Michael Leparc On October 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Assassins Creed Black Flag IV_Logo_BW_Red
I’ll admit it. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed Assassin’s Creed III, I was ready to throw in the towel on the series, figuring they had done everything worth doing, and the unsatisfying cliffhanger it ended on just felt like more evidence of that. It’s not easy to hold people’s interest when you go back to the same well year after year with the release cycle Ubisoft continues to push, but once again with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, they have done just enough to pique my fancy, and hopefully yours as well, by building upon the most promising elements of the previous edition.

The story facilitates matters by taking things a little further back from the Revolutionary War era, to a Welsh privateer turned pirate named Edward Kenway (the grandfather of Assassin’s Creed III’s protagonist, Connor Kenway). Through his latest plot in pursuit of wealth, he unwittingly stumbles into in the middle of the centuries old conflict between Assassins and Templars, leading a crew and later a fleet into battle across the Caribbean that also involves the navies of Spain and Britain, of course. This is probably the aspect of the game that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors in the sense that there is not as much recorded history to lean on here, so the writers were able to take liberties with the plot that tie things together a bit more loosely. It also avoids for the most part the existential questions that the last game brought up about who are really the good guys in all this, probably because of the way Edward gets quickly whisked up into things. The same goes somewhat for the present day portion of the game, which centers around the player working for Abstergo Entertainment (which looks and sounds a lot like an idealized Ubisoft, even down to the detail of being based in Montreal.. hmm..), a front for the Templars in the war for humanity’s future. Unlike Assassin’s Creed III, this portion of the game is mostly optional and doesn’t take you out of the Animus for long. Without spoiling too much, you’ll see some familiar faces and references, but for the most part it’s friendly to those new to the series, without wasting anyone’s time recapping previous events.

And what should attract those new gamers is the vastly expanded gameplay, thanks to the theme of piracy. If you have dismissed Assassin’s Creed for being too much of a closed, mostly urban sandbox with not much to do besides perform hits on people, well Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag should be the cure for what ails you. It takes the brief naval excursions from the previous game and transforms them into the ultimate open world pirate’s playground. As the captain of the Jackdaw, you can set sail for anywhere between the southern coast of Florida to the island of Hispaniola and even the Yucatan peninsula. Along the way you’ll catch in your spyglass several schooners, brigs, gunboats, and frigates from England and Spain, each of varying strengths. If you fancy your odds, you can fire your cannons, mortars, fire barrels, and chain shots at any of them to plunder them for their booty (various resources like wood, metal, rum, and sugar, the latter two of which can be sold for more Reales, or gold, and the rest can be used to upgrade your ship’s hull and weaponry). Once you get an enemy ship’s health down enough, you can either board them in which case you’ll have to take out a given number of soldiers or sink them altogether and scoop up what remains. The former is preferred of course as it allows you to salvage more resources and crew, as well as use the ship to repair your own or lower your wanted value, which if it reaches high enough, will send hunter ships specifically after you, basically replacing the similar mechanic previously encountered within cities. Another option for a captured ship is to add it to your fleet, which basically participates in a resource collecting and trading mini game similar to the one in the Vita game, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Templar towers have been replaced with seaside fortresses, whose defenses must be destroyed before you can dock and infiltrate them in order to free up the restricted areas and turn them around into traps for your rivals, because yes those cannons will be used to sink them from shore, which is absolutely fun to watch.

When you’re tired of all the naval warfare (and seriously why would you be? I found it to be the most addictive part of the game), there’s still plenty of stuff to do, particularly on foot. Speaking of which, the transition between sailing and reaching land is entirely seamless outside of the major cities, pretty remarkable considering how much space that covers. That’s good because there’s plenty of treasure and hunting (another returning mechanic from Assassin’s Creed III, including crafting your own upgrades) to seek out on various smaller islands and caves littered across the map. And yes by treasure I mean there’s classic treasure maps where X marks the spot and all. Of course the gameplay of most of the story missions is pretty much old hat by now, and there’s no real new weapons of note here, except for the fact that Edward Kenway is able to dual wield his swords much like Connor works his tomahawks. However the difficulty of the fighting continues to be tweaked so that it no longer is the “press counter to win” fest that previous games were, and once again your health only refreshes out of combat which means you have to be efficient. I also thought the missions were better designed in this game in the sense that there were more wide open areas that forced you to use stealth but in fair way that gave you more options than one. There’s still all the collectibles and challenges to get 100% sync, BTW, and not only can you upgrade your ship and weapons but you can also build out your pirate’s cove with all the stores and such you need. Plus there’s all the side quest assassination and naval contracts to carry out so all in all there’s just hours and hours of gameplay stuffed into this. And I haven’t even touched on the multiplayer, but that’s because it’s mostly the same as the last game, except with the addition of Game Lab mode which allows you to customize just about every rule and setting you can think of. Ubisoft claims it will make the most popular Game Lab creations a new default mode in the game, so there’s that I guess. Personally my favorite is the Wolfpack co-operative mode introduced last year, which also has a campaign tied into it. If you haven’t tried multiplayer in the series yet I highly suggest it in any case as it’s a very unique experience that focuses on deception skills over sheer reflexes.

Visually, Assassin’s Creed IV doesn’t distinguish itself too much beyond its predecessor, except in the expansion of its color palette to account for the bright blue seas and the verdant greens of its Caribbean setting versus New England. Clearly they’ve hit the limits of this generation and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it’s as gorgeous as it can probably be, though you can see the framerate strain more indoors than out in the open seas, curiously enough. It’ll be interesting to compare the 360 and PS3 versions to their next gen counterparts, as there’s definitely a lot of good that just some little tweaks in rendering could accomplish, not to mention a higher resolution and framerate. The voice acting and music is phenomenal once again, and Edward is certainly gobs more charismatic than his grandson was, capturing the ethos of a pirate quite well without shamelessly borrowing from other pirates like Jack Sparrow. As an aside there’s a “cheat” mode of the game that allows you to switch Edwards speech for the stereotypical tropes like “yarr” and “matey” popularized in movies and the like. It’s quite hilarious!

Quite frankly, you don’t even have to be a huge fan of the franchise to enjoy Black Flag. The open world naval elements make up what amounts to a fantastic game on its own, giving us a way to simulate all our pirate fantasies in way that’s been long overdue. The fact that it’s attached to a compelling story and third person action game in its own right is almost an absurd bonus at this point. The only question is whether you should get this game now or wait to see if the next gen versions are much better. That and what Ubisoft could possibly do to stay fresh after this one.


Being a pirate is too much fun, finally opening Assassin’s Creed back up into more of a true open world experience.


Pretty much at the limits of this generation again, though the seamless transition from ship to land is impressive. Curious to see what the PS4 and Xbox One versions can do.


Superb voice acting continues to be a signature of the series, and the sound effects of the sea battles are engrossing.


Just when you thought you were done with Assassin’s Creed, it drags you back in with another hook.

Assassins Creed IV Screenshots:

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