Swashbuckling adventures haven't exactly featured in a glut of high-quality games over the years. Sid Meiers' Pirates! did a decent enough job of satisfying buccaneering urges from a strategic point-of-view, but realistically, the über-niche pirate gaming segment peaked in the early-90s with the first two Monkey Island titles. However, high-seas hustling now looks set to enter the 21st century in earnest - and in style - after Ubisoft officially broke cover with the next instalment of its Assassin's Creed series. Centred around the golden age of piracy in the 1700s, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag was announced on 4 March and is understandably arousing the interest of casual and enthusiast gamers alike, so let's take a look at the most salient points regarding the forthcoming title.
Fans of Assassin's Creed reacted lukewarmly to the ambivalent emo brooding of half-Brit/half-Native American Connor Kenway, the Assassin's Creed 3 lead. With Assassin's Creed 4 slotting in as a prequel to the 2012 title, the series' new protagonist will also derive from the Kenway lineage - though it looks like the family tree will be receiving a fairly radical makeover. Taking the reins in Black Flag is Edward Kenway, a privateer-turned-pirate noted as much for his heavy drinking and womanising as he is for his charisma and intelligence. He's a dab hand at stealthily knifing targets in the back, of course, and while we're not quite sure how Edward will find himself mixed up in the Templar conspiracy, we do know that his journey will see him cavorting with a number of unsavoury types including Edward "Blackbeard" Teach and Calico Jack.
Ubisoft has obviously listened closely to user feedback. In addition to ostensibly bestowing Assassin's Creed 4 with a more interesting protagonist, naval gameplay - one of Assassin's Creed 3's big successes - is set to play a major role in Black Flag. Gamers can look forward to customising, upgrading, and repairing Kenway's flagship vessel, the Jackdaw, whilst attempting to navigate treacherous weather across a vast open-world comprised of some Caribbean different 50 settings. As well as creeping your way around busy cities like Kingston, Jamaica and Havana, Cuba with a view to covert enemy takedowns, you'll be able to broadside and board rival ships out on the high seas, or opt for a more discreet route by diving into the water and sneaking aboard other vessels to assassinate the captain. The new diving and underwater exploration mode will also be utilised in side quests, and despite protest groups like PETA getting their sabres in a twist, players will be empowered with the ability to harpoon whales in the traditional 18th century manner.
Elsewhere, Ubisoft has promised that the pace of gameplay on Assassin's Creed 4 will be noticably quicker than that of its predecessor, which took a good few hours of engagement to get you stuck into main storyline. The rather tiresome modern-day Animus inhabited by the even more tiresome Desmond Miles will be on the receiving end of a significant kick in the pants, we understand, with the latter expected to be shuttered entirely. There's no word yet on exactly how the next Assassin's Creed will tie together past and present, but it can surely only represent an improvement on the current set-up.
Assassin's Creed 4 is scheduled to release on 1 November for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. PS gamers will be privileged to an extra 60 minutes of gameplay via the PlayStation Network, but those on PCs will no doubt be frustrated to discover that - once again - they are second-class citizens in the game release sweepstakes and will have to wait for a taste of the new title.
Assassin's Creed 4 has also been confirmed as coming to next-generation consoles - that's the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, in case you didn't know. Given the popularity of Assassin's Creed 3-fronted PlayStation 3 bundles, we'd fully expect Assassin's Creed 4 to arrive as a PS4 launch title in Q4.
Those content with current-gen hardware, however, can pre-order Assassin's Creed 4 via Amazon right now, where the going-rate at time of publication is £42.
For a further glimpse of Ubisoft's upcoming pirate epic, check out the official Assassin's Creed 4 trailer below.