The lights are on
In Assassin’s Creed III, Connor could sail ships and engage in naval battles in the wide-open sea. Ubisoft is cranking up the ship combat even further in Black Flag, with the option to be a law-abiding captain, ruthless pirate, or even an entrepreneuring harpooner. At Gamescom 2013 in Cologne, Germany I got a hands-on opportunity to blast apart ships and reel in a shark.
Edward Kenway is a masterful jack of all trades. He can climb any structure, stealthily assassinate any foe, captain a ship, and eventually hunt whales. I got the chance to try my hand at pirating, and it was a roaring success. My careful naval strategy involves attacking anything that floats, but being careful not to raise my wanted level so high that pirate hunters give chase. Once at the helm, I pick up anchor, raise my sails, and set out for a frigate in the distance, using my viewfinder to appraise the vessel’s worth. It’s a royal ship packed with cash. Your men sing a merry song en route the impending slaughter. I open up with a mortar strike, which chips off a chunk of damage. Several escort ships I didn’t spot initially sail into view, surrounding my ship. Your attack options depend on which side of the ship the enemy is adjacent to. I combine cannon fire, chain-linked shot, and exploding barrels to take out the smaller threats. The frigate crumples quickly without the distracting ships, but I’m careful not to sink it. Of course I could destroy the royal frigate and receive some rewards, but preserving it yields more options.
Sailing close beside the frigate unlocks the option to board. Disengaging from the help allows me to seamlessly control Edward like the assassins of past games. I deftly sneak across a rope suspended between the ropes via a grappling hook. I attack a sailor attempting to hack down my tight rope and a sword fight breaks out. A careful mix of slashes, counters, and breaking past enemies’ defenses does the trick. I kill the captain and then decide what to do with the hijacked ship. Kenway can add it to his fleet, which progresses a flotilla-building metagame. He can sink it to earn some meager loot. He can also use the ship to repair the damage his own ship suffered during the battle. I choose the latter, then head off for a new adventure.
I spot a flock of birds circling in the distance and use the map to set a waypoint for their position. This flock indicates something is swimming in the waters below. Edward strops down to his pantaloons and deploys a row boat, hoping to harpoon a shark. Ropes connect Kenway’s spears to the boat, which players aim holding the left trigger. His throw becomes more accurate the longer it’s held in. I spot a shark and plant a harpoon in it. It swims around frantically, but can’t escape thanks to the harpoon. The frustrated fish attempts to ram the small boat while I try to dial in shots, creating a tense battle. Taking down deadly sea predators reminds me of fighting the lake monster in Resident Evil 4, a harrowing encounter that I’m happy lives on in spirit via Black Flag.
Besides hunting sharks and pirating ships, Kenway can explore caves for treasure, accept assassination missions in cities like Havana or Kingston, and even swim through underwater sequences. The options in Black Flag are bountiful whether you're a rogue looking for trouble or a regimented captain. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is out on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, 360, Wii U, and PC October 29.
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