After taking players on historically rich romps through the Third Crusade, Renaissance-era Italy, and the American Revolution, Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed franchise is bringing fans to the Caribbean. Subtitled Black Flag, the official fourth entry in the throat-slitting, back-stabbing, entrails-spilling series isn't inviting players on a vacation cruise though; nor is it having them relive the antics of the same-named cult-fave hardcore band (although Henry Rollins would make a kick-ass cloaked killer.) No, Assassin's Creed IV is all about pillaging, plundering and jabbing pointy things into the jugulars of scallywags and scoundrels.
“The Golden Age of Piracy is a strong historical element on which to build a game, and Assassin's Creed is the perfect franchise to bring it to life,” explains Sylvain Trottier, the game's associate producer. “Our new setting is the early 18th century Caribbean Sea, called the West Indies at the time. We're introducing new, deeper gameplay mechanics, both on the ground as well as at sea... We're merging together an unprecedented land and sea experience for players. We're also merging two strong fantasies, pirates and assassins. Our new hero, Edward Kenway, is a bad-ass pirate.”
Art director Raphael Lacoste adds to Trottier's description of the franchise's latest life-siphoning protagonist: “Kenway is the grandfather of Connor Kenway, from Assassin's Creed III. He's a young, brash and reckless British guy. What makes him special though, is that he's been trained by the Assassins.” During a brief video demonstration, AP gets a first-hand look at what exactly an assassin-trained pirate is capable of. Wielding four flintlock pistols and a pair of cutlasses, Kenway uses hot lead and cold steel to ventilate enemies' chest cavities, open baddies from balls to brain and generally paint a ship's deck in the blood of his attackers, all with swagger to spare.
While the series has previously allowed players to reshape history from behind the bullets and blades of its heroes, Black Flag is upping the ante (and presumably the body count) by not only refining the familiar combat, but also injecting it with plenty of fresh elements. In addition to sporting the series' usual cinematic style, encounters will also adopt some of the dirty fighting techniques favored by pirates; so, don't be surprised if a scuffle at the local watering hole sees Kenway trading his more traditional death-dealers for a broken bottle or splintered bar stool.
Naval battles, introduced in Assassin's Creed III, have also evolved significantly to become a major component of the forthcoming entry's immersion-pushing gameplay. According to Trottier, Black Flag is “bringing the first true naval open-world to the table.” Describing it as a “seamless and fluid experience,” he promises an unmatched feeling of freedom, allowing armchair adventurers to explore the sprawling world with nary a hiccup. This means commanding a customizable ship, recruiting its crew, and taking it for epic spins on the high seas. Once on the water, players won't just engage and board enemy ships; they'll also explore remote islands, brave brutal tropical storms and even harpoon whales. (An important element of the game's economy system that's already incurred the wrath of PETA.) Players can also dive into the deep blue—a first for the franchise—to dig for buried treasure or, you know, tango with a great white shark.
Although it's fleshing out the often fantastical world of pirates, Black Flag isn't abandoning the series' history-respecting roots. Kenway's epic journey will take players to authentic locales, such as Havana, Cuba, Nassau, Bahamas, and Kingston, Jamaica, where they'll swill rum and swing steel with the likes of legendary pirates like Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Calico Jack. Trottier also promises his team's take on the Golden Age of Piracy won't be watered down or Disney-fied. Referring to Black Flag as “the HBO version of pirates,” he guarantees the mature game won't feature hook hands, squawking parrots or Jack Sparrow-wannabes.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, coming to current and next-generation consoles as well as PC, doesn't set sail until October 29, but based on AP's early look at the swashbuckling sequel, we're already marking our calendar—and treasure map—in anticipation.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is now available to pre-order.