It’s better down where it’s wetter
At Gamescom, I was able to get my first hands-on with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s single-player campaign. Instead of getting the typical scripted story mission, however, Ubisoft threw me into the middle of the Caribbean Sea for 30 minutes and simply said, “Have fun!” The only limitations? I couldn’t go into Nassau and Kingston yet if I wanted to dock at a major city. Only Havana was available, as well as many of the lesser islands. Of course, the odds of me getting even close to Havana were slim to none, because there was so much to do on the way.
I began the demo on the deck of the Jackdaw, protagonist Edward Kenway’s personal vessel. Eager to try out the revamped sailing mechanics, I immediately took aim at a Spanish convoy protected by some smaller gunships. Looking through my spyglass with a simple tap of a trigger button, I could tell what the convoy was carrying and opened my sails up full, charging rather brashly into battle. While it took me a little time to orient myself to the new aiming mechanics and variety of buckshot, I was fortunate that the bow of the Jackdaw was already heavily fortified, since I plowed headfirst into the aft of one of the gunships. From here, I rained cannon fire on my enemies, easily taking aim with the swivel guns to remove the smaller threats to my crew and using flaming buckshot to quickly wear down my prize’s health.
After dispatching the smaller ships and breaking the main mast of my target, I began the boarding process with a simple button press. From there, my crew let fly grappling hooks that brought our two ships closer together. Once within range, I jumped onto a swivel gun and let some smaller cannon fire whittle down the crew of the opposing ship. Then I jumped across myself and threw another man overboard while stabbing two others in the face with my hidden blade. The ship— and its booty—was ours.
Ah, but since it’s a pirate’s life for me, here was the big question: What to do with the ship? Since I’d crashed as soon as the battle began, I chose to repair the Jackdaw and was rewarded with a short scene of my crew carving up the enemy ship and bringing lumber and other supplies onboard my own vessel. I then sailed away from the empty husk and took aim for shark-infested waters.
Here, I decided to do some hunting. From a rowboat, I threw a harpoon tied to a rope at the head of a bull shark. It didn’t take too kindly to that and rampaged in the water—pulling me and my crew deeper into the sea. After several more harpoons, however, I had some fresh shark meat and skin that could surely be sold onshore for some coin.
Then came my most enjoyable part of the demo, when I took the diving bell down into the sunken hull of a ship as I looked for treasure. This segment intrigued me, because it felt so foreign to Assassin’s Creed. Normally, we’re always adding more armor and weapons to our hero—or our ship—becoming more and more empowered. Here, Edward strips himself of everything in order to more easily sink with the bell to the bottom of the sea. This leaves him unusually vulnerable to the sea urchins, moray eels, and the variety of sharks that roam the area.
Defenseless, I felt somewhat panicked as I swam as fast I could through the rotted ship’s carcass. My goal? Seven different treasures and two Animus pieces. While no one would tell me what the Animus pieces could do, the ship wasn’t considered picked clean until I gathered them up. I barely escaped with my life as several sharks took chunks out of me—I had to punch one in the nose after he clamped onto my leg, which left a trail of blood that began to attract several of the original shark’s friends.
Next, I docked at a small island and took on an assassination contract. Luckily, the target was nearby. I stealthily began to approach my target—making sure to tag him with eagle vision—and took out two nearby guards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t stealthy enough and spooked the target, who then proceeded to run to his nearby ship. I took a couple of shots at him with my pistols, but I missed—badly—and had to chase after him in the Jackdaw. After sinking his ship, I collected my bounty and began my seemingly endless quest toward Havana once more.
Unfortunately, my demo time ended here. The session flew by, though, and while I only saw a small portion of everything going on in the world, I felt like I’d done so much. Depending on how you look at it, Assassin’s Creed IV could be a completionist’s nightmare—or a dream come true. After pulling up the map and zooming out, I discovered that I’d only covered a very small patch and hadn’t even attempted a single story mission, meaning that Black Flag is easily shaping up to be the largest, most immersive game in the series yet.