The opportunity to finally get my grubby mitts on the hotly anticipated PlayStation 4 was somewhat brief at Play Expo. Gamers were allowed approximately ten minutes with the console to play a small demo of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, which I shall discuss momentarily. In this article I’m going to double up and talk about both the game and the console.
Personally, I have never been a fan of the usual PlayStation pad. The convex sticks often lead to difficulty with my sweaty thumbs and the general button layout has never felt as ergonomic as competitor’s offerings. However, this new controller feels much more comfortable. It’s noticeably wider, which leaves the hand feeling a bit more free to move and adjust to positions, as opposed to the sometimes cramped feel of previous controllers. It’s also gratifyingly heavy; it feels dense and durable, a fine change from the PS3’s offering which felt a little too light, often leaving it feeling fragile and almost cheap. Sony’s new offering is significantly more satisfying to hold, a small change that shouldn’t make me as pleased as I am, but, well, it does. Another little change that makes the world of difference is the adoption of indented sticks, allowing your thumbs to sit comfortably and securely within the sticks, which fixes what many agree to be the PlayStation pad’s main drawback for the past three generations.
Graphically it was hard to get a good feel for any improvements on the previous generation, due to proximity to the screen. Ubisoft had players positioned quite close so the full graphical experience was probably slightly lost on us. However, Assassin’s Creed 4 still looked a treat. One can expect the graphical improvements in this upcoming generation to be somewhat less impressive than in previous generations. In the past, even doubling the amount of triangles in a synthetic image made a significant difference, however having a high number of triangles in an image and then increasing that amount diminishes the effect. Increasing the amount of triangles from 50 to 500 would have a much more significant graphical improvement than increasing 5000 to 50,000, it’s called “diminishing returns”. Still, textures in the game had a satisfying crispness to them and movement was gloriously fluid. The water effects were stunning and facial graphics seemed certainly more “human”, for lack of a better phrase.
The PlayStation 4 appears to be a solid and impressive piece of kit, delivering what it promised and improving it in ways that have enticed this hitherto Sony skeptic to adopt it as his next-gen console of choice.
Assassin’s Creed 4
As for Assassin’s Creed 4 itself, as mentioned, the game is stunning, with the new graphical power and tropical surroundings, framed with glorious nautical scenes, it’s a joy to behold. It plays in similar fashion to previous games in the series, with an added focus on nautical combat, a feature that the demo really tried to push. Sailing and fighting other vessels felt very similar to the mechanics in Assassin’s Creed 3, with the added freedom of being able to jump ship and destroy/commandeer the enemy vessel from within, which proved to be immensely satisfying. The sailing still feels a little bit clunky and can prove, at times, to be quite frustrating and I hope that Ubisoft don’t push this aspect of the game too much, as it seems to be one of those features to really prove effective if played to the player’s individual style.
I wrote previously on this title, stating that Ubisoft seems to have dropped any pretense the series still had of being an “assassin” franchise and the demo seemed to back up this assertion. Upon disembarking your ship to kill an enemy general there seems to be no attempt to make the gamer think tactically nor stealthily as it launches you into a small battlefield, forcing you to cut a swathe through enemies in order to get to your prey. The combat is fluid, satisfying and generally well constructed though. I stand by my initial preliminary assessment of the game, that if you dispel any inclinations from your mind that you should be playing as an assassin and just enjoy being a free-roaming swash-buckler, you’ll still enjoy this for what it is, a pirate game.