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Assassin’s Creed 4 brings new life to a tired franchise

Wednesday, 12 June 2013 21:21 GMT By Catherine Cai

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag allows you to live the life of a pirate: if only for a little while. At, E3 Catherine Cai found out what it’s like to walk the walk and sail the Caribbean under the tutelage of master pirate Ash Ismael.

I’ll admit: the moment that Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, I was ready to write it off. I played the first Assassin’s Creed with a lot of enthusiasm. Having the opportunity to explore the Damascus of years past was awe-inspiring, however historically inaccurate it may have been. I’ll take your Damascus cake, Ubisoft! Pathetic excuses of Middle Eastern accents and all!

When Assassin’s Creed 3 rolled around last year, I was immensely disappointed. The New World setting was something fresh, and I thought it had the potential to make the franchise grow into something new. And it did succeed in doing something new, though it delivered everything in a clumsy, jumbled mess. None of the gameplay elements felt like they meshed together. I thought Ubisoft’s decision to move Assassin’s Creed to a yearly release cycle was a mistake, and Assassin’s Creed 3 is all I have to point an accusing finger at to back up my statement.

I went into the Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag demo a cynic, ready to be let down. What I saw left me almost a believer. (I say almost, because, as a cynical bastard, I’m never ready to ride any game’s hype train.)

A pirate’s life for me: being Edward Kenway

Edward Kenway swan dives off the top of a building and into clear blue waters below. A few elegant strokes later and he’s back on land, heading for the island tavern.
Welcome to the West Indies, to the Grand Cayman. It’s 1717, and the area’s rife with pirate activity.

Kenway, though well-versed in the arts of looting, plundering, and general pirate shenanigans, is only an assassin-in-training in this game. In order to progress up the ladder in rank, Kenway must pick up contracts set out by the Assassin’s. Unfortunately for a set of Templar twins today, Kenway’s drawn their name.

The pirate casually strolls up to the tavern, where both twins are. The tavern serves as a central hub for many gameplay activities. Here, you can hire crew, play mini-games, and even virtually drink yourself into oblivion, if you so choose.

Kenway approaches one twin, who stands distracted at the bar. In a mere matter of seconds, one brother lies dead and the other one is fleeing. A din rises of out of the panic and chaos, as a crowd begins to gather around the dead brother. Taking advantage of the distraction, Kenway rushes through the crowd and after the other twin.

The twin heads for the docks, scrambling aboard his ship, shouting orders at his crew to take off. Kenway, rather than choosing to give chase by running onto the ship, heads for his own, taking the high velocity chase from land to sea.

Ash Ismael, Assassin’s Creed 4 game director, brings a brief moment of respite from the chase to show off the game’s map. It begins focused on Kenway and the Grand Cayman. As he zooms out, I get a sense of just how enormous the map actually is. “We’ve got over 50 locations, three of them being major cities,” Ismael explained.

Back in the action, Kenway brings up a spyglass to his eyes, allowing the player a better, first person view of the enemy ship and an idea of what goods the ship has to offer. A window pops up giving a number-specific run down of what cargo the ship is holding. Cargo is very valuable, and can be used to upgrade both Kenway and his ship, the Jackdaw.

The Templar captain’s ship holds plenty of valuables, and it’s the factor that helps Kenway decide to plunder the ship instead of sending it careening to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.
The Jackdaw rounds up the side of the enemy ship, which has already deployed its arsenal of cannon balls. The player is given the option to brace or to fire. Kenway, wanting of course, to be the aggressor in this situation, gives out the orders to fire back as he steers his ship in a predatory circle.

Sending schooners to Davy Jones’s Locker

I was hoping for a “more realistic” experience of ship battles, so to speak, with Assassin’s Creed 4, seeing as that makes up a huge portion of the game. Unfortunately, while the ship battles are fun, they’re also undeniably very gamey. Rather than being concerned about accurate aiming and wearing an enemy down to surrender by destroying important parts of a ship, you’re only firing to whittle down your enemy’s ship’s health bar. Once it’s low enough, you’ll have de-masted a ship.

