RETRO – “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 Creed 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. One of the Best AC Is 10 Years Old!
Sail the seas, ride the waves on a rickety pirate ship, attack and plunder enemy Spanish galleons, kill or capture their crew, then sail away with a rich booty! Who wouldn’t dream of all this in secret while watching an Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp movie in the romantic, devilish or funny role of a pirate? So it is not surprising that the gaming world has embraced the world of pirates several times through complex simulations (Sid Meier’s Pirates!), funny adventure games (Monkey Island series) or even action role-playing games (Sea Dogs series).
So it’s no surprise that the pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has distanced itself from the original concept. Not only does the main hero refrain from becoming an assassin, but the game doesn’t really go in the same old direction of the assassin simulation of the previous games.
Every assassin will do his duty
But that’s okay. The Assassin’s Creed series has gotten a bit tired, and Black Flag itself isn’t even the fourth installment, as we’re talking about the sixth full-fledged installment, aside from the various smaller games made for handheld consoles and smartphones. That’s why I found a lot of familiar elements from other games a bit repetitive and boring.
Oh my God, how many times did I follow lone characters or parties chatting to each other as they sat on rooftops or mingled with the crowd? How many times did I have to listen to conversations that weren’t all that exciting to begin with, hide, and wait for them to end so I could continue playing? I’m guessing that even the CIA didn’t eavesdrop on as many European politicians as I secretly listened to NPCs in the Assassin’s Creed world.
Unfortunately, the developers somehow felt it was their duty to force these well-known and overused elements into the game, and of course the well-known “chase the target, push him, catch him, defeat him or kill him” bits are not missing either.
Still, these elements are less frustrating here than in the previous game, Assassin’s Creed III. Wandering through the streets and rooftops of the very detailed and colorful Caribbean cities, searching for vantage points and jumping with the usual “leap of faith” never gets old and is just as much fun as it was seven years ago in the first Assassin’s Creed game. Of course, the well-chosen setting has something to do with it. While we walk through the cities, get all kinds of missions, blend into the crowd, run on the rooftops or discover temples, castles, city parks and other famous buildings, we really feel like we are back in the Caribbean world of the XVIII century.
When it comes to armed conflict with either the local soldiers, the assassins, or the Templars, combat feels familiar as well: straightforward, relatively easy, and more spectacular than ever. While we still have the familiar and hard to defeat “behemoth” type of enemies, and we can also get surrounded by any soldier fast enough, throwing a smoke bomb to the ground and killing everyone while they cough usually solves any conflict.
Against larger crowds, pistols are golden, which we can also upgrade and multiply as we progress through the game and get more gold and resources. Aside from the traditional weapons, we can also use blowpipes with different poisons in them. One of these poisons drives the enemy insane, and it is almost sadistically satisfying to watch them kill each other under the effect of the poison.
The basics of combat are still the same, but the possibilities have been expanded, and it’s still as much fun as ever to be a pirate hero, even if it’s easy to see how ridiculous the artificial intelligence of your enemies can be at times. Aside from combat, there is also some sneaking to be done.
There was one extremely annoying sneaking mission in the game where we had to sneak into the assassin’s base while being careful not to be spotted or else we had to restart at the checkpoint. Being a big fan of Splinter Cell, I could only feel that Ubisoft should NOT force sneaking elements into an AC game from their other big franchise.
Act of piracy
While the basics of the game are still the same on land, as soon as we set sail we feel like we are playing a separate pirate simulator instead of an Assassin’s Creed title. Black Flag is very inspired by Sid Meier’s Pirates! and other similar titles. With our pirate ship, we can sail almost anywhere in the Caribbean, attack Spanish and English merchant or military ships, and when they are about to sink, we can clear out the enemy crew with our mounted cannon, then jump aboard the enemy ship and with the help of our own party, kill the rest with swords and pistols.
It’s incredible how this kind of tactical action gameplay with ships and pirates still feels so addictive. Ubisoft has done its best with the technical aspects, so we have the best-looking and most enjoyable Pirates! game yet. And let’s not forget that we can also upgrade our ship in the most sophisticated ways: the hull, the cannons and other parts of the ship can all be strengthened and modernized to turn our pirate ship into a real beast. Of course, all this costs a lot of gold, so if you have fallen 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 the end of the game.
Edward is cool, but the Abstergo is not
I haven’t written much about the story, which is much less important this time around. In fact, there was a point in the game where I almost suspected that the linear story was going to disappear from the game altogether, so lose it. The story is still enjoyable and the main character, Edward Kenway, is much more likeable 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, silent, nameless Abstergo Entertainment employee in first-person. Wow. Just wow.
To add insult to injury, the developers also thought it would be funny to make Abstergo (which here becomes an entertainment company making Matrix-like games) similar to Ubisoft. While at the beginning of the game this approach is kind of funny, after the third or fourth time we are brought back from the pirate simulation, this constant Abstergo/Ubisoft comparison joke gets tired.
I suppose most Assassin’s Creed fans were praying that with the end of Desmond’s story the modern parts would be gone for good, but no dice, we are still stuck with them and this time we also have to play the rather annoying and lame “hacker” subgames (one of which is actually more like good old Frogger) just to get through the game. The best thing about modern games? They are short.
Pirates in your hand
We’ve also tested the game on Nintendo Switch, so we’re going to share our experience with you. There are actually two games, as the Assassin’s Creed 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 Assassin’s Creed III, they tried to squeeze everything out of the machine. This is especially true for the subject of our test, Black Flag, and Assassin’s Creed Rogue may 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 shine 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, the experience of being on a bus or subway was really captivating, sometimes I almost missed the stop.
As for lags, bugs, texture errors (which were typical of the PC version), I didn’t encounter many of them, and in general, the 30 fps set can be easily reached by the small machine.
I didn’t even notice the audio compression, not because I’m stupid, but because it was a pretty serious problem on the Assassin’s Creed III Switch port. Here, every single Marine song, intro music, dialog, 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 short story about Blackbeard. Very cool!
Best AC so far?
Since I was very critical in my review, you might be wondering how I can call this game the best AC? The truth is, however, as annoying as the small negative parts of the game might be, 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 look so fabulous on PS4, it’s so much fun to visit all those cities and try out so many professions that it’s impossible not to get lost in the game, in fact I can hardly stop playing.
The pirate parts are incredibly addictive, I haven’t had this much fun since Sid Meier’s Pirates! attacking and plundering all those ships at sea or hunting wild sea creatures. Edward himself and his ship can be upgraded in so many ways that it always gives you an incentive to keep plundering those ships just to get more wood or iron for ship parts or gold for Edward to buy a powerful weapon or fancy clothes. The multiplayer is also kind of fun, but I still cannot get 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 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