Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag Review (PS3)
For their sixth AC game in six years, Ubisoft have decided to take their flagship annual release to the high seas. It’s a very enjoyable adventure and offers an expanded group of activities that you can take part in. It has a sweeping open world and the main missions do not funnel you around the world in a specific way. You can take your own route and do them at your leisure. You are let loose to do whatever you feel like, but I can’t shake the feeling that it just doesn’t sit right.
The franchise as a whole has collected a mass of appreciation and credit; Assassin’s Creed II receiving an average metacritic score of 90, and rightly so. It did everything that a sequel should do; it cut out a lot of the monotonous tasks of the first title, it provided a much more entertaining protagonist and a very well rounded and developed storyline. In my honest opinion, the series had peaked pretty early, but I chose to look at this Assassin’s Creed with a fresh view. After all, it’s pirates!
The trailer for the game even tries to reinforce Ubisoft’s decision to move the franchise in this direction: “…live by the creed of pirates”. As “Pirates Creed” this game is absolutely stellar. Edward’s swashbuckling is quick, fun and responsive. I have felt myself almost at the point of shouting “YARR” when surrounded by several enemies and poking holes in them. Running across the sand and back onto my ship feels great; water drips off Edward while he grabs the wheel at the helm and pulls the ship out the dock. By far, this has been the best experience I have ever had when it comes to guiding a boat in a game. It feels the way you think it should. It’s a lumbering powerful beast and when firing its weapons there’s an ever present, pleasing pop of the cannons. You can invade enemy ships by swinging Edward on a rope and onto the deck, swords blazing. It’s a powerful, rewarding experience and if you’ve ever wanted to really be a pirate in a game, this is what you’ve been waiting for.
The controls allow you to move Edward quickly and effectively, and you can almost smell the salt on the spray. What pulls me screeching out of this life of plunder and grog is that I just don’t believe Edward as an assassin. Call it nitpicking, but a Pirate is not an Assassin. Fighting and exploring is as fun as it’s always been, sneaking, hiding, stabbing from hale bays, and its fun to clear a whole area of enemies without even being seen. However, no one has shown Edward how to be an assassin. No one has trained him to use his hidden blade. It just feels too easy, from the opening Ubisoft seem to just want to ram the idea down our throats – this guy is an assassin, deal with it. It’s not all of Edward’s attributes I have a problem with. The swordplay fits him perfectly, the agile climbing makes sense given he’d be up masts and in the crow’s nest but jumping off a height and landing on an enemy whilst sticking a hidden blade in their neck at the same time… just doesn’t feel right.
What’s even more annoying are Edward’s frankly annoying methods of being a pirate. When a pirate strikes land shouldn’t his priority be to find the nearest tavern, count the gold and drink until he almost kills his liver? Spoilers aside, this is not the case. Edward decides that when he’s on land its now his time to kill. He even partakes in a little bit of hunting. Should a captain really be hunting his own food and restocking his own supplies? He’s the captain, the boss, the head honcho. There’s no reallocation of tasks to his crew, it’s all taken on his own. I can appreciate that this is done for mechanics sense; the hunting will let you upgrade your equipment and the other work on land works as a storytelling mechanic. It is still a solid formula that Ubisoft has implemented well over the last six years, but it doesn’t fit in this setting.
There’s no doubt about it, I have enjoyed Assassin’s Creed IV the same amount that I enjoyed the others and it has not been a chore to play by any stretch of the imagination. If it wasn’t for what feels like a shoehorned-in story and for gaps in explanations of Edward’s abilities I’d be a lot more impressed than I am. Apart from the gameplay using the boats, I’ve done all this before. I’ve climbed the highest heights and I’ve opened all the treasure chests, I’ve slowly followed a target through the streets and I’ve stuck more knifes in throats from haystacks than I’d care to recall. One thing I’ve never had to face though is the fact that I can’t unlock all the content for my game in single player without using an online pass and logging into Ubisoft’s nastily DRM heavy U-Play store.
It’s not that the best weapons are only unlocked by using U-Play (they’re not), but when you have an equipment completion percentage, it’s frustrating. Now to embark on my views of DRM wouldn’t be fair to this game’s review. It’s not a Ubisoft issue, it’s an industry issue and whether you agree with the way Ubisoft handle it or not, it’s the way they’re trying to protect their business.
Moving on, on the whole this game looks beautiful; nothing looks to be mechanical or artificial. It looks and feels as fresh as a Caribbean evening. Strong Facial animations bring an extra layer to the characters personalities and the flora and fauna bring an extra percentage of realism to the world. However, all of this graphical fidelity comes at a cost. To be fair, it is only in really busy areas but on the Playstation 3 the frame rate takes a noticeable dive. I’d pretty much guarantee this won’t be the case if you’re looking to pick this up on Playstation 4 and as a launch title, it’ll work well.
The multiplayer mode has been expanded in Assassin’s Creed 4 to include an expanded “Wolfpack” Mode and the introduction of the “GameLab”. Wolfpack is a mode that was introduced in Assassin’s Creed 3 and is essentially a co-op scoreathon. It benefits from the addition of a tutorial-like part named Discovery and a harder section known as Unleashed. Discovery is fairly linear and will help you learn how to work together and combo kills and Unleashed allows for some pretty difficult areas and kills. As a takeaway from your general deathmatch style it adds a different angle on the multiplayer experience but like most co-op modes is better if you play with your own “Wolfpack”.
GameLab allows for the combination of several parameters and rules to customise the experience. Do you want only aerial kills to count for your score? You got it. Do you want your game to be a weird pistol-kills only fest? Then, well, you got that too. I’d like to think it would be the place where you’d spend most of your time in multiplayer as adds a huge amount of variance to the experience, and I only hope that Ubisoft have tested this to the moon and back to avoid any game-breaking bugs.
It’s a solid multiplayer experience from a series that has had it’s fair share of solid multiplay over the years. I just can’t help but think they missed a trick my not implementing a mode for naval combat.
I can only imagine its been a tough decision by Ubisoft to not push this out to a new IP seeing as the Assassin’s Creed brand has been solid for so many years but if they had made this into a completely pirate focused title without the Assassination work I’d be much happier. For me, it does pull away from the immersion of the title, when I’m told by another pirate to go kill some random plantation owner. Don’t be put off from buying Assassin’s Creed IV, just don’t expect anything innovative, it does exactly what it says on the tin but it feels like two half games wedged together. You can’t really go wrong buying this when it hits a sale though, there’s plenty of room to explore and I’d buy it for the ship sections only.
As long as you know what to expect then I’d go with your gut and scream “Avast me hearties” at the till operator.
3.5 Pirates Creeds out of 5