Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag preview: refreshing a franchise

Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag represents an opportunity to refresh the franchise at large. Building upon the excellent ship-to-ship action of Assassin's Creed 3, almost the entirety of AC4 is set on the high seas. It's deeper too. Think of it as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, but with assassins, boarding actions, customizable crews, and underwater exploration.

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It's fair to say that the last couple years have brought with it a wave of Assassin's Creed fatigue. Assassin's Creed 2 was well-received back in 2009; but the formula has felt a little more tired with each passing year. Even a shift to the American Revolution hasn't been enough for the series to shake that faint sense of exhaustion. So for Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag--the fourth since 2009--Ubisoft is appealing to the very soul of the internet, and making their latest assassin a pirate. Not only that, he'll be running with a formidable cast of real-life buccaneers, including the likes of Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, Charles Vane, and Anne Bonny. It's not quite Pirates of the Caribbean, but it should be enough to tap into the same fascination that made Johnny Depp's star vehicle into a megabucks franchise. More importantly though, this latest entry represents an opportunity to refresh the franchise at large. Building upon the excellent ship-to-ship action of Assassin's Creed 3, almost the entirety of AC4 is set on the high seas. It's deeper too. Think of it as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, but with assassins, boarding actions, customizable crews, and underwater exploration. If Ubisoft is successful, Black Flag figures to offer a degree of freedom surpassing even that of Assassin's Creed 3, which itself offered a sprawling world to explore. There will be 50 locations to visit, from Kingston, Jamaica, to Havana, with plenty of jungle havens in-between. Ubisoft is planning plenty of scripted events, but some will also be generated by the game itself, such as large storms that can appear unexpectedly. The move to the ocean ought to be a refreshing one for a franchise that can occasionally feel set in its ways. The signature climbing mechanics will still be there, whether swinging from trees or masts, but a lot more time will be spent plying the Caribbean. It has the potential to feel like a very different game, should Ubisoft pull it off. Of course, that's the real trick, isn't it? There were points when Assassin's Creed 3 felt ill-considered or even downright unfinished, particularly during the final battle. And it was loaded with bugs, too, until a December patch fixed many of its most crippling problems,. Let's just say that execution hasn't always been one of Assassin's Creed's strong points.

Click to see the new screenshots

Still, Black Flag has potential. Thus far, Ubisoft is only really willing to speak in generalities, but they have dropped a few tantalizing tidbits here and there. For instance, there will be both key characters and generic crew members, the latter of whom can be recruited from a pool of available pirates. It will also be possible to customize your ship's loadout, overall look, and other elements. This is all good; the more control you get over the look and feel of your ship, the better. Actual ship-to-ship battles will be fought with a variety of weapons; and when you get close enough, boarding actions will become possible as well. This is where picking the right crew member figures to come in handy. Large-scale fights will break out once you're aboard, and it will be up to you to properly direct your fighters by issuing general orders. Of course, being an assassin, you will be able to deal some major damage yourself with the help of your dual sabers and your pistol. Supposedly, Black Flag will feature brand new multiplayer elements; let's hope that ship-to-ship combat is one of them. One more interesting twist involves ACIV's place in the overall lore of the series. The story stars Edward Kenway, captain of the Jackdaw, and grandfather of Assassin's Creed 3 star Connor (as well as father to Templar Haytham Kenway). Set more roughly 100 years before the events of the American Revolution, Black Flag actually moves the timeline backward a bit, which suggests that it was originally meant to be more of a Brotherhood-style spinoff than a full-blown numbered sequel. The Templar-controlled Abstergo Industries likewise makes a return, so there will once again be a modern component. This time around though, the contemporary story will be told from the perspective of the player. At a guess, this is Ubisoft's way of hinting that the Templar conspiracy is "real." This would make for one nightmarish re-interpretation of history, mainly because it would ask us to believe that Henry Ford gave fellow Templar Adolf Hitler ancient technology from Eden, which he then used to hypnotize the population of Germany into following him into World War II. In any case, all the pieces are in place for what should be a fun twist on the traditional Assassin's Creed formula. Pirates may be a somewhat predictable twist for a series that has done its best to leverage unique settings through history; but outside of Sid Meier's Pirates and Monkey Island, games set during that colorful bit of nautical history are rarer than they seem. With that in mind, a full-blown pirate simulator is more than welcome in this day and age, especially one with the size and scope of an Assassin's Creed game. Admittedly, that lingering sense of fatigue remains. It's probably inevitable given the degree to which Ubisoft has saturated the market with Assassin's Creed games. But the overall premise is sound. We'll just have to see about the execution. The game is scheduled to arrive on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U on October 29, and PC, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's next-gen Durango console sometime later.
From The Chatty
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    March 4, 2013 6:00 AM

    Kat Bailey posted a new article, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag preview: refreshing a franchise.

    Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag represents an opportunity to refresh the franchise at large. Building upon the excellent ship-to-ship action of Assassin's Creed 3, almost the entirety of AC4 is set on the high seas. It's deeper too. Think of it as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, but with assassins, boarding actions, customizable crews, and underwater exploration.

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      March 4, 2013 6:02 AM

      looks so awesome

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      March 4, 2013 6:03 AM

      So is this going to be one of the last Xbox 360 / PS3 games, or one of the first games for the 720/PS4?

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        March 4, 2013 6:05 AM

        Oh. Nevermind. Just watched the trailer. It's going to be one of those painful games that straddles the line between current and next gen. At least it should look good.

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          March 4, 2013 6:13 AM

          This should be called AC3: black flag in my opinion.

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            March 4, 2013 6:15 AM

            why? its a new setting, new character and looks to be quite different gameplay. They've already kinda dug themself a weird hole with the naming of this franchise

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          March 4, 2013 6:13 AM

          It's not like the previous AC games are a slouch, so some fancier effects and proper resolution will look fine.

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          March 4, 2013 6:21 AM

          At least we can be pretty confident it will be a launch title. Will be good to have a game to be really excited for instead of having to pick through crap to find something to play on launch day.

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            March 4, 2013 6:58 AM

            I'm so far behind on the AC games. I really loved the first one -- I did way more than I had to, but I stalled out half way through AC2. I bought Brotherhood and Revelations and I really want to play AC3, but I feel this weird thing about just jumping ahead to AC3 without playing all the AC2 games. :/

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              March 4, 2013 7:03 AM

              Yeah I just played Brotherhood over Christmas and still have Revelations sitting there ready to go. I will probably try to rush through that and AC3 this summer so I can finally be caught up.

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          March 4, 2013 7:24 AM

          I hope they don't pull a Splinter Cell: Double Agent and have two different singleplayer campaigns (1 for the original XBOX and other older consoles like PS2 and GameCube; 1 for the new XBOX 360 and PS3).



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            March 5, 2013 4:10 AM

            For me, it would depend on how they did it. If one was a sequel to the other: great, bring it on! If you're going to be like SC:DA and just have two contradicting storylines... don't bother.

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      March 4, 2013 6:24 AM

      Wow they are going really early on the preview cycle for this one

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      March 4, 2013 6:41 AM

      I'm interested....but how the F does this tie into Desmond.
      I always felt they never should have tied it to anyone in the present. Its like being stranded in the desert finding a a bottle full of clear liquid, only then you realize its vinegar inside. From the looks of things we'll never get that modern day Assassins Creed cause they are just teleporting all over history )at a whim now it seems).
      I guess as soon as they have a modern version that will be the last game. HOPEFULLY, gamers wouldn't have grown tired of it by then.

      They should have ended the Desmond connection and found a new protagonist.

      On a side note, I see they are trying to re-capture some of Enzio's traits, specifically sleeping with women. Sadly Connor was to busy finding himself, fighting a war and taking care of the homestead to be bogged down in a romantic relationship.

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        March 4, 2013 6:44 AM

        I think the series has built itself up enough at this point that they could just base it on the assassin's in different time periods and drop all the modern day bullshit. That is my least favorite part of the series by far.

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          March 4, 2013 8:50 AM

          Yeah, I'm gonna have to agree with you there.

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        March 4, 2013 9:28 AM

        Desmond is no longer the modern day protagonist. They did exactly what you said they should do.

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      March 4, 2013 7:00 AM

      So AC is gonna be all about seamen from now on?

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        March 4, 2013 8:56 AM

        The goal of the game is to make sure there's a bunch of dead seamen on the other guy's poop deck.

