Reviews
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
A Second Opinion

By Jorge Figueiredo - January 18th, 2014

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It has been a little while since the next-generation consoles hit the market, and I have been enjoying the next-gen Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for a while now1. While I would have liked to have burned through it all in a non-stop 3-day period, I have had to play the game in small chunks due to some time constraints. Truthfully, I have also allowed some time to pass with my own review of this title because Sharad’s review did a relatively good job of summing up the basics of this game (although, I have a different opinion than when it comes to the multi-player aspects). I have to say that with every new Assassin’s Creed title that comes out, my love for the series grows.

For those who are new to the franchise, the basic premise is that you play a character who has access to ancestral memories by using a device called the Animus. In simple terms, this means that your in-game character can actively relive the memories of their ancestors (in a third-person view) – in this case: Edward Kenway. The memory is strongest when your behaviour is consistent with that of your ancestor; doing things that are inconsistent with the historical figure’s behaviour (killing civilians or domesticated animals, for instance) will cause your “memory” to desynchronize, throwing you back to the last checkpoint. Unlike previous versions of Assassin’s Creed, the modern character that ties you to the past is not Desmond Miles; instead, it is you (from a first-person perspective), working for Abstergo Industries to do “research” that will give Abstergo better source material to make more accurate entertainment for the masses. Of course, this is not the case, but I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

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Hanging around with instructions showing me what I could do next.

As with previous versions of Assassin’s Creed, the introductory levels are a cunning blend of tutorial and plot, giving you a taste for the game while relaying some key story anchors that will help you with your investment in the tale. In my opinion, Ubisoft has improved this aspect of the game, giving newcomers a fighting chance while maintaining the interest of the veterans. It is important to note that there are usually optional objectives that accompany missions – you would do well to pay attention to the parameters.

The control scheme is similar to the last few iterations of Assassin’s Creed with a few twists. The movement controls have been heavily streamlined, so as not to get in the way of the story. As per the usual, walking around is dependent on the left stick while moving the camera is reliant on the right stick; some of the buttons have interactive functions. Pressing the right trigger will place Edward into action mode, which enables him to run and perform parkour-like stunts on most of the environment (including climbing buildings and trees, and leaping from rooftop to rooftop; the face buttons take on new functions (centered around adrenaline-pumping action). If ever you are lost for what each button does, you can glance at the upper right of the screen and you will be able to see what actions are available to you.

The weapon wheel and utility wheel are gone, and have been replaced by a more intuitive implementation using the D-Pad. Weapons and tools are layered, and you have to press the D-Pad a number of times to access what you may be looking for – up and down on the D-Pad will shift between melee weapons while left and right cycle through tools and ranged weapons. When I first started using this system, I thought that it might have been slower than the wheel approach. However, it actually works much better, allowing you to shift quickly between your inventory without difficulty – even while engaged in fights. If you have a Playstation 4, you can use the touch-pad to access your map, using pinch and zoom and tapping to view the whole picture and set your destination.

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My ship: the Jackdaw. This ship kicks major ass.

As Black Flag is all about the golden age of pirates, you’ll be happy to know that you can spend a significant amount of time on your ship; and controlling the Jackdaw is just as easy as controlling Edward while he’s on land. There are several levels of speed, attainable by opening more sails (obviously, in a storm, you might want to drop all sails to improve your chances of staying your course). There is also a spyglass that can be accessed which is available by holding the right shoulder button. Using the spyglass will allow you to identify a ship in the distance, its country of origin and cargo. Various weapons are available and you can fire them by changing your viewing angle. Looking over the broad side of your ship will allow you to fire broadside cannons (and fiery cannonballs when you unlock them); glancing towards the front of your ship will give you access to chain shot; the rear of the boat is where fire barrels are dumped into the water behind you; and finally, you can eventually unlock a mortar barrage that is accessed using the left shoulder button. I found the ship-board controls are pretty slick and intuitive, increasing my enjoyment of the game.

Moving around in stealth mode has become much more natural in terms of the interface. The traditional indicator of the de-saturated colour palette (Edward will lose “colour” when he’s “hidden” from prying eyes) is still in effect. In addition, blending into the natural environment (bushes and tall grass) looks really cool. The “stealth lines” from Assassin’s Creed III have been dropped, resulting in a far nicer look when you are slowly making your way through the underbrush.

