Despite sharing its name with a series where free-running and throat slitting are everyday occurrences, Assassin's Creed: Pirates is less about one-on-one combat and more about warfare on the open seas. I recently got a chance to go hands-on with a preview build of the game and play the first couple of missions to get a feel for it. In short, it's like no other Assassin's Creed game before it, for better or worse.
The game starts at a breakneck pace as the main protagonist, Alonzo Batilla, goes from prisoner to sea captain in the matter of about 45 seconds. Although he is in control of his own ship, he remains subordinate to his pirate master, who teaches him the ropes, literally.
Combat takes place between ships using various projectiles (mainly cannonballs, of course), and you're given the ability to dodge incoming shots by timing your actions perfectly. In the early battles, it wasn't particularly difficult to slam on the "brakes" and let the hostile shots whiz by, but I imagine the difficulty will ramp up in later levels. You'll also frequently have to fight multiple ships at once, which means you'll be dodging more shots than you're delivering. Once you've made your foes miss, you can volley shots back at them, and eventually sink them.
Things get a bit deeper (no pun intended) when it comes to upgrading your vessel. There are several different ships to unlock as well as perks that can give you an edge, and since the game is slated to be US$4.99, it looks like you'll have to unlock them the old-fashioned way (read: without in-app purchases, at least for now).
The most surprising thing about the game is how good it already looks. The preview version of the game featured stunning water effects and rendered huge distances with a large amount of detail. I was running the game on an iPhone 5s, so it remains to be seen whether it will sail so smoothly on older devices, but what I got to play was quite promising.
Assassin's Creed: Pirates may not look like a Creed title, but that might not matter in the long run. I'll be able to render a proper verdict when I play the full version -- launch is scheduled for December 5 -- but from what I was able to experience in the preview, it looks like an interesting spin-off with the potential to satisfy in short spurts, which is really what mobile gaming is all about.