Review by BlackSpyro_33
Everything you want in an Assassin's Creed game, except the connecting plot sucks.
The Assassin's Creed formula is a constant one. Or has been until now at least. We had a main character whose story happened in parallel to the historic figure on each title's cover as we played. No more. Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag puts you in the role of a silent character with who we have no attachment or feel other than his or her journal entries (much like Dead Space's Isaac, except we could at least see him).
Attachment to the character for a series as big as this is as important as articulating and later fleshing out a story's plot. Cut the audience's tie with a character and you're removing a very integral part linking your player with the story.
Ubisoft made it so Black Flag's "real world" plot happens inside a videogame development studios, and the player character is a new employee tasked with and I quote, "researching and securing footage of value from the life of Edward Kenway". With a job description like that in a series like Assassin's Creed, you are instantly drawn into the aspect that you're going to be thrown into a VR simulation to play games. Such is the case; therefore, your role in the story is suddenly from the perspective of a gamer. You're a gamer playing a gamer that plays a game. As far as uninteresting plotlines go, this one flew right by my head throughout the entirety of the experience.
The "real world" story that Ubisoft used to present to the player as a small respite from the lively virtual action was a way for them to connect with the character, see them how they act, how they talk, how they cope with the situation. After Assassin's Creed III, a slew of questions that obviously needed answers popped up. I applaud any writer that instantly attempts to answer those questions in a sequel, but the manner in which we were just told: "He's dead and dissected." and implicitly shown that: "Everything's fine." destroyed the immersion I hoped I would attain from playing this instance.
"Real world" is plagued with boring and inconsequential characters that don't matter to the player or even the employee (player character) whose dialogues are, while casually and interestingly well articulated, superfluous in the way the story is driven. There is absolutely no gain in plot points from listening to any of them. Every mission outside of the Animus station is a pain in the butt where you're constantly wishing you could go headbutt your visor back into the simulation. I personally believe it's necessary thanks to the formula I mentioned earlier (Present time character + Historic figure tandem), but we could've been given something else other than just Shaun, Rebecca and a bossy idiot for our supporting cast.
Assassin's Creed is a lineal story that seemed to have been following a check list plot-wise. By no means this is a bad thing, as it engages the player to complete every individual quest with in-built anticipation of what's to come next. The first one had Desmond acquire a way to find Apples of Eden, the second and its two mid-quels allowed him to actually solve several riddles surrounding these mysterious artifacts and learn of an ancient civilization while at the same time learn of the impending doom looming over our world. Finally, the third installment allowed Desmond to sacrifice himself for the good of all mankind, period... or was it?
Many interrogants surfaced from that open ending, and Black Flag should've worked on further developing these in order to keep the story moving forward. But no, this game became an enclosement, an alienation, a domification of your liberty as an Assassin pursuing global freedom. Imagine playing Mario Bros. where stages one through three is a platformer where your goal is to reach the castle and every stage moves that forward. The fourth stage suddenly pits you against Luigi. What the heck? I ended feeling confused by this. Were they trying to give us a sequel or a filler for something that's to come? Was this really filler? Should this have been called Assassin's Creed 3.5 instead? I'll leave that up to the readers who played the game to decide. I personally believe that this all simply led to that moment in the epilogue where you finally could say: "Ah ha."
But was this all the game should've done for us story-wise? I can't help but feel this was an incomplete experience.
Moving on, let's analyze this game more thoroughly.
- Story: Skipping the fact that you're a mute gamer with a tablet that hacks everything in a templar stronghold with the ease that a five year old could play Frogger, the story is pretty solid simulation-wise.
You're Edward Kenway, an welshman whose life has been crap until he decides to make it crappier by leaving his wife with the promise of bringing riches large enough to force the Kings of europe to bend over. You can already tell how that went. But this is where it becomes interesting: Much like his predecessor Ezio Auditore and generational successor Connor Kenway, Edward happens upon his assassin roots by chance. Unlike the aforementioned two however, he becomes an assassin by quite simply taking over the role of a deserter betraying the order and soon enough Edward becomes entangled in the war of good vs. evil for who gets to have his or her way with the McGuffin.
