From the classic adventurous tales of Captain Hook to Disney’s modern-day Johnny Depp vehicle Pirates of the Caribbean, culture has always been quick to romanticize the Golden Age of Piracy. (For one, it’s called the Golden Age of Piracy.)
Rife with talking-parrot and plank-walking clichÃ©s as the era may be, however, Ubisoft appears to be steering the thematic approach of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag toward a deeper, more uncharted water: reality.
As more details and screenshots (like the new set viewable here) pertaining to Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag begin sailing in, it’s evident that exotic destinations, frequently far-reaching history and exorbitant body counts are once again in store for the series. But with that still comes the ability to depict piracy in a more mature and rounded light; to tell a story that — yo ho! — explores its swashbuckling allure, but doesn’t shy away from its licentiousness and brutality. Such a course is what Black Flag lead content manager Carsten Myhill called the “HBO treatment” when speaking recently to MCV:
“We’re staying away from cliches. Things like walking the plank, parrots on the shoulder and hooks for hands. We are giving pirates the HBO, reality treatment. And that allows us to redefine piracy in entertainment. No longer is it for kids.”
Myhill, of course, is referencing the premium cable TV network known for infusing more… hardcore overtones into its original programming — which has often found sincerity in easy-to-make-cheesy genres of American pop culture such as the mafia (see: The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire), dragons (Games of Thrones), history (John Adams, Rome), and even sports (Hard Knocks). That Ubisoft would view the Assassin’s Creed model in a similar light — it can indulge in the visceral freedoms of an M rating, sure, but it can also craft a more compelling, richly human narrative — is a promising sign for its handling of Blackbeard, Edward Kenway and the rest of Black Flag’s rogue privateers.
Assassin’s Creed has never been afraid to take liberties with the script of history. But it’s done so mainly to peel away the veneer of veneration surrounding its many heroes, reminding us that history is never always written as it truly happened… even if we can still be fairly certain that George Washington was never tempted to become a tyrant. With that said, do you think Ubisoft’s ambitions will allow Black Flag to “redefine piracy in entertainment?” (Beyond illegal torrent crackdowns, that is.)
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag releases October 29, 2013 for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Wii U. Next-gen releases have been confirmed, though dates remain unannounced.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.