I’ve been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series from the beginning. I thought that the first one had an awesome story and a promising gameplay. The Ezio Trilogy perfected that formula and delivered three amazing games. Assassin’s Creed II was particularly remarkable. However, last year’s Assassin’s Creed III was definitely a stumble for the series. It felt incomplete and rushed. I didn’t like the main character, Connor Kenway, very much either. All in all it was just a lackluster moment for the series. Despite all of that, I was still excited for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag when it was announced. My excitement only grew as I saw and learned more about the game as the release date neared. I finally got to check it out the past week or so, when I rented it on PS3 from Red Box. Was Black Flag a step back in the right direction for the series?
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the story of Edward Kenway, a pirate of the Caribbean in the early 18th Century. At the beginning of the game, Edward is shipwrecked with an injured Assassin, and it quickly becomes apparent that only one of them will leave the island alive. Edward takes on the Assassin’s identity, hoping to earn a fortune by delivering the man’s cargo, and instead gets thrust right in the middle of the Assassin-Templar feud. Edward and his pirate friends will be challenged in the coming years by that feud, the crackdown on piracy, rampant disease, and even a threat that may be even more menacing than the Templars!
I loved Black Flag‘s story. The plot was wonderfully interwoven with all of the pirates and places of the time and setting. I love history and the age of pirates particularly interests me, so I love to see their stories told, even if it’s twisted history, as per the Assassin’s Creed norm. You really can learn a thing or two about history with this and most AC games, just so long as you remember to separate fact from fiction later on.
It all starts with the star of the game: Edward Kenway. Edward Kenway is not the most likable character and he shouldn’t be. He’s a pirate and a scoundrel who dreams of fortune and glory. Despite those facts, Edward is a dynamic character. On the outside he appears to be quite shallow, but at his core he is something more. I enjoyed seeing him grow as a person, but I’m glad it was a long journey. Too often the protagonist learns his lesson early on to become the hero of the game, but I think it was a refreshing take to go this route. What better Creed character to use that long journey on than a pirate?
I also enjoyed the story outside of the animus. They did something interesting here, instead of choosing another character to play as outside of the animus, it’s basically supposed to be you. Step out of the animus, and it switches from 3rd person to 1st person viewpoint. This character has no name and no dialogue, though they do talk to him. They did specify at one point that the character was male, which I thought could have been avoided. Why specify that when everything else is left to the imagination? Beyond that, the setting for outside the animus is a subsidiary company of Abstergo called Abstergo Entertainment. Abstergo Entertainment has started to make movies and games with edited recording from the animus. That’s the connection. They’re making a movie about Edward Kenway and Pirates and you’re in there collecting footage for them. I like this direction for the most part, but I did find it confusing that Ubisoft put themselves and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation into the game.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag core gameplay remains the same as their previous games, but with added dimensions introduced in the last game. Half your time is spent on land, and as you might guess, the other half is spent at sea. The naval gameplay was one of my favorite parts about Assassin’s Creed III, and so seeing that expanded was one of the reasons I was most excited about Black Flag. Ubisoft verily delivered the truest and most fun experience with naval gameplay that I think has ever been created. Your ship is the Jackdaw, a brig that Edward makes his own. You can upgrade and personalize the Jackdaw as your stack up reales and resources. When you set out to sea, there is an entire Caribbean to explore. You can get lost in it. I certainly did. I spent hours just sailing around, gathering collectibles, listening to my crew sing shanties, and attacking British or Spanish forces. It’s SO much fun. The collectibles in this game are the best they’ve ever been in the series, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first time that it’s really made complete sense for the main character to go around looting chests and whatnot, but there’s also things like letters in bottles to collect too. The shanties (another collectible) set the tone perfectly for travelling at sea. They really make you feel like you’re at sea in the early 18th century. And yes, “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor” is one of them!
As I mentioned, you’ll need to collect resources, like wood and metal to upgrade your ship. To do that, you’ll have to raid other ships while at sea. The naval combat is a lot of fun and expanded quite a bit from the last game. It’s also challenging and you’ll need to upgrade your ship to take on better ships, and get better booty. There are also many forts to defeat, which are necessary for revealing a portion of the map, not to mention that it’s good to get them on your side for the rest of the game. One other aspect of the naval gameplay to mention is that you can go fishing with your harpoon for some pretty big targets like sharks and whales. Resources gained from hunting them (and other animals on land) can be used to craft upgrades for Edward. I almost forgot to mention one other huge component of the naval gameplay: the diving bell. Edward can acquire a diving bell at a point in the game to go underwater and find booty in shipwrecks too! It was a very cool feature and made for some pretty intense moments as I tried to desperately outswim attacking sharks.
Land gameplay, as I already said, is much like games past. One good thing is that they fixed the eagle points. In Assassin’s Creed III they made it so that the eagle points didn’t reveal much of the map at all, but they’re back to normal in that they reveal everything this time. Maybe I’m just weird, but one of the first things I do when I get to a new location is synchronize all eagle points to reveal the whole map and so it bothered me when I lost that last time. Another small thing that I liked about the gameplay was that Edward uses two cutlasses to fight. I don’t think any Assassins have used duel blades (not hidden) in previous games, but it was a lot of fun to use them in this one. I also enjoyed having four pistols and using them to gun down enemies in quick succession.
There are three major cities to visit in the game (Havana, Nassau, and Kingston), and many, many other minor and secondary locations to visit as well. Besides the storyline memories, naval missions, and collectibles, there are also side missions in the game as well. The main side missions are of course assassination contracts. There is also a side game called Kenway’s Fleet that I thought was pretty cool. It functioned a lot like the assassin initiates worked in the past. You can capture ships, add them to your fleet, and send them off on missions. If nothing else, it’s a good source of reales and art for your collection.
Assassin’s Creed IV also offers up a multiplayer mode, but I did not try it out. As I mentioned, I rented the game, and needed to get it back. Perhaps even more importantly, the single player mode was a FULL experience. I just don’t think that a multiplayer was necessary, nor was I interested in one for this series. But as I did not play it, don’t take my negativity as a denouncement. The multiplayer for Black Flag could be a great and fun mode and I just didn’t give it a chance.
At the beginning of this review, I posed the question of whether Black Flag was a step back in the right direction for the Assassin’s Creed series and the answer is no. It’s a LEAP in the right direction. I’m going to make it real simple. The bottom line is that I got 95% synchronization in Black Flag, and if I hadn’t rented it, I would have probably gone for 100%. I couldn’t put this game down. I may have rented it this time, but I will be purchasing Black Flag on the PS4. I recommend Black Flag to all Assassin’s Creed fans. It’s a must play. Also, Black Flag makes for a great opportunity for newbies to jump into the series, though I think people familiar with the series will appreciate it a bit more.