Even though my lame attempt at being satyrical might be boring you, dear reader, the story will most likely not. Edward, outside of the era's complications and his particular circumstances, is a very relatable character. He's mostly personified as the man whose important choices range from painful to idiotic at every turn, giving the player a good laugh every now and then, but also adding spice to the fact he's a benevolent pirate.
The story is compacted into looping spirals of deception and betrayal characteristic to the Golden Age of Piracy, giving Edward no shortage of grief and anger for each and every person of potential interest that is taken from him. His main goal remains unchanged throughout the majority of the story, he just wants to be rich, he wants to plunder and to give the finger (if this gesture had not been invented yet, feel free to call me out) to everybody while causing as little pain to innocents as humanly possible. With no allegiance to anybody but himself and the men following him to hell, Edward has it as hard as humanly possible.
It is around the end of the story, when he's almost entirely defeated, his purpose all but destroyed, that Edward makes a 180 degree turn to face the reality of which he's been running away from. There is purpose to freedom, equality and he is determined to live his life to his fullest after admitting himself to the order of Assassins and raising a family. It's the dramatic story of an everyman in the 18th century whose tumultous life finds the road to absolution and free conscience... until he's betrayed and killed later on. Should've stayed in the Caribbean, mate.
- Gameplay: Assassin's Creed has been a very noticeably evolving franchise in terms of gameplay, always adding, changing or removing elements to make it a fresh experience every time. I am pleased to say Black Flag decided to super simplify the economy system from II and III into manageable mini-games all of it packed at a single desk for the rest of the game after unlocked. You go in, tell people to trade alcohol or rice or stuff you don't even need to pay attention to, and get back to pirating. Everything in the economy system is encapsulated in and by itself, allowing the player to keep track of things pertinent to their interests only when they want to instead of forcing them to keep track of how many convoys are being attacked or how many dumb apprentices are getting their butts handed to them by rabid beached whales.
Edward incorporates dual wielding combat for no noticeable difficulty reduction or increment, allowing for the player to simply mash buttons and watch the metal sparkle as blades clash. He's vastly superior than all of his predecessors in terms of arbitrary gunpowder abuse as he goes Wild West Indies (hint hint) on his enemies with not one, not two, not three, BUT UP TO FOUR FLINTLOCKS chaining shots and downing people like it was going out of style. Several of the tools and weapon choices from the previous Assassin's Creeds are gone in favor of a super-simplified choice between Hidden Blade, Sword Sets and Pistol Sets with several tools including a blowpipe, smoke bombs and ever handy rope darts (that for some reason the developers thought would be good to give to you by the last few memories).
The highlight of this game however, and you guessed it, is its pirate simulator. You have your own ship, but unlike Connor you're not confined to anything else but the entire goddamn Caribbean Sea to navigate. You get to board and/or sink as many galleons, frigates or brigs as you might want. They even abandoned the infamy system ON LAND in favor of giving you a fleet of increasingly tougher Pirate Hunters that are sic'd on you every time you get too notorious for the envious little sissies of the seven seas to tolerate.
I was skeptic at first, naval battles, constant sailing, but the experience feels authentic, the battles are quicker than they seem and THE SHANTIES. If groups of smelly, hairy men put together in one place singing while plundering Spanish and British and Red Flagged peeps' ships is your thing, look no further. This game has fast paced naval battles where you're usually pit against several ships packing firepower and the only way to properly get them off your backside is to spit fire back at them. Tell your mateys to upgrade your ship, fork over the money and materials and your little vessel's gonna turn into the scourge of the West Indies.
Do you like sidequests? This game does not disappoint. Treasure hunting, chest looting, smuggler den pillaging, warehouse pilfering, they all pay. They all give the player some sort of reward to add to the pile of swag the game throws at you, for a price. You have the beloved Assassin Contracts that would otherwise make naming this game Assassin's Creed as silly as something like Spyro the Compulsive Sheep Torcher. The Naval Contracts are accessible as soon as you completely obliterate cliffside fortresses, need I say more? Oh, you get to harpoon sharks and lift whales as big as your ship to purportedly make use of 10% of their body to make Pirate halloween costumes. Do you EVEN need anymore than this?! Oh the animal protection guys are having my head for this.
