E3: With 4th Edition, How Far Can 'Assassin's Creed' Go?
By jumping decades back in time, Assassin's Creed IV stays true to the series's hand-to-hand combat.
"Assassin's Creed" is a series of video games known for its combination of complex historical storylines and tense stealth gameplay, all set in an enormous and highly realistic virtual environment. The newest installment in the franchise, the upcoming "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" winds the clock back to 1717 and lets players take control of Edward Kenway, a pirate captain who must navigate the treacherous Caribbean seas and unravel an ancient conspiracy.
"Black Flag" puts the naval battles from the American Revolution-themed game, "Assassin's Creed III," (2012) front and center. In a demo at E3, a representative of game maker Ubisoft showed TechNewsDaily how Kenway can take control of his ship, the Jackdaw, and use it to explore the Caribbean.
Like "Assassin's Creed III," "Black Flag" divides its time between stealthy assassination missions on land and fierce naval battles at sea. However, this time the transition between the two is seamless. In one mission, Kenway accepted an assassination contract for two Templar brothers (the ongoing enemies in the series). Blending into the crowds in a West Indies port town was simple enough, as was taking out the first brother with a brutal neck twist.
After an extended chase through the city, pushing aside pedestrians, firing flintlock pistols and jumping across wooden piers, the second brother made his way onto a ship and set sail. Kenway pursued in the Jackdaw and engaged his opponent on the open sea. Through a combination of quick maneuvers, cannon fire, swivel guns and using the waves to his advantage, the Jackdaw triumphed over the enemy vessel.
Instead of sinking it, however, Kenway pulled up alongside it and ordered his men to board. This led to a huge melee where Kenway's men used a combination of guns, swords and cannons to fight off the Templar sailors. The assassin himself ascended to the crow's nest and leapt across the ships' rigging to pounce on the unsuspecting surviving brother from above. [See also: 10 Hottest Games for 2013]
In most other games, this would make an exciting set-piece mission, but in "Black Flag," the whole experience was organic. Kenway could have adopted a more stealthy approach to take down both brothers before they ever left port, or sunk their ship, or faced the final opponent directly in a swordfight.
Using the Jackdaw, Kenway will be able to hunt for treasure, go whaling and build a mighty fleet to hunt Templars across the Caribbean. The city of Havana will provide a parkour playground, much like Jerusalem, Rome and Boston did in previous games.
"Black Flag" looks promising, but it does represent the first time the series has gone backwards chronologically. The previous game took place in 1776; this one takes place in 1717. In a way, this makes sense.
Part of what helps "Assassin's Creed" stand out in a sea of generic action games is its focus on melee combat and exploration of unusual periods in history. So far, the games have explored the Third Crusade, the Italian Renaissance, and the American Revolution and how they factor into an ancient conflict between the Templars, dedicated to enslaving mankind, and the Assassins, dedicated to freeing it.
Although the series takes some liberties with historical fact, each game contains enough accurate information on people, architecture and events to fill a few textbooks. Richard the Lionheart, Leonardo da Vinci, and George Washington are just a few of the characters who show up to aid or hinder the protagonists.
If the story moved into the 19th century and beyond, swords and daggers would have to fall by the wayside, and the series could become just another shooter.
Furthermore, while the last 200 years are as interesting to historians as any other time period, game developers tend to fall back on Victorian London and World War II's European theater time and time again. "Assassin's Creed" would likely have very little new to add to these overused settings.
Ubisoft will have to pull off some impressive narrative gymnastics to advance the story while going backwards in time, but given the previous "Assassin's Creed" games, the team is likely up to the challenge. "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" will release on October 29 for all major platforms.