A ship without its mass is highly vulnerable, and this is Kenway’s cue to board. Another window pops up, signaling the player that in order to plunder the ship, the ship’s captain and crew must be put to the slaughter.

As a neophyte assassin, Kenway is blessed with the talent to be a little more nimble of foot than most pirates, allowing him to climb masts and leap from rope to crow’s nests in a matter of minutes. As his crew distracts the enemy crew with fighting, Kenway clambers to the top of a mast, carefully marking out his target. With hidden blade in hand, he leaps down and quickly finishes off his target.

With the crew battle section over, I was given a tour of the rest of the West Indies. In Black Flag, the development team set out to recreate the Caribbean’s lush environment. The tropical weather, prone to bipolarity, will change from harsh storms, which can harm your ship and crew, to beach-going weather in a matter of minutes.

Ismael also took time to show me small random islands that dot the map that can be explored. “Those are called playas and sand banks,” he said. “We have over 75 of those. So the world’s got tons of content. It’s the most unique and freshest world we’ve ever built.”

Black Flag operates off of the same open world mechanics as its predecessors, but with the ability to travel the high seas, it feels organic. Islands will now be occupied by heavily armed Spanish conquistadors that you’ll want to avoid, and you’ll often find evidence of British-Spanish conflicts aboard the high seas in the form of naval battles that you can join, if you so choose.

“Everything that’s in [the game]—all the collectibles—they have gameplay value,” said Ismael. And it’s true. While wandering and digging up treasure along random islands in the game, you’ll sometimes pick up song sheets, which you can use to teach your crew to sing different songs to pass the monotony of sailing the seas.

This time around, it feels like Ubisoft has gotten it right. From what I’ve seen thus so far, Black Flag’s gameplay meshes together in a way that Assassin’s Creed 3′s never did. I was dubious about Ubisoft’s take on the high seas, but this time, it really does feel like they’ve come up with something new.

“Everything in this game is linked together,” said Ismael. “We really tried to create a harmonious game that’s fun and fluid and polished… and on top of that a kick ass pirate game.”

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is due on PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360 in late October and early November. PS4 and Xbox One versions are due alongside the consoles, ye landlubbers.

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7 Comments

  1. Rafa_L

    I have the first, bit repetitive, but I liked it a lot. Played the second, it was cool, but I didn’t bought it, when brotherhood came out, I decided to wait until I finished the second, before that there was already revelations and then 3, and I gave up because I would never catch up to the story.

    At this point, I don’t think that’s a concern, I have a feeling that with yearly releases story won’t matter that much (which is a shame, because the end of the first really got me excited). If I’m wrong please let me know.

    I really want to give the fourth a chance, it looks cool, but the assassins theme really don’t fit with pirates for me, it feels to me like assassins vikings or assassins samurais, which for me it’s absurd. Neither theme, aesthetic or gameplay seems to fit.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. drewbles82

    im sure they’ll say the same next year and the year after when they release these every year. I personally think Assassins should have been every 2yrs.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. themadjock

    @1, all in all I liked brotherhood the best, it was downhill after that and bottomed out with 3. Now I am not interested in 4 at all

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Ranpaq

    Shut up all of you this looks better than heaven to me, im tired of all these selfish people and their pathetic comments this is going to be my favorite assassins creed and all of you haters can go jump off a cliff.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. MaoZeDoing

    @4, apply cold water to the burned area

    #5 2 years ago
  6. TheWulf

    And yet…

    * It still purports to have HISTORICAL ACCURACY, their silly fetish with that leads to the watering down of the story, world, and lore.

    * They’ll still throw in super-powers, regardless of the above.

    * The combat is still a one/two button affair that almost plays itself.

    * The parkour is still a one/two button affair that almost plays itself.

    * They still have the ridiculous assassin lore, which really isn’t interesting.

    * They’ll still tack on the present day sci-fi stuff, even though it’ll only amount to a short period of the game, distracting from rather than adding to it.

    * That stupid bloody assassin’s costume is still there. It continues to get more and more ridiculous.

    * It’s all about instant gratification and has no focus whatsoever. It’s meant to be “cool” and “serious” at the same time. Trying to scoop up all of the common gamer demographics. The lack of focus and the obsession with making the player “cool” means it amounts to prolefeed.

