 2 and Rome of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. I dive off the top into a hay stack and carry on towards my meeting with Sam Adams.
He's expecting me, and we walk and talk through the streets of Boston. It's a familiar, gentle introduction to a fresh plotline, and the only rough stuff happens at the end of the walkthrough when Connor and Sam witness a Frenchman called Stephane Chapheau having his shop repossessed by a bunch of Redcoats. Unable to ignore the injustice, I get involved and butcher the Redcoats with my tomahawk.
Combat has been simplified too, just like the free-running. Connor automatically enters a combat stance, and attacks with Square. Counter-strikes are mapped to Circle, and you know when enemies are about to strike when an exclamation mark appears over their head. It seems the developers have been playing Batman: Arkham City.