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Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Black Flag isn't a Brotherhood or Revelations. That 'IV' in the title denotes new character, new location, new historical setting...and also a few other changes from the Assassin's conventions.

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But it's not entirely separate from what's went before. To hijack the series' own lexicon, IV's shares some DNA strands with ACIII.

The pre-announcement leaks spoilt some of the surprise: Assassins turned Pirates. Creed on the High Sea. Given sailing was one of the strongest elements of ACIII, the idea of that side-quest expanded into focal point for an open world game, with cities to freely sail to, islands to find, ruins to explore and ships to plunder is definitely tantalising. That the multi-studio teams behind the new project, three years in production, are aiming for seamless transitions between land, sea, ship or underwater exploration, excites. And let's get that format question out of the way: it's confirmed for PS4 as well as Xbox 360, PS3. Wii U and PC.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

IV abolishes the usual AC time-skip cycle with era and lead. We're at the opening of the 18th Century, starting in 1715, in the West Indies at the formation of the Pirates Charter. The game stretches over the course of a decade, and adds to the twisted family tree of the ACIII Kenways as we play Edward, father to ACIII's Hatham. Edward, in keeping with the franchise's faces entwining with historical fact, is one of the most feared pirates alongside the likes of Blackbeard, and has dual citizenship in both piracy and the Assassins order - a split that will play a major part in the story.

What that story is exactly, Ubisoft are keeping quiet. We know it'll have something to do with the formation of the Charter, as Pirates come together to set up their own democracy and clash with other empires looking to rule the seas. The studio touch on several key figures of the time and their vastly different temperaments, so there's a suggestion these Captains will be protagonist and antagonist alike. Somewhere in the middle of this cast of cads and crazies stands Ubisoft's newest addition.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

There's the distinct feel that the newest Kenway leans more towards the Ezio Auditore character school; words such as 'cocky', 'selfish' and 'rebel' flash up on screen as the newest hooded figure to the brotherhood is revealed. Ex-Royal Navy turned privateer (confirmed), rogue and complete bastard (complete speculation by ourselves). Carries four pistols and two swords. If you're going to sail the world with someone, it'd better be with someone interesting. Taking Hatham's confidence and mixing it with a brazen Italian's edginess sounds like a good start to us.

An emphasis of character flair is something we're also speculating on, but with good reason. While pointedly dismissing any fantastical elements to the pirates interpretation by way of a barbed dig at Disney's Depp-helmed franchise, Ubisoft do vividly paint these famous names and faces as bigger than life.

Accurate though previous games were in their rendering of historical faces, if you were untutored in history those characters appeared stiff, presence diminished without the hours on Wiki giving detail to their importance which Assassin's Creed only passingly acknowledges. A pirate's life is full of bluster and the theatrical. Entertaiment on screen. Engaging personalities at last. The names Blackbeard, Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, Bartholomew Roberts, are flashed up along with initial character models. We warm to them already.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

The game will contain fifty locations dotted across the seas, with a split of 60/40 between land and sea missions. Places that'll include major cities such as Havana, Kingston and Nassau - rooftop running and street assassinations haven't been dropped into the ocean - as well as a whole heap of smaller fishing villages, forts, plantations, jungles. There was mention that Edward would be out of his element amid the forests, as he wasn't born into it like Connor; does that mean free-running's going to be harder this time round?

Travel to these areas is as simple as sailing to them. A spyglass will let you search the horizon for landfall. Simply plot a course, draw up anchor when you're there, and jump off the side. you'll also be exploring under the sea as well as above it, gameplay clips showing us Edward diving down to salvage wrecks, and dodge sharks. Ubisoft are entitling it their Horizon System, and it'll offer the sort of errant exploration that made the likes of Far Cry and Wind Waker so enjoyable - a bigger, more diverse take on ACIII's Frontier.

Ubisoft spent a lot of their hour-long reveal presentation talking ships. Your own vessel, the Jackdaw, will be fully upgradable during the course of the game, which is key to surviving the larger clashes on sea. You'll have to fill out your crew as well from trading ports or discovering castaways. Training the spyglass on distant ships will break down their cargo manifest, strength and make, allowing you to judge whether you'd survive an encounter. There's five different archetypes of ship, each with different attack patterns.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Attacking and boarding them is entirely dynamic, even before factoring in the diverse weather system. Again, Ubisoft promise the entire sequence, from spotting, through chase, attack and boarding, will sail through without a cutscene in sight. Happier dodging trade ships for fear of engaging military vessels? Go harpooning instead: both screens and quick gameplay clips see Edward hunting down whales in the ocean depths.

There will be multiplayer in ACIV, though what's shown is character models and a few town maps. Not mentioned, yet casting a huge shadow is the thought in the potential of multiple ships hitting the high seas for joint piracy or even clashing amid the waves. How could it not happen?

We enter this life of adventure through the modern day Animus system, used by Abstergo Entertainment. Here again it's noticeable that Ubisoft is trying to unshackle itself from the confines that links the series together. As per Assassin's Creed III's ending, Desmond's story is over. There's no more than a wink and a nudge to the fact that cast and circumstances are still continuing from previous games, but now the eyes into the past are our own.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

It's a briefly mentioned fact that suggest a few things: either memories are now being treated as much entertainment as a concert or vacation is, perhaps as a publicly accessed system that customers can jack into, or it's inferred that we're a new pawn in the same game - as corporations try and filter through the past's secrets for today's gain.

And the idea also grows based on what we know of the PlayStation 4: given that console's core social features in sharing content, we have to wonder whether our next-gen versions will see their feature sets embedded into the games part of the experience.

There's a lot of potential here, but equally as many questions. From gameplay moments we see, Edward's body language, movement, dual-blades and attack patterns suggest our control methods won't be far from the overhauled system in ACIII. Will the indication that he's already an experienced Captain save us from another elongated tutorial that weighed down the previous game?

The game's three years in the making but the fall release slots it neatly into Assassin's yearly release cycle. Is there enough of the new to resuscitate gamers jaded by franchise burnout? The studio talks of this extracting the best of the franchise's previous games - open-ended assassinations from the original, multiple systems to enjoy from the sequel - but does that mean this is more of a best of than fresh start?

And with multiple studios working on the game - Montreal leads, but with input from Ubisoft Singapore, Ubisoft Sofia, Ubisoft Québec for SP, and Ubisoft Annecy and Bucharest for the Multiplayer - how are they making sure this remains a cohesive experience?

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

One thing's for sure though. Given the October release date likely tying into - or at least close to - the PlayStation 4 release, and with that gameplay immersion hinging on the rendering such as vast, unbroken, uninterrupted world as vividly as possible, Sony's console could be the best location to experience the life of a buccaneer....even if they don't include a bottle of rum with the special edition of the game.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
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