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Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Preview

A voice actor stepped onto a smoke-filled stage, flanked by a giant screen with two assassins lurking in the ramparts. His gravelly voice urged us to remember the places we've seen and the people we've been, in the most dramatic way possible. 'Remember' was the key word in his narration of the series' history, and I couldn't help but think to myself: it's hard not to remember, we have been remembering every year, FOR FIVE YEARS.

His monologue was performed with charisma and his acting skills were notable, but the speech dragged on just that little too long, and I started to have visions of the assassins perched above cutting his speech short in a choreographed and showy fashion. Alas, they didn't, but it did end... eventually.

At first we were shown a CGI trailer with the infamous pirate, Blackbeard, warning his comrades of another - one that he himself feared.

During the trailer I quickly scribbled down some new features that looked to be making their way into the game, like dual pistols and swimming underwater.

Soon after, Jean Guesdon, the game's creative director took to the stage to show us an exciting PowerPoint presentation. We were then told about the direction the game was taking, with a variety of slides and screenshots setting the scene.

The game will contain "gorgeous, blossoming, sprawling cities" and will obviously feature naval combat... because pirates. It will still feature the series staple narrative style webbing its way through real-world historical events.

It is set in the heart of the Caribbean (called the West Indies, at the time) during the 18th Century. The protagonist is Edward Kenway, who is the British grandfather of Haytham Kenway, of Assassin's Creed 3 fame.

Edward was a privateer at the turn of the Century, working for the Royal Navy. For reasons unknown, he turned to piracy and abandoned his duties. The hooded grandad is apparently motivated by wealth and infamy. He's selfish, calculating, smart and charismatic, according to Ubisoft.

They seem to be going for a more likeable rogue-like character this time, with more similarities to Ezio than GrumpMaster 2000, from the last numbered entry.

Edward stumbles into the creed by accident and the collision of influences is the cornerstone of character progression in Black Flag. His fighting style seems even more brutal than Connor's, and he seems to be a master of dual wielding, using a sword in each hand, and even dual pistols for double the shootiness.

In one scene it is clear that the protagonist uses a bottle to strike an enemy, so there may also be context sensitive actions that you can perform in battle.

Edward is a pirate called Edward. Let that sink in a minute.

The pirates have their own republic, which was inventively named 'The Republic of Pirates', where they formed their own lawless democracy. They could cast out their ship's captain if the crew deemed them unfit to lead, often abandoning them and sometimes ending their existence completely.

As usual, some familiar names cropped up from the history books.

So far, there are a handful of confirmed characters: Ben Hornigold, coined 'the gentleman pirate', Anne Bonny, the feisty Irish one who men saw as an equal, Blackbeard, a 6' 5" powerhouse whose very name instilled fear into his enemies and finally, Calico Jack and Charles Vane, who are both completely unhinged and unpredictable.

The game will also take you through some specific historical events, which is par for the course in an Assassin's Creed title. There was a historical battle mentioned, where one ship assaulted a fleet of 42 Portuguese frigates. Another confirmed event is the massive wreck of the Spanish armada, where gold washed up on the shore and sparked more interest in piracy. Also, it sounds like the game will break up the pacing every now and then, with Edward being marooned on an island with a bottle of rum, a pistol and the psychotic Charles Vane for company.

When you're not marooned on an island, you will be free to sail around the massive, open world complete with 50 unique locations. The map is centred around Cuba, the Bahamas and the coast of Mexico, and it's the first naval open world ever created.

You see, these locations aren't maps, hidden behind loading screens. You physically sail from one location to the next, with the ability to let go of the wheel of your vessel, The Jackdaw and explore on-foot at any time, seamlessly.

There was also an emphasis on making each location feel unique. Whether you're repairing your ship in the capital of Cuba, Havana, which is the most 'European' town in the game, or trampling through lush jungles, the game will try to be varied in its aesthetics, like optical Skittles.

On top of this there is Kingston, with its tobacco plantations, and sugar cane fields, which you will undoubtedly stalk through like a swashbuckling panther. There is Nassau, the pirate haven, as well as fishing villages, hidden coves, smugglers' dens, forts and my personal favourite, coconut islands.

You can use these locations to explore, to attack and loot, for missions and to recruit your ever-dwindling crew members.

You will lose crew members in dynamic storms, with hints of a procedural weather system, and of course, in battle.

You can use your spyglass to scan the horizon before launching an attack - firstly to avoid confronting a galleon loaded with 50+ guns, and secondly to scope out the potential booty that your victims have aboard.

When you do decide to attack, you can use a variety of shot (chain shot, hot shot etc.) to batter the vessel. Once the ship is sufficiently blasted you can give the order to board - this provokes your men to launch their grappling hooks and pull the enemy frigate towards the Jackdaw. From here you have a variety of options: you can use a rope to swing aboard, scamper across the masts and air assassinate the captain, jump in the water and flank the boat - the choice is yours, but beware, the longer you take the more men you will lose in the fighting.

Choice is something that has been missing from previous incarnations and I'm hoping that this time it's more of a focus.

The hunting seems to be making a return, but in the form of fishing. Fishing with a HARPOON!

Yes, you can harpoon whales and sharks and hopefully the manta rays seen in the scripted gameplay trailer that was shown. It also seems that dynamic fish filleting is in. You can use the ship's diving bell to explore the ocean floor for sunken ships, where sharks will attack and Edward will stab the shark, because shark punching isn't fashionable anymore.

All this historical gubbins nearly made me forget about the sci-fi, present day shenanigans. This time there won't be a Desmond. This time you play with yourself. Yeah.

There wasn't anything shown of this, other than a mention that because the present day plot has merged with our own timeline, Ubisoft thought it would be good to just play as yourself since everyone hated Dessa so much. Abstergo Entertainment was mentioned, and the one screen that was shown looked like these sections will play out in first person. It's a shame they didn't scrap this, in my opinion, because it could hold a promising game back from greatness, and really mess up the pacing.

We were shown very little, so it's hard to feel excited or disappointed, but one thing that's for sure is that Ubisoft know how to whisper sweet promises into our ears. Let's just hope that these promises materialise in the final product, because they could be onto a winner.

The game will be coming out for ALL available platforms (yes, that means next-gen, too) and will be releasing later in the year. Why are Ubisoft making a pirate game and not an assassination simulator? Because they aargh!

kirkules | 4th March, 2013
Kaostic's picture
GTA + Pirates = This.

Doesn't look like an assassin's creed game from what you've said and the pictures. It looks like they put a white hood on a pirate and called him an assassin. Niko Bellic takes to the seas.

Plus, despite what everybody else thinks, I really didn't like the naval fighting in the AC 3. It was the part I least enjoyed and stayed away from it where possible.
Kaostic's picture
Also, his fingers aren't on the triggers and apparently, only has three fingers on the right hand.
Ewok's picture
Dude, don't be a plank

The ship sections in AC3 were one of the best things about it.

In fact, in my review of AC3 I said: "It's feasible to say that this one aspect of play could form the basis of an entire game in its own right".

I guess someone at Ubisoft was listening to me
Kaostic's picture
I hated them. Found them tedious and boring. If I wanted to shoot things with a boat, I'd have bought Boat Simulator 2013.
Dead Alive's picture
This sounds a whole hell of a lot more interesting than anything after AC2. If it looks as good as it sounds when it's out, I'll get it in a heartbeat for the 'sploring alone.
Ewok's picture
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaostic View Post
If I wanted to shoot things with a boat, I'd have bought Boat Simulator 2013.
Um... I don't think you can do that in boat simulation games.

Anyway, this game will be fun as it's chock full of semen... I mean seamen... You know, sailors.

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