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I can't think of a witty introduction, so let's just see whether Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag strikes gold, and successfully reinvigorates the series, or whether it's just another step down the line to the gallows.
Please be aware that although I tried my hardest to avoid, spoilers have sneaked in.
Well, it's been a tumultuous time for us all. We survived the Second Disaster - although I did lose my favourite kettle due too electrical discharges - and the world is safe, for the most part. The world keeps spinning, and the newly form multimedia arm of business conglomerate Abstergo Industries - the aptly named Abstergo Entertainment - is due to follow-up its roaring 2012 success with the release of yet another historical product; this one based upon the memories of the pirate known as Edward Kenway; Grandfather to AC III's protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton.
With Desmond gone, you (yes, you) take on the role of protagonist this time around. As a newly employed, but never addressed by name, nor sexually identified, research analyst, you are tasked with researching the life of the privateer-turned-pirate-turned-Assassin Edward Kenway, with an aim to gather sufficient video footage for Abstergo Entertainment's latest product. Priorities do, however, quickly take a turn when it is discovered that Edward encountered certain individuals and locations of interest to the modern-day Templars.
Edward's story, unlike that of his grandson, or that of the infamous Ezio Auditore da Firenze, is set primarily in the stormy oceans of the Caribbean. First and foremost, this is a game about sailing and pirating, with the forever on-going war between Templars and Assassins taking a backs seat this time; indeed, for the greater part of the game, Edward is not even a member of the Assassin Order. Instead, Edward's goal is singular and simple; to get rich.
Ubisoft have an amazing job of expanding upon the naval gameplay of Assassin's Creed III, successfully increasing the features of capabilities of your ship whilst keeping it as simple and fun as before. You are now able to not only sink ships, but board and capture them (after completing a number of randomised objectives such as 'Kill the Captain', or 'Destroy powder reserves') where you have a number of options; repair the Jackdaw, at the expense of the attacked vessel; set it free and lower your wanted level; or send it to your fleet for use as a trading vessel.
During these boarding sequences, the game shows off another amazing and new feature: seamless loading. The moment you choose to board a ship, the game seamlessly and, in an unnoticeable fashion creates a localised map for you to explore and fight upon. Here, Edward is able to make full use of the series' signature freerunning skills to clamber over the ship, and kill his target.
A number of minor tweaks have been made to the freerunning feature to give Edward a much more fluid looking, streamlined skill set, and this truly shows during the game's land-based segments. Be it in the city of Havana, Kingston or Nassau, Edward will have no trouble reaching his target and looking good as he does it. Granted, there were more than a few times where he inexplicably decided to run into a wall rather than down the alleyway next to it, but these few minor quirks weren't enough to significantly impact my enjoyment.
As with all games, I'm sure there are a number of bugs prevalent, but I have fortunately not encountered any.
Of course, you can't spend your whole day in the Animus, least the dreaded Bleeding Effect kicks in (a point handily pointed out by one set of NPCs in the modern day sequences), and so you are forced on a few occasion to exit the Animus and return to the real world.
These modern day sequences are presented in a first-person manner, and have you sneaking your way through the Abstergo Entertainment facility in order to facilitate the requests of your new friend in IT. This requests are, of course, of a dubious nature, and require you to hack into a number of AE systems, which in turn reveals a number of interesting pieces of background information. Once your mission is complete, you are free to either return to your Animus, or keep one exploring the building.
For those of you who prefer the more gameplay orientated modern day sequences of Assassin's Creed III, you might be disappointed, for everybody else however, these sequences will likely provide a nice change of pace from slashing your way through the Caribbean.
All-in-all, I would say that Black Flag is a worthy addition to the series, and does an amazing job of bringing fresh life to it. There will of course be those of you who will bemoan Ubisoft's decision to focus so heavily the naval aspect, although I can say that the quality of the land sequences has not diminished as a result.
It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here.
*Graphics: *Gameplay: *Story: *Replayabilty: *Multiplayer: *Innovation: *Final score:
10/10 10/10 8/10 8/10 Unmarked 10/10 9/10
This is a hard one, but I would say that my top moment would have to be attacking one of the four "Legendary ships" that litter the Caribbean. Each ship presents a thoroughly annoying, but rewarding challenge for those of us who have gotten a little too good at taking down you stock Man O' War.
- Edward: "Did it rub you wrong when I took this brig as my own?"
- Adéwalé: "It was the sort of rub I have learned to endure sailing among faces of such... fairness."
- Edward: "It's true, most of these men wouldn't accept you as a captain. So what fair role would complement such unfairness?"
- —A commendable approach to the subject of slavery[src]
I've added this section here as I could not find a way to adequately fit it in with the rest of the review, but here are some personal thoughts on the game.
Unlike its predecessor, Black Flag doesn't shy away in its approach to one of humanities' greatest wrongdoings: slavery. It was a fact of life, during the 18th century (and for many decades later), that slavery – and the racism it invariably resulted in – was the norm for many. Indeed, I would imagine that there were many who, despite privately disagreeing with the practice, simply had to accept it; a position Edward Kenway finds himself in.
Ubisoft did a commendable job in approaching the topic with such honesty, without making a big thing about it. Granted, the idea of slavery is extremely prevalent in a single mission later in the game, but once more it is approached in a manner that certainly gives the impression that Edward is a man before his time.
I certainly do give my kudos to Ubisoft for that.