After the somewhat disappointing Assassin’s Creed 3, many wondered how Ubisoft would respond, and what they would do in order to set the series back on track. Enter Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. While Assassin’s Creed 3 bogged down players with a long winded tutorial that lasted several hours, AC4 addresses this with a fairly short opening chapter in which we are introduced to the loveable rogue Edward Kenway – After a short chase through the jungle and your first Assassination, you head off into the world to secure a ship and claim your fortune as a Pirate.
Here lies what many will see as the biggest change to the franchise, the massively popular sailing mechanics from Assassin’s Creed 3 have been improved and integrated into the main game, rather than just a fun distraction. The world of Black Flag is huge and sailing around in your own ship is very satisfying, attacking and boarding ships is like something lifted of of Pirates of the Caribbean and its a hell of a lot of fun.
When you aren’t attacking other ships or advancing the story, you’ll find a massive range of optional tasks and quests to complete – scattered throughout the absolutely huge over world are optional activities such as whaling, collecting ancient artefacts, hunting, assassinations and diving to sunken wreck for treasure – and that is just some of the activities you can do when you don’t feel like advancing the main story.
Speaking of the story, its a much lighter affair here than what most fans will be used to, but I think after the narrative stodge of AC3, its a welcome respite. Sure the Assassins and the Templars are still at each others throats, and you will still have to Assassinate a number of targets as the story progresses – but this time I felt like a much greater emphasis was placed on the characters, rather than the ‘good versus evil – the whole world is at stake’ plot line that has run through most of the other games. Watching Edward go from a self absorbed pirate, only thinking of himself to a full fledged Assassin was a joy to experience, and the cast of characters you meet along the way make the experience all the more enjoyable – from Black Beard to Anne Bonny.
When you aren’t inside the animus, you find yourself in the headquarters of Abstergo Entertainment – the fictional computer games company that is part of the evil Templar organisation Abstergo. The ‘out of animus’ missions play out in first person and usually involve hacking a computer and then delivering the information to a familiar face before heading back to you animus. These missions are a welcome distraction when they crop up and they don’t overstay their welcome – apart from a couple of mandatory tasks you could ignore this side of the game entirely for the most part.
As with the other Assassin’s Creed games, AC4 relishes in exploring a story surrounded by actual historical figures and events, while placing its own twists on the details to make it suit the Assassins and Templar storyline. But what really struck me more than anything was the attention to detail, from the expertly crafted towns to explore to the banter between sailors in port. The highlight for me though was when I was out on the open sea, as I began travelling towards my next destination, my crew broke out into a rendition of ‘Drunken sailor’ it was an absolute delight and after doing some more exploring I discovered that song sheets are a collectable which unlock additional songs for your crew to sing while out on the open waves.
I played Black Flag on the PS4 and while I cannot speak for the Xbox One version (although I’m sure there is very little difference) I can say that AC4 looks absolutely stunning on next-gen. The world looks great and when you explore a sun soaked island with the sun pouring through the trees, the game really is at its best. I didn’t encounter many problems throughout my play through besides a couple of missing textures that eventually popped in or the odd character warping across the map – these issues however are very few and far between.
My main criticism is levelled at the main campaign itself not from a narrative perspective but gameplay. For the most part I found myself completely underwhelmed by the variety of missions available throughout the main storyline – after playing AC2 where every new mission on the road to the next assassination felt completely fresh, AC4 felt like a huge step backwards. Almost every assassination mission begins with you locating someone inside a restricted zone, then you follow them around the entire map for around ten minutes before they decide to head for their actual destination – what makes thus worse is that you have to stay close otherwise you’ll miss “vital” parts of their conversations – once you reach the area where your next target is you have to wander around a restricted area until you have the opportunity to strike, kill them, escape and hide. I felt like I was playing the first Assassin’s Creed game with respects to the variety of missions, a little disappointing when you consider the strides that the other games made in this area.
All in all Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a huge step up from the disappointing AC3, however the game is at its best when you aren’t following the main storyline – the variety of optional activities and the size of the game world will ensure that you get your moneys worth, its just a shame that some of this variety couldn’t have been integrated into the main storyline.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed IV takes everything that was wrong with AC3 and tries to improve upon it, for the most part the result is a highly enjoyable game. I just wish that the variety from the free roam segments was translated across to the main campaign.