‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’ and the promises of piracy

March 05, 2013 | 1:18 p.m.

There’s no question there has been plenty of “Assassin’s Creed” to go around lately. With five console releases and eight offshoot titles since the series’ debut in 2007, it comes as no surprise that another entry in Ubisoft’s bestselling annual series is on the way.

What is raising eyebrows, though, are the setting and gameplay promises of “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.” The team for “Black Flag,” a prequel to “Assassin’s Creed III” set in the Caribbean, already has boasted of a vast world tied together by a 60-40 split between on-foot and naval expeditions.

Ubisoft previously showed its ability to build open, tropical environments with last year’s “Far Cry 3.” Developers of that game jumped on board to help build “Black Flag.” If the series’ enormous sales numbers are any indication — with the third “Creed” selling more than 12 million copies — there’s plenty of built-in anticipation leading up to the game’s Oct. 29 release date. But what exactly is being promised with “Black Flag” that players haven’t already seen before?

Exploration of the Kenway clan’s history: The main character in “IV,” Edward Kenway, is the father of Haytham Kenway and grandfather of Connor Ratohnhake:ton, “Assassin’s Creed III’s” two playable characters. Edward, a British pirate of widespread notoriety (which the debut trailer elaborates on), will become a member of the Assassin Order and be controlled by an employee of the villainous current-day Abstergo Corp. (“Assassin’s Creed IV,” like previous games in the series, straddles time periods.)

Ubisoft has remained firm that the story of Desmond Miles, the common thread throughout the series, reached its conclusion with “Creed III.” Explaining why would mean including a lot of spoilers, but you can catch up on the series online.

Upgrades to the naval gameplay of “Assassin’s Creed III”: As expected from a game centered on 18th century piracy, Edward’s ship the Jackdaw will be more feature-rich than the ships of the previous entry.  Available at the player’s beck and call, the ship and its crew will be upgradable, and Ubisoft has made bold promises of a new alert system that allows the player flexibility to move on either land or sea. Should the player hop into the Jackdaw, alerted enemies will follow suit. According to the team, it’s also entirely possible to lure enemy ships into storms to break their pursuit.

So long, load times: Players will be able to transition from land-based exploration, board their ships and head off to new waters without worrying about a long load time, says associate producer Sylvain Trottier. Want to board an enemy ship after steering yours beside it? Even on current hardware, he told Kokatu, players won’t be faced with a loading screen.

“Connected” next-gen features: “Black Flag” has only been confirmed for the Wii U and PS4, though it’s hard to imagine the title not landing on Microsoft’s eventual successor to the Xbox 360. Beyond taking advantage of the greater hardware horsepower, creative director Jean Guesdon alluded to additional next-gen-only features.

The next-generation versions will mean “connected features” that allow players to “feel that even if they remain ‘single player,’ it will be better to be a ‘single connected player,’ ” Guesdon told Computer and Video Games.  The “solo experience,” he said, will also benefit from the presence of the larger community.

Guesdon’s remarks fall in line with Sony’s PS4 reveal, which touted the system’s heavy integration of social networking elements.

No short-term development: The announcement of “Black Flag” has come out before even the second of three episodes in the downloadable “Tyranny of King Washington” expansion for “AC: III”  has launched. Yet development for “Black Flag” began in the summer of 2011, with the writing duties being handled by “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations” scribe Darby McDevitt and the art direction undertaken by Raphael Lacoste, who also worked on “Revelations.” And Guesdon has been involved with the series since the very first entry.

Key to all of this, of course, is that Ubisoft follow through on the high bar set by the likes of “Assassin’s Creed II” and its own hype.

Still, as strong as the series has been, there are cracks in the “Assassin’s Creed” story line and technical underpinnings, problems that marred “AC: III,” as highlighted by Hero Complex’s Todd Martens.

— Morgan Little


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