Jo Wylie ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the latest in the Assassin’s Creed series since Connor Kenway graced our consoles last year, has been a heavily anticipated game ever since it was announced. Especially after the third game didn’t live up to many players expectations, developers promises of upgraded gameplay, next-gen graphics and, most of all, pirates, had a lot of the series’ reputation resting on Black Flag’s shoulders. Luckily, it carries that weight with ease. The aspects of Assassin’s Creed III that left the game feeling a little underwhelming, like the naval combat, the level of immersion in the side quests, and the cast of characters, have been picked up and then some in ACIV.
The very first moment drops players right into the upgraded naval system, both for exploration and combat; Ubisoft doesn’t want any player left shying away from naval missions because of the third game. Fortunately, the system in the new game is well designed – controlling your ship and crew is intuitive and enjoyable, and the naval missions are challenging and fun. This becomes important later in the game, as a great deal of the grinding needed to get your ship, crew, and own skills up to scratch is based in naval combat. Edward must fight and board increasingly large ships, gaining resources and money that can be used to upgrade his pirate ship, the Jackdaw. Without these battles, the player can’t upgrade the ship enough, and it will become impossible to complete the later missions in the plotline.
With regards to the fighting on land, there hasn’t been a great many upgrades, letting players fight with the simple and easy-to-follow fighting style the other Assassin’s Creed games are already known for.
A few changes have been made – Edward’s arsenal is more streamlined than some previous games, stripped of daggers, tomahawks, and the clunky bomb systems Ezio used later in life. Edward has also gained blow-darts, which PS Vita players might recognize from Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. These allow for more stealthy attacks and more tactics-based assassinations, and are a great addition to the assassin arsenal that seems to grow unreasonably every new game.
These additions make it much easier again to play this game from a stealth-based angle. Although this shouldn’t be a notable change in an assassin game, some previous incarnations of Assassin’s Creed have made it easier to just run in and stab your targets in the face. Better integrated sneaking systems and more stealth-based weapons allows players to opt for stealth without even trying – often, it’s just the most obvious and useful system. Players will often find they complete the optional, ‘stealth’ objectives without setting out to, as they are often obvious and intuitive. Players are able to play this game and really feel like an assassin.
ACIV also places players in a huge world, ripe for exploration, around Cuba. Amongst the many locations, players can find a great range of ways to interact with Edward’s world, in addition to the usual chests, assassin contracts, and collectables. Black Flag gives us underwater ruins and wrecked ships, Mayan ruins, and buried treasure. This wide world allows players to explore however they like, building up their skills in any number of ways. Admittedly, the underwater sections seem a bit unbalanced – the level of danger faced, with sharks, eels, jellyfish, and other such underwater fauna, doesn’t always seem to match the limited amount of reward gained from the missions. Only later in the game, when the special plans found in these shipwrecks become more important to upgrading the Jackdaw, will players be fully inspired to dive.
These underwater missions also serve to highlight the amazing graphics Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag boasts. The shining azure seascapes show the spectacular effort gone into this game, and seeing a humpback whale swim past after a shoal of fish is as actually breathtaking as you might expect. Above sea level, Ubisoft has given this game wonderful islands, bright Caribbean skies and seas, and sweeping vistas of tropical green. Even on the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360, the graphics are spectacular, and there’s no doubt that once they take the hop onto the next gen consoles they will look even better.
This excellent gameplay and graphics is certainly conducive of hours upon hours of gameplay in Edward’s world, and if not, the storyline will convince you to stay! Black Flag really accesses the reasons that people were so excited about living out a pirate’s life in the new game. Hours of freedom, adventure, and fun on the high seas and debaucherous port towns, along side a wildly fun and colorful cast of characters creates a crazily enjoyable adventure. Black Flag goes in a similar route to its past games, however, in that it also doesn’t hold back the heavy blows. Black Flag gives Edward a wonderful life at the beginning of the game, a telling sign that it might not last. As the plot develops players may find themselves in tears a few times, and Ubisoft perfectly manages the hard hitting plot line and excellent writing that allows the depth of emotional impact players will remember from previous Assassin’s Creed games.
One downside of the plot, however, is that Edward does not ally with the Assassin’s immediately. In fact, in a strange turn of events, he doesn’t become an assassin until some way through the game – the only reason the game isn’t called “pirate creed” is that he stole the iconic hood and hidden blades ensemble from an assassin in the opening moments of the game. Although this comes as a refreshing and enjoyable surprise at the beginning of the game, with all the hard knocks Edward and the player experience in the plot, there comes a point where players are more than ready to take a stand. Edward, however, remains steadfastly self-centered and directionless, leaving a part in the middle of the game where players might become annoyed with how stubborn and un-aligned Edward is.
Where the in-animus plot is as enjoyable and hard hitting as the Assassin’s Creed plots often are, the “modern” section leaves a little to be desired. With (spoilers) Desmond dead at the end of the last game, Ubisoft has made the strange decision not to give players a main character to replace him. Instead, the game tried to place “us” in Desmond’s world, supposedly working for Abstergo, who is releasing a game using the animus software. This plot balances between interesting and unsubtly, heavy-handedly meta. Also, the decision to give players a nameless, voiceless, faceless protagonist is a miss on Ubisoft’s part – the Assassin’s Creed developers have always been strong in creating characters we care about. Despite this unsatisfying protagonist character, there are also some good characters and an interesting plot in the “real world.” Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag returns to the creepy, unexplained out-of-animus plot to a degree of which we haven’t seen since the first Assassin’s Creed.
Despite being plagued by some bad choices in the real world, the world players will spend most of their time in, in the golden age of piracy, is a wonderful feat. Players who lost faith at Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Assassin’s Creed III should be coaxed back to the series with this game. Boasting amazing graphics, an excellent balance with plot missions and side quests, and a powerful and poignant plot to drag players along, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag stands up in comparison even to the second Assassin’s Creed, always hailed as the best in the series.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is available now for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii U. It will be available for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Microsoft Windows later this month.