It might be the latest installment in one of Ubisoft’s most popular franchises, but so far Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has been a difficult game to judge, even with the heaps of trailers and gameplay footage that have been unveiled. Assassin’s Creed III divided many fans of the series, with some praising it for its authentic recreation of revolutionary America, and others criticizing it as dull and lacking proper story pacing.
As such, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag could really go either way, depending on what the creative team does with it. Despite being a numbered entry in the series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is really a prequel to Assassin’s Creed III that concentrates on Connor Kenway’s grandfather, Edward Kenway, a privateer-turned-pirate who cavorted with the likes of Anne Bonny and Blackbeard.
It’s been a while since a decent pirate-themed video game came out, but Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is nonetheless following in the footsteps of Sid Meier’s Pirates! and the Monkey Island series, and as such has a lot to live up to. Ubisoft has just released a host of new screenshots for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, showing Edward harpooning a giant shark in the face, fighting British soldiers, shooting at ships and sharing a quiet drink over what appears to be a Piece of Eden. Check out the new glimpses of the pirate’s life below, courtesy of Kotaku.
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It’s hard to know whether to go for the classic Jaws joke here or the more topical Sharknado reference, but it does look like Edward is going to need a bigger boat, and he should hope that the weather remains nice. At this point, you can’t help but wonder if Ubisoft is deliberately hitting back at animal rights group PETA, who have previously criticized the game’s developers for including depictions of whaling, but perhaps the extreme fishing is just the natural evolution of the animal hunting that was introduced in Assassin’s Creed III.
Due to the setting, one historical element of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag that can’t really go ignored is the issue of slavery. Like many aspects of pirating that tend to get glossed over when pirates are portrayed in more romanticized fiction (see also: scurvy), slavery was an enormous part of the Caribbean sugar trade, and the cruelties suffered by the supplanted Africans are well-documented. In Assassin’s Creed III the topic was occasionally touched upon, with questions raised about the sincerity of the Founding Fathers’ passion for liberty when many of them owned slaves, but this didn’t feature as a major aspect of the plot.
According to lead writer Darby McDevitt, speaking in an interview with Polygon, slavery will be much more apparent in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Edward Kenway’s first mate, Adewale, is a slave-turned pirate and was described by game director Ashraf Ismail as being “very important” to the story. McDevitt says that the writing team wanted to deal with slavery by allowing it to have an observable presence, without focusing too much on the graphic horror of it:
“I wanted to treat slavery in the game. It’s a very delicate subject, obviously. But I thought the best way to approach it would be to make it a fact of life. Rather than go for any intense scenes of brutality to draw in your sympathy, I wanted something that was more low-key, but constant. “It’s true that pirates were more egalitarian, but there was still quite a bit of bigotry at the time. Runaway slaves would often sail with pirates, but they were still not trusted with weapons, most of the time. I hope I deal with that in the script, very frankly. “It’s a theme, but I didn’t want it to be sensational. The books I read were full of horror stories, and I tried to work in some of those, at least anecdotes and stories, and make it a background fact of life.”
This sounds like a decent approach to incorporating slavery into Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag without making it the central focus of the game. At this point in history, as terrible as it is, slavery would have been considered a simple fact of life by the people of the Caribbean islands, so it makes sense to incorporate it as such throughout the story, rather than clumsily dedicating a single mission to the subject and then ignoring it for the rest of the game. For those who are interested in a video game showing this era from the perspective of a slave, however, it might be worth trying out online educational game Mission US.
The Assassin’s Creed games so far have had a tendency towards very large worlds with plenty of in-depth historical detail to be mined for, and it looks like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will be no exception. Tell us what you think of the pirate setting, and what Ubisoft are doing with it, in the comments.
Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag will be released October 29, 2013 for the PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360. Next-gen releases are also expected.