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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review
Spoiler Free Summary
ACIV is the game the pirate genre has been begging for. Visually, acoustically and experientially brilliant. The range of things to do, the true sandbox nature of the game as well as continually impressive play style and variety make it one of the best games I have ever played. And whilst it does make the best use of assassin’s creed play style (which works fantastically in this setting) and resurrects well-loved parts from previous games (imitating glyphs and rifts as well as elements similar to the Truth) it does forget it’s a series based on Assassins for the most part. But still frustrations with the story are a minor factor to be expected in phase 6 of an on-going series which has a planned future so does not cause that much trouble. This game truly is a 9/10, and I am only discounting one point for the story, everything else I find stunning.
ACIV is definitely one of my favourites in the series. Edward surpasses Altaïr and Connor as a protagonist but is never coherent nor opinionated enough to beat Ezio. A fantastic pirate but bizarrely forgiving and polite, even when marooned by his crew he forgives his first mate and moves on without question. I found his character a bit of an odd choice as he himself is never actually special. Altaïr (Redesigner of the Assassins and devout student of an Apple), Ezio (Competent Apple wielder and teacher) and Connor (chosen by Juno in her crystal ball vision) all were uniquely chosen or special because of their TWCB DNA. Oddly Edward has no relevance to any larger plot apart from facilitating the Sage. His DNA never comes into play nor does his Precursor heritage which I was patiently waiting for throughout the game. Regardless as a pirate and a character Edward was an interesting and investable character if at times one dimensional and dissociated from the AC world.
The Game Experience.
As said in my summary this is the game the pirate genre has been crying out for. With the possibility to plunder any ship, go anywhere, leave the helm at any time, attack ships in numerous ways and truly sail free it is a fantastic play. So often you find yourself in beautiful scenery, whether an island waterfall, a sandbank paradise or a Mayan temple you are always kept visually entertained and wowed and for this I commend the producers. The music and people in the game are always good quality, good to listen to and a fantastic way to accompany the game. Ever present animals are a good reminder that the world is supposed to be alive and diverse and adds to the realism.
The only issue I take is with the simplistic nature of the combat. Nothing has really changed since ACIII. Ok so you have the blowpipe but no longer are there any small weapons, the only throwing knives are those you pick up from enemies (of which you can only carry one) and there are no real new weapons to speak of. The cutlasses are great but when you can only choose between them and hidden blades or unarmed you feel forced into a simple choice. It seems a lot of development went into combat and play on the Jackdaw (which is an amazing feat and an amazing form of gameplay) and not enough into Edward. This does not really take anything away from the game, however, it’s just a bit sad to see simple hidden blades and reduced combat options coming from a series which has been so good at stacking and building its gameplay until this point.
This is where the game lets itself down a bit in my eyes. The modern day story line turned you into a passive object and in a world of moral ambiguity and deception it’s disappointing to play as a voiceless, objectionless and personality absent character. It’s very hard to blindly follow the instructions of someone who is blatantly insane without your character objecting or providing a voice. Furthermore the end of the game was a bit…damp. The problem here is the precedent. ACII is one of my favourite game endings ever. Minerva’s turn to camera and stare is still one of my all-time skin crawl moments. ACIII did a great job of killing Desmond in a way that could make some story sense but more than anything showed us great conflict amongst Precursors. ACIV ended with a ‘back to business’ attitude. I’m very nervous about this horrible ‘delay’ story, about how Juno is still not ready to take organic form or whatever. It just seems like the studio’s attempt to keep us playing as long as possible with little reward, which is frustrating.
What I am glad about though is the hacking sequences. The little glimmers into the origins of the Animus, the objects of interest for Abstergo, the Templar point of view of the protagonists and the ‘we love Templars’ portraits were good little rewards but I felt I wanted more. They very cleverly used the debate emails to dissuade modern day or WWI(I) play (something I am glad about as I do not want to see the games go there...at least not for a while or ever in detail) as well as throwing different time titbits out there about where they’re considering. Carefully listening and using the fans’ voices in the debates.
The timeframe plot was a bit too far from Assassins for me. For a game which opened amazingly with the Assassin attacking Edward’s ship and crashing on the island, I felt that was the closest to an Assassin Pirate we got to until the last 1/12th of the game. Edward makes great use of the Assassin’s tools but that doesn’t make him an Assassin. I would argue that this game would be part of the large on-going story commentary that ‘no side is better’ (the games are increasingly pointing this out and at times even being Templar centric, which I’m all for) except that Edward never comments on this, he just wanders off and ignores them. For all his faults, Connor did take a stand to both the Assassins and Templars and tell them they are no different really. I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to see all the Mayan references especially as the series has passed its 2012 plot (although still expected some reference) but felt it did not pay off. The Observatory could have been so much more, with a coded message ready only for Edward’s DNA maybe left by Aita himself or maybe a renegade Precursor who was prepared to fight off the others and so had prepped something which the modern Assassin would learn of and seek to fight Juno…or something. In fact the Observatory was exactly what we were going to be told it was going to be from quite early on if I remember correctly. It certainly didn’t enlighten us going there a second time. Which was a disappointment.
The game is definitely a 9/10. The Jackdaw, the pirates, the scenery, the music, the gameplay, the Mayans, just so good. I just feel a little let down about the game not belonging to the coherent storyline. An amazing game and an amazing application of the Assassin tools and talents but not of the Assassins themselves.
> I would like to see more character customisation – weapon wise. Whilst the game has an amazing array of visual customisations for Edward (which I love, we’re beyond dyes to something much better) I feel his armaments were as limited as Altaïr’s which is a shame 5 games along.
> Better use of the animals. The animals were one of my favourite parts of this game. Brought the universe to life and improved hunting. What I’d like to see now is living animals being used by Assassins. Depending on settings but rare birds, snakes, scorpions, and fish which could be caught live and kept in little boxes or something would make a great addition. Amunet famously used Asps in an assassination why can’t others? I wouldn’t vouch for domestication of any animals but being able to use them in the environment better would be useful. Again not a fault but food for thought.
>Location. The game has nicely steered away from WWI(I). I think now it is time for the game to get its nose out of the euro centric aspects of the 1600s-1800s and look elsewhere. I am a Brit myself and I can’t help but notice that so far the game has covered the European invasion of the holy lands, 3 games on Europe in particular (well only half for Istanbul but still half), the American war of independence against the British and now the British actions against the pirates. I don’t know what they will do next and I doubt anyone would successfully guess but I hope it’s away from these areas. I looked for other different ideas based on hints. Things like Easter Island or the Ajanta Caves happen near locations where the most obvious source of conflict is once again British based (Australia and India, an apology for our prior Empire here, if only for the sake of storytelling). An interesting thought is the Maykop Culture, an ancient people who lived around Russia. But again we have already seen the Assassins in Russia. I know whatever they do will be novel and unexpected and good to play through. I just hope that they remember to bring in TWCB in a big way and make a big impact with it. Whatever they do it will be interesting to see whether they can leave naval gameplay or encorporate naval gameplway further. Whilst I love the naval gameplay AC is amazingly good at doing new settings every time and I don't think there should be so much sea play as this game in the next game. Although interesting alternatives could be good...
>Modern Day Story. Please give us a protagonist again. The world of the Assassins is too complex and in flux to play an ignorant puppet, we need feedback to fight the world. But thank you for gyph and rift like puzzles though!
I may seem to complain a lot but that’s because it is always easier to examine something critically in more words than it is to compliment it. Make no mistake. I love this game!