BADGP Reviews: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed IV (Ubisoft, Ubisoft)
Released: October 29, 2013
December 2, 2013
Alex Linna & Zach Buzan
Review: A Pirate’s Life for Me!
Ready your cannons and raise the black flag it is time to plunder and kill as a pirate! In the new installment of Assassin’s Creed series you play as pirate named Edward Kenway located in the Caribbean. You will find no Jack Sparrow here, but instead a list of other memorable characters from history such as Blackbeard and Captain Kidd. This new installment brings a fresh smell for adventure and a brand new look into the exploration side of the Assassin’s Creed series. With some minor flaws in the game play and some unwanted missions brought back, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag can still hold its rum high for being one of the best games to be released this year.
Like most of the games with the title, Assassin’s Creed, the brunt of the story is told mainly in a simulation machine known as the Animus. Occasionally, the player will be dragged out of this machine for a side story involving current day events. This time around you will play as a new employee for Abstergo to help them create a new virtual reality game involving pirates. This office environment is intriguing, but their execution with this part of the story could have been deeper. Edward Kenway’s story is a vast improvement over Conner’s from Assassin’s Creed III. In the first twenty minutes of the game, Kenway already acquires the Assassin’s robes and dives into the action early. Unlike Conner, Kenway is a loud and arrogant character that will do anything to obtain his goal for an easy life. Another step up for this game is the focus on side characters. Blackbeard and Captain Kidd are just a couple of examples of who you will encounter across the sea. Both of these characters are well voice acted and will become a big part in Kenway’s story. Throughout the story Kenway will make many choices and later have to deal with them. Kenway’s story does not follow the black and white problems of who is bad and good, but instead, it walks a fine line between both worlds of the Templers and Assassins. Thematically, the philosophies behind the Templers and Assassins are further elaborated on. Edward is fickle with his allegiances, and provides an interesting take on the two orders.
There is one word that best describes Black Flag’s gameplay, and that is incentive. I say this because everything you do unlocks a different item or enhances your equipment. From collecting shanties, to taking out random ships, everything feels as if they go hand in hand. One example is that while sailing the seas you will engage in combat with other ships. After defeating your foes you can acquire resources that you can use for many different purposes. Whether selling it all to purchase Kenway a better sword or to use it to upgrade your boat is all up to you. While defeating boats you can also fix your boat, lower your wanted level or add that boat to your fleet. With many choices that affect others I found myself getting easily distracted by a plethora of side activities. One of the most addicting aspects to Black Flag is the Abstergo challenges that you can complete. Everything you will accomplish on this huge list will unlock cheats in the game. However, the main drawback is that the game will not save if you activate any of them.
The ship, not a boat, is back and the seafaring combat is better than ever. With many more weapons and upgrades to outfit your vessel you will be spending a lot of time (and money) to try and strengthen her. Another task that they have added into the game is the naval forts. These play a lot like the towers from previous games but with a twist. You have to first destroy the fort’s stronghold with your ship and after that is completed, you will have to sneak in and kill the officers that lie inside. They could have made it very dull but once you get inside the fort you will have to fight through a small war and many explosions to get to your targets. These forts can get very exciting and bring something new to the franchise.
All of the side activities in the game are put together really well and never feel like a gimmick. One of my favorite and horrifying experiences in Black Flag had to do with the Harpoon activity. All of the animals that you find act differently from one another and each of them brought a little fear as well. From the great white shark to the great white whale I found myself enjoying every minute of this whaling experience.
The gameplay found on land is pretty much like any other Assassin’s Creed game. You have your platforming and brutal combat with a mix of stealth kills on the side. The main change up is the arsenal you are equipped with. Kenway has two swords when he starts out giving him some interesting finishing moves. The main character can also have up to four pistols, smoke bombs, rope darts and blow darts to change your combat tactics. The game’s platforming did have a few glitches in it, but nothing compared to Assassin’s Creed III. Like the rest of the franchise when you are able to counter enemy attacks the combat becomes a breeze. Even with the starting weapons you are able to beat all of the sections in the game that are on foot. The final sequence of the game is poor. The platforming is frustrating and it is not clear what the player should do.
