REVIEW – “Why become an assassin if I am already a pirate?” – that could be the motto of Edward Kenway, the main protagonist of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. The latest episode of the very successful Assassin’s series invites you the beginning of the XVIII century, to the Caribbean Sea, the golden age of piracy and its hero is a devil may care young pirate captain who plunders ships, treasures, and even whole cities. Sometimes he also kills assassins or sometimes Templars – all according to his own interest.
Set sail to the sea, be on top of the surging waves with a rickety pirate ship, attack and plunder enemy Spanish galleons, kill or capture its crew than sail away with a rich booty! Who wouldn’t dream about all this in secret, while watching an Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp movie in the romantic, devil may care or funny role of the pirate? So it comes to no surprise that the gaming world embraced several times the world of pirate’s trough complex simulations (Sid Meier’s Pirates!), funny adventure games (Monkey Island series) or even action role-playing games (Sea Dogs series).
It’s no surprise either that the pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag distanced itself somehow from the original concept of the original games. Not only the main hero refrains from becoming an assassin but the game won’t actually go either in the same old direction of the assassin simulation of the previous games.
Every assassin will do his duty
But that’s quite alright. The Assassin’s Creed series has grown a bit tired, and Black Flag itself isn’t even the fourth part since we are talking about the sixth fully-fledged episode besides the several smaller games done for handheld consoles and smartphones. That’s why I felt many familiar elements from other games a bit repetitive and boring.
Oh my god, how many times did I follow lone characters or parties babbling to each other while I perched on rooftops or I was mingled with the crowd? How many times I had to listen to conversations – which generally weren’t too exciting, to begin with – hiding and waiting for it to end so the game could go on? I suspect that even the CIA didn’t wire-tapped so many European politicians altogether as much I listened secretly to NPCs in the Assassin’s Creed world.
Unfortunately, the developers somehow felt that it’s their duty to force those well-known and overused elements, and of course the well-known “chase the target, push him, get him, defeat him or kill him” bits aren’t missing from the game either.
Still, those elements are less frustrating here like in the previous game, Assassin’s Creed III. Wondering through the streets and rooftops of the very detailed and colourful Caribbean cities, searching for the vantage points and jump with the usual “leap of faith” never gets old and just as fun as it was seven years before in the first Assassin’s Creed game. Of course, the well-chosen setting has something to do with it. While we are walking through the cities, getting all sort of missions, blending into the crowd, running on the rooftops, or discovering temples, castles, city parks and other famous buildings we really feel like we are back to the Caribbean world of the XVIII century.
When it comes to armed conflicts with either the local soldiers, the assassins or the Templars the combat feels familiar as well: straightforward, and relatively easy and it’s more spectacular than ever. While we have the familiar and hard to defeat “behemoth” kind of enemies here are as well and also we can get surrounded fast enough by every soldier, still, throwing a smoke bomb to the ground and killing everybody while they are coughing usually solves every conflict.
Against bigger crowd pistols are golden which we can also upgrade and multiply by advancing through the game and getting more gold and resources. Besides the traditional weapons, we can also use blowpipes with different poisons in them. One of those poisons drives the enemy mad and it provides a near sadistic satisfaction to watch them kill each other under of the effect of the poison.
The basics of the combat are still the same but their possibilities have been expanded and it’s still as fun to be a pirate hero as ever, even if it’s dead easy to notice how laughable sometimes is the enemy’s artificial intelligence. Besides the combat, we have to do some sneaking as well.
There was an extremely annoying sneaking mission in the game when we had to sneak in the assassin’s base while taking care of not to be discovered or else we had to restart from the checkpoint. Since I am a big fan of Splinter Cell all I could feel is how Ubisoft should NOT force sneaking elements into an AC game from his other big franchise.
Act of piracy
While on the mainland the basics of the game are still the same, however as soon as we set the sails we have the impression the play a separate pirate simulator instead of an Assassin’s Creed title. Black Flag was inspired a lot by Sid Meier’s Pirates! and other similar titles. With our pirate ship, we can sail almost anywhere on the Caribbean Sea, attack Spanish, and English merchant or military ships and when they are near sinking we can get rid of the enemy crew with our mounted gun then jump on board of the enemy ship and with the help of our own party we can kill the rest with swords and pistols.
