Debuted at E3, Assassin's Creed III's naval warfare bits played second fiddle to the usual acrobatic display, as Connor swings between the trees and stalks deer through the snow. But at Gamescom, Ubisoft decided to put the seafaring shenanigans front and centre. Revealing a little bit more about how the huge galleons do battle on the ocean waves, our preview took us to the Caribbean Sea, where flanked by a fleet of enemy ships, it's time to do battle.
Decked out in authentic 18th century sea captain's regalia, Connor cuts an imposing figure behind the big wooden wheel of his battleship, while all around him on the deck below you can watch as his crew ready and load up the cannons, shouting and bellowing as the activity unfolds. With eight British galleons bearing down on his ship, Connor steers into position with the ship's cannons primed, as dynamically generated waves make turning and targeting more of a challenge.
While lining up your shots, holding the trigger brings up a targeting area that's projected across the ocean's surface, indicating where your volley of cannonballs will head when fired. Then it's just a case of letting go of the trigger and enjoying the fire and thunder of your ship's cannons, as they unleash payloads of heavy metal. There's several different types of cannon fire to choose from too, and you're able to choose your favourites from the weapons menu and map them to the d-pad for quick selection.
There's 'grapeshot' that you can use at short range to scatter damage across a wider area, 'heatshot' to set the enemy's decks alight and chain shots, that bind two cannonballs together. Send a chain shot hurtling through the air like a bolas and it'll shear through the side of a ship or tear through its mast, seriously crippling it in the process. Alternatively, there's the fast firing 'swivel shot' to consider, although what you gain in accuracy and speed, you lose in overall damage. Choosing the right kind of ammunition to use is all part and parcel of the strategy, as well as being in the right position at the right moment and cruising at the right speed, which in turn affects your ship's manoeuvrability.
Certain ships will also have weak spots that you can expose, which are then handily circled for you to target and exploit. Aiming for said weak spots is the quickest way to make short work of enemy galleons, though not necessarily the easiest, and can reduce the ship's mobility and accuracy with a few well-aimed shots. Obviously, Connor's ship is also vulnerable to attack, and when enemy fire rains in, you can press a button to brace for impact and hopefully lessen the damage. As the demo progresses, the sky grows increasingly blood red, and huge pillars of billowing smoke tower over the tempestuous waves. It's a truly epic sight to behold.
As Connor watches the last British galleon sink beneath the briny ocean surface, his ship enters a patch of almost impenetrable fog, where a ship harbouring a Templar target is hidden. As you edge closer to your objective through the fog, there's an ally ship to aid as a huge Man-Of-War vessel lumbers out of the mist. Ramming the Man-Of-War, Connor boards the ship with a typically suicidal bound, executing redcoats with his tomahawk, hidden blade and musket firing flintlock pistol. Connor's time on the Man-Of-War is pretty brief, as he's able to dispatch the British forces quickly and efficiently, before blasting a stack of gunpowder barrels exposed through a hole in the deck.
Running and leaping back to his own ship as the Man-Of-War erupts into flames and nosedives into the sea, Connor's berated by his second in command. “You mad bastard!” he bellows over the sound of explosions, pouring rain and swelling, salty waves, as Connor gracefully climbs back behind the wheel and the demo draws to a close. A demo filled with bluster and astonishing spectacle, it's clear that Ubisoft isn't wheeling out naval warfare in Assassin's Creed III as a simple sideshow. It'll be a fully-fledged part of the game, and it's been under development at Ubisoft Singapore for the last three years.
Initially, you'll play these seafaring sections during the story, but once you've unlocked them, you'll be able to dip into them at any time during the main game, like the tower defence bits in Assassin's Creed: Revelations. As well as the promise of jaw-dropping galleon battles on dynamically simulated oceans, you'll also be pleased to know that the tombs will be making a comeback for Assassin's Creed III and there'll be several of them to tackle. “We have amazing content planned for those,” says Ubisoft.
While the crux of Assassin's Creed III remains its organic, hand-built wilderness and its social stealth in and around the cities and principalities of America during the American Revolution, it's heartening to see how much effort and pride has gone into what is essentially a side quest component in Connor's adventure. AC III's naval battles are truly something to behold and further proof that the devil really is in the historic details that Ubisoft has mustered for its ambitious sequel. Truly, Assassin's Creed III is an undertaking of mind-boggling proportions, and with only a couple of months until the game releases, you can bet that it'll be a history lesson you won't want to miss.
Assassin's Creed III will be dropping history on your ass from October 30th, 2012.