Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag - First Look
Plunder ahoy, AC4 sets a course for the golden age of piracy
The undisputed historical heavyweight of action games is back, though it seems like only days since we were putting a tomahawk into some unfortunate British redcoat. This time a cutlass would be more appropriate, as the series moves back in time by 50 years to the Golden Age of Piracy. It's the early 1700s and with Spain and England having called a truce to their long war, many skilled privateers in the West Indies suddenly found themselves without respectable employment.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag (AC4) is a wholly new game in the AC series, with a new main character, a new setting and new seamless naval gameplay. The key point Ubisoft wanted to get across was how far it's come since the largely linear naval section in AC3; with the new game engine letting you freely explore land and sea without any loading in between.
You can run across the rooftops of British-controlled Kingston, leap down onto your boat, the Jackdaw, and take her out of harbour onto the open sea. The navigable are looks to be huge, centred around Cuba. Once out in open waters you could use your spyglass to spot a merchant vessel to plunder (presuming that defending Galleons aren't too close). Attacking it with Cannon, you bring your ship alongside and climb your rigging, jumping from one ship to the other you start to wreak havoc from above the swirling melee below, before taking out the captain and claiming the vessel.
It's blood-stirring stuff and it doesn't take much imagination, if you've played any of the Assassin's Creed games, to see how appropriate the setting and action are to the series.
In this blood-soaked era you play as Edward Kenway, a much-feared Buccaneer. Of course, he's also trained by and aligned with the Assassins; so as well as fighting for fame and fortune, he must also take on the Templars and their allies. Ubisoft promises that these twin objectives will not run in happy tandem, and the conflict therein will drive character development throughout the story. Whether he stands out any better than previous archetypal AC characters remains to be seen.
He’ll need an extra dollop of character if he's to stand alongside some legendary pirate figures. Blackbeard, Calico Jack and many more real-life swashbucklers will be central to the game's plot.
These characters, and a cast of hundreds of more minor figures, will be spread across some 50 locations on the open world map. As well as the big ports of Havana (Spanish), Kingston (British) and Nassau (a pirate freetown), there will be fishing villages and inland plantations to plunder, hidden coves and Mayan ruins to explore and miles-upon-mile of treacherous jungle. Forts can be attacked from the sea, using your ships cannon, or infiltrated from land by stealth.
Although it's an open world, your movements will be limited at times by powerful galleons of the Spanish and English navies – carrying up to 100 guns apiece. You'll need to upgrade the 60m long Jackdaw as you progress, from six cannons up to 56, and by adding mortars, explosive mines, swivel guns and even a diving bell. Yes there's even underwater exploration, allowing you to swim down and plunder wrecks in shallower waters. Ubisoft also hinted that whaling was on offer for those partial to a bit of blubber.
Your ship will be next-to-useless alone though, so you'll need to recruit and replenish a crew to man her as well. This should all add a nice RPG/management element to the game, one that will eventually let you take down the biggest foes and navigate the seas at will.
Pirates have been much in evidence of late, largely courtesy of the Pirates of Caribbean movies, and they're only going to get more so. NBC has an upcoming drama, Crossbones, set to air later this year and based in the same era and locations as AC4. Meanwhile, Michael Bay himself is making a high-budget TV swashbuckler - Black Sails – which is due to air in 2014.
So with Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag due to launch in late 2013 (Almost certainly november), it looks to be a bumper winter for fans of all things piratical. As to formats, Ubisoft will be releasing Black Flag on 'All possible formats' which currently includes PS4 and Wii U as well as PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 – and the next-gen Xbox is bound to be joining that list once it's been announced.
We think it's the most exciting-looking game in the series since the stir caused by the first outing; and we're looking forward to scuttling some poor merchants before the year is out.