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A Very Brief Look At Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Ubisoft "Pull A Bungie".

assassin's creed iv screenshot

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.)

assassin's creed iv screenshot

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.

assassin's creed iv screenshot

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.

assassin's creed iv screenshot

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.

22 Comments
  1. Joshua Hood
    Small briefcase w*nker
    Since: Forever

    The best bit: even the Mayan temples aren’t new – they were in III Liberation!

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 10:04.
  2. Eldur
    Member
    Since: Nov 2012

    Your (a bit like Far Cry 3) section actually made me laugh in the office.

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 10:12.
  3. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Im sure some people will complain, but at least I’m being honest. CVG have got two posts out the presentation in which they themselves say “We only saw brief snippets of the game”.

    Glad to see they also think there’s a fair chunk of Far Cry 3 in the game as well.

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 10:16.
    • Eldur
      Member
      Since: Nov 2012

      The way in which the game was introduced to you would have probably produced a similarly cynical reaction in me, so I don’t mind the article’s tone.

      These hype-generating, non-announcements are becoming the bane of the industry for me, with increasingly asinine and obtuse ‘reveals’ wrapped in some of the most patronising marketing spiel I’ve ever heard. As a committed and passionate member of the gaming community, I cringe when I read things like the ‘gameplay progression’ comment you mentioned; it’s indicative of a certain approach to marketing that assumes the consumer is easily swayed by the constant repetition of a specific type of language and it’s been rife in the big launches recently. Throwing words like ‘exciting, innovative, freedom, expansive’ etc. on a PowerPoint without anyway of backing it up is a sure-fire way to get my ire up and I’m happy to see a journalist call it out.

      Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 10:41.
      • Tuffcub
        On the naughty step.
        Since: Dec 2008

        Im not a journalist, but I can spot PR bollocks when I’m fed it. I’m not sure why everyone else has these massive features even though – and they do admit this – we saw nothing of the game.

        So what have they written about? They’ve written exactly what the Ubi PR people told them to write about.

        Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 10:52.
  4. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    It still sounds promising to me, yes it’s a spin off, but hopefully its a good spinoff. All the features listed there, new or not, make it sound like a great game.

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 11:28.
  5. KeRaSh
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    I’m still looking forward to the game. I like the pirate theme and I haven’t played Far Cry 3, so it’ll probably feel pretty fresh to me. :D

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 11:50.
  6. theshockwave
    Member
    Since: Nov 2008

    I think the general idea of it sounds dull. The ship sections in ACIII were a boring aside to the actual game, now a game based almost entirely around that idea? Yawn.

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 12:02.
  7. Peter Chapman
    Team TSA: Editor
    Since: Forever

    So far, it sounds like it’s not really an Assassin’s Creed game (although they’ve always had divergent mechanics in each new entry to the series – this one just sounds like more of a divergent theme than a mechanic.) but I think the departure sounds very interesting and incredibly brave.

    How long have fans (ex-fans, pretend fans, snarky sideline-sitters who just revel in shooting down what others enjoy – whatever) been moaning that they’re not changing enough and just pushing out very similar games to get one out every year? Well, this seems like they’re trying for a very significant change and I think that bravery has to be applauded.

    All the Far Cry 3 similarities don’t put me off at all, either. And nobody is complaining too hard about the AC elements that have seeped into what we’ve seen so far of Watch Dogs. Ubi’s studios all assist on asset creation and stuff for just about every major game they do so this kind of thing isn’t surprising (or necessarily a bad thing).

    It’s a shame they didn’t or couldn’t show more but we are still a long way out and I’d guess that they don’t want to give away too much at this point while all the next-gen stuff is occupying the collective attention of fans.

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 12:56.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      Calamari was nice tho, forgot to mention that. Nom nom nom.

      Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 13:25.
    • teflon
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      Not just next gen, but also stealing headlines and attention from big current gen releases. ;)

      Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 13:49.
  8. RocketSOL
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    So…it’s a bit like Far Cry 3 then? :)
    laughing out loud in the office at that point.

    Yet another Creed game i’ll purchase when it drops in price. I just can’t keep up with all the releases in this franchise!

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 12:57.
  9. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    No Desmond and it focuses on naval battles with a better character? I am interested in this. I was hoping that they would have scrapped the animus as i disliked playing as Desmond due to it not being that good. I am hoping that they won’t force us to play as unnamed person and instead will do real world cutscenes via audio.

    I am glad that we can roam the seas and steal ships. It’s Grand Theft Auto:AC edition isn’t it?

    Multiplayer has actual naval battles? :D Ubi, if you can prove to me that this will be better then AC3(which it already sounds like it will be better), i will pick it up on day one and become TSA’s most wanted pirate. >:D Seriously, i would play the MP. :O

    I’m assuming that they will have refined the naval gameplay and the ship progression is tied into both the plot and what resources you have as well as crew size. I wonder if we take a lot of damage, we will have to go to the nearest port and fix it? I suspect a certain ship may appear in this. I am hoping that this won’t be a repeat of Brotherhood as i disliked that game. This could as good as AC2 or even better.

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 13:07.
  10. Jumping Monks
    Legend
    Since: Jan 2009

    I’ve never got into the Assassins creed series, played a fair amount of the first, didn’t like it, and haven’t picked one up since, though I do hear they got better and the problems I had with the first have been ironed out my friends tell me. This, however, sounds pretty awesome. An open world pirate game, in the AC series, which although missing me entirely, has been one of the most popular series this gen. I loved playing through FC3 recently, so this could very well be great from where I’m sitting. I look forward to hearing more over the next 6 months I guess.

    Comment posted on 04/03/2013 at 13:10.

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