Welcome to Abstergo Entertainment.
Every Assassin’s Creed game has some kind of modern-setting component to it. The first Assassin’s Creed had small intermission sequences with Dr. Vidic and Lucy resulting in a more-questions-than-answers ending with cryptologic glyphs. Assassin’s Creed 2 had Desmond training to become an assassin leading up to a confrontation with Dr. Vidic once again during the end credits. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood had you renovating the Villa Auditore and traveling under the Coliseum to Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations took place entirely within the animus with the exception of a cutscene at the very end. Assassin’s Creed 3 finally realized Desmond as an assassin in the modern day, jumping off skyscrapers in New York and a mission in Brazil before heading back to Abstergo to rescue Desmond’s father and take out Dr. Vidic.
The modern setting of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag takes place at Abstergo Entertainment, the game studio branch of Abstergo that’s hinted in the multiplayer mode of Assassin’s Creed 3. You play as a nameless employee gathering memories from a ‘generous donor’ (Desmond) to create a new pirate game. Yes, this effectively means Black Flag is taking place within itself as Abstergo Entertainment is a weird pseudo-replacement for Ubisoft Montreal, even though it’s specifically noted that Abstergo Entertainment is working with publisher Ubisoft.
It sounds bizarre and silly, but it works meticulously. The studio is littered with copies of Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation, a few nerf guns, even an Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag art book. They even take it a step further; as you explore the studio, you’ll find market research and focus group testing on prospective protagonists for their next project, as you can see above. It’s probably the most fantastically simulated game studio I’ve ever seen.
What makes this all work as a premise is the perspective. Whereas in previous games you’ve always played from an assassin point of view, Black Flag is through the eyes of templars. They view themselves as the ones doing good, with the assassin order corrupting minds. Ultimately though, the modern day story is a stop-gap. By the time you finish scrubbing through Edward Kenway’s memories, and a trailer is produced for the project you’re working on, the only thing that’s happened between the templars and assasssins is you handing off some Abstergo data to Shaun and Rebecca.