Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Preview

Loaded to the gunwales.

As the resident ninja at GameRevolution, I have a natural inclination to stab pirates whenever they come within my squinty purview. It's an allergic reaction that has endangered the lives of many GameRevolution coworkers as well as my allotment of paid days off for bereavement. Most pirates aren't difficult to spot, what with their bandanas, voluminous clothing, penchant for over-accessorizing their heads, awkwardly anachronistic white hoodies, and extreme lack of personal hygiene. You would think they would put all that water around them to better use. Because if I don't see them, I can most certainly smell them. Luckily, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag does away with the musky stench.

I believe that Black Flag isn't so much an incredible third-person action sequel to a popular franchise about deadly killers, as much as it is an incredible water simulator. Seriously, I can just halt my character and stare off into Caribbean oceans without a care in the world, hypnotized at the layers of currents and making my crew wonder why we're stalling in the middle of enemy territory. The technology behind the waves are as good, if not better, than Grand Theft Auto V's. Simply taking the time to soak in the detail of them crashing upon the hull of the Jackdaw is a thrill, let alone the island coastline with pristine beaches and lush, twisted jungles atop craggy archipelagos.

When you're not ogling over the gorgeous scenery, you'll spend the vast majority of the time on the high seas as buccaneer and assassin Edward Kensey, defeating enemy ships and protecting pirate territory from various degrees of enemy hunters, instead of a notoriety system that doesn't quite coincide with ship travel. Much of the predecessor's naval battles, which were generally praised by fans and critics alike, have been carried over, with particularly strategies on when to order your ship to be at half-sail versus full-sail.

How much resistance you'll face will depend on your overall wanted level and the mission of course, but how you win is generally the same: scope out an enemy ship to discover how much loot it carries, perhaps lure the ship into a storm, whittle down your enemy's defenses with cannon fire but enough to sink it prematurely, board the ship however you like (and at any angle you like), eliminate the grunts on board, and claim your reward. You can replenish any lost crew members, scrap the ship to repair the Jackdaw, or add it to Kensey's fleet.

As you earn a sizeable war chest over time, the Jackdaw can be upgraded with powerful weapons like chain shots, swivel guns, mortars, floating mines that spell disaster for enemies unlucky enough to follow you, and a ram for aggressive collisions, all of which are effective against different types of ships. Along with being able to dual-wield, Edward himself can outfit himself with multiple flintlock pistols, adorned freely upon his jacket breast, that can be used to chain combos together for intimidating crowd control. For stealthier missions, the blowpipe and rope darts while hiding behind cover and muffling any movement are the keys to success.

Island-hopping around the Bahamian map won't be too time-consuming, unlike the original Wind Waker, with the Jackdaw being able to sail beyond full sail, allowing you to navigate approximately 50 locations, 75 sandbanks, and plenty of other areas for side activities and wanton plundering of Mayan ruins and underwater caverns. Better yet, every main location will have a checklist, easily opened with the simple press of a button, that reveals how many treasures and activities have been completed out of the total. It's a handy way of reaching complete exploration, in between slitting the throats of Spanish soldiers and their numerous galleons.

On the side, if killing aquatic predators doesn't make you squeamish, you can harpoon sharks in a hunting mini-game. At various dive points along the shoreline, you have the chance to explore the murky depths where shipwrecks hide treasure chests, scattered air balloons will replenish your lung strength, and sharks would like nothing more than two orders of human leg and thigh; that is, until you punch them in the face. And if there aren't enough side missions to complete, the "Horizon" system will generate some for you depending on whether you enjoy raiding or hunting.

The story of this new installment, written by Darby McDevitt of past AC games, comes somewhat of a surprise if just because some fans were expecting a AC: Revelations and whatnot. Instead, Black Flag ditches the Native American plot to focus on the Golden Age of Piracy with the author of The Republic of Pirates, Colin Woodard, brought on as a consultant. That means a more historical approach that includes the likes of Calico Jack and Blackbeard. The modern-day B-runner moves away from Desmond Miles to let an Abstergo analyst—that's "you"—revisit the memories of Kenway with fewer restrictions on exploration.

How players will interact with one another isn't completely clear, but there will be methods for sharing information between players. That said, both cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes are in the books, with a much simpler menu as well as various custom modes via GameLab. Otherwise, you can choose one of the main options, be it a capture-the-flag Artifact, Domination, a free-for-all Wanted, and the more traditional hide-and-seek Manhunt.

Releasing October 29 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U, as well as on November 19 for PC, and slated to be launch titles for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is shaping to revitalize the franchise. Hopefully, it has the time to polish some of the kinks. At the very least, it has the type of scenery that I'm sure would mesmerize a cat on the couch for hours. And I'm that cat.