Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review

Keeping a game series going can be difficult. You have to keep the core game intact while adding new elements that change how some things are done. You have to turn the world on its head without placing the player in an unfamiliar environment. It is a very fine line that must be walked when adding a new entry, and seeing how the Assassin's Creed series is now on it's sixth game, they are going to have to work for that something new. Were Pirates that something new that they needed to keep the game fresh and interesting? That is what I am hoping to detail in the review.

All Sails!

Let's jump into the main focus of this game: the Jackdaw. Initially I was going to say that if you liked the sailing and ship based combat of Assassin's Creed III then this is your game, otherwise to pass. But that was when I was only about 2 hours into the game. I quickly found myself enjoying sailing my ship. Steering and navigation are a piece of cake. The only time the wind really fights you is when you hit large gusts during storms. The Caribbean Sea can be smooth at times while filled with waves at other times. Ubisoft is kind enough to introduce you to all the dangers of the sea by placing you in a storm with water spouts and rogue waves that will destroy your ship if you do not handle it carefully.  And this happens right after you gain access to the ship.

Now that you have a ship, it's time to take on a perfectly legal profession, right? Nope, you quickly embrace the profession of pirate and set off to plunder local ships. Pirating other vessels is pretty fun. Taking them by surprise with a salvo of heavy shot (by the way, to use it don't aim, just hit the fire button when facing the side of your ship), then laying some fire barrels in their path when the victim gives chase, and finish them off with mortars or regular shot. This is one option, but obviously not the only one. Once a ship has been weakened enough you can either send her to the ocean floor and get half the goods, or board the vessel. Once boarded you are given a number of crew to kill (from 5 to 20) and other tasks to complete depending on the ship's size. The smooth transition between navel warfare to melee is great and gives you multiple ways to board the enemy ship. You can swing on from a rope, just jump over, or climb your mast, jump to theirs and start with an air assassination. You can tell they put a lot of work into this, which is good since raiding other ships is necessary, being a pirate and all. Taking down other ships provides three potential rewards. First are materials to upgrade your ship, such as wood, cloth, and metal. Then, you have cargo to sell such as sugar and rum (yeah, they sell it instead of drinking it). Finally, you can eventually capture ships to add to your own fleet. The bigger the ship the better the reward, and the harder it is. This has taken the place of the Assassin's Guild that you ran in Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed III.

The Family Tree

Assassin's Creed IV continues delving into Desmond's ancestors. This time we have Edward Kenway. If Kenway sounds familiar that is because the father of the last game's protagonist was also a Kenway. First off, I found Edward Kenway to be much more interesting then Connor was. Connor was motivated by revenge and only revenge. It never changed throughout the game, so it seemed like there was little to no character growth. Edward however, starts out wanting nothing more then a enough coin to live comfortably, not caring how he gets it. From there he grows and changes. He becomes someone you can respect. Edward is also a little different compared to the other ancestors we have seen so far. He does not necessarily join the Assassins. He works with them, yes. He helps them, but he is not one of them. He does not agree with the ideals and plans of the Templars by any means, but he finds out about them after selling out the Assassins. He does try to make amends for this, but a bridge burnt must be built anew. This means that Edward has access to tools that the Assassins use along with what you expect a pirate to use. You have hidden blades, darts (sleep and beserk), dual swords, and up to four pistols. A friend summed it up great with the following statement; "Sure I could be stealthy, but I am a pirate. So I will just kill them all before they can ring the alarm instead". With this thinking, it really allows you to play however you want. There are very few missions where getting discovered actually ends the mission, it just typically means a larger body count.

Controls for Edward were good, for the most part. As a free climbing game you will always have a bit of uncertainty that goes with multiple jump paths, but that I am used to. The only time the controls irritated me was when I would knock down a foe, and when I went to for the killing blow my character would turn around and attack someone else. Most often this happened when I knocked down a Brute and wanted to finish him, but a new enemy was closer as a result. So Edward would jump backwards away from the most vulnerable enemy.

The most annoying task that Edward takes on would have to be diving. Later in the game you acquire a diving bell, that allows you to search the sea floor for sunken treasure. The controls in this are fair. The breath meter gives you plenty of time to get from spot to spot and air barrels are scattered around by your crew to refresh your lungs. The part that I found ridiculous was that Edward dives in shark infested waters without a knife! I understand not taking down his swords and guns, but why not a diving knife. At least then when you get caught by a shark you are not fending him off with your fists. It makes no sense!

All Aboard

Is this game worthy of the Assassin's Creed Franchise? Yes. By shifting a large focus of the game from running around semi-enclosed cities to the open ocean, the game designers changed what you spend the majority of your time on, while keeping it familiar with the boarding actions. Also, with the Spanish architecture in some of the larger cities, it gives the game a more familiar feeling when you are running around. The game, in my opinion hits a sweet spot between being different enough to be new, while keeping enough of the original to feel like an old friend has come to visit. While not perfect, this game did cause me to lose a month of free time. The last thing I want to mention is the companion app. Available for iOS and most Android devices, this is a neat thing to add on. After syncing it allows you to use your phone / tablet as a map, view treasure maps, check the Animus database, and most importantly handle your fleet. If you are out visiting family but want to still earn money in game, you can send out your ships on missions from the app even when your game is not running. Then when you start back up, you can sync up again and collect your earnings. The companion app is free, so if you have a compatible device, there is no reason not to get it.

And that brings us to the final statement, it is really fun to play a pirate.

4 / 5 Joysticks