Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is the sixth installment in the Assassins Creed franchise, a sequel to Assassins Creed 3 and a prequel to the continuity of the games historical time line. Ubisoft Montreal has created a world that explores the golden age of piracy and improves a lot on its predecessor’s short comings.
In this iteration you will play as Edward Kenway, grandfather to main protagonist in Assassins Creed III, Connor. Edward is a troubled man, and leads an extraordinary life as a pirate. What sets him apart from the other characters in the Assassins Creed series is how he gets put on this path. During the game you will have flashbacks into his past, and you will begin to understand why he’s done what he’s done.
“The road to hell is filled with good intentions”
While that may sound a bit too dramatic, it does apply to Edward. You see, he leaves his life in order to pursue a career as a privateer so that he can increase his fortune and allow him and his loved ones to live a good life and in the process he kind of loses himself along the way. And before you know it, days have turned to months and months turned to years and he’s been completely corrupted by piracy which is pretty much where the game begins and you get to experience his journey as he gets caught in the middle of a war between Templar’s and Assassins.
The game has three main cities, Kingston, Havana and Nassau, Bahamas. The cities are quite large, and offers players a lot to collect in each location but stress not as Fast Travel locations open up quite quickly, some usually when synchronizing a view-point. One of the nice added features is that when you are entering a location, on the right hand side of the screen a notification pops up listing all the items that need to be collected and tasks that need to be done, including looking for chests, synchronizing view points, carrying out contracts, collecting shanty’s, animus data fragments and secrets. It also shows you what animals reside in the area with regards to hunting. Hunting animals allows to you to craft certain types of ammo like sleep darts and beserk darts, health and pouch upgrades as well as crafting some outfits for Edward to wear when he’s out and about. (My personal favorite being the Pirate Cloak)
Hunting also extends out into the ocean where you can hunt whales and sharks and sell the skin for a pretty penny back on land. Prepare for the white whale as well, because the first time…..damn. One of the excellent additions to the exploration and tying in nicely with the pirate theme is searching for treasure. Among the fifty plus locations scattered around the enormous game world, you may occasionally find treasure maps. Each map discovered will show a key location to where you can find buried treasure and distinctly marks the location with an “X” indicating where the treasure is hidden. At the bottom right of these maps, there are co-ordinates, longitude and latitude. Find these co-ordinates on the world map, sail to the location, (upon entering the location and depending on if you have the right map, a notification will pop up saying there is treasure to be found)and then find your buried treasure.
The game mechanics are nearly identical to the games before it albeit with a few more improvements. Instead of wielding just one sword, Edward can use dual swords which present some excellent counter kill moves as well as using up to four pistols simultaneously in order to link your kills together by shooting them nasty baddies in the face. The Hidden Blade obviously makes its triumphant return and the fact that the double assassination introduced in Assassins Creed 2 has been reintroduced and makes sneaking up on enemies much more satisfying. (For those of you who don’t know, In Assassins Creed 3 you had to really try to dual assassinate while on the ground, you could only dual assassinate guards more appropriately when leaping from above or being in high-profile mode) Optional objectives also return but are not as punishing as they used to be.
The biggest and one of the main focal points in Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is of course sailing in an open ocean world. Being captain of your very own pirate ship, in this case, The Jackdaw, a ship (don’t you dare call it a boat) which Edward obtains at the beginning of the game. This will be your main mode of transportation between the various islands and cities. Sailing can be a lot of fun if you’re looking for a slow change of pace but just because its slower does not mean it’s necessarily boring. You will discover new islands which may include ruins and temples for you to explore on foot, and maybe uncover a few secrets along the way. One of the new additions to the game is deep-sea diving. Ship wrecks are located all around the world and these will allow you to go deep-sea diving. Through this, you swim underwater looting chests and finding animus data fragments but do be careful to avoid predators like sharks and watch out for jellyfish. You could even find hidden smuggler dens amongst one of your diving expeditions so keep your eyes open and explore all possible routes. I found that this particular game mode was most enjoyable personally and is just the right kind of innovation that games need to keep things interesting especially if you’re having a yearly release. The other thing to mention of course is how grand the ocean really is. You will have ever-changing sailing conditions, from calm to stormy seas. The implementation of the weather system really helps immerse the player, giving a greater sense of realism.
While sailing you can easily get into battles with other ships, just remember to check your enemy’s level before blasting cannon balls their way in which you might be forced to sail away with your metaphorical tail between your legs. Once an enemy ship is defeated, you have the option to board it which then changes seamlessly into a classic pirate brawl. Here, optional objectives take place which you can choose to take part in and they range from “Destroy powder reserves” to “destroy the enemy flag”. Don’t worry though because no matter if you decide to do the optional objectives or not you are still going to have to board the other ship all pirate style, swinging from rope to deck, climbing masts, battling with captains and once a certain amount of baddies has been killed, the fight will end. You choose what do with the ship at the end of the brawl. You can either destroy it and use it to repair The Jackdaw if you took any damage getting to the boarding sequence, you can reduce your notoriety by allowing the crew from the enemy ship to work for you or you can send it to your private ship fleet which is exactly like the assassin contracts from Brotherhood and Revelations except now it’s with ships and can also be accessed from the captain’s cabin. You will also encounter Forts along your travels which you will need to destroy and then infiltrate in order to unlock sections of the map revealing more locations and items to collect. Armor, weapons, ammunition and harpooning are all upgradeable as well and it is recommended as some parts of the game require a decent ship and can be quite challenging if certain upgrades have not been done. Also, some upgrades for the ship require certain treasures to be discovered which unlock the elite part of the upgrading system but fear not, because the game can still be completed without the elite upgrades.
The main plot is still set in the modern-day which a lot of people don’t enjoy. I myself, still find it rather interesting although not as exciting. I particularly enjoyed the puzzles that needed to be solved in this one. They weren’t difficult at all and once a puzzle was solved some interesting information is revealed like what happened after the events of Assassins Creed 3 regarding Desmond? How are they are still able to relive Desmond’s memories, and my personal favorite, the connection between Watch Dogs and Assassins Creed.
One of the secrets you uncover is an email which has information regarding Ctos, the security system that will be an integral part of the Watch Dogs franchise. I am very curious to see how these two games are connected.
All in all, I thought it was good. The story can be a bit slow and at times, hard to follow but the game play is solid and the visuals are superb in every sense of the word. The only frame rate drops I experienced was when I was running through the cities but it didn’t ruin the experience at all and only one bug throughout my entire play through was discovered and it wasn’t even a big thing. (I fell through a platform and landed in the ocean, right next to my ship. Whoop dee doo.) Developers are really pushing the PS3 to its limits and it makes me confident that the PS3 is not dead just yet.