    * It literally is prolefeed.

    * IT COULD BE SO MUCH MORE.

    * The exploration could be interesting but it’s held back by the one/two button gameplay mechanics and the soporifically-inclined world.

    * The ship warfare mechanics are really interesting, and the only complex thing that the series has had to offer. Yet it’ll be held back by the rest of the game.

    * A pirate game with better combat, a more interesting world, without HISTORICAL ACCURACY holding it back, with the wonderful ship warfare, with better writers…

    It could be something. Yet it’s going to be the same old. It’s not really going to reinvigorate the series because this is the same song and dance we went through with AC III.

    Remember that?

    AC III! The big, new special thing! To revolutionise the IP! To pull it out of its rut by taking it away from those boring old cities! And yet… it was still the same old nonsense. So is this. :I

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Malmer

    Assassin’s Creed 4 – Now YOU can become the ULTIMATE ASSASSIN by teaching your mates some new happy songs…

    #7 2 years ago

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    SteamVR’s key differentiator is a piece of tech allowing headsets to connect with other devices for extra accurate, room-scale tracking. Valve has announced a new bit of technology called Lighthouse, which it is making freely available to any hardware manufacturer. Like the extra tracking LEDs on Sony’s updated Project Morpheus, Lighthouse improves the headset’s accuracy, […]

  • Steam Machines, Controller, streaming box to launch in November

    Steam Machines will finally become a reality before the end of the year. Valve’s living room PC systems will release in November, the company announced today. Well, I say Valve’s – the idea behind Steam Machines is that a number of manufacturers will offer variously priced systems. Alienware and Falcon Northwest are among the dozen […]

  • Telltale veterans form new team, announce teen thriller Oxenfree

    Oxenfree is a supernatural teen thriller from some of the team behind Telltale Games’ award-winning adventures. New indie Night School Studios unveiled Oxenfree at GDC 2015. It tells the story of a group of friends who accidentally open a “ghostly rift” at an overnight party on the coast. Night School, which is made up of […]

  • PS4 global sales now stand at over 20.2 million

    The PS4 has sold 20.2 million units worldwide. Sony announced the new PS4 sales milestone at GDC 2015 today. It’s a hell of an achievement and salt in the wounds for Microsoft, which hasn’t updated us on Xbox One sales since it shipped “almost” 10 million back in November last year, and has fallen back […]

  • PS4 VR headset Morpheus out in 2016, capable of 120 FPS – video

    Sony’s VR headset Project Morpheus has some impressive grunt. Virtual reality and Morpheus were the heart of Sony’s GDC 2015 presentation today, ahead of its newly announced first-half 2016 comemrcial launch. SCE Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida detailed the headset’s impressive capabilities, notably the fact that it can handle 120 FPS VR games. The PS4 […]

  • Papo & Yo developer making a VR game about dinosaurs

    Some days you write a headline and it makes you so happy that that you have to do a little chair dance, you know what I mean? Papo & Yo developer Minority Media, whom I would personally go to the wall for after they cut out my heart and stomped on it via the medium […]

  • Wasteland 2, Shovel Knight and more in big ole bunch of indies coming to Xbox One

    Xbox One owners are about to receive a pile of great new indie games. At GDC 2015, Microsoft revealed a list of new indie games headed to Xbox One. Some of these titles have already released on other platforms, so it looks like Microsoft has really relaxed the parity clause of ID@Xbox – or perhaps […]

  • Here’s an indie VR game made with Unreal Engine 4

    GDC 2015 is blowing up with indie games, VR and Unreal Engine 4, so here’s a video combining all three. Loading Human is a virtual reality adventure from indie developer Untold Games. It’s in the works for Mac and PC, and Sony has given an early green light for Project Morpheus, too, so expect it […]

  • GTA Online: Daily Objectives and Adversary Mode coming next week

    Heists aren’t the only thing coming to GTA Online next week: players can also expect Adversary Modes, new Daily Objectives and other Freemode activities. GTA Online’s Adversary Modes are new PvP modes which feature a range of competitive challenges and will unlock as players progress through Heists. Here’s a rundown straight from Rockstar: Come Out […]

  • Syndicate is the latest free game download on Origin

    The latest free title to be added to EA’s Origin service is 1993′s Syndicate. For a limited time, you can download the game for free and keep it, much like previous titles such as Theme Hospital. The isometric, real-time, tactical-action game was developed by Bullfrog Productions and released in June 1993. It is a favorite […]

  • Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen now available

    The Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen is now available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It will run you $7.99 and builds upon the existing lore, characters, and storyline. Have a look at some new screenshots in the gallery below.

