Forty-five minutes into the presentation of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Ubisoft finally mention assassinations. It’s a good thing they did otherwise the audience at the carefully managed PR event may have completely forgotten that was the starting point of the series – “Assassin’s Far Cry 3: Arrr, Jim Lad!” was what we had been shown up until then.
Perhaps that description is a little harsh, there are plenty of new features to the franchise (note my careful wording) but at the end a colleague at the event who is a feverish fan of the series could only muster a slight shrug and “Well, it’s the next Assassin’s Creed game, isn’t it?”
Desmond’s story was set in 2012, so as of last year the real world collided with that of Assassin’s Creed and now we are all inhabiting the same timeline as the game. Rather than playing as Desmond you will play as yourself, a member of Abstergo Entertainment whose job it is to research the memories of a new hero, Edward Kenway, a British Privateer in the Navy and father of Haytham Kenway from Assassin’s Creed III.
We were shown a single shot of concept art which depicted the inside of the Abstergo complex and then moved on to another topic. No explanation was given as to how ‘you’ will access the memories even though you are not a descendant of Edward. Presumably you will be playing a piece of software, much like the character in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.
Another slide gave us a good look at Edward and list of key words that describe his character – “Reckless”, “Brash”, “Charismatic” and many other words were displayed on screen. It would have been much easier to write “Look, we know Connor wasn’t that interesting, we’ve got rid of him and you can have Ezio V2.0 instead.”
The setting for the fourth game is the Caribbean at the dawn of the 18th century. Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas are among the islands that can be visited along with the coast of South America. We were promised men of fortune, a life of betrayal, cruelty, mutiny and debauchery all via the medium of concept art and the occasional screen shot.
The game will be open world with no loading screens so you will be able to set sail on your ship, the Jackdaw, drop anchor and dive off the ship and swim onto an island without a single loading screen – imagine Far Cry 3 but with galleons. Ubisoft are keen to stress that this is one seamless world although they did admit there will be a loading screen at certain occasions.
The tropical, palm tree fringed islands (a bit like Far Cry 3) are home to towns, forts and hidden coves (a bit like Far Cry 3) as well as lush jungles (a bit like Far Cry 3). Brand new to the franchise is the ability to swim underwater (a bit like Far Cry 3), discover hidden treasure and get attacked by sharks (a bit like… oh you get the idea.)
Unlike Far Cry 3 (hurrah!) the game is populated with real-life pirates including Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane and Blackbeard. According to Ubisoft what you will not see is any Disneyfication of the pirate heritage, they aim to “tell the true story of the golden age of piracy” and avoid cliches. However it does not help that in-game Blackbeard has a hint of Ian McShane (Blackbeard in the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean movie) and another character, Calico Jack is a bit wild and crazy and wears a bandanna just like a certain Captain Jack Sparrow.
Also, whilst explaining the missions and stressing that your game is nothing like that massive popular movie franchise it is probably not the best idea to describe how a character gets stranded on an tiny island with and a single bullet and then ask the audience “How does he escape” because I almost ruined your presentation by standing up and shouting “Sea turtles!”
The new no-loading open world game brings enhanced versions of the naval battles from Creed III. After attacking with cannons you can order your crew to launch grappling hooks and board the enemy ship, all in real time and without a cut-scene. Ubisoft chose to demonstrate this with a screen shot and more talking rather than an actual demo so I cannot tell you what it looks like or how it plays.
There will be five different classes of ship and new to the franchise is the concept of “game play progression”, something our host was very excited about. Once again this was presented via the medium of infographics so what is this radical new idea? Well you know in other games where there is a big enemy and you cannot defeat it until you have powered up your ship? It’s that.
As you are the proud owner of the Jackdaw you will need a crew, how you recruit them was never explained fully but there was mention of rescuing poor souls who have been stranded. During battles and storms you will lose crew members so when attacking and boarding an enemy ship it will be essential to be fast and efficient, at least that’s what we’re told because of course – as you might expect – we did not see an example.
Once boarded you and your pirate chums can then hack and slash the remaining enemies and capture the ship, “You create a 3-D floating playground!” exclaims the Ubisoft chap. Impressive, unless you played Mercenaries 2 back in 2008 which allowed you to jump from ship to ship and fight off enemies and capture a vessel. Admittedly they were not hulking great galleons but they were fairly sizable boats you could run about on.
