BflagDuring this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, we had the opportunity to attend a personal demo session of Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, where we saw first-hand gameplay and were taken on an epic journey throughout the golden age of piracy.

The demo itself was hands-off; we didn’t get to play, as a Ubisoft representative had control of the game. We did get to watch, and were given headsets in order to better immerse us within the game. The Assassin’s Creed IV demo was showcased on Sony’s next-gen PlayStation 4 console and Ubisoft also showcased how the title’s companion app integrated with the game.

Without further adieu, I present to you our official preview of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, including first-hand looks at the game’s dynamic naval combat, expansive open-world exploration, and fluid combat:

BlackFlag

Yo Ho…A Pirate’s Life for Me

If it’s one thing that Ubisoft has done well with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, its adequately portraying the golden age of piracy.

Throughout the entirety of the demo, the game expressed this overwhelming sense of freedom: gamers can do whatever they want whenever they want–want to steal a ship and sail the high seas, looting and plundering nearby vessels? Go right ahead. Feel like scouring nearby Mayan ruins for hidden booty and treasure? By all means. Or would you rather ally with some of history’s most nefarious scalliwags and sea dogs? Ubisoft has you covered there, too.

The demonstration that Ubisoft featured wasn’t scripted, and flowed quite naturally throughout the game’s gorgeous atmospheres and environments.

Right off the bat one of the first things I personally noticed was the streamlined interface. No longer is the screen cluttered up with a ton of bars or different weapon lists–it’s very easy to read and has an intuitive feel that represents the core elements of the game.

Another obvious feature that I noticed straight away was the amazing graphics and fidelity, which could mostly be accounted for by the PS4’s next-gen capabilities. As Edward Kenway moved fluidly like a lynx throughout the environment, there were no loading screens, and everything felt attuned to bring a distinctly realistic atmosphere to gameplay, exposing the new evolved capabilities of the next-gen realm.

The visuals were impressive and every single area had that signature pirate theme; Carribbean vibes were felt as the wind rustled through the nearby palm trees, carrying grizzled sea dogs across the open waters. You could almost smell the liquor flowing at the nearby bar or the palm oil carried across the docks, and the salty wafts from the green-blue waters–the details were that impeccable and refined.

A pirate’s life isn’t just about watching sunsets and throwing back rum: there’s plenty of plunder, treasure, and of course bloody combat to go around. Black Flag features the same stealth-based strategy that has permeated through the entire series, and also incorporates the nimble finesse of an assassin, allowing gamers to climb virtually anything in the game.

Black Flag is filled to the brim with countless islands and tropical environments that paint a dynamic and realistic picture of the Carribbean Islands during the hey-day of the age of piracy.

Black Flag is filled to the brim with countless islands and tropical environments that paint a dynamic and realistic picture of the Carribbean Islands during the hey-day of the age of piracy.

Plundering the High Seas: Ship-to-Ship Combat, Open-World Exploration & More

One of the major improvements and touted features of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the overhaul of ship-to-ship marine combat. This was featured in last year’s AC3, but Black Flag puts a huge amount of emphasis on ship combat, recreating an amazing experience where players exchange volleys of cannon fire and eventually board enemy craft to overwhelm its crew.

Our Ubisoft rep showcased how Edward Kenway could just hop into a boat and take it over, and just randomly sail into the big blue. The ship controls were quite similar to that of AC3’s, with an enhanced interface that shows wind direction and which sails are unfurled. As the captain of your ship, you call the shots: but your crew is an active part of the combat, and without them you wouldn’t last long.

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Ship-to-ship combat is extremely entertaining and is one of the most dynamic new features of Black Flag, showcasing the title’s impressive new AI system and extensive combat mechanics.

The Ubisoft rep took advantage of the open water to showcase the game’s amazing water environments, and there were tons of little islets and ships that adequately represented the living, breathing world that’s included in Black Flag. We watched from afar as two ships engaged one another in a destructive battle, cannonballs flinging across the waters and sails catching aflame from the destruction.

This is just one example of the natural mayhem that can ensue at the hands of the game’s dynamic AI, and rather than getting in the middle of the fight, we let the two ships weaken each other. Then we swooped in to join the fray, easily taking over both ships with a few well-placed shots with the game’s brand new swivel-gun.

