Hype fatigue affects millions of gamers every year. Symptoms include negative forum comments, thumbing down of positive forum comments, and in extreme cases the victim can go as far as to cancel their pre-order. How Assassin's Creed III has avoided that state of jaded whatever is a miracle. Perhaps it was the peculiar controversies that kept us interested. "A game by a French publisher, in which you kill British people?" we sputtered into our crumpets. "We'll remember that the next time your Maginot Line fails to keep out the Hun."
And then there was Alex Hutchinson's mis-worded assertion that games reviewers who failed to hold Japanese narrative up to the same scrutiny as Western titles were being "subtly racist". Everyone knew what he meant, but the word 'racist' has a physical weight that requires dozens of outrage blog posts and weary thinkpieces to redress. If you ever wished that developers would speak more openly, remember what outcries when they do.
With all these distractions, it's a pleasure - actually, a relief - to get an extended play of the single-player campaign. We played the entirety of Sequence Six which, according to Alex Hutchinson, is "the point at which the game really begins to open up". It begins in Connor's base of operations, his Homestead in Davenport that's substantially larger and emphatically more sophisticated than Ezio's villa.
Your Homestead is an expansive area. It'll need to be, because this is the closest Assassin's Creed has got to an intricate German town-building game. Wait, come back - it's not actually like a German town-building game. As you roam the area surrounding your HQ, emergencies open up spontaneous missions. Completing these missions will win their agreement to lend their skills to your community.
The first thing we discover in Sequence Six is Miriam, a hunter. Rejecting the contemporary alternatives of convents or brothels, she embraced a life in the wild. When we find her, she's been attacked and injured by poachers, and after you carry her back to your house, it's time for revenge. Ubisoft says that Connor is driven by justice, not revenge. Call us bleeding-heart liberals, but when your idea of justice is killing five men for injuring a woman, the distinction gets a little blurry.
Motives aside, it's an opportunity to try out the newly introduced rope darts. Taking Connor into the trees (he can climb the knobblier ones), we stalk the poachers from the network of branches. The kill we've seen in all the videos - where Connor impales the soldier with the dart, then leaps out of the tree, hoisting them up like a screaming piņata, is the more dramatic kill. You can also slowly drag them in. It takes longer, but you get to stay up in the trees.
It's not immediately obvious, but shaping your hand into the familiar Assassin's Creed 'claw' is no longer necessary. That's the combination of right trigger and A button that caused Altair and Ezio to run full pelt across the obstacles in their path. You can still run like that, and it'll behave in roughly the same way, but now you can run with just the trigger held down, and you'll be in 'safe-running' mode. It addresses the less visually intuitive paths that you carve through the branches of the forest. In this mode, you won't be able to run off the end of something, and won't attempt a jump that isn't possible. You can move the thumbstick in the direction you want to go, and if you can go there, you will.
You'll still use A for more subtle manoeuvres. And besides, as my dear grandmother says, sometimes you really do want to jump off a building. But if you had any reservations about how easy it'd be to feel excellent up a tree, the safe-running button keeps you in the air, and also leaves your thumb free to twiddle with the camera.