Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
So you’ll have to accept my apology for this being so late. Its been nearly a month since this game came out, and just now we are reviewing it. I finished playing Assassin’s Creed IV a few weeks ago, after going at it in every moment of free time I had and basically forgetting to do my homework. Then, reality kicked in and I had to pay for my adventures at sea. But now that I’ve gotten to think about this game, and gotten to consider it as a game on whole rather than just a story, I hope this review does the game justice.
I have it 4/5 stars, but I’d veer a little more like 3.7/5. It was a good and solid story, and as you guys know, I love good story telling. This story telling is significantly stronger than any other assassin’s story we’ve seen yet. Edward has clear growth that we haven’t seen since Assassin’s Creed II, but it doesn’t exactly feel like an assassin game. It feels like a pirate game. The story centers around Edward, but not his career as an assassin, he doesn’t even fully accept that mantle until the end of the game.
He spends a lot of the game pirating and searching for a meaning to his life, which develops slowly as he meets more assassins and sees the corruption of the templars. It’s hard to reason whether I even believe him to be an assassin, since he only really starts to obey the creed near the end. That being said, Edward is a great character. He’s morally grey on the outside, charismatic and driven by the promise of gold, but beneath the surface he’s a broken man who is crying out for something to live for.
The game’s story writing runs into a problem with the hundreds of side characters that we get. Almost all of them are actual historical pirates, which makes it interesting, but almost all of them are forgettable. There are a few that betray you and turn to the crown, but in a mission or two they are dead and you are back on your ship pirating for fun. The few pirates who do make the game memorable though are Blackbeard, Mary Read, and Anne Bonny.
I have always loved the way that Ubisoft portrays their women. It was pretty obvious to me off the bat that James was actually a woman, but for a while I thought maybe he was just a very effeminate man. So they had me questioning myself. But instead of going the obvious route, of making either of the women romantic conquests, Read and Bonny are both mentors and confidants of Edward’s.
You can see them in the decisions that Edward makes and his most emotional moments are tied to them. Even the classic loading screen of Edward running around while you wait for the game continue is altered after the death of Mary Read. The spritely Edward is drunken and can barely stand. He’s broken and destroyed, he’s lost his spirit. The weight of Mary’s presence in Edward as an assassin is felt deeply and their bond is stronger than any other characters in the game.
The ending especially is beautiful. From Edward leaving his pirating behind with a beautiful and literal swan song by Anne Bonny and saying good bye to his fellow pirates, to his endearing conversation with his estranged daughter, to a heart wrenching scene of Edward at the opera with his children. I’ll go over why there are so many feels with that scene in a later post. But yeah, Anne and Mary…
Their impact in the game is heavy, but comparatively to Edward’s, not as large. It’s a very personal plot line, that centers around Edward. Obviously this makes sense in the context of the actual game within a game. Unlike a lot of people, I am actually a huge fan of the game within a game business that Ubisoft likes to do with AC. I spent a lot of Liberation wondering how Abstergo Entertainment played into the game world, and I liked that we got to know more about it in this game.
Honestly, I found myself blasting through the game just to know more about Rebecca and Shaun, and hacking into the computers of my co-workers. There are some interesting references to Watch Dogs (a game that I am still lamenting over it’s pushed back release) with a document containing information on ctOS and my boss Olivier’s disappearance in Chicago. For the most part, the game takes on an interesting depth when they put the game outside of a game through the eyes of first-person.
The hacking is fun if you like learning more about the universe, but if you don’t, you can jump right into your Animus and forget all about it. Hacking consists of little mini-games that range from some small mindless puzzles to pretty infuriating Frogger dupes. What do you win? Abstergo’s warped view on the beloved assassins. Abstergo Entertainment is a mildly hilarious evil counterpart to Ubisoft Montreal, and the comparison is kind of great. As far as the outer game’s connection to the plot? Minimal.
It’s disappointing. I like big outer stories, and with this kind of plot, something interesting could have been done. With the sages and the First Civilization, there is a lot of room for more story telling. The game makes the decisions that Desmond made almost an afterthought. Some hacking will reveal to you some of Desmond’s voice messages and a video on what happened to his corpse, and as much emotion as that did inspire in me, it left me wanting more.
I spent five games with Desmond, the least I deserve is some kind of explanation.
This is not a game driven by revenge, vigilanteism, or even heroism. It’s a game driven by piracy. Despite Edward’s growth, he still spends about 80% of the game pillaging happily and all of it is for personal gain. It was actually kind of hard for me to be killing assassins early on in the game, and taking them out. Kudos to Ubisoft for making me almost want to betray my character to protect the order.
Instead of Ezio’s personal vendetta, or Connor’s code of honor, we get greed. A vast difference from previous games. Is it welcome? Kind of.
I dreaded having to sail the open seas when I found out about how much of the game occurs on the waters. I hated sailing in Assassin’s Creed III. But then I played the game. The controls have been improved 100%. Boarding ships are fun and frustrating at the same time. Upgrades are no longer purchased, they are partially made. You have to gather parts and scavenge the islands. I spent a lot of the game literally with the bare bones of what I need (I upgraded nothing for Edward, that should tell you where I was) and finished the game with relative ease. Of course, with actual upgrades you might be a little less frustrated during naval battles.
Other side “missions” can include diving underwater for treasure, whaling, exploring islands, attacking any ships, and of course exploring cities and towns. Diving becomes fun with the diving bell, though a lot of it involves fighting sharks. If that’s what you’re about, you’ll love it. But I hate QTEs, I had enough of them in Tomb Raider, that fighting sharks was agonizing. Whaling is fun when you get enough upgrades to actually take something down. Even with the best upgrades I was too frustrated and left the whale in peace. Plus the animation is quite bloody, so if you’ve got a problem with the blood sport maybe not the best idea. Alternatively the game allows you to just view whales passing by.
Exploring islands are fun, especially smaller ones that you can check off your list for Abstergo pieces and gold chests. When you get to larger islands that have warehouses, you start a mini-mission of raiding the warehouse without sounding off alarms. If you do, the warehouse is cleared out. I lost my first warehouse, now it just stays on the map, making me sad.
Attacking ships is fun, but being in stealth mode with your ship, not so much. It’s made better with a Fast Travel option, but much of the sailing feels like a waste of time. I wished that I could have gotten through the story faster and then been left to my own devices to pirate the West Indies.
The cities and towns are fun, but compared to the open sea, they are a little lacking. Nassau is super fun in the beginning, when you can run around on rooftops as much as you want without getting yelled at or shot at. You can climb towers and get treasure without a care in the world. After they get invaded, I pretty much kept to the sea.
Climbing and stealth combine a lot of the good points of the previous games. But they keep a lot of the parts of the game that I wish I could fast forward through. The missions are still essentially the same and I find myself hoping for something a little more in the actual gameplay. However, the ship battles are an awesome introduction. As are the small exploratory missions which remind me of Tomb Raider.
Graphically the game is gorgeous. That’s all you really need to know. It’s absolutely beautiful. I haven’t even seen it on a next gen console, but even with my PS3 everything is smoothly beautiful. There is a lot of detail in the game, and the vibrant setting of the West Indies helps to highlight this.
Final Thoughts: It’s not a perfect game, nor does it even really feel like an Assassin game at some point in the story, but Edward is a refreshing new character and the ship battles alone are worth it. AC fans will definitely want to check this one out.
Also I have yet to play with the multi-player, but look how awesome the characters are! I always really love the multi-player characters, and I wish they were given more publicity.