It’s no secret that after last year’s Assassin’s Creed 3, gamers were reluctant to return to the series for another round. Putting players through a lengthy, at times dull, introduction and taking on the role of, what some would describe as, the “Luke Skywalker” of Assassin’s Creed games; AC 3 is probably the least favorite in the series for a lot of folks. A year later and we have Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the swashbuckling entry in the famous series. Filled with pirates, assassins, sea battles and rum, is this the entry that brings life back to the series or does it put the series in the brig?
Assassin’s Creed IV opens with Edward Kenway and crew in the midst of a sea battle that is quickly going seven different ways of wrong. To make matters worse, assassins show up to show these pirates what’s up. In a stroke of dumb fortune, powder barrels on board the ship explode, sending Edward and an assassin overboard only to wake up on shore minutes later. After a squabble, Edward kills the assassin, dons the famous hooded assassin apparel and we are off on our journey into the world of Black Flag.
That’s the great thing about this giant open-world game: once you finish the introduction, you’re on your own. You can go sailing anywhere and everywhere and explore the seas to your heart’s content. Never before in a game, save for Skyrim and the like, have I felt more in control of what I want to do. At a moment’s notice, I can drop anchor and go exploring islands, hunt for wild game or flex my parkour skills in the nearest civilization, in search of missions or the large amount of hidden goodies scattered across the game world.
As you’re exploring the world in the Jackdaw, your ship, you get to engage in sea battles with other ships. These other ships contain all kinds of booty that are then used to upgrade your own ship or, should you choose, you even have the option take their crew as your own to bolster your strength on the seas. These sea battles are easily the most entertaining aspect of the game. I found myself spending hours upon hours sailing around, scouting for unsuspecting ships and convoys to pillage and plunder. Be careful about attacking too many ships on the open waters; each ship you sink adds to a “wanted” meter, akin to GTA, where, upon being filled, bounty hunters begin seeking you out in the water to send you straight to Davey-Jones’ Locker.
On shore, the combat is much of the same from past Assassin’s Creed games. This time around, I found myself having a difficult time in combat as the camera would get stuck too close to me and made it difficult to see incoming enemies, thus having trouble figuring out when to parry/dodge. It doesn’t happen often but enough to cause some mild frustration. That aside, the combat flows nicely and is entertaining to engage in, especially when you’re playing the stealth card. It’s not quite as smooth as the Batman games but it comes very close.
The story is off in a different direction this time around, both as the assassin storyline and the modern-day do things differently. As Edward Kenway, you’re transported further back in time to take on the role of Connor Kenway’s, AC3’s protagonist, grandfather. In comparison to Connor Kenway, Edward is a lot more interesting, dynamic and easier to play as. As stated earlier, I think Connor is the “Luke Skywalker” of the Assassin’s Creed series whereas Edward is the suave Han Solo. Edward starts off as a pirate and is fueled by the lust of treasure. He doesn’t really care for the Assassin Order but you see him realizing how some of his choices have affected them which spurs some changes in his demeanor. I’m confident to say that, personally, this story is one of, if not the, favorite story so far. It feels like this game was made for pirates and works very well.
In the modern-day part of the story, you play the role of a new intern at Abstergo Entertainment, a company designed to bring immersive gameplay to all, using the Animus to research content for new games. It’s an interesting story element for the game, if not an interesting spin on the way video games are created. It’s definitely a more interesting direction and I enjoyed exploring the different offices and rooms around the building, especially finding the hidden QR codes that elaborated on story elements, the development of Abstergo Entertainment and learning what happened to Desmond after the credits rolled on AC3. The controls are a little quirky, considering it’s all in first-person, and it can get confusing as to where to go at times. However, when jumping out of the Animus to take a break from being a pirate, it serves as a good distraction. I think I liked this “Out-of-Animus” experience far more than the past games with Desmond, at least beyond AC2.
I played the game on Xbox 360 and did not experience any kind of technical hang-ups. There are reports of frame-rate issues and lag but I’m confident if you install the game first, you’ll be smooth sailing. Various videos on the internet show side-by-side comparisons between the current-gen and next-gen versions but the differences, in my opinion, are few and nothing really warranting of waiting until next-gen to pick this game up. I also did not get a chance to play the multiplayer but I don’t see it converting me over if it’s the same as before in past games. Not saying it’s terrible but it just is not my “cup of tea”.
Overall, this game is a vast improvement over AC3. While AC3 introduced some new elements into the series, while rough around the edges certainly, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag takes those elements, refines them and creates a fresh take on the series, putting you in the boots of a pirate/assassin that is every bit as fun as Ezio ever was. Whether you’re sailing the seas, pillaging and plundering, or learning the ways of the assassins or hacking into your co-workers’ Animus, this game does not disappoint. Black Flag is a strong contender for Game of the Year and is a shining example of what a great Assassin’s Creed game should be. Ahoy lads!
I give Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag a 9.5 out of 10.