“an incredible experience”
We have come a long way together; words used at the start of the international press event in London last year where the future of the Assassins Creed series was revealed, and they are very true words indeed. We started our journey in the Holy Land, following the path and story of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad as he followed his master’s direction in ousting the plots of the Templar Order. Not everything of course was as it had first seemed. Then we moved on to following the adventures of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Italian boy who quickly grew into the Grand Master of the Assassin Brotherhood and made it his mission in life to fight against the oppression which the Templars would seek to invoke. Then we took a leap forward in time to Colonial America during 18th Century, where the son of a British Templar and a Native American woman, a boy named Ratonhnhaké:ton or Connor Kenway depending on to whom he spoke, grew into the next great part of our story, fighting to save both his people and all the people who would seek freedom in these lands. All of these lives, places and times of course we have seen so far through the eyes of Desmond Miles, a modern day Assassin who was on a quest with what was left of their kind to protect and learn the secrets behind the mysterious artefact that has lay at the centre of all of these stories; the Apple of Eden. His story came to an end at the close of our previous adventure, but our adventure and his legacy it seems were not ready to be over just yet…
Assassins Creed IV Black Flag sees us take a step backwards along this bloodline, to the father of the Templar who fathered our third hero, Connor. This chapter then follows the life of Edward Kenway, a British sailor turned pirate, but not of the kind shown in the storybooks of our childhoods. The pirates we are presented with are intended to be depictions of what true pirates really were; not simply bloodthirsty drunkards looking out for themselves and no others, but men, and in some cases women, who had been left behind by the honest life society had offered them and who were searching for true freedom. There is of course a side to them that does desire riches, that will take blood, and does enjoy a drop of rum or fifty, but these pirates also have a vision, an aim and a purpose. They want to live as truly free men and women in a society not bound by the rules of the rich and powerful. They may sound then as though they are our Assassins in this chapter then, but they are far from that. This introduction to the nature of just one of many factions in the game just serves as a background for you, and much is still to be said about what drives our hero personally.
Edward Kenway himself then has his own story, drives and motives. He has left home as a privateer in the hope that he might be able to provide for he and his wife upon his return, but his drunken plans do not bode well with his partner, who leaves him behind to follow this path without her blessing. Kenway still cares for her dearly and shows this throughout the story, but nonetheless his path does lead him down a road to piracy and greed, and the more he seems to get the more he also wants. At the beginning of his story, Kenway is forced to abandon his sinking ship after a battle which tears it apart. Waking up on a beach, he recognises another man, an opponent from the battle, who appears to have also suffered his fate. Kenway chases the man down and ultimately defeats him. Not realising quite what he has stumbled into at the time, he takes the mans equipment and follows a note which he finds on the body which will lead him straight into a Templar plot. The man, you quickly find, was an Assassin who had intended to turn to the Templar side of this timeless war, and who had found something which they needed to obtain an ultimate prize. Having found this out, and being stricken by greed as Kenway is at this time, your character sets out to steal this prize from under the noses of the Templars and sell it to the highest bidder to make his fortune. His mission is questioned by the crew he gathers along the way, with the details remaining hazy and the nature of the prize uncertain, but Kenway continues to track down what these Templars are after.
There are many twists and turns along the way in this story, and it would be unfortunate to give away too much more plot that what I already have, but there are a couple of factors within it which should be noted by fans of the series. Firstly, this is very much a pirate game. You do not spend more than maybe a fifth at best of the game’s story as an Assassin, as you do not join their order until close to the end. This may be somewhat disappointing for fans of the series who appreciate the Assassin Brotherhood story lines which have often been very fulfilling and fun to follow. The other criticism which can made of the story is that it ends abruptly, leaving you feeling as though you had not really finished your work here and more annoyingly leaving you with many questions unanswered. Most irritating of all, that question which is on your mind throughout the game is one of these; why did Edward’s son become a Templar? Maybe there is a plan to reveal this in the future, but many fans of the series had hoped that this twist in the bloodline would be revealed during this instalment of the series, and sadly it was not.
Now just to confuse things a little bit for you, I am going to turn something I have just said just a little bit on its head. While the storyline can be criticised for just being a pirate story and having little Assassin story to follow, this is a very good pirate game. The gameplay which you will experience is just fantastic, and many elements of it are like none you will ever have seen before. There are so many fantastic features to this it is hard to know where to start, but I guess we will start with the traditional Assassins Creed combat system. As seems to be almost a tradition with this series, the combat system has once again been shaken up. For once however, there is a visible improvement to how things now work. For one, the combat is very fluid again. In the first game you could be in a sword fight and throw out a knife midway to take out someone else. This seemed to become less easy over the next few games, however now it is back in full working order and it is nice to be able to just whip out a pistol to take out that guy running at you while you have kicked the guy you were fighting onto the floor. Aside from the renewed fluidity of combat, it is now much more realistic, and therefore actually poses some challenge. You can no longer simply counter your way through the fifteen people who will come at you one at a time while they watch their friends die in front of them. Enemies will attack you at the same time now, and will not wait for you to kill off their comrades before doing so.you can easily be shot while going in for a counter attack, or stabbed by two people at once. This brings a new dynamic to the game’s combat system but the challenge is a welcome improvement and things certainly feel more real and dangerous than they ever have done before.
