The Assassin’s Creed series has won and lost many fans with each iteration of the series, some say the games keep getting better and better, while some argue that the games are too similar and don’t innovate enough, both opinions are correct in so many ways. ACIII was by far my favourite in the series so far and the promise of taking the gameplay elements that were added there, such as the hunting and sailing, then fine tuning them into the pirate filled world that ACIV brings to the table sounded too tempting to pass up.
Pirates are often under represented in gaming, there are few truly great games out there, if any, that I can think of that took being a pirate to the level of a AAA release from a major studio and I’m certainly not going to consider the horrible tie-in games that accompanied Pirates of the Caribbean. There is Raven’s Cry coming out next year, but for now the only big hitter is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
You take the role of Edward Kenway, who is in fact the grandfather of Connor Kenway, the lead protagonist from Assassin’s Creed III. Sailing the seas as a privateer becomes a non-profit affair after nations sign treaties and your life quickly turns to piracy. Members of the Assassin order attack your ship, leaving you on your own, but being as resourceful as ever you start the game on a mission to take a boat of your own, gather your own crew and hunt down the Assassin who killed the crew of your ship. This is where the game really gets into its stride and before long you’re fully into the swing of the Assassin life, crossing the worlds of being a hitman / pirate and it really is a mix that works very well.
Ditching the Templars and joining the creed and you find yourself working with Benjamin Hornigold, Calico Jack and Edward Thatch (Black Beard) as they seek to establish a nation free of European rule where men can do as they please. The typical Assassin’s vs. Templars story line is still there, but much more of a passive story line than in previous titles, you feel much more like a free individual playing your parts in the course of events that are bigger than yourself.
Land based adventuring is much what we’ve come to expect from the series, there are soldiers everywhere that are out to kill pirates, but at the same time they’re none to fond of assassin’s either. You still skip along rooftops, climb into castles and palaces, kill using stealth to further the interests of you and your compatriots. Sea based adventuring is a huge part of the game, you have your ship and a small crew. Your crew can perish in battle and it is important to either hire crew at bars, or rescue them from guards around the games locations, such as stopping a hanging, or intervening a firing squad.
Your ship is upgradable, everything from armour, to its weapons can be tweaked and improved heavily throughout the course of the game, it’s extremely important to do so too as you’ll find the need to take on bigger, faster and more powerful ships. Hunting ships earns you rewards such as loot which can be done by either sinking or boarding, and it’s the latter that really requires you to have a strong crew, or else you’re sailing yourself into a potential slaughter. Your actions will not go unnoticed either, much like in games like Grand Theft Auto, a wave of fighting and looting will get the attention of Hunter ships, they’re fast, dangerous and put up a mighty fight on the high seas.
There are islands to explore, cities with docks, and there is much open sea for you to ride the wind and enjoy the joyful singing of your crew. The cities are packed life and full of detail, with plenty of places that are nicely tailored to the assassin lifestyle, allowing you to hop, skip and jump till your heart’s content, leaping from the rooftops upon your prey.
Animation seems a little improved, climbing is a little more fluid than before, but overall the whole thing does still look and feel just like Assassin’s Creed III, which is of course no bad thing. Graphics are as slick as ever and Ubisoft have reason to be proud of their creation thanks to some great textures, smooth voice acting and some stunning sights from the games plentiful high-spots.
Missions are great, but for the most part you’ll find that you’re either killing someone or pirating ships, it sounds repetitive and in many ways it is, but at no time did it get boring, and the pirate side of things is involving enough to have stood up as a game of its own, the assassin’s creed typical moments just sweeten the deal.
Multiplayer is still here, but despite a few minor tweaks it’s what we have come to expect from the series. There is little innovation, but the game types are still as fun as ever and it certainly adds extra value to the game once you’re finished with the sizeable main quest and plentiful side missions.
When it comes to Assassin’s Creed games, Assassin’s Creed III is still one of the best for those who love sneaking around and playing the role of the assassin. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is no better or worse in that respect, but the overall game is so much more thanks to the pirate gameplay, and it’s this that makes it the best in the series so far overall. If you loved III and you want to sail the seas and loot ships, the Black Flag is an incredibly entertaining experience.