On the PAX East 2012 show floor, I was ushered into a small, dimly lit screening room to preview the latest entry to Assassin’s Creed. Unfortunately, Ubisoft didn’t have a playable build of Assassin’s Creed III (it’s probably just a little bit too early for that to be a possibility), so they showcased a gameplay demo laced with commentary.

For the first time, Assassin’s Creed is taking place in the western hemisphere during a time period that really blindsided me–the American Revolution. I was expecting something in Africa or something else remote. But I suppose since every enumerated Assassin’s Creed has taken place on a different continent, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Ubisoft decided to change up the pace and move the setting of #3 to a new hemisphere altogether.

As you may already know, Assassin’s Creed 3 follows Connor, whose Native American name was far too many syllables for me to follow, a half-Native American, half-British assassin. Connor continues the assassin-y tradition of being a grade-A badass, armed with the assassin’s famous hidden blade, a tomahawk, and bow & arrow.

The demo starts off with Connor calmly stalking through a raging battlefield, which is revealed to be Bunker Hill. Recall from your high school US history classes that the Battle of Bunker Hill ended in a British Pyrrhic victory. The American militia were outnumbered, but managed to inflict over a thousand casualties while they only suffered a few hundred. They were forced to surrender to the Brits when they finally ran out of gunpowder.

As Connor continues to saunter through the field, muskets and cannons exploding around him, Ubisoft took the time to point out that Connor’s target is British Major Pitcairn. In Assassin’s Creed 3, the Templars and Assassins fall on both sides of the political conflict. On a technical note, they also mentioned that the past few games have only been able to support crowds of up to 200 “people.” In Assassin’s Creed 3, the number’s been boosted to 2500 to make battlefields feel much more “epic.” I wonder how Ubisoft’s managed such a feat without making your console or PC hate you when trying to render these crowds. At this juncture, a cannonball lands right in front of Connor, sending a jet of dirt directly into him. Connor flinches back and covers his face. Yes, the Assassin’s Creed team has also seen fit to make Connor react to the environment in order to make the game a more realistic experience.

In order to give the feeling that America was still a “New World” and rather unspoiled by industry, everything’s given an organic, green feeling. Rather than maps populated by man-made structures where an assassin could easily grapple onto window sills and roofs, the setting of Assassin’s Creed 3 shows off a lot of Mother Nature. In order to make climbing feel realistic without making it too “Tarzan”, Connor is able to run about on trees in a more “grounded” manner. For instance, rather than swinging from vines, Connor will jump tree to tree and will automatically wrap around tree trunks in order to get better holds when “standing still” on a tree.

Ubisoft also took a great deal of care to make the trees feel more like, well… trees, and less like “poles with branches and leaves” sticking out. The AC3 team modeled all the trees in the game to take on natural shapes. To demonstrate, the gameplay video showed Connor jumping onto a tree that splits in half. He lands with cat like grace at the middle of the juncture, using his hands to prop himself up against the two ends.

Cliff climbing is also very organic, as Connor can be seen using real-life rock climbing techniques, such as leaning his weight properly and putting his hands into each nook-and-cranny to pull himself up.

Combat on both the player and enemy side has been improved significantly. The enemy AI has been coded to attack in groups and patterns when the opportunity arises. For instance, when Connor ambushes a group of British soldiers, they immediately arranged themselves into a firing line. However, Connor has been endowed with a few new tricks that his ancestors didn’t have. A new “stalker zone” has been implemented, if Connor is within a certain radius of the target, provided that he is moving slowly, he will automatically duck down in order to avoid detection by the target and his minions. To take advantage of the trees and further empower players, Connor has new “predator combat” moves where he’s able to do things such as shoot rope darts and hang enemies from trees in a fashion reminiscent of an elevator executions in Hitman: Blood Money.

Finally, in order to encourage faster-paced combat that promotes escape from assassinations, Connor is able to assassinate on-the-go. The demo showed Connor lunging at Major Pitcairn, taking him down with a hidden blade to the throat, before dive rolling away and escaping.

There was no mention of Desmond or the modern day in the demo. I expect Ubisoft will keep all that under wraps for just a bit longer to promote hype when possible.

The amount of changes from AC: Revelations to AC 3 is certainly impressive. I really enjoyed the “organic” style of climbing that reflects the wilderness of a new country. However, one point of contention I do have is with Connor’s costume. In Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 (and the subsequent sequels), Altair and Ezio didn’t stick out too much with their white hoods, but with the fashion change of the times, Connor looks desperately out of place in the battlefield. Honestly though, such a complaint is so minor that I’m really embarrassed to even bring it up.

As has been the case since AC’s release, AC3 is a must-watch and probably a must-buy. It’s a nice change of pace after 3 years of following Ezio’s story to finally see a new chapter in Desmond’s ancestry.