When Ubisoft invited me to Manhattan in mid-February for a Assassin’s Creed– related ad, I assumed it would have something to do with Assassin’s Creed III. You know, probably an inevitable three-point sequel, say “Assassin’s Creed: Fellowship” or “Assassin’s Creed: Illuminations”. But I was skeptical: ACIIIis not yet five months old. What else could this be? A line of plush toys with retractable plastic arm blades?
Surprise! Ubisoft jumps straight to a numbered sequel with what it calls Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, a little temporal back-pedaling at the beginning of the 18th century (around 1715) which sounds like the sequences of ACIII where you piloted a warship around the east coast and the Caribbean, enlarged to encompass a standalone pirate game.
That’s right, you’re finally going to be able to get rid of that swashbuckling itch, playing the role of British assassin turned pirate Edward Kenway, father of ACIIIHaytham Kenway (and therefore Connor’s grandfather), roaming the Caribbean during the “golden age of the pirates” as the pirates “established their own lawless republic”, that is to say a chance to explore anarchist ideology according to the show’s tendency to philosophize while rubbing shoulders with scoundrels like Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and Charles Vane (no word on Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, but hopefully). And yes, while Desmond’s journey to the 21st century may be over, the game remains focused on the age-old struggle between Assassins and Templars.
But okay, I’ve been there and I definitely did, haven’t I? How many “once innocent guy but now always passer-by” games can you play? When they involve hackers, at least one more, and here’s the part justified enough: It’ll be a “vast” open world encompassing Kingston (Jamaica) to Nassau (Bahamas) – Ubisoft calls it “the most diverse Assassin’s Creed world ever. created ”- with 50 fully seaworthy locations and an elaborate ship-to-ship slaughter system, complete with upgrades, derived from the one that has proven so popular with ACIII players.
The combat will reflect the weaponry of the time with the usual Assassin’s Creed twist (Ubisoft reassures that it will still be a stealth game), and the studio says it is once again refining multiplayer (it will be “more varied and ruthless than ever”) but did not elaborate on those details. Oh, and you’ll be able to swim underwater, so given previous games’ penchant for collectible minigames, definitely a pearl / buried treasure diving riff.
Ubisoft says ACIVhas been in development for two years already and it’ll take nine massive studios to do it, so: slow applause to keep this one under the covers all this time, guys.
Here is the official trailer.
The last pirate game I played semi-seriously (not counting the Sid Meier’s pirates! remake in 2004) was Akella’s Sea dogs in 2000, a good 3D riff on Sid Meier’s pirates! (the original version from 1987) I remember appreciating its graphics more than its gameplay (in 2000, the notion of non-linear 3D gaming was relatively recent). You’d think the 2000s would have been the heart of pirates for gaming, with the wacky Gore Verbinski / Disney film series debuting in 2003 and going on to make billions in ticket sales. But no, exceptions are made for Booty Age, the Royal Port biz sims and snacks Tales from monkey island Graphic adventures, it’s been a pretty dark decade for pirate games. Even the promising pirate MMO, Scorching Sea Pirates, which launched in January 2008, recently lost its original developer (Flying Lab Software) and official support from Sony Online Entertainment.
The advantage of Ubisoft getting into a pirate game is that we are talking about a developer known for their meticulous attention to historical detail. I’m not talking about historical fidelity – games often engage in Harry Turtledove-caliber revisionism – but I’m inclined to believe ACIVdirector Ashraf Ismail when he tells United States today: “Pirates have been romanticized in the media or some other form of entertainment, because of Treasure Island (and) Disney… We see an opening to do a much more mature version, like the HBO version of the pirates.” (That said, I’m wary of HBO comparisons after Dragon ageLead designer Mike Laidlaw said as much about this game and then dropped the ball.)
Systems: PC (Windows), PS3, PS4 (buyers of the PS3 / PS4 version get “60 extra game minutes” via the PlayStation Network), Wii U, Xbox 360 and “other next-gen consoles” (hello Xbox, whatever your called!). And no, it won’t be released in 2014 or 2015: expect some hands-on premieres at E3 in June, and the game will arrive this year on October 29.