Ubisoft continues to celebrate the ancient art of killing with their massive tentpole that is Assassin’s Creed. With five video games, multiple novels, comic books, and a feature film in the works, the franchise represents the crown jewel for Ubi right now, although it seems fitting that the newest installment will take us further away from the titles that established the series. Assassin’s Creed III took us to the shores of Revolutionary America, leaving behind the European settings of the past games, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag turns that corner even further, depositing you straight into the fantasy-fulfillment britches as a privateer.
Captain Jack Sparrow who? Ubisoft is no stranger to marketing, and unless you’ve been under a rock for the past several months, chances are that you’ve heard about Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. The game further expands on the fun, albeit brief, naval moments from Assassin’s Creed III, and traces your lineage back a generation before while cranking up the oceanic portion significantly. You play as Edward Kenway, Connor Kenway’s grandfather, and he’s kitted out with a ship, dual cutlasses, four pistols, and everything you’ve come to identify with the romantic world of piracy. That is, the real world of piracy. We’re not talking peg legs and parrots here.
One of the best parts about Black Flag is the fact that the open world of the game will come a lot sooner than it did in Assassin’s Creed III. That game kept you on rails for a long time, and while you knew the open world was eventually coming, it seemed to take forever to get there. Now you’ll be up and roaming a lot sooner, and taking the Jackdaw to remote islands while battling other ships. You know, the sort of pirate stuff we drooled over when this game was announced.
Broadsides and boarding parties! You’ll still be stealthing, running, jumping, climbing, and generally sneaking around much of AC4BF, and using the weapons that are familiar to your craft like hidden blades and firearms. But there are a lot of additional gameplay elements in this title, like the ability to fire blowdarts that can fire a berserker dart that will cause an enemies to attack his allies, or the option to sing shanties while at sea. You can also now free-aim your firearms, and headshots do more damage. Of course, pirates wouldn’t be the same without treasure, so there is also a large treasure hunting element to the game. You can track down clues, including treasure maps, and follow them to unearth treasure. Although it won’t be a chest dripping with gold and rubies. Instead it will most likely be an upgrade for your ship, which you’ll want a lot more.
But the real draw here is the amped up naval gameplay, which has been expanded exponentially. When you board your ship the Jackdaw, the crew raises a rousing cheer, happy to have their captain back onboard and to hit the seas for more adventure. One on the waters, your spyglass can illuminate other ships and give you onscreen information about their class and bearing. This is key to moving in for a naval skirmish, or deciding if you should steer clear. You can choose between different types of shot for your cannons, like chain shots with can tear through masts, and once you’ve weakened the enemy enough, maneuver into the boarding zone and grapple ship to ship. You can climbing into the rigging, fire deck cannons, and more, pirate-style.
Another unique gameplay element in this game is the tablet integration, which Ubisoft is pressing across the board. For AC4BF, your tablet will function like a pause menu on steroids, offering up maps, database entries, and more, and you can set waypoints, and explore (or let a buddy do it) while you captain your ship. Additionally, when you capture an enemy ship, the game asks what you want to do with it. You can sink it and take their goods, scrap it and use the material to repair your own ship, or you can send it to the Fleet Game that is fully contained on your tablet. While we weren’t able to see the Fleet Game in in action, Ubisoft promised that it will be a two-way street, with benefits to both the console and tablet as you play it. So that means you can take your naval battles with you in some format. Pretty nifty.
There is an entire world in this game that begs to be explored, and every island you see as you sail and climb can be visited and investigated. During our brief time on the seas, a whale breached next to our ship revealing a whaling location, we sailed past a marooned man who could be recused (or ignored), and we found a corpse covered in crabs bearing a bit of a treasure map. We also locked ships with an enemy and subdued him, while steering clear of a very active multi-ship battle. The dynamic weather changed on us, bringing dark skies and waterspouts that can decimate a ship, and much more. And that was all in about 20 minutes, so we can’t wait to see what the rest of the game offers.
It looks simply beautiful, and the only regret we had was that we didn’t get to see any of the underwater sequences which promise to be a large part of the game. If you’ve spied those in the trailers, you know how gorgeous they look. The last thing we did before leaving was to climb a vantage point and sync up our map, and when we did it unlocked that location as a fast travel point. Which means getting around in this enormous world will be a lot easier.
On the flipside of our Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag Horizon demo (wow, that’s a lot of words) was the new multiplayer Wolfpack experience, which has been streamlined and updated since Assassin’s Creed III. The entire experience is now a lot smoother, and they have added the Game Lab to multiplayer, allowing you to tweak multiple options for online games. You can specific everything from the kinds of weapons to AI behavior, rules, bonuses and more, allowing for a lot of customs setups and game types. It’s the biggest change to multiplayer, and should allow for a much bigger replay value. Sadly, none of the multiplayer offers up naval-based combat, and we’re really hoping that gets added at some point.
While we have been big fans of Assassin’s Creed since the first game, there is no denying that moving this in the naval-based arena has infused this series with a shot of excitement. Personally, this game could drop the Assassin’s Creed moniker altogether and just be called The Way of the Pirate, and it would be just as exciting. The game will be out for current-gen systems on October 29, and some point later for next-gen systems.