There’s been a vast array of titles spawned from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, boasting six primary iterations from the main series. The open-world stealth adventure games have garnered unprecedented critical acclaim, representing one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, with a total of 55 million units pushed off the shelves, as of March of this year.
Developed by Ubisoft Montréal, the team’s latest piratanical offering flaunts a stunning Caribbean backdrop, harnessing a graphically impressive engine. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag also showcases some nice physics; Leaves of flora sway in the breeze and respond to movement, the glistening water ebbs and flows with dynamic weather events, and mortar-shelled buildings and ships are violently scattered about the terrain.
With Black Flag’s release date soon to be upon us, we decided to explore the gameplay mechanics, its open-world setting, release dates, DLC and collector’s editions.
WARNING: the YouTube video footage used throughout this article contains material that some viewers may find offensive. Viewer discretion is advised.
Assassin’s Plotline and Release Dates
Assassin’s Creed revolves around the sparring of two longstanding, covert societies – the Assassin’s and the Knights Templar. The series began with Desmond Miles, a humble bartender who has genetic relations to a line of prominent assassins. Miles is forced to confront his ancestral lineage, after he is kidnapped by Abstergo Industries, a modern-day conglomerate that represents the Knights Templar. Placed into a machine that allows the company to tap into familial memories, Desmond is forced to disclose the locations of the “Pieces of Eden,” artifacts that possess phenomenal power over the human race.
Whilst Desmond Miles is technically the prevailing protagonist, most of the game’s action and gameplay is witnessed through the eyes of Desmond’s ancestors using the Animus device; such characters include AltaÏr, Ezio and Connor, who roamed the Earth during different periods of time, ranging from the Third Crusade through to the American Revolution.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag jumps further ahead in time to follow the machinations of a British pirate, named Edward Kenway, during a period defined as the Golden Age of Piracy; Edwards Kenway is genetically related to two of the playable characters from Assassin’s Creed III, including Connor and Haytham Kenway.
Black Flag is slated for release on multiple platforms, with precise dates dependent upon the gamers’ device of choice and geographical location:
- PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360 (worldwide) – Oct. 29, 2013
- PlayStation 4 (North America) – Oct. Nov. 15, 2013
- PlayStation 4 (European Union) – Nov. 22, 2013
- Xbox One (North America/EU) – Nov. 22, 2013
- PC (North America) – Nov. 19, 2013
- PC (European Union) – Nov. 22, 2013
The Beautiful Caribbean Settings of Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag’s main protagonists are set to hit the streets of three distinct cities of a number of countries, including Havana (Cuba), Kingston (Jamaica) and Nassau (Bahamas), with land-based combat interspersed with naval exploration throughout.
The player is to face the Caribbean, in 1715, during a time fraught with a breathtaking array of perils; battles rage between swashbuckling pirates, the British, the French and the Spanish, and the ever-present Assassins and Templar factions vie for dominance, whilst adapting to the drunken debauchery of local taverns and the lawlessness of the open seas.
Ubisoft have gone to town on the diversity and scope of Black Flag’s locations. Gameplay will transition through a variety of idyllic locales. In Kingston, the city has been built around elements of the natural terrain, with regions of industry interrupted by jungles of dense foliage. Kingston is home to the pirate headquarters and, therefore, hordes of inebriated pirates endlessly swigging rum.
Kenway will also grace the sprawling Spanish colony of Havana, replete with European-style buildings and market places; this region provides the type of parkour action of previous titles, with plenty of walls to climb, ledges to swing across and rooftops to vault. Finally, Nassau is a pirate safe haven for Blackbeard and his Republic of Pirates, which eventually becomes besieged by the British.
Ultimately, gamers are set to skip between a series of unique environments, including desert islands, blossoming jungles, heavily populated cities, tobacco plantations, Mayan temples, caves and fishing villages. Some of these eye-catching settings are showcased in the following gameplay trailer:
Gameplay Mechanics and a Pirate’s Open-World
Much of the gameplay mechanics are shaped by the environment, in which our new hero explores. Trees can be climbed, foliage used as cover and perches provide the element of surprise.
Players can approach a situation “all guns blazing,” or they can adopt a stealthier playthrough. Stealth weapons (e.g. blowpipes, Hidden Blades) can eliminate enemies without attracting enemy attention.
What’s more, Kenway will also face situations where he is stripped of his inventory of weapons. Players must exploit their environment to remain hidden, whilst silently picking off their ever-watchful nemeses. Whistling can be used to lure an enemy to an isolated spot, such as a “hiding door,” where they can be downed and concealed.
The Eagle Vision facility has been improved, allowing enemies to be tagged and observed through opaque materials, whilst every assassination mission can be accomplished using different styles of stealth techniques. Game Director Ashraf Ismail highlights some of Black Flag’s new stealth features in the following demonstration trailer:
Ubisoft Montréal has promised to deliver one of its largest most open-world experiences to date. Rather than subjecting the player to a laborious slew of opening cutscenes, and
following the more linear paths of some of its predecessors’ introductory sequences, the development team promises to provide much greater freedom from the off.