The swivel-gun can aim in wide arcs, allowing for flexible firing across various areas of enemy ships. After the vessel is weakened enough, your crew can board the enemy ship for some good old-fashioned swordfighting. Basically there are two aspects to ship-to-ship combat: exchanging cannon fire back and forth, and then the boarding process that can end in bloodshed.

Kenway isn't the type of captain that sits by and watches his crew do all the dirty work: he jumps into the fray, swinging his cutlass and contributes to the bloody battle with his own deadly skills.

Kenway isn’t the type of captain that sits by and watches his crew do all the dirty work: he jumps into the fray, swinging his cutlass and contributes to the bloody battle with his own deadly skills.

Kenway can also board the ship as well, and use his deadly assassination skills to help defend his crew as well as eliminate enemies–or he can stay at the swivel gun and launch deadly blasts to take out baddies. You can even climb atop the crows nest and do an eagle dive or a long-distanced air assassination–there’s many possibilities.

The boarding combat is in real-time and basically just like any other group-based sword-battle, and once the enemy crew have been eliminated, players have the choice whether or not to recruit the surviving crew members to their own party, loot the ship, or just sink it and send it to the watery depths of the ocean floor.

If the ship isn’t destroyed, players can recruit the entire ship and add to their fleet–which is another new element added to Black Flag. Basically players can amass a certain number of ships, each with their own crews and captains–but you’re the commander, of course. Fleets can be sent out to trade and sell items across various ports, engage enemies in ship-to-ship combat to gain loot, more ships, and more crew members, and various other tasks.

The fleet system is a sort of mini-game that can be utilized through Black Flag’s free companion app via tablets and smartphones, giving players an additional peripheral to utilize while in-game or on-the-go. The companion app also affords for dynamic real-time co-operative play, allowing players to enjoy the game with their friends via strategic and tactical real-time co-operative play.

Black Flag represents a world that's constantly shifting, with tumultuous storms that rack the seas and realistic weather patterns that players will experience throughout their journey.

Black Flag represents a world that’s constantly shifting, with tumultuous storms that rack the seas and realistic weather patterns that players will experience throughout their journey.

Traversing the high seas can be treacherous, though, as Mother Nature will often throw tumultuous storms in your path. Black Flag features realistic and randomized weather patterns that have an actual affect across various mechanics in the game, namely ship exploration.

We saw first-hand the dangers and plight that Kenway faced while trying to captain a ship through a ferocious storm; the sails rippled and tore, the ship was tossed around by the rancorous waves, and players will have to push their navigation skills to their limit to avoid crashing upon rocks, capsizing in the sea, or being totally wrecked by the water funnels that scurry across the surface.

The storm was so intense that it reminded me of a hurricane of sorts, and we may see a complex system of storms pass through the Caribbean Islands within the game. Eventually players will pass through the storm and be on their way, but sometimes it can last for a while–it was definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the demo, as it showed off the power and immersive realism capabilities of the PlayStation 4.

Kenway can climb to the very top of a ship and perform a famous Leap of Faith into the tropical blue waters of the Caribbean, making  quite a stylish exit.

Kenway can climb to the very top of a ship and perform a famous Leap of Faith into the tropical blue waters of the Caribbean, making quite a stylish exit.

Stealth Combat & Treasure Hunting

After the engaging ship-to-ship skirmish and traversing the deadly storm, the seas returned to their calm state, and we washed upon on a nearby island. Back at the docks, the Ubisoft rep had attained a random side quest from a man in the bar, and after taking out two troublesome targets, we learned of a treasure map. After scouting the companion app’s huge map system, we found the last whereabouts of the supposed man with the map–the very islands that our ship was currently near.

The player had Kenway climb to the very top of the ship, climbing across the rigging and ropes and wooden framework of the sails, finally getting to the crow’s nest. With a stylish Leap of Faith, Kenway bounded from the nest, making a thrilling exit into the crisp tropical waters below.

Edward prepares from heavy opposition as he makes his way to a sandy island cove, prepared to take the loot by force if need be.

Edward prepares from heavy opposition as he makes his way to a sandy island cove, prepared to take the loot by force if need be.