Also new, or to be precise, also fixing something that Creed III reviewers complained about, is Edward’s ability to skip and clamber through trees. Connor was born in the wilderness so it was logical, according to Ubisoft, that he could scamper about like a squirrel on steroids. Edward is a man of the sea and “not the master of the jungle” they said – and left it at that. That’s pretty much all they said, no further explanation but if we could have asked questions I’m sure the response would have been a fixed smile and “We’re not talking about that yet”.
You may be surprised that the game revealed by Ubisoft is Assassins Creed IV, perhaps like me you were expecting a number of updates of Creed III, much like Revelations was an extension of Creed II. Judging by what we have been shown I can’t help but think that the team were given a load of Far Cry 3 assets and told to make something in two years, development started in 2011, presumably near the end of the year after Ubisoft Montreal had shipped Revelations.
Have they really modelled new sharks and vegetation when all the files from Far Cry 3 are laying about? Who on earth thought it would be good to have two games with similar graphics anyway? People with calculators and spreadsheets I would guess, a palm tree, a sandy beach and a shark will look exactly the same in 2013 as they did in 1715.
During the fifty or so minutes of slides and explanations the press were fed small, carefully selected nuggets of information which they can regurgitate like penguins to the gaping mouths of the general public. As you know we’re not doing that anymore so feel free to go and read about the names of the towns you can visit on another website.
We were (finally) shown two trailers, an announcement trailer which looked fantastic but was all cut-scenes, and after endless waffle and actually being informed we were part of of a six month PR campaign they finally got round to showing a very short trailer with actual gameplay.
From the very first second when a ship sails across the screen I could tell this was not next-gen. “Well it looked quite good for this gen” said an overly optimistic colleague as four identical and rather comical splashes of blood spurted from a pirates neck. The game has been announced for PS3, PS4, PC and Xbox 360 but it seems odd they they were using current generation technology to demonstrate a game that will be out by the time the PS4 is on the shelves.
Multiplayer was mentioned and we were shown a fantastic live demo in which a gang of eight pirates surrounded a ship and battled for possession of a large treasure chest in a frantic and exciting new format. Just joking, we were shown another slide with about twelve new multiplayer characters all of which were far to small to make out any details.
The presentation ends and we are told this is “A fresh experience, not a reboot and not a spin off.” Perhaps it is but from what I saw, which as you may have gathered was bugger all, it looked like the Naval battles from Creed III, the islands and open world engine from Far Cry 3, a city or two from Creed II and some Mayan temples for good measure. Anything ‘new’ to the franchise has been done before in other games.
Not being very positive am I? Hey, it could turn out to be OK, I’m sure it will be quite acceptable when released. Perhaps these carefully managed PR events are getting to me, perhaps it’s ‘just’ another Assassin’s Creed game or perhaps it was the horrendously self indulgent and pompous monologue delivered at the start of the presentation.
A man, possibly a quite famous actor as his voice sounded familiar, asked us to recall our adventures in the previous games. It was evocative to begin with but then kept on talking. And talking. And talking. And listing pretty much every city from every Assassin’s game ever. Then he described the architecture, then how we had had experienced running and climbing and shooting and fighting. Then he asked to recall streets and trees and flowers and sunsets and characters and at this point I almost walked out out because it was becoming so monotonous.
Look at it from my point of view: A few days ago I went to Capcom, plonked myself in front of Remember Me and played it with no supervision. No one looked over my shoulder, no one told me about the game, no one disturbed me except to offer me a Krispy Kreme doughnut. I had a fantastic time and enjoyed discovering the world for myself and I hope my enthusiasm was conveyed by my writing on TSA. For Assassin’s Creed IV I had to sit through a monologue and bloody PowerPoint presentation just so I could see thirty seconds of uninspiring game play.
Assassin’s Creed IV is a thing and when we can see more of the actual game I might have a better opinion of it. Until then enjoy reading about how fantastic the game is on other websites, a fact they have magically extrapolated from a slideshow of concept art and infographics.