  • Shadowrun Online gets a name change and release date

    Shadowrun Online developer Cliffhanger Productions has announced the game’s name has been changed to Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown and a release date for April has been set. The new title was formed via the developer and its Kickstarter backers, with the goal being to let those unfamiliar with the game know by the title alone […]

  • Amazon hosting Rockstar and 2K Games sale

    Amazon is hosting a Rockstar Games and 2K Games sale with discounts Max Payne titles, Bully and more. Here’s just some of the offerings listed: Manhunt 2 PC Download $3.00 Max Payne 3 PC Download $4.00 Bully: Scholarship Edition PC Download $3.00 LA Noire Xbox 360 $2.95 L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition PC Download $6.00 […]

  • Destiny weekly reset video shows off Inferno Crucible gameplay

    We have a gameplay video featuring Inferno Crucible gameplay featured in the Destiny weekly reset for you. In it, Arekkz Gaming gives you a look at Inferno Crucible and goes over the various intricacies. You can read up on the weekly reset through the links.

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Episode 2 available from today

    Episode 2 for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is now available. If you’ve purchased the Complete Season, you’ll be able to download Episode 2 on PS3, PS4 and Xbox One. Steam players should see the episode go live around 9-10pm PST, and Xbox 360 owners should be able to download very early tomorrow morning, per Capcom […]

  • Here’s a sneak peek video for Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide

    Fatshark Games has released a sneak peek video for its upcoming Games Workshop title, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Vermintide is a FPS, co-op action title coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and its set during the End Times of the Warhammer universe in the city of Ubersreik. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare video shows Ascendance DLC early access weapon

    As you know, Xbox Season Pass holders now have early access to the Ascendance DLC Pack bonus weapons for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Now you can watch a trailer for the weapon. The OHM directed energy hybrid weapon can switch between an LMG and Shotgun “on the fly,” and it also includes the OHM-Werewolf […]

  • March PS Plus games include OlliOlli 2, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, more

    March PlayStation Plus titles have popped up on the PS Plus page. Noticed by NeoGAF user skynidas, the titles include: OlliOlli2 (PS4/VITA) Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (PS4) Counterspy (PS4/PS3) Papo & Yo (PS3) Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment (PS3) A notice has also been posted on the EU PS […]

  • Sci-fi horror game Caffeine will release on Xbox One, PS4 alongside PC – new trailer

    Caffeine creator Dylan Browne has announced the Unreal Engine 4 game will be released on Xbox One. The game will be published through Microsoft’s Indie Program. As previously announced, it is also coming to PC and and now PlayStation 4. Caffeine is a sci-fi horror game which stars a young boy who has been abandoned […]

  • Xbox 360 Preview program invites going out this month

    Much like the Xbox One Preview program, starting early this month, invites for the Xbox 360 Preview program will start rolling out. Select invitees will be able to join program directly from their Xbox 360. A special Xbox Live message will be sent, directing users to head over to their Settings page. Further instructions are […]

  • Tron: Legacy director in negotiations for Gran Turismo film

    Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski is said to be in early negotiations to direct the Gran Turismo film. This is according to the Hollywood Reporter, which states Michael De Luca is still slated as one of the producers alongside Matt Milam, Dana Brunetti, Josh Bratman, DeVon Franklin and Elizabeth Cantillon. Plot details are still unknown […]

  • Fifth add-on pack for Alien: Isolation is available for download

    The Trigger, which is is the fifth add-on pack for Alien: Isolation, is available to download from today. In it, players will “compete against the clock” across three new maps in Survivor Mode. Set before the events of the main game, players step into the shoes of Sevastopol Station’s Ricardo who will do what he […]

  • HBO Go app now available on PlayStation 4

    Sony has announced the HBO Go app will be made available for download later today for PlayStation 4. The app works just like the PS version. Now you can watch True Detective, Game of Thrones, Veep and more through your console. Information on installation is available through the PS Blog.

