While playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! did you ever wish that you could take a microscope to that world to get a closer look at all the pirating going on? Then Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the game for you!
Picking up after the modern day events of Assassin’s Creed III, we find ourselves backtracking on the historical side of the game with Connor’s grandfather, who is most noticeably the captain of the ship, the Jackdaw. You would think being an assassin would be his most noticeable trait given the series, but you’d be wrong. It’s his ship ownership. Though you will find yourself on land from time to time to carry out certain assassinations and progress the main story of Edward Kenway, most time will be spent on the high seas.
This was a huge concern for me initially when AC4 was in development because I was afraid that this game would lose the spirit of the entries that came before involving free running, building scaling, and the players best attempts at stealthiness that will inevitably break out into all out swordplay from time to time. Not only that, but I just didn’t want to spend that much time on the waters, which we get a brief taste of in some AC3 missions. The good news is that some of these concerns were unfounded; the bad news is that there is still room to be disappointed.
Just to give you a hint of what you will spend most of your time doing in the game, I found myself at the 40-hour mark of gameplay and was maybe half way through the main storyline. This isn’t to say that the campaign missions demand this much time, it’s just that the sea is a huge place with lots of islands to discover and explore (though many are rather tiny), shipwrecks to eventually swim down to and be terrorized by the surplus of observant great white sharks, and ships to plunder both with the Jackdaw and your own fleet (with a very simplistic battle system to keep the seas safe for your cargo-filled ships, which replace the assassin recruits of some previous games). Long story short, it’s impossible not to get sidetracked. So many ships were sunk thanks to the bloodlust of my cannons and the need to upgrade the Jackdaw to the meanest vessel out there (though the legendary ships at the map corners quickly taught me the errors of my boisterous thinking), and I did so happily and without tiring of the task. At least at first.
Eventually I did find my way back to the campaign to ground my sea legs because I was growing tired of a life at sea, and I missed what this game has greatly been in the past. I just fear that I didn’t get to appreciate the campaign because at this point I just wanted to burn through it and get it done (thank goodness for fast traveling). Not only that, but with the hours already put into AC4, I have little to no desire to play it again.
Back to the main story: I can’t help but be disappointed with this world and main character we play as. I’ve always liked the idea of the assassins being this organization that few know about in these periods of time filled with historical references of art, architecture and specific events, and those who would hear whispers of this organization would probably write it off as a conspiracy. These men and woman shape and manipulate history from the shadows, raised and trained in this profession. And then there is Edward Kenway. He just doesn’t fit the assassin way of life I have grown to love in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Heck, he doesn’t even wear the hood a lot of the time! He’s just a man full of violent and explosive actions, with assassin skills that he just naturally has (because obviously he spent all of his time on his ship learning to scale buildings and stealthily kill people in numerous ways). In the end it almost felt like a disrespectful jab at this society I have been a part of with each game; this was an intentional choice in terms of character development, but I still just couldn’t come to terms with it. I guess I just found myself a little saddened that the essence of the series has changed, though this change does keep this game from being just another entry. So I will take the good with the bad.
Some other details of the game worth note are that the gameplay and controls have a few problems, with sticking to building corners often occurring when the desire is to run up the wall, as well as getting stuck in the foliage and terrain of the jungle environments, and the inability to crouch and slowly move around just baffles me in a game like this. Maybe it is because I came straight from playing Batman: Arkham Origins, but it was clear that there are still some improvements to the controls that can be made, and other games still haven’t quite reached the Arkham series when it comes to fluid combat (though I will take some responsibility through confessing player error occurrences from time to time). Last, but not least, of the complaints: why were the slowed down finishing moves so quiet? This completely threw me out of these BA moments because there were no sounds to really sell the moment.
Though I was a little disappointed with the main character and the movement away from what I feel is the essence of the series, there is no denying that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is definitely still a game worth playing as it tries to do something new. Not only that, but I am interested to see where the current day storyline is going now that we’re no longer playing as Desmond. The first person POV could simply be to restrain the player’s controls in a excusable way to divert attention from not being capable to move around as Desmond did, but I spent the game so curious as to who I was. It’s probably no one important, but I want to see my face!
Final Grade: 7.5/10 Follow @BewareOfTrees
Note – I did not play the multiplayer side of this game, so keep that in mind when considering my grade.