Another important element to the Assassins Creed series of course it the free running, and this feels more free than ever! Fans will be glad to see some actual tall buildings back in the game; something that was sadly missing from AC3. This means you can leap around like a madman who drank two cans of energy drink too many again, and that was always exciting! You will occasionally still get stuck on random stuff though, and in chases it is still not unusual to climb that wall you didn’t want to climb up and end up losing the target, but at least these are not new issues to the game. Perhaps with some luck these will be on Ubisoft’s list to fix ready for whatever comes next! Now that the game is open world as well however, you can run very naturally straight onto your ship and sail away. There is no loading screen and no waiting around with this, you can just leap on, take the wheel and go. This is one of the game’s best new features, and it carries across its entirety. You can jump from ship to sea, sea to land, ship to ship; essentially do whatever you want without having to hang about before you can do it. This is the sort of fluid, open gameplay that the gaming world has been waiting for a long time to experience, and now it can and it is beautiful!
Of course, what a lot of gamers are really excited about it the naval elements of the game. AC3 introduced us to these in a much more basic form to what we have now, and people in general seemed to be very impressed by the mechanics. Now these have been improved upon and the experience is fantastic, have been improved in a massive way on top of an already very good system. When driving the ship, the weather can be as much of a danger to you as rocks and obstructions. A sudden change can mean massively destructive waves, winds that can blow you well off course and other extreme events occurring which can put you in imminent danger, truly testing your ability to control your vessel. In combat, it is more than broadside cannons you will have to control. You can load your ship with mortar shot, explosive barrels, several different types of ammunition for your cannons, chain shot to fire from the front, a massive ram; whatever you may need to overcome your enemies. If you manage to disable them, you will then have the choice to either sink them to the depths or board them and take on the crew for a greater profit. The level of thought that has been put into the naval combat and overall experience in the game is huge, and the game is fantastic because of it. The game may have strayed a little on the story side of things, but its gameplay is absolutely unreal and incredibly, incredibly fun!
One other nice thing about the gameplay in this chapter of the series is the additional elements which you have the option to experience. For one, hunting is now a worthwhile activity. It seemed like an almost meaningless part of AC3, but now hunting different creatures in the game allows you to craft new equipment for Edward. Of course, if you really don’t feel you have the time for that, you can simply buy the hides and parts which you need to do this instead, but it is nice to have some sort of meaningful reward behind the hunting feature of the game. It is not only creatures on the land you can hunt though; you may also hunt those at sea. Sharks and whales can be killed in the harpooning activity, testing your skill at timing and accuracy to make your kill. Further to this you also have the option to go diving for treasure under the sea in your ship’s diving bell, which can be very fruitful in terms of finding worthwhile loot. The side activities then seem to have more purpose and worth than they have done before, and it is good to see that this side of things has received some attention from the developers.
The look of the game is very good indeed, and in some cases can only be described as unreal. It is certainly at its best during storm events on the seas, where the dynamic weather graphics give massive credit to the graphical designers behind the game. In the next-gen and PC releases of the game, the amazing nature of these is only more so, with water flowing along the deck of your ship, smoke from cannons drifting by as if it were real, and the sea itself looking wild and truly dangerous. The lighting effects used for the Caribbean setting of the game make it look even more beautiful, lighting up the world in all the right ways during the day but darkening it with great gloom when storms hit and utilising fires and starlight well at night to create a perfect atmosphere. It is hard to find a much better looking game on the market right now, and it would be easy to say that this might just be one of the best looking games of this year!
Then there is the audio of the game; something which might not generally justify a paragraph of a review to itself, but in this case certainly does. Let’s get the slightly more negative point out of the way first here; accents. Someone during the creation if this game seems to have become confused between what and English and a Welsh accent actually sound like. Your character is from Swansea, and in one particular scene you bump into an Englishman in a bar. Now you have quite a stereotypically English accent, which is fine up until this point, where the Englishman has a Welsh accent and they proceed to argue about the two nations. There have been fewer more complicated situations than this in my gaming history, and it irritated me from here on in. I don’t mean to criticise over petty things, but if you are going to try to use convincing accents in a game, please try to get them right! Now that this niggling point is out of the way, we can talk about possibly the game’s greatest feature; sea shanties! Nothing is more entertaining on the high seas than your crew breaking out into many a wonderful chorus as you cruise off on adventures many. Throughout the game you can even collect new shanties for them to sing, which to me was the most worthwhile side activity of all! Credit to Ubisoft; your accents were a little off, but your sea shanties are just fantastic, please release an album!
So that is Assassins Creed IV Black Flag. The game is not entirely perfect with a few little points which can be irritable (yes, I am talking about the accents again) and a storyline which doesn’t quite do justice the series so far, however for the most part it is incredibly good with some of the strongest gameplay and indeed visual elements of any game currently on the market. Had the game been released as a pirate title unrelated to the Assassins Creed franchise, I might have described it as perfect! As it stands, I will describe it as this; Assassins Creed IV Black Flag is an incredible experience which offers a fantastic range of activities under the overwhelmingly good gameplay for which it has been developed. It looks fantastic, it plays well, and if you ignore its slight neglect for the Assassins Creed storyline themes it is no less than beautiful. Sea shanties.
The Good – Some of the best gameplay on the market, a fantastic appearance, and of course the sea shanties are but a few of the great reasons to buy this game!
The Bad – The story lacks focus on the Assassin theme which should be at its core as a part of this series, and is in some ways more of a pirate game than an Assassins Creed title. Otherwise, its main issue is simply some dodgy accent work.
An End Note – Having played the game through and been confused by why the subtitles had so many unnecessarily capitalised words, my housemate and I realised that this was an intentional move to reflect the written word of Old English at the time in which the game is set. So I just wanted to leave this little note to say this; kudos Ubisoft, that’s pretty bloody good!
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.