E3 2013: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Preview – Setting Sail For Next-Gen

Richard Walker

We've been wondering why Ubisoft has decided to trace the lineage of Assassin's Creed III's Connor back to his grandfather Edward Kenway for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, over branching out to another time period. History is the developer's playground, and periods like feudal Japan, medieval England and countless others could have played host to Assassin's Creed IV's story, but we're starting to understand why that's not the case. Oh, and incidentally, Edward is a rubbish name for an assassin.

Black Flag's tale of pirates is one grounded firmly in history, so there's no parrots on shoulders, no walking the plank and none of the other cliches that have come to be associated with pirates in movies, books and TV. Assassin's Creed IV is also ludicrously vast, and as our first look at the game for next-gen consoles shows, it's all completely seamless, enabling you to explore the Caribbean and the surrounding areas on a hunt for treasure and adventure.

Taking a section from Edward's journey to becoming a fully-fledged assassin, our next-gen spec Assassin's Creed IV demo is set in 1717, right in the heart of the West Indies. Diving into a sparkling azure ocean, Edward swims his way into a bustling fishing village, where ne'er-do-wells, drunks and other shady characters go about their daily business, while cats, chickens and other animals roam around. Here, Edward takes on an assassination contract in the area, tasking him with locating and dispatching the Thomson twins, who are not an 80s synth pop band, but a nasty pair of Templar smugglers.

Hanging at a tavern outside, amid people dancing and having a knees-up, Edward uses eagle vision and spies the Thomson brothers joining in on the festivities, until our hooded pirate assassin friend smashes one them into the bar. Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you. Eat bar, Thomson! One down, the other to go, Thomson number two makes a break for it, running to his galleon at the docks. Sure, Edward could gun Thomson two down in cold blood with his flintlock pistol, but instead he gives chase in his own ship, the Jackdaw. All of this happens completely seamlessly with no loading whatsoever, and as Edward climbs aboard his ship, his crew snap into action. “Ahoy, captain!”

Aboard the Jackdaw, Edward can use his spyglass to see what cargo other vessels are carrying, and he can board the ships and plunder their bounty. Accruing resources from pillaged ships will enable Eddie to apply upgrades and customisation options to the Jackdaw, making it your own. Chasing down Thomson's galleon, Edward orders his crew to bombard the ship with cannon fire, smashing the masts to splinters, being careful to preserve the hull (each ship now has a health bar, so you can damage it just enough without sinking it) and the precious cargo. Rocking up aside the ship, you can launch grappling hooks to tether the two ships together, priming it for boarding.

Leaping across with your crew, Edward can protect his shipmates from snipers on high, before fighting off Thomson's soldiers and ultimately stabbing up the fat-faced, rosy-cheeked Thomson himself. Contract completed, it's time to salvage the rewards inside the ship's hull and either execute or recruit the surviving crew. Obviously, recruiting more shipmates to come aboard the Jackdaw is the savvy choice. You can manage your ship via the companion tablet app, engaging in the fleet mini-game for cargo and upgrades.

At this point, our Ubi rep shows us Assassin's Creed IV's full map, and it's far and away the largest AC open-world we've ever seen. It dwarves ACIII by some margin, but it's rich with detail and activity, and this next-gen build seems stable and glitch-free. We're not sure how the current-gen version of the game will measure up, but there's no shortage of ambition on show here, even if Ubisoft has committed Assassin's Creed to a yearly launch cycle.

Still at the helm of the Jackdaw, Edward sails onwards to a small island, where he finds the corpse of an unfortunate pirate marooned there, with small crabs feeding on it. Clutching a treasure map depicting a Mayan ruin, there's loot to be reaped. You can view the sketched treasure map through the mobile app too, so there's no need to constantly consult menus if you have a tablet device to hand. The map leads us to a place known as Misteriosa, where the Spanish have set up camp.

In Black Flag you'll not only find yourself rubbing shoulders with notorious pirates like Blackbeard and Calico Jack, but you might also find yourself caught between English and Spanish forces fighting, and like any good pirate this can be exploited and used to your advantage. Lead a chasing Spanish ship into an English armada or vice-versa for example, and you can watch as they decimate one another, leaving you free to take the spoils once the fracas has died down. Emergent encounters like these can happen randomly at any time.

During the journey to the island, we see a white whale (you can share whale locations with friends via the app) and as Edward dives off the boat into the Misteriosa island lagoon, dolphins swim in the deep waters. It's simply glorious. Prior to all of this, Edward sails the ship through a violent storm, where a water spout and lightning spectacularly blasts a ship to smithereens in front of us. Sailing into the comparative serenity of the Misteriosa bay, the towering Mayan ruin looms into view. Edward sets about isolating the Spanish captain, sniping him with a poison dart from his blowpipe. The captain goes berserk, slicing up his allies, leaving the way clear for Edward to climb the huge vine-covered structure.

