When Man In Suit came on stage and said that Ubisoft were the best possible company to tackle piracy, I roared with laughter. But the other two billion journalists sitting in the ornate hall stayed deadly quiet. I didn’t understand. Then six black flags (six black plastic posters) were dramatically unravelled over the balconies to either side of us and Man In Suit announced the making of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. ‘Ohh,’ I said loudly to my neighbour. ‘He means the THEME of piracy.’ I nodded knowledgably and took some notes for you.
As you all know by now, the next Ass Creed will be set around the Caribbean islands, mainly Cuba and Jamaica. The year is 1715 and you play as pirate captain and Englishman Edward Kenway, the grandfather of the previous hero, who has been trained by the order of assassins. What you DON’T know – and what Ubi is very keen for you to understand – is that this isn’t your stereotypical cutlass-waving adventure. “We will shy away from clichés that have coloured our perceptions,” said Ubisoft. We are dealing with the TRUE STORY of piracy here. Just check out this sweet trailer.
Oh man. I don’t know about you guys but my preconceptions have been, like, completely blown away. Like, almost as if by cannon fire. Pirates aren’t just the murderous villains you and I think they are. For instance, the game includes the TRUE-TO-LIFE pirate haven of Nassau as a significant location. This is where pirates founded their own democratic republic, said Ubisoft. That’s right, pirates were democratic. “For example,” said Ubi, “if they didn’t like their captain, they could kill him.” Hurray, democracy!
The cast of fearsome characters isn’t limited to Blackbeard. Benjamin Hornigold, Anne Bonny and Calico Jack are some of the other privateers that will feature in this definitely true story of piracy. Historical events of the game’s tale include the single-handed assault on 42 Portuguese ships, the wreck of the Spanish Armada (er...), and the marooning of Charles Vane, which certainly isn’t a pirate cliché.
But never mind the story. The actually interesting thing about the new Ass Creed is the open ocean. The developer is promising that, rather than warping from one city to another or travelling along a single road, as in previous games, you will be able to set sail on a freely available ocean and visit 50 locations around Cuba, Mexico and Florida. The franchise is going from confined ‘maps’ to one large connected world. Before the presentation a friend said all he wanted from Black Flag was Wind Waker: Murder Edition. If Ubisoft delivers on this promise of an open world, then he might actually get what he wants. Although to imagine the game without loading screens might be a tad too optimistic.
The idea is that you can get on your ship in Havana and set sail to Kingston, stopping off at little islands, coves, plantations, forts, jungles and villages along the way – all of which you can explore after dropping anchor and swimming ashore. (Yes, swimming. Assassins can swim now. They can even swim underwater using pirate diving belts to explore shipwrecks.) Each of these locations types is likely to have their own purpose. Villages and coastal settlements will harbour sidequests and the chance to upgrade your ship with bigger cannonballs, while jungles hide Mayan ruins which will almost certainly be used for Ass Creed’s terrible Chariots-of-the-Gods-meets-Dan-Brown metaplot.
Interestingly, it was hinted that coconut islands might be places to pick up new crew members, who had been abandoned by other ships. This process of keeping your crew at a healthy number is important to the ship-to-ship combat you’ll be seeing a lot more of. This won’t be constrained single missions like the last game but will also take place on the open sea. By looking through your spyglass from the deck of your ship, the Jackdaw, you can get a bead on distant vessels – how tough they are, how much treasure they have, their fighting strength and so on – then approach them or ignore them as you please. Enemy naval ships will have different archetypes in the same way troops do but so far we were only told of one, called the ‘charger’, which seeks to ram the Jackdaw full-force. Presumably, you’ll have to switch up your tactics for each fight.
The reason you want to keep your crew members plentiful is because if you decide to pull up alongside a target ship and board it, your entire crew will follow you. Crew will be lost in these tussles as well as in the cannon fire of naval battles. Sometimes they will go overboard in stormy seas, although whether these storms were part of a dynamic weather system or limited to a few scripted events was not made clear.
Apart from all that I really don’t know what else to tell you. Uh, you can harpoon whales? And stab sharks? That’s something. They want to bring back the “open-ended” assassinations of the first game, which is.... I guess... yeah.
Oh! Oh! No, I’ve got one, you’ll like this: the protagonist is YOU. That’s right, the frame story of this Assassin’s Creed is no longer that of a bland, hoodied bartender but of you, sitting right there, YOU. “We are now in the present day,” said Ubisoft, smiling postmoderningly. “You will be the hero of the game, working for Abstergo Entertainment.” The game developer’s spokesperson then suggested that Abstergo Entertainment is a real-world company, which they have very close links to. This is it, ladies and gentlemen. Ubisoft, in a terrifying and shocking acknowledgment of just how dystopian this industry has become, have actually started to believe their own game fiction.
The presentation ended and I felt the thoughts of two billion journalists turning to alcohol and snacks. As we drank, we noticed that we began to feel tired and very agreeable to suggestion. By the time we realised what was happening, it was too late. We had, each and every one of us, been drugged with Endiay – known to chemists as endiaymine trioxide – which has a fascinating and very specific effect on journalists. First, there is the memory loss, followed shortly by seizures of the tongue, gums and teeth. Then the victim lapses into a state of catatonic denial and eventually coma. It would be days before we would awake and get our senses back. But when we did, we discovered we were – all two billion of us – trapped inside a small wine cellar in rural Northumberland. It was worrying yes, but we played cards and drank Médoc to pass the time (and even became very good friends – hello Barnaby!) until some stranger came and released us earlier today.
I am pleased to report the effects of the drug have now worn off. The release date for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is scheduled for ‘Fall 2013’.