It’s just incredible how this sort of tactical-action gameplay with ships and pirates still feels so addictive. Ubisoft has done its best with the technical aspects, so we what have here is the best looking and most enjoyable Pirates!-like game so far. And let’s not forget how we can also upgrade our ship in the most sophisticated ways: ship’s hull, guns and other parts of the ship can all be reinforced, modernized to make a real beast from our pirate ship. Of course, it all costs a lot of gold so if you fell in love with the open-world pirate part of the game, be prepared to spend a lot of time with Assassin’s Creed Black Flag until you reach the end of the game.
Edward is cool, but the Abstergo is not
I didn’t write much so far about the story which is a lot less important this time around. In fact, there was even a part of the game when I almost suspected, that the linear story will disappear altogether from the game so lose it become. The story is still enjoyable and its main character, Edward Kenway is much more sympathetic than Connor from Assassin’s Creed III who was a bit stiff and boring.
Unfortunately, Ubisoft still didn’t get rid of the modern part which in Black Flag won the “award” of being even more annoying than the “incredible adventures” of Desmond Miles. What we have here is a faceless, mute, nameless Abstergo Entertainment employee in first-person view. Wow. Just wow.
Added to the injury, the developers also thought that it would be funny to make Abstergo (which become here an entertainment company making Matrix-like games) similar to Ubisoft. While in the beginning of the game this approach is kind of funny, by the third or fourth occasion when we are taken back from the pirate simulation this ongoing Abstergo/Ubisoft comparison joke gets tired.
I suspect that most Assassin’s Creed fans prayed that with the end of Desmond’s storyline the modern parts would be finally gone, but no dice, we are still stuck with those and this time we have to also finish the rather annoying and lame “hacker” sub-games (one of those is, in fact, more akin to good old Frogger) just to advance through the game. The best thing about modern parts? They are short.
Pirates in your hand
We’ve also tested the game on the Nintendo Switch, so we’ll share our experience with you. In fact, there are two games, as the Assassin’s Cree Rebel Collection includes Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed Rogue, along with other bonuses. The Assassin’s Creed: Rebel Collection, which was definitely released on Nintendo’s small hybrid console, made a definite impression, and this time, unlike the Assassin’s Creed III, they were trying to squeeze everything out on the machine. This is especially true for the subject of our test, Black Flag, and Assassin’s Creed Rogue might have gone through the port with less quality.
On the other hand, it should be added that both games tend to be tablet-based, where they can sparkle what they are capable of (and less noticeable in the graphics) with a full HD TV, (PS3, Xbox 360) and not the newer PS4 / PC port. All in all, the game is really impressive, the sea voyage, the navigation, the waves and the battles between the ships are still top-notch today. In tablet mode, this experience of being on a bus or subway was really captivating, sometimes I almost missed the stop.
As for the lags, bugs, texture bugs (which were typical of the PC version), I haven’t come across them much, and in general, the fixed 30 fps can be fetched easily by the small machine.
I didn’t even notice the audio compression, not because I am daft, but because it was a pretty serious issue on the Assassin’s Creed III Switch port. Here, every single navy song, lead-in music, dialogue, gunfire, sword, wave and storm sounds are just like the console’s “big brothers”.
Finally, the Switch version has the added bonus of uploading old forgotten trailers from Black Flag, a comic book in pdf format, and a fully illustrated little short story related to Blackbeard. Extremely cool!
Best AC so far?
Since I was very critical of my review you might wonder how I can call this game the best AC? The truth is, however, annoying might be the small negative parts of the game, Black Flag as a whole is so much fun that its hand’s down the best AC game so far. The Caribbean Sea or the cities looks so fabulous on PS4, it’s so much fun to visit all those cities, trying out so many occupations that it’s impossible to not lose yourself in the game, in fact, I can hardly stop to play.
The pirate parts are incredibly addictive, I didn’t have so much fun since Sid Meier’s Pirates! attacking and plundering all those ships on the sea or hunting down wild sea animals. Edward himself and his ship can be upgraded in so many ways that it always gives you a push to continue plundering those ships just to get more wood or iron for ship parts or gold for Edward to buy some strong weapon or fancy clothes. Multiplayer is also kind of fun, but I still cannot be drawn into multiplayer, too many good single player games out there. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is one of them, and it’s the best on the PS4.
+ Living breathing Caribbean
+ Ship combat and sailing
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Edward is cool
– Annoying modern part
– Same old follow game elements
– The story is a bit chaotic