And there's more! Do you like deep sea diving? I don't! But for those that like being attacked by sharks, jellyfish and literally anything that has an advantage over you in underwater levels, Black Flag allows you to bask yourself in a plethora of beautiful undersea reefs and look at pretty whales going on about their whale things all the while you investigate the bottom of the sea for even more booty! ...If you haven't drowned already or lost 60% of your jugular to an angry mooray eel.
One other thing: Legendary Ships. I believe these, while scarce (only four of them available in the game, and only fightable once per encounter), really were a great addition. Whenever a game calls something "Legendary", your first instinct is to either beat the crap out of it to get a shiny or go eat it like a Devil's Fruit, damn the consequences. After I subsequently got sunk three times early in the game, I decided I would never rest until everything was as highly upgraded as possible before I would rain down my wrath on their mythological backsides. And I did, and I got rewarded, and even got a 'secret' goodie out of it.
When a game gives you optional sidequests that are inconsequential yet fulfilling as these, you know the developers are giving you a friendly nudge. It means they didn't need to, but what the heck, they want you to enjoy!
I haven't touched the multiplayer and if it's anything like ACIII's I doubt I'm going to, so feel free to try it out and let me know how it is.
- Graphics: The game is astonishingly gorgeous in its aesthetics. You go from tropical paradises to coves, dens, prisons, fortresses, but the beauty is never lost in the transission. Your ship voyages are especially relaxing thanks to all of the little details like sealife jumping out to say hi and splash all of your dudes with that crystalline water the guys near the Equator show off so much about in the movies. The scenes and art direction are polished just like the other Assassin's Creeds, with highly expressive characters and backgrounds to support them.
Storms are absolutely marvelous. Even with rogue waves or water spouts threatening to rip my ship apart I always find myself staring at the silent lightening animations which are quickly followed by the mighty roaring of thunder, setting the mood for the fight for survival that must've been trying to take Mother Nature's nut-cracker temper tantrums back then. Don't forget to laugh at the impertinent fools trying to chase you in the middle of the storm, for it is likely they're going to be destroyed by a stray bolt of lightening. I love it when that happens.
By the way, Subtitlers, Why do You find the Need to Capitalize like This? lmao.
- Sound: Assassin's Creed music has always been awesome. From the background thing you hear when you're just fooling around pick-pocketing corpses to the upbeat chase music when you're trying to lose the guards because they caught you fooling around pick-pocketing corpses.
I especially loved the naval melodies in the form of shanties, but what truly captured me were the battle BGMs for each time you try to board an incapacitated ship. Hearing Edward shout: "DRAG THEM TO THEIR DOOM!" marked the start of one, and I just forgot about everything, threw myself into the water and absolutely wrecked the entire opposing crew. A game that elicits such feelings with its audio simply must not go unnoticed.
Yes, the game's plot left me scratching my head. Did this all happen just so we could see how cute Haytham was as a kid before he became the Batman? I can't tell, but one thing is for sure: The game was an enjoyable ride through and through. The battles, the music and god help me, I even liked helping people with their little templar problems. (In fact I just wanted the armor, which I later left behind in favor for the magic plate of mayan clothes anyway)
As to my score? Even if the story on its own does not make the game for me, having to shake my head too many times upsets my neck, and therefore I must complain in some shape or form. Typing's my favorite method. Now let's be completely honest: Ubisoft's programmers did a terrific job, even if the game's system does have it quirks and glitches like any other, but its writers should make up their goddamn mind.
Rent if you don't care to 100% the game. As of the time of this, I'm at 99% because the entire progress tracker is 100% except for a single Buried Treasure Chest that requires me to wait for the economy minigame to finish discovering one location. Lord forbid these gentlemen for not actually buying sea charts with that stack of 9999 gemstones. Oh well. Now I'm going to do what I've been holding in for so long.
YARR HARR, REVIEW DONE!
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (US, 11/19/13)
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