Previews: Ubisoft allowed us to spend some time with the newest entry in the Assassinís Creed franchise and we came away excited by its potential.
Assassinís Creed 4: Black Flag will be hitting Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on October 29 with the PS4 and Xbox One versions arriving a couple of weeks later. Recently Ubisoft gave me the opportunity to spend the day with the PS4 version of Assassinís Creed 4 and the game was looking really, really good. This was the first time I have been able to get some extensive time with Sonyís Dualshock 4 controller and I have to say that I still really like it. I have never been a big fan of the Dualshock design but the DS4 is definitely Sonyís best controller to date. I didnít really get to experience everything the DS had to offer but it was interesting to see that the touchpad is clickable and that is how you bring up the map in the PS4 version of AC4. Spending the day with Assassinís Creed 4, I was allowed to spend the morning with the single player campaign and then in the afternoon I was able to experience the multiplayer portion with some of my colleagues. I had a lot of fun with each and Assassinís Creed 4 is looking really promising.
One ďproblemĒ that I have with open world games is that I tend to want to do everything. That isnít really a good thing if you are playing something for preview or review and are on a deadline but there are times when I canít help himself. Within the first few minutes of playing AC4, I did what I always do first and went to find some viewpoints so that I could synchronize them and open up different portions of the map. After I did that I explored the island I was on for a bit and marveled at how great the game looked. Ubisoft has talked about some of the different things they have been able to achieve with the next gen versions and a lot of it was on display during my time with the game. The foliage looked incredible and lifelike and moved with me. In previous iterations of Assassinís Creed whenever you would hide in the bushes you could still see yourself but the foliage didnít really move with you much. In AC4 on PS4 (and presumably Xbox One) when I was hiding in some bushes, for example, I was really well hidden and when I moved you could see my movement by how the environment reacted to me.
After sneaking around for a bit I began to further explore the island I was on. Assassinís Creed 4 is set in the Caribbean and, as such, there are a bunch of different islands and areas for you to explore. Some standard things you will find on many islands include taverns where you can pay for information or hire people for your crew when you are out at sea. There might also be a shop where you can purchase things you need and more. Assassination contracts are back and they are handled the same way they were in the Assassinís Creed 2 trilogy. What happens here is you go to this big cage where birds are kept. You open it up and get a message that is attached to the bird. Then once you accept the mission you release the bird and let it fly away.
As I was walking around I found a message in a bottle and it gave me a bit of backstory on the person that left the message. I always enjoy getting backstory in games so I can try and understand what is going on but unfortunately I didnít get to really search for any more bottles to see if anything would come of it. There are other items to be found of course such as your treasure chests, secrets to find and more. One thing I really liked is that you were told what each island had to offer. For example I was told that Nassau had three treasure chests, two secrets to find, one message in a bottle and, you get the idea. This should be a great way to keep track of where you have to find items if and when you are busy searching for collectibles. Hunting has also returned (both on land and at sea) and the map seemed to indicate the general area where you would find an animal which is something I really appreciated. I didnít do this too much but I did hunt a couple of animals on land and then I participated in a shark hunt at sea which was pretty interesting. While hunting the shark I would get in a smaller and more agile boat and try to throw harpoons at the shark. You could tell when you hit him as he would quickly try to get away and there was blood in the water. Eventually if you hit him with enough harpoons you will get him and you will see a cinematic of your catch being brought aboard your ship.
One of the more popular aspects of Assassinís Creed 3 seemed to be the naval warfare and Assassinís Creed 4 has it in abundance. Once done on an island you can immediately jump aboard the Jackdaw and set sail towards your next adventure. One of the most important items that you will use at sea (at least during my time with the game) was the spyglass. This allows you to look off into the distance and instantly know what is going on. If you see a ship in the distance you can look at it through your spyglass and know which country the ship is from and what cargo it is carrying. This information is important as there will be times when you need to steal a certain amount of rum from ships, for example. The spyglass tells you what the other ships have and how much of it which allows you to plan accordingly. It will also tell you the kind of ship it is whether is a man of war or a simple gunboat. Naval warfare has been improved upon as you can now fire from all sides of the ship. If you have a ship directly in front of you then you can switch to that view and shoot forward to try and take them down. You can, of course, fire from the cannons on the side of the ships like you could in AC 3 and then in the back you can drop depth charges to eliminate anyone that might be following you. It adds some more elements to the combat that I really enjoyed. You will have to be careful here though as you will only get half of the cargo that is on the enemy ship if you sink it as opposed to not sinking it and being able to board the ship and take over.
