Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag – set sail for murder

By Stace Harman
4 March 2013 10:00 GMT

It’s real and it’s coming out this year. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag was officially announced at a presentation in London last week at which a host of new features and a new protagonist were revealed. Get caught up though the break.

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag will feature new protagonist, former-British-sailor-turned-pirate Edward Kenway, and is set in and round the Caribbean in the early 18th century.

The story will explore the formation and function of the surprisingly democratic pirate fraternity, as well as Edward Kenny’s personal tale of betrayal and revenge and his dealings with the Assassins’ Brotherhood.

Besides Kenway, a host of famous pirate names will feature throughout the story, including: Calico Jack, Charles Vane, Ben Hornigold, Anne Bonny and the legendary Blackbeard.

Assassin’s Creed 4 will launch later this year and is confirmed for PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U and Xbox 360. There was no mention of the next Xbox at the game’s announcement presentation.

Four months. Eighteen weeks. One hundred and twenty six days. If it feels like just recently that Assassin’s Creed 3 introduced us to its grand wilderness, myriad game-play diversions and a fresh setting and story, it’s because it is. Recently enough that Assassin’s Creed 3’s robust DLC schedule is still in full swing. Recently enough that the game itself is still sitting atop one or two piles o’shame, waiting to be finished off or, in some cases, to have the plastic wrapping removed.

Nonetheless, here we are talking about the next Assassin’s Creed title, which is neither a continuation of Connor’s story nor an incremental update. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag represents a fully fledged, numbered release that is yet again promising to expand upon the scope of its predecessors. Most of the features revealed during the 50-minute announcement presentation are only briefly touched upon, but those we get a hint of offer a host of new or expanded possibilities.

The opening gambit of the presentation is quiet and low key: a very pretty pre-rendered vision of the ugly face of history’s most famous pirate outside of a Disney film. Captain Blackbeard is extolling the fearsome anti-virtues of one Edward Kenway. For the genealogists among you, Eddie is the father of Haythem Kenway, the gentleman assassin that you played as during the opening hours of Assassin’s Creed 3, before you got to be Connor. As Haytham’s father, Edward Kenway is also Connor’s grandfather and a true, blue-blooded Brit.

It’s clear from everything that Blackbeard is saying that Edward Kenway is a bit of badass and, right on cue, the pretty moving pictures switch to show Kenway fighting tooth and nail aboard a ship, where he dual-wields pistols before switching to a brace of full-length swords. Being a pirate, he’s also not averse to less gentlemanly tactics and so a bottle (maybe grog, maybe not) is smashed over the head of a would-be assailant. Remember, this is all pre-rendered gubbins but dollars to donuts says that it represents the combat options available in the game proper.

It’s at this point Blackbeard’s words are inadvertently drowned out by too-deep a bass track, but we already have a clear idea about Kenway from the video. He’s shown navigating a storm-lashed sea, diving into the sun-kissed waters of a Caribbean bay and leading the charge aboard a hostile vessel. As the opening cinematic fades to black, lead content manager Carsten Myhill takes to the stage to describe Kenway’s personality.

Kenway is by turns reckless and calculating, charming and debauched, handsome and hard-drinking. In short, he’s everything one would expect a roguish pirate-type to be, which is why is curious that Myhill repeatedly reiterates that the team is seeking to redefine the image of pirates and to portray “the reality and true story behind the golden age of piracy”.

Creative director Jean Guesdon further explains how Kenway’s travels will see him visit some 50 locations including islands, cities and ports such as Havana, Kingston and Nassau. There are a host of less well-trodden paths to traverse too, taking in quiet fishing villages, hidden coves, underwater ship wrecks, commercial sugar plantations, idyllic coconut isles and dense jungles. How many of these Kenway visits and in what order will apparently be up to you. Assassin’s Creed is going open-world and adopting “seamless transition” between its numerous locales.

Guesdon highlights how you’ll be able to go from exploration on land to hopping on to your boat, sailing to a new location and docking at your destination without a canned animation in sight. This extends to harpooning whales, diving down to the rotting bones of a wreck at the bottom of the sea and engaging ships on the open water, all dynamically computed in real time.

There are caveats, as Guesdon admits that he “can’t promise that there won’t be loading time” and although none of the expansive map will be blocked off behind “artificial barriers”, Kenway will not be able to access all of the locations right from the off. Instead, his ship (the Jackdaw) will require upgrades and customisation if it’s to take on the bigger galleons guarding certain island locations. These will undoubtedly play host to critical-path plot events and suggest an open-world where the pace of forward progress is controlled.

None of the expansive map will be blocked off behind “artificial barriers”, Kenway will not be able to access all of the locations right from the off. Instead, his ship (the Jackdaw) will require upgrades and customisation.

There’s little time to ponder that further, as Guesdon continues on to explain how Black Flag will borrow elements from all of the Assassin’s games that have gone before it. Most notably, this includes the more open-ended assassinations of the original Assassin’s Creed, which was less evident in AC3. Multiplayer will return with new modes, as will the series’ ongoing faithfulness to rendering historically authentic, if not entirely accurate, characters and scenarios.

Guesdon confirms that Desmond will not feature in the modern day segments of the story. His story concluded with Assassin’s Creed 3, which also saw the real-world catch up to the 2012 timeframe depicted in the series. Now, the lead protagonist in the modern day sections will be you, the player, as you battle to solve the mystery behind Abstergo Entertainment, creators of the Animus and fictional publisher of Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation on PS Vita. The one part of the series that we see surprisingly little of is the familiar sight of a hooded figure effortlessly navigating rooftops and scaling edifices.

So, that’s the opening salvo for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. More hints and feature lists than expansive facts and game-play demonstrations. The little game-play footage that we do see is based on the naval sections and is running on current-gen hardware. There is an assurance that it will launch later in 2013 on “all available hardware”, including PlayStation 4 but there’s no mention of Microsoft’s next console.

Just four months have passed since the launch of Assassin’s Creed 3 and here we are talking about Assassin’s Creed 4. Despite my natural cynicism, I can’t help but give credit to Ubisoft and acknowledge that the company is able to successfully pull off such an announcement because the Assassin’s Creed series rarely, if ever, leaves players feeling like something has been held back for next time. Every game is fully-featured and embodies the best efforts of those involved in the time that’s afforded them.

The franchise has become the poster-child for what can be achieved on an annual basis with multiple teams consisting of hundreds of people along with a very large amount of money. Irrespective of just how soon it’s cranking up the marketing machine, I’ll be interested to see more of Assassin’s Creed 4’s extended feature list it in greater detail over the coming months.

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