Posted on June 18, 2013, Phil Hornshaw Assassin’s Creed 4 Preview: Same Assassins, Cooler Boats
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Every time I preview a new Assassin’s Creed title, I try to approach it with optimism. Despite a series of yearly iterations that often repeat the same content without much to differentiate between them, titles in the AC franchise always show a lot of promise.
For example, at E3 2012, I sat through a hands-off one-on-one demonstration of Assassin’s Creed 3 that got me pretty pumped for that game. But playing it for my review revealed a title that had some good ideas and a great setting, but didn’t do much with them outside the usual Assassin’s Creed fare. After seeing Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag at E3 2013 this year — with the same hands-off, one-on-one demonstration of the title as last year — I can’t help but worry that the same problems present in last year’s title are going to crop up in this one.
Those problems, namely, are that there’s just not enough to make Assassin’s Creed 4 anything more than yet another AC title, but with a different skin.
Though plenty of trailers and even a new gameplay video made the rounds during E3 this year, Ubisoft’s demo for Assassin’s Creed 4 focused on the openness of its new world. Set in the Caribbean during the Age of Piracy, players will have full flexibility to drop in on islands, wander through towns and cities, and take to the seas to visit all manner of smaller outcroppings, sand bars, atolls, archipelagos and the like. If you enjoyed Assassin’s Creed 3′s nautical moments, you’ll have a great time in AC4.
In fact, easily the most impressive thing about the demo was how fluidly protagonist Edward Kenway could transition between various areas. We saw no loading screens to speak of as the player identified some standing assassination targets in the free-roaming portion of the game — that is to say, outside of a mission — and pursued them through a Great Cayman market. After Kenway killed one, his partner made a run for it down the nearby docks, hopping onto a clipper and taking to the sea. As the developer demonstrating the game showed us, Kenway could potentially leap onto the ship and climb aboard, but instead, he headed to his own vessel and set sail in pursuit.
Though the ships move and corner with a speed that defies reality (much to the chagrin of our Ben Richardson), the fact that you can quickly raise sails and set off across the ocean to chase down another ship is pretty impressive. Kenway’s vessel, the Jackdaw, also boasts a crew of its own, which you can fill out by recruiting additional pirates in cities or by completing missions in which you rescue captured scalawags.
With the assassination target out on open water, we watched Kenway go straight into a naval battle against the target’s ship. Much of what we saw echoed Assassin’s Creed 3′s battles, although with some slight tweaks: namely, your shots now arc when fired from cannons, allowing you to aim over waves and get more of a targeted area than a straight line. But with the target on the ship and a band of pirates manning the Jackdaw, just sinking the enemy vessel wasn’t the real goal; taking it over was.
To that end, we saw the Jackdaw cripple the enemy ship and then sidle up alongside it for a boarding action. When that happened, Kenway was able to jump aboard as the rigging of both ships drew close together. Meanwhile, on the decks, the enemy crew engaged with the pirates. Ubisoft told us we can expect our pirates to actively fight other crews, working to both thin them out and distract them. Meanwhile, Kenway performed an air assassination on the target to finish the side mission.
With the last of the enemy crew captured or killed, the player is given a choice: capture the ship and add it to Kenway’s growing pirate fleet, recruit the crew to join the Jackdaw, or salvage the ship for wood and parts. Much like your assassin squads of earlier AC titles, you’ll be able to dispatch your fleet of ships on missions