You can already play as a pirate on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One: last year’s acclaimed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag put you in the boots of stealthy privateer Edward Kenway, roaming the Caribbean and taking down rival galleons for plunder and booty. Don’t expect a repeat performance however: this year’s outing, Assassin’s Creed Unity, moves the setting to revolutionary, landlocked Paris – bad news for able seamen hooked on the addictive ship battle mechanics.
All hope is not lost to Davy Jones’ locker however: we’ve spotted another next-gen game on the horizon set on the high seas, with cannon battles, plunder and even hooked hands that should help fill the void left by Ubisoft. Raven’s Cry, a third person action game which is headed to PC, PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360 in October, will return you to the Caribbean of the early 1700s, though as the CEO of developer Reality Pump studios Tadeusz Zuber tells Red Bull, this is not an imitation of Assassin’s Creed IV.
“Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is a wonderful game, without a doubt,” he says. “Their story was novel, and I think that fans were thrilled with the newest instalment. That said, we wanted to go in a bit more of a realistic direction with Raven’s Cry. The landscapes and cities in AC IV are beautiful, but a bit too nice and clean. We are concentrating on recreating the Caribbean as it was, not as someone’s vision wants it to be. We really want players to be able to sink into the atmosphere of the era and place. Our world is dirty, brutal and violent. Our main character, Christopher Raven, is a badass from the beginning, and will not be a knight in shining armour, or have a convenient change of heart, morphing into the hero of the tale. His choices are simple. He can be bad, or he can be worse.”
Raven won’t be riding on campy Captain Jack Sparrow’s coat tails either, he explains. This was a brutal, bloody world, and this will be a brutal, bloody game.
“The basis for the game is a dark tale of revenge set in the early 18th century. Although the framework is nothing new, we’ve had a great time choosing themes and characters that buck some of the current trends and tired clichés that have been pervading the entertainment world lately.”
The pitch for Raven’s Cry isn’t too much of a surprise. A new, gritty take on piracy? Shut up and take our money. More unusual is the team behind it: Polish-based Reality Pump is a studio better known for its PC strategy games, like Earth 2140 and World War III: Black Gold.
The game’s been along time coming: it was first announced back in 2011, long before the PlayStation 4 was official, and problems with the process meant publisher TopWare Interactive called on the studio to step in, says Zuber.
“The concept of the game was presented to us by our partner, TopWare Interactive. They had some concerns with the way the game’s development was going, so they came to us with the project, and asked us to spend a little time with the concept. After hearing our vision for the game, they gave us the enthusiastic green light to begin work right away, and our team has been immersed in the world of Raven’s Cry ever since.”
Zuber cites the company’s long history – the core of the team of 45 have been working together since 1995 – and its experience with fantasy RPGs like Two Worlds as its credentials for an ambitious open world game like Raven’s Cry. “Even though our studio is relatively small, we are one of the oldest teams still working together worldwide, and we bring a lot of experience and enthusiasm to every project we take on.”
There weren’t any ship battles in Two Worlds however – so how does Reality Pump plan to improve on Ubisoft’s naval warfare? The answer, Zuber says, is by slowing things down, making it more cerebral.
“The naval battles in AC4 are a really nice piece of work, and I have nothing but praise for the AC team. The mechanics are good, and visually they look great. However, we are going for more realism.
“First of all, they are slower, but we see that as a positive. Our ships behave more like real ships, needing time to speed up, make turns and reload cannons. We feel that rather than sacrificing excitement, the more realistic style of handling will make our naval battles more immersive, and let the player feel more like the captain of an actual ship.” You’ll also be able to change many things on your ship, from the color of the hull, to the mastheads, different sails, better cannons and different armour. “I don’t want to give it all away, but there will be plenty of things to change and upgrade on your ship.”
Zuber won’t say how big the world of Raven’s Cry will be – for some perspective, Grand Theft Auto V’s San Andreas covers a sprawling 48.7 square miles – but says it’ll be big enough to require fast travel. “Let’s just say that it’s large enough that the player has plenty of room to roam and explore, but not so big that they get bored or lost in the enormity of the world. Our team has a lot of experience in making huge worlds and we know that at a certain point, extending the world’s size can work against the player, making it seem boring or cold. We’ve made some adjustments, from island size to a fast travel system, since going from one side of the Caribbean in real time would take days of sailing. We want realism, but we want it to be fun, not boring.”
To create the Caribbean of the 1700s, from the sun drenched beaches to the grim reality of pirate haven Nassau, Reality Pump turned to the source material. “There are actually a lot of old pictures and descriptions of old Caribbean cities and landscapes that still exist today. It was very challenging for us to reconstruct the old times, but I think we’ve have managed it well,” says Zuber. “Actually, the biggest problem we’ve had to overcome is the contemporary vision people have of that time. Thanks to movies, people’s ideas of old architecture are quite different than the actual reality of the era and landscape.”
Zuber emphasises that realism helped inspire almost everything in the game, from the unusual weapons (“There really were sword-pistols and axe-pistols”) to the setting and protagonist Raven’s unforgiving behaviour. He may be on a mission to avenge his murdered family, but he’s no hero.
“Christopher Raven is a completely made up character, created by the minds of our writers. Basically, we read as many pirate histories and stories as we could get our hands on from the 17th and 18th century, and we’ve created a character that we feel could have existed in this era. He has a code, but it’s in line with the pirates of that time, and more importantly, it’s always in line with his best interests. We have added complexity to his character without sacrificing what makes him ruthless. He is still a pirate, and there is nothing he won’t do, and no one he won’t kill to get what he wants.”
All that said, Raven still sports a hook for a hand, a pirate cliché as worn as a tricorner hat. Zuber says it wouldn’t be fun to play without one, however.
“Can you imagine a badass pirate without a hook?” he jokes. “Like who? Jack Sparrow? Our response to that is, he is not a badass, he’s more of a joke. Not only does it look fearsome, it also gives us the opportunity to turn a disadvantage into an advantage. In combat, we’ve given the hook a starring role, and we’ve come up with some really nasty moves that players can unleash on their enemies. He can also use it as a stealth weapon, sneaking up behind people and using it to rip out a man’s throat.”
Unusually for a cross-generation game, Raven’s Cry won’t just look better on next-gen. Zuber says they’ll be using the extra horsepower to provide extra gameplay too, though he won’t be pinned down on the precise details.
“With today’s technology, just having a better looking game isn’t enough. Players on next gen consoles will be getting additional content, in addition to better visuals,” he says. “We’re coming up with some surprises, that’s for sure.”
The one platform that won’t be seeing Raven’s Cry, however, is Nintendo’s. The Wii U may provide more oomph than the PS3 and Xbox 360, but Reality Pump don’t have plans to bring it to the console, which has suffered from poor sales in the 18 months since release. “We definitely have no problems with the Wii U, it was simply a case of not having enough time to make a quality version for all platforms,” says Zuber.
Zuber does, however, confirm that downloadable content will be on the way for Raven’s Cry (“Yes, there will be DLC,” he teases us) but won’t be drawn on the potential of a sequel. That’s up to the fans, he says.
“Honestly, it depends on the players. If people respond well to our game, and would like to see another adventure with Christopher Raven, then who are we to deny the fans? However, we do have some other projects open right now, so our next move will depend on both our players and also on our partners.”
We’ll find out what sort of demand there is when Raven’s Cry sets sails for stores on October 14.