Last week the first details of Assassin’s Creed IV leaked onto the net, and yesterday the game was officially announced. While Ubisoft's stated intention to release an Assassin's Creed title every year meant that Black Flag's existence was hardly a surprise, not many would have predicted that the franchise would take to the high seas for its next installment.
Here’s everything we know so far:
Black Flag takes place in 1713, when treaties between England, Spain, and France put an end to their squabbling for the first time in decades. However, that peace has left thousands of British sailors out of work and as a consequence, a good proportion these men are forced into piracy to support their families.
The game’s protagonist is Edward Kenway, a young British man who is nonetheless a veteran fighter for the Royal Navy. His choice to turn to piracy sees him take command of a ship called The Jackdaw and cross the paths of infamous pirates such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane.
According to game director Ashraf Ismail, Black Flag presents an opportunity to tell the more credible and realistic version of what actually happened during that time period, "because what actually happened was thrilling”.
“These characters, these men, they attempted to do something for the first time in history which was to create a Democratic Republic. These men disconnected themselves from the Empire, and decided that we'll create a new government,” he told Destructoid.
“It fails in a spectacular way, and we put the player in the heart of this experience.”
The choice of a male lead was automatic, Ismail told IGN, as although there were a few prominent female pirates, they didn’t want to feature one as the protagonist and have that as a detail that “people got stuck on”.
“I would say it wouldn't be surprising to see a female assassin coming up in a mainline Assassin's Creed,” he said, “but for us, for AC4, it was always Edward.”
As in every Assassin’s Creed game, Edward’s memories are actually being experienced by a person in an Animus device in the present day. However, in this iteration that person doesn’t have a name, with Ubisoft instead pitching them as “you”. Obviously this time around the Animus technology doesn’t require its user to be related to its target.
“We wanted to remove this barrier that you’re playing a guy who’s playing in a machine playing a guy,” Ismail told Venturebeat. “So instead, it’s really you as the hero in the present day using the Animus to go into someone’s life.”
Throughout the course of the game, the player will discover why Edward is of particular interest to the Templars, the owners of the Animus technology.
There will be 50 different areas to explore in Black Flag, with ship customisation required before some may be reached. Naval aspects of the game constitute about 40 per cent of its content, with the rest split across what Ubisoft is calling “the most varied Assassin's Creed ever”.
There will be jungles, fisherman villages, plantations, coves, Mayan ruins, naval forts, tropical islands, and even underwater environments. In addition, randomly generated events will tempt players from the main campaign path. Activities will include treasure hunting on the ocean floor while fending off sharks, and a whale harpooning mini game that has already been denounced by PETA.
The game’s scope more than justifies its numbered title, says lead content manager Carsten Myhill. “The whole feeling of the game is completely fresh and new. It will feel very different to Assassin’s Creed III,” he told CVG. “I think it completely warrants the Assassin’s Creed IV moniker, not only with the new name and setting, but the attitude and the tone of the experience.”
“We want to make it clear to fans, and those who haven’t played Assassin’s Creed before, that this is a pirate game. The ‘Black Flag’ is there, it says ‘Hey, this is the HD, open-world action adventure pirate game you’ve been waiting for’”. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot agrees. “With the new hero and new setting we are creating the boldest and most unique Assassin’s Creed game yet, while still respecting the pillars of the franchise that have made it such a fan favourite,” he said.
BLOOD AND THUNDER
As we reported yesterday, Black Flag will feature real-time ship boarding. Today Ismail told Venturebeat that a new spyglass tool will allow Edward to spot sails on the horizon on targets or land, and that once ships are tethered together, the player may use a new free-aim system to snipe the enemy crew, or man a deck-mounted swivel gun. In addition, ships may be boarded via the traditional rope swing, or from the water for a more stealthy approach.
“And all this while you have to worry about military ships that are on the hunt for pirates,” said Ismail.
CLEAVE THE SEA
Massive frigates patrol high-value islands, and conquering them will require The Jackdaw to be sufficiently advanced. Upgrades to your vessel will see her cannons go from six to a maximum of 56, and repairs and crew management will factor heavily in the player's ocean-going success. Some of these crew are named and play prominent roles within the game, but even the cannon fodder are important when it comes to boarding other vessels.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is currently in development at Ubisoft Montreal, as well as seven or eight other support studios depending on who you ask. Its development began in autumn 2011. The game will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC on October 29.