Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Piracy really shouldn't be this fun. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was greeted with a healthy dose of cynicism after Assassin's Creed III failed to deliver but, as Ubisoft has gradually shown off more and more of the new game it has become a much more attractive proposition than AC III could ever have been.
And so, sat down in front of a high-end PC at this year's Eurogamer Expo I got my first proper taste of Assassin's Creed IV and how it hopes to satisfy next-gen desires as well as silencing those dissenting voices (mine included) who expected so much more from Assassin's Creed III.
Not much has changed in the basic mechanics of the naval gameplay elements. Ubisoft Montreal has taken the time to refine and tweak it instead to add a few more flexible options in the midst of a naval engagement.
The bolstered water physics does make things a bit more interesting though. Aiming over waves is fun but there's a handy aiming guide to make sure that you can make the best use of the Jackdaw's weaponry.
The sea is beautiful too. The movement of the waves feels very real and they can be as much of a hindrance as a help to anyone not prepared for them.
The Jackdaw will be a much more formidable weapon in Assassin's Creed IV due to the great volume of different upgrades and customisations that have been introduced. Different types of shot for the cannons, structural upgrades and even a vicious-looking ram that can be added to the bow of the ship makes it a formidable ship that can take on anything from a merchant frigate all the way up to the Royal Navy's biggest man of war.
Naval combat can get very chaotic with cannon shot and fragments wood and metal flying all over the place. Different types of ships use different attacks. Small maneuvreable Brigs try to get in a position to ram the Jackdaw while massive Man Of War ships will aim to bring their considerable broadside of cannons to bear.
Players will also have the option of boarding a ship and taking control of it or just blowing it out of the water. Taking the ship by a boarding action does have its benefits as it can be commandeered for Kenway's pirate fleet or cannibalised to affect repairs on the Jackdaw.
Kenway's ship can do just as much damage to targets on land as it can to enemy ships. The fort that I am attacking only requires a couple of well-placed volleys from the main guns to bring the walls crashing into the sea.
And here is where we get to test out the game's much-vaunted seamless transition between naval and landlocked gameplay. Pulling the Jackdaw up to the quayside next to the fort and barrelling up the stairs into the heat of battle is every bit as fluid as Ubisoft claim.
In the midst of battle there are plenty of targets to take out but defeating a handful of officers will cut the head off the battle giving your crew a much easier time mopping up and allowing me to complete my mission.
Combat in Assassin's Creed IV is as simple and elegant as it has been in the previous games in the series offering fast transitions between multiple enemies with plenty of flair. Edward Kenway is particularly adept at this and has a great many weapons at his disposal. His armament consists of up to four pistols and at least two swords plus all of the usual tools like smoke bombs and throwing blades to take out as many enemies as possible in quick succession.
It's more brash than in previous games because the emphasis is not entirely placed on stealth and subterfuge. Now players have the choice on whether to sneak around the side or charge in to enemies head-on. Each has its benefits but taking advantage of the brashness of Kenway's nature does draw you deeper into the game.
There is beauty here as well as savagery and Ubisoft looks to have carefully balanced the two to create a very compelling experience and certainly one that stands head-and-shoulders over Assassin's Creed III.
Assassin's Creed IV: will launch on the PC alongside the Xbox One and Wii U versions on November the 22nd. The PS4 version is due out on November the 22nd as well in the US and will reach Europe and the UK on November the 29th. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are due out on October the 29th, which is next week.