When Ubisoft invited me to Manhattan in mid-February for an Assassin’s Creed-related announcement, I assumed it’d have something to do with Assassin’s Creed III. You know, probably an inevitable three-point-something sequel, say “Assassin’s Creed: Fellowship” or “Assassin’s Creed: Illuminations.” But I was skeptical: ACIII‘s not yet five months old. What else could it be? A line of plush toys with retractable plastic arm blades?
Surprise! Ubisoft’s leaping straight to a numbered sequel with what it’s calling Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, a bit of temporal backpedaling to the early 18th century (circa 1715) that sounds like the sequences in ACIII where you piloted a naval warship around the Eastern Seaboard and Caribbean, only enlarged to encompass a standalone pirate game.
That’s right, you’ll finally get to scratch that swashbuckling itch, playing as British privateer-turned-pirate assassin Edward Kenway, father of ACIII‘s Haytham Kenway (and thus grandpa to Connor), scooting around the Caribbean during the “Golden Age of Pirates” as said pirates “established their own lawless Republic,” i.e. a chance to explore anarchist ideology per the series’ tendency to philosophize while rubbing elbows with ne’er-do-wells like Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and Charles Vane (no word on Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, but we can hope). And yes, though Desmond’s 21st century journey may be over, the game remains focused on the centuries-long struggle between Assassins and Templars.
But okay, been there and definitely done that, right? How many “was once an innocent bloke but now routinely knife passerby in the back” games can you make? When they involve pirates, at least one more, and here’s the justification-enough part: It’ll be a “vast” open-world encompassing Kingston (Jamaica) to Nassau (The Bahamas) — Ubisoft calls it “the most diverse Assassin’s Creed world ever created” — with 50 fully navigable locations and an elaborate ship vs. ship smack-down system, complete with upgrades, derived from the one that proved so popular with ACIII players.
Combat will reflect the weaponry of the era with the usual Assassin’s Creed twist (Ubisoft reassures that it’ll still be a stealth game), and the studio says it’s once more refining multiplayer (it’ll be “more varied and ruthless than ever”) but hasn’t laid out those details. Oh, and you’ll be able to swim underwater, so given the prior games’ penchant for collectible mini-games, no doubt a pearl-diving/buried treasure riff.
Ubisoft says ACIV‘s been in development for two years already and that it’ll take a whopping nine studios to make, thus: slow clap for keeping this one under lids all that time, guys.
Here’s the official trailer.
The last pirate game I played semi-seriously (not counting the Sid Meier’s Pirates! remake in 2004) was Akella’s Sea Dogs back in 2000, an okay 3D riff on Sid Meier’s Pirates! (the original 1987 version) I remember enjoying more for its graphics than gameplay (in 2000, the notion of a nonlinear 3D game was relatively fresh). You’d think the 2000s would have been pirate-central for gaming, what with the goofy Gore Verbinski/Disney movie series that debuted in 2003 and went on to do billions in ticket sales. But no, exceptions made for Age of Booty, the Port Royale biz sims and the snack-sized Tales of Monkey Island graphic adventures, it’s been a pretty dismal decade for pirate games. Even the promising pirate MMO, Pirates of the Burning Sea, which launched in January 2008, recently lost its original developer (Flying Lab Software) and official Sony Online Entertainment support.
The upside of Ubisoft taking a swing at a pirate game is that we’re talking a developer renowned for its painstaking attention to historical detail. I don’t mean historical fidelity — the games often engage in Harry Turtledove-caliber revisionism — but I’m inclined to believe ACIV‘s director Ashraf Ismail when he tells USA Today: ”Pirates have been romanticized in media or any form of entertainment, because of Treasure Island (and) Disney … We see an opening to do a much more mature version, like the HBO version of pirates.” (That said, I’m leery of HBO comparisons after Dragon Age‘s lead designer Mike Laidlaw said as much of that game, then dropped the ball.)
Systems: PC (Windows), PS3, PS4 (PS3/PS4 version buyers get “60 minutes of additional gameplay” via the PlayStation Network), Wii U, Xbox 360 and “other next generation consoles” (hello Xbox whatever-you’re-called!). And no, it won’t be out in 2014 or 2015: Expect hands-on previews at E3 in June, and the game to arrive this year on Oct. 29.