Monday, March 04, 2013
It's not often that a presentation kicks off with a brooding monologue delivered by Finchy (Ralph Ineson) from The Office. In fact, that pretty much never happens. Yet, it's exactly how Ubisoft chooses to open its big reveal of the inevitable fourth mainline Assassin's Creed game, the sixth in the series overall, or the seventh if you're counting the PS Vita spin-off. This, ladies and gents, is Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, an Assassin's Creed game that wants to draw upon all the strengths of the previous titles in the franchise, hence the introduction from Finchy, reflecting upon “the things we've seen, the people we've been” and so on.
We've certainly seen a lot during the course of all those games over the years, and superficially, Assassin's Creed IV looks a lot like Assassin's Creed III. You even play as Connor's grandpappy, Edward Kenway, a man who dresses in remarkably similar robes to his grandson and it takes place only 50 or so years prior to the events of the previous game. However, once we're taken through the ins and outs of Black Flag, we start to understand why Ubisoft has decided to slap a Roman numeral IV onto the end of this one. It looks like it could be raising the bar once again for the Assassin's Creed franchise. Don't roll your eyes like that! Listen... Or read, rather.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag sees you taking up the dual cutlasses of Edward in a world of pirates and high seas, fortune and adventure. There be no pirate cliches here though, me lad. Forget parrots, sea monsters and the like. “We're treating this era with the same historical reverence,” says Lead Content Manager, Carsten Myhill. “We will tell the true story of the golden age of piracy... It's not a Hollywood or Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island treatment... Truth in a way is much stranger than the more bombastic fiction.”
It's 1715 and you're a brash, handsome, cocky, ruthless, hard-drinking, hard-fighting son of a bitch. Edward Kenway sounds like he might be a bit of a twat, but apparently, he's also charming and charismatic (he's British, so of course he is), leading a crew of loyal men aboard his own ship, the Jackdaw. And having been trained by assassins, he's also good with a blade or anything that comes to hand for that matter. He's also exceedingly smart and resourceful, standing him in good stead among the larger than life characters he'll encounter during his journey around the islands and archipelagoes of the Caribbean.
Ubisoft is claiming that Assassin's Creed IV will be the “most varied” in the series yet, with fifty unique locations, centred around the three main cities of Havana in Cuba, with its European-style streets and rooftops, Kingston in Jamaica, which boasts valuable sugar cane and tobacco plantations to plunder, and the pirate haven of Nassau, where a strange kind of pirate democracy operates. You'll also visit fishing villages where you can repair and upgrade your ship, hidden coves where smugglers have stashed their loot, forts to infiltrate, Mayan ruins harbouring secrets and mysteries to be uncovered, coconut islands where you'll find marooned survivors to recruit as crew members, and inhospitable jungles bristling with flora and fauna.
You can even dive underwater, braving the sharks to look for treasure in sunken shipwrecks using a real-life diving bell that was used at the time. And with so much ocean to explore, naval warfare is back with a vengeance, except this time boarding ships is seamless, as you pull your ship closer to galleons using grappling hooks, giving you the chance to swing across, free-run your way over, or swim around the other side to get the jump on enemies. Upgrading the Jackdaw will be a constant concern, as you maintain both the galleon itself and your crew, as well as bolster its firepower and resilience. Without your ship, you're screwed and can't go anywhere.
And with storms to navigate, whales to harpoon, and oodles of exploration, you'll be spending a lot of time sailing the Jackdaw as Edward looks to cement his rep as a piratical badass, using his spyglass to seek valuable resources and loot on the horizon, while rubbing shoulders with the likes of the fearsome Blackbeard, the vicious Calico Jack, the feisty Irish lass Anne Bonny and gentleman pirate Ben Hornigold. One mission will even see you marooned on an island with the psychotic Charles Vane, with only a bottle of rum and a pistol between you. That should prove interesting, to say the least.
Other missions will see you taking on 42 Portuguese ships, seeing the beginnings of piracy on the trade routes between Europe and America in the New World as the wreck of the Spanish Armada is plundered for its spilled payload of gold, and an explosive escape from Nassau, as the Royal Navy strives to defend the trade routes from pirate activity. All of these events are based on actual historical occurrences, and all seek to fulfil Ubi's goal to “redefine the perception of piracy.”
Meanwhile back in the present day, (SPOILER ALERT) Desmond remains out of the picture, leaving you to take over his place within the Animus. And when we say 'you' we mean you. Yes, you. You reading this. You. Present day really will be present day too, and you'll have a place at Abstergo Entertainment where you'll become a part of the conspiracy that's been escalating since the first Assassin's Creed game. In essence, that means no more Desmond-type character (how that will affect the whole ancestry angle, we don't know) and no more doom-laden prophecies pointing towards the end of the world in December 2012. You may have noticed that December passed by without the planet exploding in a big fiery ball.
During Ubisoft's presentation, there's also a brief mention of multiplayer and its extension of the single-player campaign's “pirate fantasy”, with new maps, new modes and a new cast of characters. And that's all Ubisoft has to say on multiplayer for now.
Promising a “seamless open-world” and “the most varied world to explore” according to Creative Director, Jean Guesdon (a six year Assassin's Creed veteran), Assassin's Creed IV has to potential to deliver on Ubisoft's goal to create a “fresh, new experience”. On paper, it looks to be business as usual for the franchise, but once again, the scale of the ambition at work here is hard to ignore. With development starting back in summer 2011 and almost every Ubi studio pooling its resources into Black Flag, it's looking ship shape and Bristol fashion.
Concluding with a gameplay trailer that Guesdon assures us hasn't been photoshopped or tampered with in any way, we have to admit that Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is certainly looking like there's clearly life in the old dog yet. With the biggest AC world yet, vast oceans to sail, more advanced Naval Warfare, a new hero and pirates by the boatload, we're looking forward to plundering Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's treasures in fall 2013.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is out on October 29th in North America and November 1st in Europe on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.
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