They may be two of the most anticipated games of the year, but getting information or extended playing time with Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation has been like trying to get blood from a stone. Until now. Last week, I had a chance to get some quality hands-on time with AC III’s single player campaign and new multiplayer modes as well as AC:L’s campaign as Ubisoft transported me back to colonial Boston to help immerse us in this revolutionary experience.

AC III Single Player

We started with AC III’s single player campaign and were immediately thrown into a never before seen area of Connor’s world: the Homestead. Similar in many ways to Ezio and Monteriggioni from AC II and AC: Brotherhood, Homestead is Connor’s home base out in the wilderness. Acting as a bastion for Connor between missions where he can gather his thoughts, learn more about the Assassins, and also do favors for others in the wilderness, Homestead is a much deeper experience though than Monteriggioni ever was.

By doing side missions for friendly faces, NPCs will set up shop in and around the Homestead so Connor can trade goods, upgrade items, and perform many of the same functions that you did in Monteriggioni. Giving a little bit of back story to these side missions though allows you to build a deeper connection to these extra characters in AC III and even after just chasing some poachers out of the forest or collecting trinkets for a retired pirate, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the idea of directly influencing the start of a new community with Connor as the lead.

After making a few new friends in my little slice of the wilderness, I wanted to test out Connor’s ship skills and finally take a whack at the naval battles. Not only were there battles that could forward that aspect of the story, but it had its own set of side missions, or could just be used as a quick travel between port cities. But I wanted to blow some ships up and so I just jumped right on into the next mission in the naval story.

In the mission, I was tasked with escorting some merchant ships to port, and after disposing of some small British warships in my way and completing the primary objective of the mission, I found I had stumbled upon a larger Templar plot when a previously abandoned fort in Martha’s Vineyard was suddenly alive and bustling…and targeting my ship! As I switched from half mast to full, this after easily disposing of British mines in the churning waters of the cape, I began circling the fort, pummeling it with cannon fire until its three towers stopped trying to rain mortars and death onto my ship. The best part of this mission was just piloting the ship though as it didn’t feel like I was fighting the ship to maneuver it where I wanted and the cannon aiming mechanics were simple enough to quickly understand.

After docking my ship, I wanted to get into the main plot of the story. Walking around Boston, I was to meet with Samuel Adams and other Sons of Liberty. But I wanted to push Connor to his limits in a fight first. And the British weren’t exactly fans of me killing their soldiers in the middle of the street.

With my new favorite weapons, the rope dart and the tomahawk, I had the Boston streets running red with British blood by the time I was done. I began by pulling a sentry off a roof with the rope dart, and his death  alerted countless other red coats who then swarmed the town square. With the tomahawk, which is the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game that I preferred using a weapon that wasn’t the traditional hidden blade, I began hacking away at red coat faces, kneecaps, and anything that was within range of my righteous rage. I started by countering two guys at once and had them run each other through with bayonets before throwing my rope dart at a heavy’s feet to trip him up and then strike the killing blow in his neck with the tomahawk. Then, I would spin and roll over the back of another red coat, only to quickly whip around while he was off-balance and stab him in the back, grab him as he was dying, and use him as a meat shield as two other soldiers were now lining up rifle shots. Next, with the dead soldier’s rifle, I would take aim at the folks who just perforated their buddy, and take one out with a rifle, toss it away, and then take the other out with my pistol.

This is quite simply the most fluid combat system we’ve seen from this franchise and the bevy of options available to you in any given combat situation will blow your mind into itty, bitty pieces. I could not get enough of it and even after several hours play time, I was still seeing new animations, take downs, and maneuvers from Connor.

After taking part in my own little Boston Massacre, I knew it was time to actually see a little of the story and so I met up with Sam Adams at a bar, a fitting setting if there was one, and found out that my mission was to assist in the infamous Boston Tea Party. But first, I had to help an ornery French-Canadian chef named Stephane who was ready to wreak a little havoc on his own.

After protecting our friend from the north as he set out on his own personal crusade, I was pleasantly surprised that another feature from previous AC games was returning in that Connor gets recruits, and Stephane was the first. What has changed now is that each recruit has a much larger and detailed back story, much like the folks around Homestead, and so in order to help these characters feel more personal to Connor, there are only six recruits.