  • Skyrim mods no longer restricted to 100MB in size

    Bethesda has announced a beta for Creation Kit update 1.9.33, lifts the 100MB size restriction for Skyrim mod makers. The beta is for both Skyrim’s PC launcher and the Creation Kit which will allow for unlimited file sizes. Here are the notes: Creation Kit 1.9.33 Update Creation Kit now supports unlimited file sizes for mods […]

  • Mad Max release date set for September, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions canned

    Mad Max from Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios has been given a September release date, along with the new of a last-gen cancellation. The axing of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions were announced via Game Informer. Mad Max is the magazine’s featured game for the April issue. Avalanche, according GI, nixed development on […]

  • MGS 5: The Phantom Pain out in September, Kojima “closing the loop” on saga

    Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will be released in September, according to an IGN Italy video, which also features Hideo Kojima discussing “With Metal Gear Solid 5, I’m finally “closing the loop” on the Metal Gear saga. The video has since been removed, but an image cap of the date is posted above. […]

  • Forza Horizon 2 Rockstar Energy Car Pack now available

    The Rockstar Energy Car Pack for Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One is available now, alongside the free car for March. The free car is the Acura Integra Type-R, and the Rockstar pack included the following vehicles: 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GRC 2015 Subaru WRX STI 1996 BMW 850CSi 2015 Jaguar XFR-S 1970 Volkswagen #1107 Desert […]

  • 3DS firmware update kills web browser exploit

    Nintendo has issued a 3DS firmware update which fixes a web browser exploit that was being used to run pirated Game Boy Color ROMs since January as well as inject code within downloadable games. Another piece of code, per Eurogamer, changed the setting on the handheld to make it region-free. The exploit was only available […]

  • Unreal Tournament video shows updated textures on Outpost 23

    The latest footage from Epic’s new Unreal Tournament has surfaced, and it shows off the game’s first high-textured map which is called Outpost 23. As you can see from Zaccubus’ video, its the same are which Epic showed in the flythrough video from last year, only with updated textures and some new areas outside. The […]

  • Final add-on for Sunset Overdrive arrives in April

    The final add-on for Sunset Overdrive, Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines, will be released in April. On April 1 to be exact. No, that’s not an April Fool’s joke from Insomniac Games either. Below, you can watch a fist-look at the new story, area, and traversal mechanic.

  • Heroes of the Storm playable at EGX Rezzed

    Heroes of the Storm will be playable at EGX Rezzed. This will be the first UK public hands-on with the online team brawler. Blizzard will also host giveaways and friendly tournaments at its stand. Tickets for all three days of Rezzed are still available, and you can purchase a pass through the official website. EGX […]

  • PES 2015 Data Pack 4 coming next week with Winter Transfers, new faces

    Data Pack 4 for Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 has been dated, and it updates the game with Winter Transfers, new player faces, and additional stadiums. The latest free update contains real-time player transfers made within the January window, and player ratings have also been updated. Additionally, a number of improved likenesses to key players will […]

  • Here’s the changelog for Dragon Age: Inquisition Patch 5

    Notes for upcoming Patch 5 for Dragon Age: Inquisition have been posted, noting improvements to gameplay and stability, and the new features outlined back in early February. Along with the new party storage system added to the Undercroft at Skyhold, players also have the ability to adjust the size of subtitles. Below you will find […]

  • Game of Thrones, Mortal Kombat X, Batman mobile games on the way

    Warner Bros. has announced free-to-play mobile titles spanning its DC Comics, Mortal Kombat and Game of Thrones properties. The following five new games under development are: Mortal Kombat X from NetherRealm Studios: The game blends fighting and card collection with cinematic gameplay and Fatalities. Play as both classic and fighters, and if you own the […]