Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag ReviewFiled inside: Reviews
Assassin’s Creed is the epitome of a successful franchise. Its had its ups and downs, but the mere mention of a new title always manages to excite gamers. It’s in the same echelon with Grand Theft Auto and God of War, with players lining up at midnight releases to get to their hands on the newest installment no matter what critics may say.
But even amongst a mountain of solid reviews and a mostly positive reception, one could argue that the Assassin’s Creed universe has grown stale over the years. The original AC experience was a potential genre changer, but it was AC 2 that captivated us most. The saga of Ezio Auditore was a gripping tale of understanding, revenge, and justice that sprawled across a historically colorful European landscape.
Unfortunately, the Ezio-based sequels that followed left a lot to be desired. The story suffered, the gameplay became stale, and the environments failed to mesmerize. It wasn’t until Assassin’s Creed 3 (technically the fifth installment in the franchise) that we saw the introduction of a new character and locale. This half Native American hero, Ratonhnhaké:ton (also known as Connor), was an assassin during the American Revolution. The game was much larger than its predecessors, and took place in a variety of locations, including, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, a Mohawk tribe village, and even parts of the Caribbean. But even with more to explore and a fresh new face, it lacked that desired spark.
Assassin’s Creed had become Call of Duty, a game series that we expect each year, and one that we all buy, but a franchise that we don’t expect much out of. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, would surely be met with the same scrutiny as its precursors. Much to our surprise, and that of a critical community, Black Flag seems an entirely new experience, unhindered and unrestrained by the stigma left from its antecedents.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has always possessed a certain visual elegance. The graphics for each title are always on par, if not above average for current visual standards in each generation, and the artists attention to detail is commendable. Black Flag is no exception, showcasing some impressive eye candy. This latest installment is a graphically ambitious project, with a massive, colorful world. Players aren’t tethered to one major city in Black Flag, and are instead presented with a vast ocean, sprinkled with sand barges, flora-filled islands, and an over-abundance of wildlife.
We’re very impressed with the amount of artistry that went into the creation of this release. There are just so many different things to capture your attention. The Caribbean is a vibrant venue, and as a product of this, Black Flag is easily the most colorful title in the series. It’s very refreshing, and a serious 180 from the hustle and bustle of Rome’s sandstone sepia.
It isn’t just the colors that are so captivating either. Animations have been polished. Engaging in combat with the enemy isn’t just entertaining, it’s visually mesmerizing, with counter attacks and assassinations that are supremely violent, but maintain a solid sense of realism. The way that the cutlasses clash in this title just “feels right.”
There is a great sense of graphical customization here too. You are able to change the look of your ship, purchasing new sails, wheels, and figureheads to better suit your personal tastes. New costumes, pistol sets, and sword sets can also be acquired, each with their own unique style and combat ratings. There is a lot more customization here than one would imagine, allowing you to craft an adventure that is not only suited to your play style, but your visual preferences as well.
Sound is an important component to the Assassin’s Creed brand. The subtle creaks in a wood floor as you slink towards a potential target, the gentle rustle of hay as you perform a signature leap of faith, or the way that swords and axes clash against one another when you’re fending off enemies, all of these details combine to create an audible playground. Black Flag emphasizes greatly on sound and musical elements. It’s actually quite impressive how much detail was put into the soundtrack for this release.
The musical scores are realistic in a sense, containing a concerto of violins and “old world” instruments. Although it still maintains a modern feeling, amping up the tempo and providing an exciting backdrop for action-based cut-scenes and combat sequences. From a singleplayer standpoint, the sounds work very well, and are immersive enough to encapsulate you in a Caribbean utopia.
What is perhaps most surprising is the sound quality during multiplayer matches. There is an intense amount of audible detail, with the added effects of pounding heart beats and eerie whispers. It’s a paranoia paradise and is amplified to the next level with a quality set of headphones. Hearing soft footsteps behind you, or the gentle ruffle of leaves is enough to make anyone uneasy, and it really helps to sell the “kill or be killed” multiplayer experience.
Black Flag takes every past element that you’ve come to enjoy from the Assassin’s Creed franchise and amplifies it times ten. The world is larger, the fights are bigger, the environments are vibrant. It’s a massive step up from its predecessors and the further you progress into the title the better things get. Progression is well done, albeit a little misguided at times. It starts out a little slow, and somewhat linear, before bursting into a massive open-world seascape. You’re given storyline missions, but also allowed a certain sense of freedom to explore as you see fit.
A lot of the exploration elements are taken from previous titles. There are chests to grab, viewpoints to synchronize, and assassin contracts to carry out. But beyond those normal aspects lies a plethora of extra content to engage in. There are a variety of special weapons and armors to unlock via special conditions, with two costumes coming from the collection of Templar keys and Mayan Steles. Group based missions are back, this time in the form of Kenway’s Fleet, allowing you to send different ships across the West Indies on missions to deliver goods to specific locations. These missions are similar to the assassin team events in Brotherhood, with each event having a success rate and a specific in-game timer.
Even with all of the traditional content, developers managed to toss in a slew of new collectibles and side missions. Animus fragments are scattered all across the sea, with some requiring imaginative acrobatics. There are also shanties to collect, musical scores that unlock new songs for your crew to sing as you sail across the deep blue. These shanties must be chased, and if you fail to grab them in a specific amount of time they’ll flutter away, forcing you to try again later. There are many opportunities to get your hands dirty too, like gambling on mini-games, rescuing pirates from guards, and engaging in bar brawls. You can even try your hand at treasure hunting by finding maps on the cadavers of unfortunate adventurers.
