Preview – Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag

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So I’m pretty sure that everyone, at some point in their life, has done something pirate related. Dressing like a pirate? Sure. Talking like a pirate? Yeah, why not? Playing pirates? Sure, below a certain age that’s acceptable. Somali pirate? Fair enough, whatever floats (or I guess in this case, shoots at, hijacks and ransoms) your boat.

Well, whatever your pirate related dreams are, were or will be, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is giving you the opportunity to try them, in one form or another. If you’ve played AC3 before you’ve probably played one of the naval side missions that opened up trade routes, bonuses and new exploration areas, but it could be largely avoided for any sea-averse land-lubbers for the most part. This time around, I’m happy to say, it’s back with a vengeance, alongside the standard Assassin’s creed gameplay (running, jumping, climbing, stabbing, shooting etc…).

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AC: Black Flag is set initially in 1715, where piracy was widespread in the Carribean and often terrorised anything else on the sea from trade vessels to entire navy fleets. It is as Edward Kenway that you step into the arena, hoping to make your mark on the history books. However, you’re soon thrust into a long running conflict between the Templars and the Assassins… sound familiar?

Let’s start with the (sort of) new stuff. The naval combat has had a few upgrades since it’s predecessor, including improved mechanics, gameplay and, as is standard for AC sequels, yet another graphics improvement (see waves, the sea and general awesome scenery and textures to sail past/climb on/run over/jump on people from). The detail on the ships has come even further than before, along with active crew members who actually run around the ship doing their various pirate things: climbing stuff, jumping off other stuff, pulling ropes, trimming sails, loading giant ass cannons and the like, rather than standing slack jawed or dawdling slowly around the deck. The boat handling feels more realistic and the combat has got more interesting, well paced and varied (although you can still hit an island at full speed with hardly any damage… I watched someone else do it!). Other new stuff includes what appears to be an area map for exploration, scripted events now becoming player initiated (prepare to be boarded!) the ability to jump off the boat whenever you damn well please, large amounts of customisation and such classics as lootin’ and pillagin’. So overall for this aspect, we’ll be seeing some vast improvements for my fellow wannabe Blackbeards. If you’ve ever wished Sid Meier’s pirates was 3D and had a massive gameplay and graphics upgrade, this is definitely one to watch!

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Land combat in the demo seems to have stayed largely the same. The system is very similar to the previous games, albeit with (likely) a new set of sparkly weapons to try out. The flintlock pistol and shooting mechanics are no longer awful: you can actually fire more than once every hour, and aiming is no longer akin to trying to trying to snipe on a PC with a touchpad. If you can tell, I hated AC3’s shooting mechanics early game. Combat seems to flow marginally better in the demo, which is always nice when most of the combat relies on perfect timing of button hits to perform combo kills. The improved textures off shore have also been imported onto land (they managed to smuggle it past customs apparently) to make another beautiful environment for players to cover with the blood of Templars and throw beggars, lute players and other annoying civilians into.

So in summary, AC Black Flag should live up to expectations, and builds once again on the other games preceding it in the series. If the previous games are anything to go by, it’ll have a well thought out plot intertwined into the history books as we know them, and a beautiful environment to follow this plotline through. AC fans certainly won’t be disappointed, and Sid Meier’s pirates fans (or any similar games) will probably love it too: we’ll find out on October the 29th! In my opinion, this is (yet another) game to watch as a result of content from the Eurogamer Expo, which took this game from “meh, I could care less” to “I want to be a pirate again”. And that’s just one demo…

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