What does it take to become an Assassin's Creed posterboy? Well, there are obvious surface themes: an exquisitely tailored cowl, impassive pouty lips, copious leather belts, the legs of an ostrich, the grip of a Burmese python. But pull back the hood, turn on the spotlight, and the franchise's leading men are an oddly dissimilar bunch.
Altair is an austere customer, with little time for pleasantries. Ezio is considerably warmer, scarred by the loss of his family early in Assassin's Creed 2, and has plenty of time for pleasantries when they involve the fairer sex. And Connor, Assassin's Creed 3's lead? He's a world apart, and perhaps the franchise's most interesting frontman yet.
"Not to ruin anything, but there's the idea that Altair is an assassin who's driven by duty," comments Alex Hutchinson, creative director. "Ezio is a character driven by revenge. We wanted someone who was fresh. We wanted a character who was more earnest, more real, a character with more depth."
Connor's depth is partly the result of intense internal contradictions. Also known by his birth name, Ratohnhaké:ton, he's the son of a Mohawk woman and an Englishman, and Assassin's Creed 3 charts his life from early youth to the prime of adulthood. As the game begins he's a neutral, leading a peaceful existence in a backwoods village, but all that changes when white colonists burn the settlement to the ground. "You will go from his birth, through the motivating factors that drive him to join the Assassins, through the American Revolution and finally to a resolution," Hutchinson explains.
When Ubisoft announced the game, some British players feared a spate of classic Hollywood jingoism was in store. The Assassin's Creed 3 cover art certainly reinforces that impression: it shows Connor clamping one hand around a fallen redcoat's throat, a continental Stars and Stripes billowing in the background. But Connor's no Limey-basher.
"He's someone who helps the revolution because he thinks it's the right thing to do," Hutchinson goes on. "He helps his people because he thinks it's the right thing to do. He doesn't really hate the people on the other side.
As clear and unambiguous as this sounds, Ubisoft expects plenty of scepticism about the game's politics. "We know we're going to fight that argument of which side he's on until the game comes out and people realise he's not on any side. He's just fighting the Templars."
The strongest test of Connor's impartiality may be how he handles other Native Americans. "Not only is he trying to help the Assassins defeat the Templars," Hutchinson notes, "but he's trying to save his own people and give them a place in the new America." It's an endeavour that's doomed to failure, of course, and allowing players to feel like they've made a difference regardless will be a tricky business. "The problem with a narrative embedded in history is that the players know what happens."
Ubisoft has been characteristically meticulous in its research. Hutchinson is careful to distinguish between the Mohawks and other tribes, and his team has steered well clear of certain regrettable "cowboy and injun" clichés. There's no scalping, for instance. "It was hard to imagine Connor killing people and scalping them just for the fun of it. Also it's not very accurate, the Mohawks were not scalpers."
Fire up our Assassin's Creed 3 hub for more on combat, the wilderness, cities, the new graphics engine and our first gameplay eyes-on.