Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is easily the most ambitious release of the entire series. Set in the Caribbean's in the early 1700's, the game features a vast naval open world. You will incarnate Edward Kenway, a pirate lusting for riches and a lavish life. As Kenway, you will commandeer a brig, recruit a crew of sailors and become the captain of your own pirate ship. You will encounter pirates of legends like Blackbeard and Charles Vane. However, once you hit dry land, Kenway will be the Assassin we've come to expect from any Assassin's Creed game.
Venturing away from the traditional Assassin's Creed game, the Assassins versus Templars narrative doesn't seem to take the same place it did in previous titles. It slowly introduces itself as you play through the first chapters of the game as Kenway gets intertwined in the conflict. Black Flag is more focused on the open world with many boat missions and naval exploration. Once you hit land and go into Assassins Mode, it does however feel like any Assassin's Creed game. I didn't notice many improvement to the battle and free run systems; they mostly fine tuned mechanics introduced in Assassin's Creed III like the predator spots, free running in trees, hunting wild animals, whistling to attract enemies to your hiding spot, etc. I find the naval aspect of the game does breaks the monotony of the classic assassination missions and climbing puzzles. Previous titles tried to do so with mini-games and side-objectives like Ezio's Brotherhood or Connor's homestead but I didn't find such tactics to be as successful.
Previous Assassin's Creed games kept you on rails for most of you progression, forcing you to complete main missions before you could be free to explore your surrounding and hunt for secrets. In Black Flag, within barely an hour or two of gameplay, you gain your pirate ship and access to the open world. I found myself jumping from island to island hunting for hidden treasures within my first gaming session. On top of that, there is no obvious start of game tutorial. Tips will pop up on the screen explaining how to play, however experience players can easily ignore them and dive right into the action. Gamers who are new to the series and/or the action adventure genre might find themselves struggling to learn the controls and key mechanics like assassination and free running. But luckily, we have the internet for that.
In their attempt to take the game off the rails and give players control as soon as possible, I found that they sacrificed a fluid narrative in the process. The storyline is abrupt and choppy. In the prologue, Kenway steals the robes and weapons of a fallen Assassin so he may collect the man's reward for a completed job. While impersonating said Assassin, Kenway displays great skills in the secret orders' key techniques like using the hidden blades. I know the story is focused on lineage and how much of the skills are passed one through DNA however, it took Ezio and Connor more than an outfit to bring out their potential and skills. It took at the very least a mentor.
The game is breathtaking even on current generation console. It features a truly seamless open world setting with little to no load time except when fast traveling or entering large cities. Even then, the load time is very minimal compared to opening the map in Assassin's Creed III or just loading my saved game in The Last of Us. I've also yet to encounter a major bug. The graphics are crisp and clear and the frame rate is good. I had the chance to try the game on PS4 last week and I must say there is till a noticeable difference in quality. The game is till perfectly playable on PS3 and Xbox 360 for those of you who can't wait another 2 to 4 weeks.
The soundtrack is amazing and just adds to how epic it feels to be sailing the open seas. If you're looking for something lighther, your crew will sing old school pirate shanties. I also appreciate how the crowd and characters are actually speaking their language and not just in english with an accent. It just makes the game feel more genuine. If like me, you don't speak Spanish, you can just turn on the subtitles.
As game developers strive to make their game more realistic and the fantasy world it presents more tangible, I tend to notice anachronisms right away breaking my immersion. For example, what would the Caribbean's be without devastating tropical storms? I was in a small town on an island when a storm hit: it got really dark, rain poured from the sky, everything in sight was drenched and the palm trees swayed in the wind and I thought "Damn that looks scary and real!" Then I noticed the village. All the buildings were intact. The villagers, drenched, just went about their business. They didn't run for shelter, they did not fear for their lives, they just stood there. And I wasn't a pirate anymore, I was just some chick on her couch playing a game with beautiful water textures but terrible non-playable character artificial intelligence… Once you notice these things, you can't ignore them.
On the user interface side of thing, the menus are much improved and better organized. The start menu features a dashboard like setting where you can easily access things like your current objectives and latest Animus database entries. However, I'm not digging how the Animus database information is displayed. The window is too small and slanted at an angle, making hard to read through longer texts. Since the core of the game is built around historical events and locations, you actually want to read through the entries. The weapons and tools are easily accessible through buttons on the controller, removing the need for another cluttered window or an obtrusive wheel menu and enabling you to easily switch weapons during combat. My favourite part? There is no load time when prompting the map or the start menu! That was one of my biggest pet peeves in Assassin's Creed III.
The game comes with an accompanying table app. Your game progress will show up in real time on your iPad or Android tablet. For example, I found a treasure map that specified some coordinates; Leah was able to use the map on the app to find the island and drop a marker. The marker appeared on my mini-map and I started sailing towards it. She saw my boat travel on the app's map. All of this in real time. The app will not only reduce the need to constantly open the game's menus but will also enable you to manage some of the games side-objectives on the go. Nothing says "productive lunch break" like managing your fleet of pirate ships!
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is most likely the best game in the series yet. It's what Assassin's Creed III tried to be, a vast open world for you to explore and conquer. It still remains an Assassin's Creed game with all that made the series popular but also the same kinks that we've criticized before. Nevertheless, the game is beautiful, engaging and entertaining. I recommend it to any adventure fan.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is available for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC. It will be available for the Playsation 4 and the Xbox One. For more information, visit assassinscreed.ubi.com