Choices: The Good and The Bad
Assassin’s Creed IV has been a difficult game for me to wrap my mind around. For every excellent design decision, there was an equally and opposite frustrating one. As I will elaborate later on, the way Ubisoft chose to tell this story was terrible, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. It almost feels like two separate games. This might be a source of my confliction over the game. There is the more “traditional” Assassin’s Creed gameplay that takes place in the major cities of the Caribbean that includes the staples of viewpoints, building hopping, and sword on sword clanging action. Then, there is a huge exploration element to be found on the open sea that is both exciting and engaging. Together it made the game feel slightly disjointed for me, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t having fun, because I was. The boat combat is still great, but it was the scope and draw of discovery that makes it impressive.
To further elaborate on the good choices versus bad let us look at some examples. Why would they start the game with a chase sequence when that was the bane of the ACIII ending? ACIV, for the first time, is actually a good stealth game. Finally! I had to “grind” for metal to upgrade my ship. This was unfortunate. I would go to a mission objective and “You should upgrade the Jackdaw before starting this mission” would appear on the screen. I would try anyway and get destroyed. I then went and upgraded my defense and offense and the same message came up, but I was victorious this time. Upon attempting to begin the next two boating missions the same message appeared, but I ignored it and did not have any problems. They eliminated the wanted level on land, and it only in the sea this time. This was a welcomed change. The modern/near-future time had some cool hacking puzzles.
The worst thing about Assassin’s Creed IV is how the story is told. Until Ubisoft can learn how to tell a story another way than following/trailing two people talking, I am not sure that I can fully enjoy an Assassin’s Creed game ever again. I will also reiterate how much I dislike chase missions while I am at it. There are even a few tailing missions… in your boat. Because people cannot look behind them and see a massive pirate ship!
Assassin’s Creed Black Flag keeps a lot of bad choices in the mix of game play such as following guards in a bubble of conversation, or awkwardly following a target around the entire city. These tailing missions take away a lot of options that a player may want to make in the missions. However, Black Flag makes these types of missions more enjoyable by giving the player an easy path to follow with a ton of more killing sequences thrown into the mix. These aggressive tailing mission lets players, like me, who are terrible in stealth games, enjoy these sequences more. Other stealth sequences brought in other side characters which actually guided you through more of the difficult sequences and enlightened me on how these missions actually work.
Blending of Games
This has been in the works for years now, but all Ubisoft properties are quickly gelling into an amorphous, homogenous blob. Viewpoints that reveal objectives were in Far Cry 3. The forts that turn into fast-travel points are in both Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. The sounds from Splinter Cell: Conviction menus are present in ACIV, and Edward Kenway can now whistle to attract guards’ attention much like Sam Fisher. And, of course, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is essentially the same game as Splinter Cell: Conviction, just with squad mates.
Other changes include the strange first-person “modern-day” stuff that is okay, but did not resolve in the end. There are no longer health indicators above the enemies’ heads. While battling on the boat it is possible to hit from enemies off screen, which is incredibly frustrating. I would also consider Assassin’s Creed IV to be the hardest game in the series. This might be due the copying and pasting of Far Cry 3’s hunting/crafting/upgrading system. I played through over 90% of the game with only five bars of health, so part of this is on me.
Even with some of the awkward game play mechanics, Black Flag does its best to freshen up the series in all of the right ways. The player now has a huge area to explore and plunder instead of being trapped and confined in cities. Pirate life in the Caribbean is a welcome change to scenery and gameplay. Black Flag gives many incentives to stick around to collect the many locked items such as the gun blade and the four legendary ships of the sea. With a good story and memorable side characters this will be an Assassin’s Creed that will not be easily forgotten.
Alex: 8.1 Zach: 8.5 BAD: 8.3 out of 10