Another change is that Arrow Storm has been removed in order to help keep the game situations a bit more balanced once you begin unlocking your recruits. In its place, each of the six recruits has a special move besides assassinate. Stephane for example has ‘Riot’, which does exactly as it says and can incite a riot in order to help Connor move more easily through large open spaces. Another recruit has ‘Guard Post’, where the recruit can dress up as a red coat and help escort/sneak you through heavily guarded forts. Unfortunately, we’ll likely have to wait till launch to see what the other four recruits may have up their sleeves.

After I destroyed a lot of tea and killed a lot of red coats, the Ubisoft folks told me my time with single player was done and I needed to move onto multiplayer. Reluctantly (they had to pry the controller from my hands as I kicked and screamed, it took four guys), I left single player and moved into the multiplayer aspects of AC III.

AC III Multiplayer

So, many of the modes in AC III’s multiplayer are returning favorites in how to get your personal stab on, and so this section of the hands-on preview will focus only on the two new modes we saw and played: Domination in Versus and Wolf Pack Co-op.

Now, Domination is pretty much like Domination in every other game out there. You have three markers scattered about a map with the objective being to control these markers for the majority of the match and you score points every few seconds based on how many markers are in control by your faction.  The difference is its done with an Assassin’s Creed flair in that a capturing team cannot kill players who control the section, they can only stun them, and it takes longer to capture a point then it does for someone to recover from stun. This presents the interesting dilemma of knowing when to expose oneself, if at all.

The big draw for multiplayer this go around though was the Wolf Pack Co-op. In this mode, you and three friends attempt to perform as many assassinations as possible and each assassination is scored. By hitting certain point thresholds, the assassinations start to get harder and harder as you move through 25 point thresholds.

The most interesting twist here though is that by coordinating your assassinations with teammates, you can earn larger and larger point bonuses so balancing both quality and quantity is the only effective way to progress through the higher levels. Not to mention communication becomes critical. There are also special side missions that can add to the score and your experience if you can accomplish them with the most impressive being the multi-sync kill. This is where all four members of the team must lock onto their targets and execute them at the same time, triggering an impressive cinematic and massive score bonuses.

After several multi-sync kills and floundering a few times around level 19, it was time for me to move on to the bane of my sausage fingers’ existence: the PS Vita in order to play Assassin’s Creed: Liberation.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation

Admittedly, my experiences with the Vita have been less than stellar as gimmicks have polluted my favorite franchises left and right when they try adding chapters to their story via this handheld. But I was pleasantly surprised with my first time with Aveline. From assassinating Spanish lieutenants after scaling a massive ancient fort, to making costume changes faster than a Broadway lead, Liberation feels much like other beloved Assassin’s Creed adventures without forcing gimmicky controls on you. They are there, but they are options, not required, to advance through Aveline’s Louisiana.

Aveline’s combat and abilities also were a pleasant surprise as they rivaled that of Connor’s as she fluidly used her meat cleaver and various other tools to bring the pain to the Spanish who occupy and enslave much of her home. But the little bit of what we saw of Aveline’s story may have impressed me the most as she has an array of unusual allies and is torn between her sense of duty to the people, her own morals, and the Assassin’s order, which leads to a wide variety of missions for Aveline to perform. And watching how these all conflict with each other in the story is very intriguing.

There were some concerns though with certain aspects of Liberation. Possibly being spoiled from playing AC III first, I felt the AI of enemy troops was a little lacking in terms of reacting to Aveline and her actions, and her blow dart made her feel almost omnipotent as she could stealthily eliminate foes from a distance. She carries only a limited number of darts, of course, but when you only need one or two to carve a path through Spanish sentries, there was a lot less challenge it felt like.

I suppose part of the challenge as playing with Aveline though comes with her notoriety and the requiring of costume changes. Aveline’s Assassin garb has guards constantly on the lookout for her, whereas her slave garb has varying levels much like the other Assassin’s Creed games, and then her aristocratic garb has her always inconspicuous because no one suspects the lady in the flower dress. These costumes have their own unique positives and negatives, but if you’re like me, you welcome the challenge of constantly being under scrutiny from guards because the combat is so superb and so the Assassin garb was my primary choice.

When all was said and done after our trip up to Boston, the entire slate of everything we saw involving Assassin’s Creed blew me away. Liberation seems like it’ll be the first game for the PS Vita that I’ll thoroughly enjoy and AC III is quite simply a game changer for the franchise and possibly action/adventure games as a whole due to the most immersive and detailed story yet, plethora of side quests, and fluid combat system. After getting my first taste of these two games, I know I for one cannot wait to embody the spirit of revolution come October 30th and play as both Connor and Aveline in what are shaping up to possibly be the best AC games yet.