Aside from the three main city hubs, Kenway can explore 50 smaller locations, travelling to unexplored parts of an entire archipelago, via ship. These diverse areas are ideal for exploration and are riddled with additional side missions. Speaking to PlayStation Official Magazine, Lead Game Designer Jean-Sebastien Decant boasted about how these features extend Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag’s playtime (which is estimated to clock in at 80 hours, including side-quests):
“… we have three big cities, compared to the other games, there’s three huge cities and then fifteen unique locations – like continents – throughout the world, and then lots of [islands where] you can find buildings, stuff like that. The size of the map is like fifteen, twenty minutes, if you were just to sail without stopping, so that’s huge. We really tried to increase the feeling of adventure.”
Underwater dives are also set to feature heavily, using a special “diving bell,” revealing gorgeous underwater vistas, bustling with seaweed, coral and all manner of sea life. The player will descend through the depths of the seas to investigate sunken shipwrecks and harpoon a variety of harmful sea creatures. However, speaking to Edge, Decant explained that these dives can only occur at pre-defined pockets throughout the expansive map.
What the player is able to achieve on land, and the resources accumulated, will affect their adventures out at sea on the Jackdaw – your own ship. You will need to recruit members for your vessel’s crew to further your needs. This will allow Kenway to harness his motley gang to hunt down other ships, engage in frenzied battles at sea, and plunder the booty of other seafaring folk.
When fighting at sea, one of two options presents itself – destroy the ship entirely, or disable the vessel and invade. Swinging onto your enemies’ vulnerable ship will yield valuable loot, additional crew members and blueprints for ship upgrades; upgrades extend from improving the integrity of the ship’s hull to the installation of mortars and Chain Shot weapons.
Opposing ships can be torn to shreds using an extensive arsenal of cannons, swivel guns, rams and gunpowder mines, but players will limit their collected spoils and reduce the amount of usable material, with which to repair the Jackdaw. During battles, the best players can even use dynamic weather events to their advantage, using waves to block enemy ballistics.
The following gameplay video gives an indication of how these ferocious sea battles play out in reality. During the first half of the clip, Ismail highlights the sheer number of gameplay styles and exploration options that are available to the player, with much greater importance and complexity instilled into side quests.
In terms of land attacks, Kenway is outfitted with weapons already familiar to the franchise, including the Hidden Blade, standard swords, rope darts, throwing knives and a pair of ranged Flintlock Pistols. A blowpipe can also be employed to fire sleep darts and poison darts, whilst smoke bombs are effective for confusing enemy targets.
“Black Island Pack,” “The Watch” & “Freedom Cry” DLC
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is slated to receive the DLC treatment. Thus far, DLC has been offered as a preorder incentive, and for the game’s Collector’s Editions.
GameStop’s Black Flag Collector’s Edition comes with “The Black Island Pack” DLC. This bonus DLC provides players with an additional island to explore. The following items are exclusively bundled into the GameStop Collector’s Edition:
- Black Island treasure-hunting quest
- Captain Morgan’s “Black Ship”
- Captain Morgan’s silver flintlock pistols
- Captain Morgan’s attire, image and title
Pre-ordering Black Flag also grants players access to “The Watch.” Although details are scant on precisely what this DLC entails, a recent press release indicates that it offers players more bonus content and an exclusive quest for VIP members.
Finally, Ubisoft’s latest DLC announcement, “Freedom Cry,” will feature three solid hours of additional single-player gameplay.
The plot will focus upon Adewale, a young man that was born into a life of slavery and servitude. After regaining his freedom on Edward Kenway’s ship, and honing his skills to become a deadly assassin, he eventually finds himself stranded in Saint-Domigue, seeking revenge against his former captors. The Freedom Cry DLC will offer the following:
- Access to the Adewale assassin
- Extra single-player content: as Adewale, players make a stand against slavery in 18th Century Haiti
- Experto Crede: Adewale commands an imposing, fully customizable ship
North America and European Collector’s Editions
Only the afore-mentioned GameStop Collector’s Edition has been announced for North America. Meanwhile, some EU countries will be given a choice of up to four collector’s editions, all of which offer access to The Watch DLC.
The Uplay exclusive “Black Chest Edition” boasts an abundance of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag goodies. As the other three collector’s editions are only available in the United Kingdom and Ireland, we will focus our attention solely on the premium Black Chest Edition, which includes the following:
- Diorama of Captain Edward Kenway aboard the Jackdaw bow
- Official soundtrack
- Two lithographs
- Two canvas prints
- All DLC content
- Collector’s box
- World map
- A Black Flag replica flag
That just about concludes our look at some of the many features of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. We hope you have enjoyed our analysis of the game’s wealth of content. Check back soon for our look at Black Flag’s multiplayer component.
Official Television Trailer
In the interim, we leave you with the game’s recently televised trailer.
By: James Fenner
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