I’d be the first to admit I was more than a little sceptical when I first heard about Black Flag. I wasn’t a fan of the naval elements of Assassin’s Creed III, and I don’t remember many great assassinations happening on the high-seas so making the new assassin a ‘pirate’ just seemed a bit odd, and a thin excuse to do a game about pirates. Having recently gone hands-on with the game though... well, I still think it’s a thin excuse to do a pirate game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. With the Desmond part of the ‘modern-day’ story now wrapped up, the team is now free to continue virtually Tabula Rasa. How much the modern setting intrudes upon Black Flag’s narrative remains to be seen, but its relevance is probably less important now than before.
The basics of the game you should already know by now – Assassins Creed IV is going to be open-world, set in the Caribbean during the good old days of the Empire, before the events of Assassins Creed III. You play as Edward Kenway, privateer and all round jolly man, and you partake of his adventures on the high-seas. You’ll have the whole map open to you, although from what we’re told things don’t really start opening up until Sequence 6. Assassins Creed IV has a lot of action on the high-seas, although it mainly involves shooting up other boats and plundering their wares. If you disable a ship, you can board it and capture it for more loot, and even add your ship to Kenway’s ‘Fleet’. This is similar to the Assassin’s Guild from past games, where you could train up other assassins and send them on missions. In the Fleet, you send them on raids in other areas not represented in the game.
Whaling is a thing you can do in the game. Ubisoft have gotten into a bit of trouble over this
Still, you get a sense of exploration that AC3 didn’t quite capture fully with the Frontier. There are loads of random islands big and small you can explore, with side quests, treasures, and whatever feather-equivalent this game has. Damn you, feathers. The ocean is wonderful, and you could just sail around for hours, not doing a hell of a lot. Well, piracy, obviously. From my limited session, I feel the whole ‘assassin’ thing takes second-string a lot in this game, apart from the obligatory people you have to kill at the end of each Sequence. It’s not a bad thing, and the seamless transition between the sea sections and the land sections is wonderful. You could be riding a fierce storm one moment, then leaping ashore and liberating a plantation the next. AC4’s loot-based economy is back with a vengeance, with everything you plunder, every animal you skin, having a purpose. Your ‘hub’ is your ship itself, your homestead. You can upgrade it and make it look pretty, and get bigger and better guns.
I suppose the only thing that really has me concerned about Black Flag is that it’s a cross-generational game. I said this in a previous article, but I feel sorry for the slew of games that are having to span both generations. Despite being told in an interview that the game isn’t being held-back because of this need to cater to two different hardware sets, there’s a lot that remains to be convinced. Supposedly the code I was playing on was PS4 code – I had a PS4 controller in my hand, certainly, but if that was PS4 code, then it’s probably not going to be a great next-gen game. And the only thing I mean by that is that I don’t think it’s going to be a game that justifies the player having spent all that money on the console. Granted, I haven’t been able to form a basis of comparison yet, but from what we can tell pretty much the only difference between AC4 current and next-gen is the graphics, and the graphics didn’t seem ‘next-gen’, to use a slight borish phrase.
Multiplayer is still land-only, but still features a menagerie of weird and wonderful characters
There’s nothing to be particularly worried about regarding Assassin’s Creed IV. If you’re not sold on the pirate theme then don’t bother, but if this interests you then there are plenty of game mechanics that support this theme well. Ship handling and combat have gotten better since AC3, and moving to an open-world format is probably the best thing for the series right now. The only thing you need to ask yourself is whether you really want this on next-gen or not – I’d say the verdict is still out on that one, but you never know, we could be surprised. Shame that the multiplayer is still land based... if Ubisoft weren’t so insistent in having an AC title every year, perhaps there would have been time to fit it in. We shall never know.
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is due for release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii U on October 29th in North America, and November 1st in Europe. The Playstation 4 version is due out on November 15th for North America, and November 29th for Europe. The Xbox One version is launching worldwide on November 24th, with the PC version having an unconfirmed release date.
Most Anticipated Feature:I would love to have a Jack Sparrow cameo, but I know that’s wishful thinking...