After a short swim, we were upon the sandy isle where our target had last been seen. After a bit of scouting, we found a pile of bones and torn clothes: our man had met a grisly fate, but the map itself was intact. The island itself was impeccably detailed and truly brought that distinct tropical feeling that’s prevalent throughout the game, adequately portraying the historical references while breathing new life into the franchise.

Kenway moved sleekly throughout the trees and nearby edifices, scouting nearby to find an ancient Mayan ruin that housed the treasure. The Mayan structure was amazingly detailed and truly looked as if it were right out of a history book: the symbols were spot-on, and the style looked perfect, and it had that distinct air of mystery and majesty associated with the culture.

We weren’t the only treasure hunters, however: when it comes to ruins like these, players will come across competition for the loot, especially across prestigious areas like Mayan ruins. The treasure hunters were separated, and Kenway moved through the shadows, taking advantage of nearby bushes for cover.

It’s here where we were shown the new whistle feature, which distracts and attracts enemies to your position. Obviously one would want to be in the shadows or behind cover to use this function, and it’s quite similar to the thrown rock function in Far Cry 3. After a light whistle, the unsuspecting mercenary went to investigate, turning his back to Kenway. Kenway struck, incapacitating the hunter, and pulling his body in the bushes to hide any evidence.

Black Flag incorporates that same tactical stealth strategy that was prominently featured throughout the Assassin’s Creed franchise.Players are given massive freedom in terms of exploration and questing, and this freedom also carries over to combat as well: you can handle any given situation any way you want. Whether you’d like to be stealthy like a pirate-ninja, or go all out with guns a-blazing, the choice is yours.

AC4 Black Flag - City

As Kenway advanced, two more interlopers were talking near a fire. Our Ubisoft rep took advantage of the nearby tree branches, climbing them and waiting above until the time was right. Since the enemies were standing next to each other, Kenway executed an awesome double assassination, which was used with the double hidden blades. Kenway leaped down, using the momentum of his fall to take out the enemies in a silent and deadly attack.

After striking, Edward returned to the shadowy tree branches, staying hidden, and moved onward. Players can jump from tree-to-tree in a linear and set path that’s quite akin to the one featured in Assassin’s Creed III, and finally we came across a group of three treasure hunters. They were still unaware of Kenway’s presence, and that their allies had been slain.

It was here where the Ubisoft rep showcased one of Black Flag’s most versatile and entertaining new weapons: the blowgun. Fashioned from a simple bit of hollow bamboo, Kenway used poisonous darts to shoot at enemies from afar. The distance wasn’t too great, and the dart struck home.

One of the most awesome features of the poisonous darts is that they make enemies go into a frenzied state, and after Kenway shot the middle enemy, the treasure hunter went berserk and started attacking his allies. The enemies engaged in a brutal battle, killing each other off in the process while Kenway slipped back into the shadows and went on his way.

Now that the opposition had been dealt with, we were finally able to claim our treasure. After scouting around and matching the crudely drawn map to our location, we found the loot, which contained an array of considerable upgrades and currency. We were told that treasure maps would be somewhat challenging to attain as well as find, but they would offer more rewards and often give awesome loot.

After the treasure was claimed, the demo ended, putting our preview to a close. It was a fantastic journey into what looks to be one of this year’s best titles, and Black Flag is a prime example of Ubisoft’s newly evolved Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Although the in-game demo footage was composed of post-alpha gameplay, the title was incredibly refined and showcased an impressive open-world that’s filled to the brim with possibilities. Players can explore every inch of the Caribbean Islands, interacting with a myriad of NPC’s and characters along the way and taking part in epic adventures across the high seas.

AC4 Edward Kenway

Conclusion

Asssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag truly is one of the most remarkable titles at this year’s E3 expo, and may in fact be one of the best game’s released this year. While the next-gen version of the game may be better in terms of overall gameplay mechanics and features, Ubisoft won’t disappoint any gamer regardless of which platform you have.

With a huge array of new features including expansive ship-to-ship combat, the ability to hire and maintain your own crew and fleet of ships, and the game’s incredibly helpful companion app, Ubisoft has fashioned an incredible gaming experience that resonates with historical accuracy and superb quality, making it one of the most prestigious titles in the franchise.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is slated for release on Oct. 29, 2013 for a multi-platform launch across current-gen consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC) and next-gen consoles PS4 and Xbox One. For more information or to pre-order your copy today, please visit the game’s official website.