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        March 4, 2013 9:07 AM

        Hopefully they do Asscreed:Seamen Bros as a follow up. I can't wait to gather up a party of pirates to pillage seamen and rock big cannons.

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      March 4, 2013 8:39 AM

      At one point should they just ditch AC? I mean if you want to make a pirate game, go make a pirate game, no one is going to say "HEY that plays like AC!"

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        March 4, 2013 9:11 AM

        Agreed... I didnt care for the while ship sailing part of AC to begin with...
        clearly not what AC was about with stealth kills and chasing down people while leaping from building to building... dont get me wrong, the parts where you destroyed the ships and had to escape where the high points of the game, but the sailing and fighting was quite boring.

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          March 4, 2013 4:09 PM

          You're broken! The naval stuff was some of the best stuff in the game!

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        March 4, 2013 9:17 AM

        The same reason they make sequels instead of new properties. Recognizable means a headstart on sales.

        Just the fact that it says AC probably means 2 million copies sold immediately, even if it was AC: Farm Simulator.

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          March 4, 2013 9:17 PM

          Exactly. I heard Ken Levine actually wanted to give BioShock Infinite its own title but the powers that be insisted on calling it a BioShock game because it was a respected, established franchise.

          That is a huge deal in this industry.

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            March 5, 2013 4:12 AM

            But in Bioshock Infinite's case, that's literally just branding; there's no story or gameplay connection to Rapture (and I thought there was some contradiction in story though I'll be darned if I can remember what).

            Here, Black Flag is at least using the trappings of the Assassin's Creed games, embracing the franchise fully.

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              March 5, 2013 6:22 AM

              I'm sure the game will play a lot like Bioshock.

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      March 4, 2013 9:23 AM

      "well I parkoured my way across the boat ...now what?

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      March 4, 2013 3:52 PM

      How are the pc versions of Assassin's Creed? I played the first one on pc but got the second on 360 because back then i think uplay would take you out of the game if you lost connection, though from what i gather uplay isn't as bad now and you can actually carry on playing if your connection drops right?

      At least It was that way for me with Driver San Francisco.

      I guess they run fine on pc though right? The first one did from what i remember, might pick brotherhood up on pc.

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        March 4, 2013 3:54 PM

        Brotherhood on pc is pretty well optimized and looks great. No problem playing it with M&KB

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          March 4, 2013 4:02 PM

          Ok cool thanks, i've also got a wired 360 controller so might use that but yer i remember the first game controlling ok with a m&kb.

          No problems with uplay?

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            March 4, 2013 4:07 PM

            Uplay didn't require to be always-on connected, just on launching the game. It was alright, no gripes with it.

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              March 4, 2013 4:11 PM

              My biggest gripe with Uplay is that I have two games I bought on Steam that I can no longer play because Uplay has decided I don't own them even though I've played them before.

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                March 4, 2013 4:21 PM

                Hmm thats strange, have you tried contacting ubisoft support about it?

                They can't just stop you from playing games that you've bought through steam, thats bullshit. Surely you can get it resolved somehow?

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                  March 5, 2013 4:12 AM

                  Yes, they can. Welcome to the wonderful world of digital.

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              March 4, 2013 4:18 PM

              Ok thanks, will pick it up at some point then.

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          March 4, 2013 4:28 PM

          one exception: tombs

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      March 4, 2013 3:54 PM

      Jealous cowards try to control!

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      March 4, 2013 4:26 PM

      I've never played the AssCreed games but I like the skull and crossbones backdrop. Certainly feels like it has more potential than the setting used for the last game; will keep my eye on this.

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      March 5, 2013 3:23 AM

      Oh, I see a tower in that screen shot! I can't wait to climb and synchronize on it. That never gets old.

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        March 5, 2013 4:14 AM

        Are you being serious or sarcastic? (Personally, I liked that exploration mechanic; I was disappointed in AC3 when it didn't actually reveal everything. I'm wondering whether I'm alone here or not. :) )

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          March 5, 2013 4:31 AM

          Sorry, I was being sarcastic. After doing all that and uncovering everything in the first three games, it kind of burnt me out. Though I did love it at the time.

          I'm kind of itching for a new PoP, a little less exploration, more puzzles and traps. The only trap in AC really, is accidentally leaping off something in the wrong direction. lol

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