Combat remains relatively unchanged. It’s still as fluid and artistic as ever, pitting you against enemies of varying types. You’ll need to break through the defenses of some, while counter attacking against others. You’ll have a full array of weapons at your disposal, including swords, hidden blades, pistols, and blow darts, all of which can be combo’d into or used separately. The combat is just like any other Assassin’s Creed, which is okay in our book. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Naval combat and exploration is something that was introduced in Assassin’s Creed 3, but is greatly upgraded in Black Flag. Piloting a ship feels more fluid, and the ability to simply free roam in your galleon is a very welcome addition. There is simply much more to upgrade pertaining to your ship in this title. Fire barrels, chain shot, heavy shot, hull strength, ram strength, swivel guns, and much more will give you an edge against enemy vessels. You’ll also be able to hunt sea life, harpooning sharks and whales for raw materials to craft new items and outfits.
All in all, the gameplay for Black Flag is similar to other Assassin’s Creed titles, but done on a grandiose scale. There is so much more to do in this game, and one glimpse at the map makes you feel as if you’re in a massive open world. There are so many different things to partake in that it should appeal to almost everyone.
The culminated storyline for Assassin’s Creed has always been an important point of the franchise. The storytelling element really amped up for Assassin’s Creed 2, setting the stage for a what would become a world altering secret about the origin of mankind. The following three installments furthered this storyline, although at a fairly slow pace. The secrets discovered through the Animus were always second to the main storyline that each ancestor followed. In Black Flag, things aren’t much different, but the title manages to split both storylines into separate “worlds,” allowing them to be experienced individually.
At any point during the game, players are free to exit the Animus and take a stroll around Abstergo Entertainment’s offices. This aspect of the game is first-person and although there is no combat or conflict, it allows gamers to uncover a flurry of information pertaining to the modern-world storyline, as well as some solid intel regarding Desmond Miles, the protagonist of the previous titles. Accessing information is done by locating sticky notes and hacking into PC’s scattered throughout the building. It’s a welcome addition, catering to those of us that hungered to learn more about the outlying story.
The story of Edward Kenway ties into the main storyline, although in a downplayed fashion. Kenway’s main purpose throughout the title is wealth, leading him to assume the identity of a deceased individual in hopes of garnering a massive payout. Through this, Edward becomes involved in the historical battle between Assassins and Templars. But what makes this particular protagonist such an interesting character, and really adds to the story, is his demeanor. Throughout the series we have been met with a cast of characters who ooze heroic personality, individuals who fight for honor, justice, and the greater good.
Edward Kenway possesses none of these qualities, and is instead a simple pirate who dreams of massive amounts of wealth and freedom. He fights not for the benefit of the Assassins, but rather himself. He is a character that completely morphs what we’ve come to expect from an Assassin. At points it is difficult to determine if a caring heart beats within Captain Kenway’s chest, although there are moments when he seems vulnerable, longing for the love he once knew. It’s a bit cliché, but it does add a facet to Edward’s personality.
Black Flag’s storyline is perhaps the most interesting within the series. Not necessarily from a progressive standpoint, but based on the fact that it is so far from the “norm” we have come to expect. It’s a land of pirates, filled with backstabbing, personal gain, and wild riches. It may be a little predictable at times, and it may feel a little slow in some areas, but all in all it’s a refreshing, theatrically entertaining experience.
The multiplayer aspect for Assassin’s Creed has been somewhat of a sleeper hit, much like the multiplayer mode for Mass Effect 3. AC Developers have attempted to refine their online kill-fest throughout each release. The finished product in Black Flag is an impressive showing, and provides a mass of replayability for those of you that have finished the singleplayer experience through and through.
There is a lot of character customization this time around, with costumes, weapons and accessories to unlock for each individual. You can create a “custom” emblem to display on your character’s clothing and will have a mass of abilities to choose from to give you an edge in battle. Once you prestige, you’ll be able to “craft” new abilities, giving you the opportunity to create custom tailored skills that adhere perfectly to your playstyle.
Community challenges and clans make the experience that much better, and the cooperative Wolfpack game mode should appeal to those of you that wish to play together with friends, rather than against them. There are some team-based adversarial modes, including Manhunt, Domination, and Artifact Assault (AC’s version of capture the flag). There is just as much content to enjoy for multiplayer as there is for singleplayer and it’s obvious that developers spent a lot of time fine tuning their online experience.
From a critical standpoint, Assassin’s Creed 4 may be the best game from the franchise so far. Assassin’s Creed 2 was an incredibly captivating experience, but Black Flag is such a massive, enthralling, and intricate adventure. There is so much to do, so much to collect, and so much to see. This is the kind of game that takes a while to get old, and even after finishing the main storyline you’ll find yourself dredging through each jungle landscape and far across the ocean blue on a quest to achieve 100 percent synchronization.
Better yet, you have a slew of multiplayer modes to enjoy and you can band together with friends to tackle the Wolfpack cooperative experience. We haven’t enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed release this much in a very long time and it brings back memories of booting up AC 2 for the first time. Now is a great time to jump on the Black Flag bandwagon and with DLC on the horizon you’ll get some serious bang for your buck in terms of length and replayability.