There is certainly no shortage of things to do in this game. I found myself in a repeated state of discovery, playing and enjoying whatever current elements that I had unlocks, only to discover something new that I could engage in. These revelations would happen at regular intervals, giving a boost of freshness to already engaging game-play. I believe that the pacing of Black Flag is dynamic, and somehow is magically spot-on, regardless of whether you are someone that powers through the main plot just to finish the tale, or a wanderer, choosing to do everything as you make your way through the game in its entirety. So if you want to hunt down every last treasure, fish every type of fish, hunt every type of animal and do all of the side quests? Go for it! Not only will you be able to get more materials for crafting useful tools – you’ll be really living the life of a pirate.

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While there were not a lot of treasure maps in real life, it is excusable for an Assassin’s Creed game.

From a visual perspective, this game will knock your socks off on a next-gen system. Sure, there are glitches from time to time (one of my favourites was when I chose to dive off one of one of the yard arms as we were docking and I ended up landing inside my ship – and I couldn’t escape); but the overall presentation of graphics is more than impressive. Before the game was released, I had tried to avoid watching too many videos about it, outside of the trailers (so as to get a more powerful impression when I played it), but I ended up watching more than my fair share (and I even played some preview builds). Even so, when I tried it myself at home, I was blown away by the quality. First of all, the whole landscape looks amazing; everything works together, causing me to guess where the physics engine ends and the graphics engine begins. The wind seems to have an effect over the landscape as trees sway and the ocean swells. People behave realistically and wildlife is teeming in the wooded areas of the islands. Edward himself looks pretty amazing, with clothing that behaves like fabric and very little clipping.

Audio is just as powerful, and works flawlessly with the visual presentation. I marveled as a brief rain storm made its way into the environment that I was in – and the onset was very much like it would be in real life. Lightning flashed, illuminating the city and changing the shadows while the rain fell in buckets. Thunder boomed and the sound of rain was all around me thanks to a great surround sound feed. And then, shortly after it had begun, the storm had ended, leaving behind traces of its passing as puddles on the ground. All the while, a subtle score played in the background, enhancing the mood. Bonus points are awarded for the small touches that reflect the current goings-on (like when you dive off the ship and one of your crewmen yells out “Captain fancies a swim!” or “Cap’n in the water!”) – also: sea shanties.

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Edward really needs to get out more…

As amazing as the graphics and sound effects are, nothing holds a candle to the superb voice work. One of the best things about Assassin’s Creed IV is that Ubisoft really seemed to do their homework about the golden age of piracy. Gone are the Treasure Island accents, peg legs, and parrots on the shoulder. People speak with accents reflecting their countries of origin, and the characters in this game are larger than life. Edward Thatch (otherwise known as Blackbeard) is one of my favourite characters in this game (as well as in the series). About halfway through the game, he gives a speech that sent chills down my spine. Kudos to everyone involved in such an amazing vocal effort.

Spending time in single-player mode is so enjoyable that it is easy to forget that the multi-player mode even exists. There are a number of multi-player modes that make their triumphant return from the previous title. There are also some new types – but the coolest one is the Game Lab. Basically, the Game Lab lets players change almost all of the existing game modes and customize them. Some of these are chosen by Ubisoft to be publicly available through the Game Lab in Black Flag. It is important to note that Sharad’s interpretation of Black Flag’s multi-player mode being like “hide and seek” is probably not inaccurate – but there is a lot more finesse involved, and once you start getting the hang of it and unlocking new perks to help you pull off some great combos, you’ll be hooked!

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One of the characters that you can be during multi-player mode.

If you happen to have the Playstation 3 or Playstation 4 version of the game, you will notice that there is a download code for some DLC featuring Aveline, the heroine from Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Aveline is armed to the teeth, and is doind some work for the Brotherhood on behalf of Connor Kenway. There are three missions available to play without bonus requirements, making this an excellent stress reliever.

Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is my favourite title in the series to date! With the open-ended nature of the game’s navigation, the incredible next-gen graphics and sound, and streamlined game-play, this is a really great title to play if you are a veteran of the series, or if you’re relatively new! The only thing that could make this game better would be incorporating naval battles into multi-player mode.

1 – I have it for the Playstation 4.

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