Climbing through trees, hiding in the bushes and foliage, and ascending the creeping vines as lizards dart around, the jungle surrounding the ruin is teeming with life. You can almost feel the tropical Caribbean heat as Edward scales the white bricks, finding a collectible Animus fragment along the way. We don't currently know what these will do, but we imagine they'll form some sort of intriguing secret once you've located them all.

Inside the temple, Edward spots two Spanish guards holding two pirates hostage. Stealthily scurrying up one of the temple's ruined columns, he swoops from the air for a double execution, freeing the pirates who can then be added to the Jackdaw's swelling ranks.

At the temple's summit, the view is incredible, stretching all the way to the horizon. Finding the treasure's location near an ornate fountain and pool, Edward digs for his prize and uncovers a chest, housing a blueprint for heavy cannon shots that can be added to the Jackdaw, and a whole lot of gold. The journey turned out to be totally worthwhile, and the Misteriosa temple also becomes a new fast travel point. In such a vast world, you'll need plenty of these.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag looks set to make good on Ubisoft's promise to take the series to another level of seamless open-world freedom, and this next-gen version of the game is truly impressive. For us, Assassin's Creed II remains the series' pinnacle, but based on this latest up-close and personal run through, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag might not be too far behind as far as moving the series forward is concerned. Hopefully, it's a pirate's life for us, if this is indicative of what's to come. Arr.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is out for Xbox 360 on October 29th, 2013 in North America and November 1st, 2013 in Europe and on Xbox One around the console's launch.

  • I'd like to see the comparison of the current gen version with the next gen version as I own all AC games and with this launching in October I would want to day one purchase it. At the same time I have both next gen consoles pre-ordered and maybe I should just wait for that version. Decisions, Decisions. X360A crew have you guys played both versions?
  • for xbox 360, it'll be release a month before xbox one. i really want to play black flag but I think i'll wait for the verison for the xbox one and I'll be busy with grand theft auto five on xbox 360.
  • @1 - We've only seen the next-gen version so far, so I'm assuming the current-gen version will look a lot like an upgraded ACIII. Hopefully we'll get hands-on with the Xbox 360 version soon.
  • Fantastic read, I'm really looking forward to this! The seamless world is a brilliant idea! And Pirates? 'Nuff said. ;)
  • Almost the Thompson twins from Tin Tin, that would have been a funny Easter Egg if was those two.
  • This game looks so great. ACII is my favorite game of this Current-Gen and I was a little disappointed with ACIII. But Black Flag looks (and sounds) like it's going to rock my life! Seriously, with This, Watch_Dogs, CoD Ghosts, LEGO Marvel Heroes, Killer Instinct, Ryse, Forza, and Madden for the Xbox One at launch, it may be the greatest launch lineup of all time! I cannot wait!!! I am going to be so broke.......... :(
  • Really looking forward to this now. Before when it was first announced I thought of it as a chore, but now it seems epic. Can't wait to see some next gen gameplay soon!
  • Rich, does the next-gen version look markedly better than AC3 then? From these screenshots, I've noticed no huge and marked differences to my eye. Does it look better in motion?
  • I wish I was more excuted for this title :( I loved all the AC games up until 3.
  • @9 - I was struck by just how rich it all looked. Moving through foliage, every blade of grass and leaf moves realistically, the water looks incredible and the whole thing at next-gen spec is pretty awe-inspiring. Again, how the current-gen version will look in comparison to ACIII, I don't know.
  • I'm gonna pick this up for next-gen, probably around Christmas time as I want to get down with Watch Dogs before diving into ACIV.
  • If you don't have a tablet can you still use normal menus with your controller? Cause I'm not of fan of putting down my controller just to pick up a tablet open a app wait for it to load, all just for upgrade menus/other misc.
  • @2 Maybe not a month. I have the XB1 version ordered and got an email saying it would be ready for pick up on October 29th. Now it may just be a generic email sent to everyone with it preordered regardless of system, or Ubi is releasing all versions on the same day, which is possible considering the release date for the XB1 is sometime in November, maybe even November 5th if the CoD Ghosts ad on Xbox.com is right.
  • Im looking forward to this, yet i wish they would end this series. Seriously? I need to use a third party app for a treasure map? Whats wrong with the back button? I hope this is as cool as it looks, because im going to be pissed if its another $60 glitchfest.
  • This game will be awesome
  • they always show the best bits before you buy the abortion that is the actual game you play, which is probably all on the disk but your charged to unlock the rest later. Even if the next-gen looks good, it will just be the same thing again and again just like the last few AC games. They shud have left it at Brotherhood and that's it. Left is as something great ! New ideas guys ! come on !
  • It will be a great game!
  • the naval missions in ACIII were my favorite part of that game, I cant wait to see upgrades and new challenges in AC4
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