Assassinís Creed 4 will also allow you to board ships once they are sufficiently weakened and this is where you need to decide what to do with them. After you unload all of the cargo off of the ship, do you use that ship to repair your own or add the ship to your fleet? Bigger ships will require more men to board and take over so keep that in mind when you are putting your crew together. As you begin to board the other ship you are given some objectives such as taking out a certain number of the crew on that ship. You can do this in a variety of ways such as shooting them with your gun as your ships draw near or climbing to the top of the mast and assassinating the crew from up above. In typical Assassinís Creed fashion you are given a bevy of choices here and how you proceed is completely up to you.
In addition to being on land and at sea on your ship, you can also be underwater. There are times where your objective might be on the ocean floor and you will have to go down and get it. Doing that provides its own set of hazards such as you potentially drowning and then environmental hazards such as sharks. If you see a shark coming you can hide in some kelp or whatever, similar to how you hide in bushes on land.
Once you are back out at sea you can talk to certain crew members and they will advise you on what you should do. One person might tell you that you need to bring a fisherman on board so that the crew can eat well and therefore you will have a happy crew. Another one might give you an optional sidequest to do but doing it would probably be beneficial to the crew as whole. If you are looking to earn some quick money and/or supplies you can also take naval contracts. These contracts might have you eliminating ships that are causing trouble or something along those lines and getting rewarded. During my time with the game I also took out a fort by first crippling its defenses with my ship and then docking and storming the fort, killing the two men in charge thereby taking it over and making it my own. If you play a mission and really happen to like it then you can rate it once you are done. The rating system goes from one to five stars and serves two purposes. The first one is that your friends can see what you did and did not like. The second purpose is that information also gets sent to Ubisoft. If there happens to be a particular mission that the vast majority of people really seem to enjoy that might potentially influence future DLC content that we will receive. Ubisoft obviously wants to deliver gameplay that people enjoy and this is an indirect way for fans to tell them what they think and potentially shape the content we see in the future.
After spending some time with the single player I jumped in to the multiplayer for a few hours with a group of people. I was able to play a few of the different modes such as Manhunt, Artifact, Wanted and Domination. Manhunt is a very intriguing mode as it is essentially a grown up version of ďhide and seekĒ. There is one team that must try to blend in with the locals and every moment you stay successfully hidden is a moment you are gaining points. The other team must try and find those who are trying to hide and eliminate them. By eliminating them they earn points. Once the round is over the two teams switch sides. This mode seems like it has a ton of potential and I definitely had fun during my short amount of time with it.
Artifact is essentially the capture the flag mode. You need to run to your opponentís base and capture their flag to return it to your HQ, while at the same time trying to defend your base from your enemy trying to do the same exact thing. Your enjoyment of this particular mode will probably be dependent on who you play with. If you are on a team where everyone wants to run and capture the other flag and not leave anyone to guard your area then you better be sure you are able to grab the enemy flag. Some of the more tense moments in my experience was when someone did stay behind in a defensive role and they stopped the enemy from cashing in at the last possible second. I was on both ends of this and while it sucks to see the goal line in sight and be taken out at the last second you will get a sense of satisfaction if you were the one who saved that point for your team. During my time with this mode the games would only be won by a point or two so preventing our flag from being stolen (or getting it back if it was) was key to our victory or our defeat.
Wanted is your basic deathmatch free for all mode. Every player is assigned a contract and you need to find that person and eliminate them. You have a compass at the bottom of the screen that will indicate if you are getting close to your target or not but before you act you better be sure you have the right person and not a civilian that happens to look the same. Killing an innocent person will blow your cover and might even prevent you from being able to fulfill your current contract. If, for whatever reason, your target gets eliminated by someone else then you are notified of that and are given a new contract within a few seconds.
The final mode I got to experience was Domination. If you have ever played an online shooter you know what this mode is about but, of course, it is a bit different with Assassinís Creed. The basic premise of this mode is to occupy three different points on the map. The longer your side occupies an area the more points you get. You are told when an area you have is under attack as well as when someone else on your side has secured an area. You will need to strategize if you want to do well in this mode. There were a few instances where I would hide in the crowd next to an area we were holding and then when someone would come running up to try and capture it I would silently eliminate them and quickly try to return to the shadows, so to speak. This can work for a little while until they figure out what you are doing. Of course if you have other members of your team with you (as opposed to being a lone wolf) your odds of success are that much greater and if you can get some good communication going with your team the potential is there for you to really dominate.
My day with Assassinís Creed 4 was well spent as I sailed around the Caribbean, engaged in naval warfare and generally did whatever I wanted. The multiplayer portion was a lot of fun and if you can get a group of friends to play it that will raise the fun factor even more. Though I was only shown a couple segments of the game it did highlight the impressive and ambitious scope of Assassinís Creed 4. Whether you are on land, at sea or underwater, there is plenty for you to do here and this is a game that you can (and probably will) sink a lot of hours into.