Assassin’s Creed 4 Hands-On Preview: Fresh Waters for the Series
Harpooning and new areas
There are a variety of new activities that mostly involve Edward killing animals. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll encounter different animals on the little islands that you come across in your pirate journeys. Most of these animals can be killed and skinned to upgrade Edward’s equipment.
It’s all pretty minor stuff compared to the harpooning. At certain areas on your map, there will be a small whale or shark icon that indicates a harpooning event. Edward makes his way out onto a row boat, readied up on the front of the boat with his harpoon. Once you aim and successfully stick a shark, it will start to pull your boat along. It becomes a small minigame at this point that requires you to continue sticking it with your harpoon until you kill him. It’s fun –if a bit unsettling– for the first time, but once you realize that it follows the exact same formula every time, it becomes less of a fun objective to go after unless you specifically need the materials from it. Still, it fits in nicely with Black Flag’s new naval-based setting.
Just keep swimming…just– THAT’S A SHARK
Perhaps the coolest addition to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the underwater sequences. Once you purchase the ‘diving bell’ in sequence six, you can travel to areas that allow you to explore underwater using the bell to provide an air pocket for breathing.
It’s uniquely different than anything I’ve ever experienced in an Assassin’s Creed title before and doesn’t come off feeling linear, which is surprising given the limitations of such a sequence.
It feels open while clearly outlining the path that you’re intended to go. Currents can sweep you around the underwater caverns, but the main objective is collecting all the treasures you can before running out of air…or getting eaten by a shark. They were everywhere in the dive site that I explored, and they even managed to get a jump scare out of me when one of them snatched up another diver right in front of me.
On foot traversal
Traversal has always been exceptional in Assassin’s Creed, but it’s at its best in Black Flag. It’s different –make no mistake– due to the drastically change in architecture style in the Caribbean Islands. There are no massive cement castles for you to climb. Instead, it’s all low altitude, wood-based structures. Yet, for some reason, it doesn’t feel much different. If anything, it feels smoother than ever before.
On top of that, traversal in tight spaces, such as on-ship movement, feels just as solid. For the countless times I boarded ships, it felt smooth and effortless, even when trying a variety of approach styles. Even on deserted islands mostly filled with stray trees and rocks, movement doesn’t stutter. It just works. It feels like the most complete and thorough incarnation of freerunning in the series to date.
Finally, Non-Superfluous Multiplayer
Multiplayer was always a point of contention in the Assassin’s Creed series. It wasn’t introduced until halfway through the series – in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood – and didn’t feel right. It was unnecessary, lacked variety throughout, and just plain boring. Fans mainly came for single player. That overarching story was the main focus for so many fans looking to wrap up Desmond’s narrative arc, not some thrown together attempt at multiplayer.
This didn’t change with AC3 –if anything, Assassin’s Creed III was the perfect example of everything wrong with the series’ online efforts– but it became clear that it could work if done right. It finally feels at home in Black Flag.
It’s no longer just thrown in to say that there’s multiplayer. It feels and plays as though it was developed with only the purest of intentions. Before, one of the biggest gripes was actually getting into a game. It took forever and was buried under a series of complicated, unintuitive menus that took away all desire to actually play.
The menu has been redesigned. It’s simple and straightforward. It’s all about getting you into a match as quickly as possible. Even more than that, it’s easy to create custom modes through GameLab that give players new creative ways of stabbing people in the neck. These changes may be options-based, but that they still put the power in players’ hands, and that’s always welcome.
We didn’t get hands-on with the tools themselves, but did get to play some different gametypes created with them. These gametypes proved that whatever the tools are, they’re in-depth enough to create some pretty drastically different modes that are sure to mix things up.
Pretty, Next-Gen Graphics
Finally, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag looks beautiful on next-gen hardware. Graphics have never been the selling point for this series, but each successive game has looked better despite some annoyances, like a reliance on cheap tricks such as overactive lens flare to compensate for graphical limitations. For Black Flag, Ubisoft rewrote its tools to allow for better shadows and imagery in general, and the result is absolutely stunning. Shadows, for example, are actual shadows, not some darker, pixelated mess that obscures whatever it happens to fall on. Further, they’ve simply nailed the tropical setting. Water as blue and clean as possible, and jungles that look straight out of Uncharted. It’s gorgeous stuff.
I saw only the Playstation 4 version of Black Flag, but Ubisoft devs insisted that these graphical tweaks work on current-gen consoles as well. Obviously, some skepticism is warranted, but if true, it’s a reason to be excited regardless of platform.
We’re still a month out from the full release of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but that won’t stop me from thinking about it non-stop until then. More than just a pretty face, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag combines excellent naval combat, quick ground sequences, solid gameplay and even decent multiplayer. Simply put, it’s starting to look like the Assassin’s Creed ship may be righted. After the misstep that was Assassin’s Creed 3, that’s no small deal. I can’t wait to see how the final game turns out.