Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag Preview
After five instalments to a franchise already under your belt, you have to wonder where the developers could possibly take the story of the Assassins versus Templars next. Many different eras have already materialised before our eyes with the help of Desmond’s ancestors and his magical Animus, but with the now infamously leaked Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on the horizon (yes, that’s a pun because it’s pirates) we can for the first time enjoy a game based solely on the ship mechanic we all surprisingly wanted more time with from Assassin’s Creed III.
So what are we doing on a ship, pray tell, rather than running through the city streets of a European country, or trudging through snowy forests on the verge of revolution? Well, it’s 1715, so 40 years before the story of Assassin’s Creed III begins, and we’re in the Caribbean. Many a Johnny Depp tale will prompt you directly to pirate folklore, although according to Ubisoft this won’t include the fairy-tale scallywags we’ve grown accustomed to at the cinema. With Black Flag comes raw story telling – pillaging and plundering without the childish comedy attached.
For the first time in Assassin’s Creed history, we have actually stepped back in time from the previous title, rather than stepping out into a chronologically ordered adventure. What’s interesting is we get to walk in the undoubtedly sand-filled boots of Edward Kenway. Yes, Kenway – Haythem’s father no less. You know, that guy from Assassin’s Creed III that we had to endure playing as for that slightly too lengthy introduction, before finally getting our hands on Connor. Our new ‘hero’, Edward, is an English pirate captain, revered by his contemporaries, and feared by the masses – even the legendary Blackbeard speaks highly of him. He also appears to like a lady or two for company.
Armed with a total of four flintlock pistols, two cutlasses and of course the notorious hidden blades, Edward Kenway could well be the most fortified assassin to date. Seemingly untouchable, he is the captain of a ship known as the Jackdaw, and with picturesque locations reminiscent of Farcry 3 you can sail around to your heart’s content, finding hidden treasure and causing piratey mischief.
Using the sailing mechanics utilised in Assassin’s Creed III’s naval missions, the aim appears to be to take on other vessels and towns in up to ’50 unique locations’. From what we saw at the presentation, and from the trailers now launched, these will include desert islands, jungles (where we will most likely be able to climb through trees and hunt slightly more exotic animals than deer and rabbits), hidden ruins, coves, and of course major towns and cities of the time. Upgrading your ship with different ammunition and equipment is vital, and will hopefully add more longevity with the game, as you try to create the perfect war-ship.
While fighting in ship-to-ship combat on the high seas, we can pretty much expect a similar scenario to the warfare played on Connor’s ship, the Aquila. Added to this is promised seamlessly boarding and ambushing opponent vessels, with the option to advise your crew on how to take action. Different missions may mean a change of strategy, and as Edward you will be able to decide on various routes to complete your objective. Maybe you need to sneak around the side of the ship and take your enemy by surprise, or maybe you need to run in, guns blazing with your crew. The choice, it seems, will be yours.
Another addition to the Assassin’s Creed gameplay will include diving beneath the water, to salvage treasure from the depths. It doesn’t look like easy pickings though; Edward will be up against sharks, stingray and whatever else is lurking under the waves. Again, this is another gesture towards the Assassin’s Ubisoft cousin – Farcry. It’s a step in the right direction for changes in the franchise, as one main gripe gamers have is that although they have been solid games, the gameplay has been somewhat repetitive, so hopefully adding elements like diving will bring with it a new lease of life.
As for the present-time action, it seems we have lost Desmond somewhere in those mystical caves with the weird alien-gods. Although we’re still playing as one of his ancestors, it appears we the gamer will now take up the role of the researcher instead of the slightly dull lead and his over the top, cocksure team. This could be in the guise of mass social media challenges, as there was no ‘character’ as such shown in the presentation. Only time will tell with that one, although from previous experience with the games prior, the present story was always left as somewhat of a secret until launch.
Not much was shown about multiplayer thus far, although we can expect something in the same ilk as previous titles. We will, however, be sure to see ‘exotic themed maps’, and of course a crazy assortment of characters to choose from. Let’s hope there’s some multiplayer based solely on the ships – taking out a friend on the open seas seems highly satisfying.
Although I am a huge Assassin’s Creed fan, and don’t get me wrong I am excited about Black Flag, I just hope that there’s enough changes and adaptations to the game’s mechanics to keep it fresh and exciting – not just ‘another Assassin’s Creed’. It seems the majority of your time will be spent on your ship, sailing around islands and creating your own adventures, which is something we have yet to really experience in the franchise. It will be interesting to see how fans (and those who may have lost interest) react to a new idea like this. I’m also intrigued to see this ‘dark side’ of Kenway that’s hinted at in the original trailer, through Blackbeard’s narrative… oh, and there are whales. Huge, ship-engulfing whales.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is due out at the end of October this year, on ‘all available consoles’, including next-gen (so PS4 and possibly whatever Microsoft decide to announce). There will also be exclusive content for Sony customers, although details are not yet available. Is this one to look forward to, or are we pretty much done with the Assassin franchise as gamers?