Assassin’s Creed 4’s companion app and the unfulfilled two-screen dream

By Patrick Garratt, Wednesday, 11 December 2013 14:36 GMT

The two-screen dream is a next-gen reality, but is it an essential addition or an unnecessary luxury? Patrick Garratt tries out Assassin’s Creed 4’s companion pad app.

Assassin’s Creed 4 is a splendid thing on PS4, but could it possibly be splendider? Brenna suggested I download the companion app to see what it adds (and to fill a hole in our features schedule, but whatever).

The whole experience begins well: the app’s free. You can download it from the App Store or Google Play and off you go. You put in your Uplay account details and it syncs to the progress in your game. My iPad told me instantly it was connecting to my PS4, and presumably dragged everything I’d done in the game up to that point from the cloud. There were my treasure maps and my PSN friends, along with everything they’ve accomplished in AC4.

There’s an Animus database, which gives you information on manuscripts, letters and whatever else you find as you’re doing your pirating, all with notes about where you grabbed them. You’ll find entries on locations, landmarks, ships, all your Abstergo paraphernalia and even the Caribbean’s fauna. It’s nothing if not exhaustive. The best bit is the sea shanty database, in which you can see lyrics to your crew’s song and, yes, play them at will. Pieces of eight, and all that.

Tracking your progress is a doddle with AC4’s iOS and Android app.

The main point of the app is to track your progress both in collected stats and in real-time without breaking away from play itself. Your Progression Tracker tells you how much money you have, how long you’ve played in total, how long you’ve been in the current memory, how many side missions you’ve done, whether or not you’ve crafted a mutant monkey and so on. There’s a real-time clock to show how long you’ve been active in the game. It stops if you pause, which is kind of neat.

The real-time map is the app’s main event. It shows you everything, every shop, mission, collectible, look-out and side quest, and you can filter out whatever you don’t need to see. Edward’s tracked in real-time, so you can watch him move on the map as you run around in the game. Restricted areas are shown in red and you pinch to zoom and pan-out, which makes the whole thing definitely usable. Again, it’s pretty cool, and more than any other feature of the app I do find myself using it during play. It’s handy to be able to see far ahead without pausing, especially when you’re sailing to a distant story marker. An arrow surrounding Edward on the tablet screen shows which direction he’s looking, so when you synchronise a view point, for example, it spins around in real-time with what’s being shown on the screen.

There’s a bunch of stuff I’m not far enough on in the game to use, such as fleets. Apparently you can control this outside of play itself. I’m assuming this means you can steal rum away from your PS4, which seems reasonable.

The map’s the same as the one you’ll find in-game, but pinch-zooming increases usability.

Which is all very nice, but I can’t help wondering if any of it’s actually necessary. I’m probably wrong about this, but everything in the app is in the game. You can perform fleet actions away from main play, which is a plus, but the problem with these apps will always be the classic peripheral conundrum: nothing on them will ever be exclusive (or certainly nothing of any import will be, at least) because developers can’t guarantee users will ever download it. I just wish AC4’s companion app added something significant, rather than just giving you the stuff you already have on a different screen.

This is my first real experience of a companion app, and it just seems to be a different way of accessing information already available to you. This specific example can be best likened to always keeping your GPS on in the car when you’re just doing your general run-around stuff, like dropping the kids off and going shopping. You already know where you’re going, but there’s this illogical comfort in the robot lady telling you to turn left or right in a background you don’t even hear.

Nice sea shanties, though. It may be a little superflous, but at least it’s free and well made. I habitually open it on my iPad whenever I’m playing the game now, so it must have done something right, but, based on this, the second console screen dream hasn’t been fully realised just yet.

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