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Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Xbox 360 Review - PAGE 1Lydia Sung - Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 Like (1) Share
Another year is wrapping up, meaning another Assassin’s Creed joins the saga. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the latest chapter in Ubisoft’s long-running and incredibly successful pseudo-historical sci-fi action series. Over the years, we’ve lived through the lives of many Assassins across the Assassin’s Creed series, and with Ezio’s trilogy long behind us, so begins the Kenway tale, now entering its second chapter.
Rather than continuing forward in time, players are taken back to the early 18th century, well before the events of Assassin’s Creed III. Privateer-turned-pirate Edward Kenway becomes the first true rogue to take lead in an Assassin’s Creed game, as a man who stands far apart from his hooded predecessors. He becomes our guide to a whole new world unlike any we’ve seen in the Assassin’s Creed universe, where horses are traded for ships, and pirates rule the high seas.
For the first time in main Assassin’s Creed series, you’ll be playing as someone other than Desmond Miles. Actually, you’re playing yourself, a newly hired “research analyst” at Abstergo Entertainment, Abstergo’s multimedia division. Your job consists of exploring Desmond’s genetic memories via Animus, to help with development for the ongoing “Sample 17” project. After all, memories need to be tested before they are released to the public. Yeah, it really is as creepy as it sounds: distributing someone’s genetic memories as a consumer “experience.”
If you’re wondering what happened to all of Desmond’s friends, rest assured that Ubisoft hasn’t forgotten about them. Present day missions continue their story, and offer us a rare insider’s look at Abstergo’s daily operations. As someone uninvolved (directly, anyway) in the Assassins-Templar conflict, we can finally see just how the eternal war is fought in a modern-day setting, where stabbing people in the open would probably cause a lot more problems and it’d solve.
I enjoyed the present day segments immensely, and only wish that there had been more of it in between the memory diving. Although you’re free to leave the Animus and explore the real world at any time, the office is hardly an open-world environment. You can’t actually interact with co-workers, so all the effort Ubisoft put toward making them seem alive feels wasted. Even during story events, you’re reduced to being the silent protagonist, unable to truly participate.
A Pirate’s Tale
Assassin’s Creed IV has a definite familiarity to it that players may find either comforting or tiresome, depending on what you like about the other games. At any rate, playing Assassin’s Creed is a lot like riding a bike; once learned, never forgotten. And while Edward’s adventures are not unlike those had by Assassins before him (Connor being technically after), his story most closely mirrors Ezio Auditore’s. Kind of a strange comparison, I know, considering Ezio and Edward are two men set apart by hundreds of years and differing circumstances, but Assassin’s Creed IV tells us an origin story much like Ezio’s trilogy. Both overcome harships and rise to positions of authority, and while Ezio recruited Assassins to the Order, Edward gathers pirates for his crew. Just as Ezio worked toward a stronger Brotherhood, Edward bolsters the strength of his own fleet. Even with the pirate’s rather broken moral compass, the men’s methods and goals are pretty similar.
Really, Assassin’s Creed IV is a vast improvement over the last two games. Edward exhibits so much more personality and style than Connor and Old Man Ezio, adding his own personal flavor to the game much in the same way Ezio did when he first appeared in Assassin’s Creed II. It’s a welcome return, in that regard, with all other game improvements and additions woven in. Alright, Edward, you may consider me a fan. None of the newcomers can ever replace Ezio, but at least Ubisoft is showing us that the Assassin’s Creed universe can still produce some interesting protagonists, even after the Renaissance has ended.
I did have some trouble with how the Assassins are introduced in Black Flag, into Edward’s life. The story goes to great lengths to show us the sort of person that he is – a pirate, through and through. He has little need for commitments or obligations, and he’s an outsider everywhere except among his fellow captains. As such, I’m left wondering sometimes why Edward should even be doing what he does, how he’s led down a particular course of action. Sure, the guy is easily motivated by money and seems to really like adventure, but both reasons feel oddly cheap in a game with so much substance and story. He just comes off as out of place rather often.
Even so, gameplay remains relatively unchanged, from the combat to exploration. Edward fights with two swords, supplemented with pistols, which have been greatly improved over the firearms introduced in previous installments. Despite his choice in weapons, you’ll find the same techniques employed by every other Assassin we’ve played as before, the distinctive free-flowing style, and counter-everything-to-win strategy. Like always, stealth is the staple, and convenient hiding spaces are never in short supply, whether you like haystacks or empty storage cabinets. Yet all the sneaking around and aerial assassinations seem totally unnecessary, because Edward isn’t your typical Assassin. The game does little to differentiate him from the Order he’s allied with, short of his flippant, devil-may-care attitude, and I do feel a little bit cheated by this after how much Ubisoft played up his pirate-ness. In the end, however, I can’t complain too much, because that distinctive fighting style is a huge reason I remain drawn to the series. Seeing Edward climb and jump around like a trained Assassin didn’t make much sense to me either, but I still enjoyed all of that, too.
The Open Sea
As a pirate, you do spend a lot of time out at sea in your fancy ship, the Jackdaw (as in the bird). Think of all that time Connor spent roaming the North American wilderness. Now pretend the wilderness is actually an ocean, and you’re sailing rather than walking. Traveling from town to town is now a naval activity, and the open sea is made into an entirely separate explorable zone, with uncharted islands, underwater missions, and plenty of collectibles. This certainly wouldn’t be Assassin’s Creed without a slew of collectibles and optional pursuits, like chasing down music sheets in the wind and caring for your ship. It’s nothing we haven’t already seen before, but completionists are left with little room to complain, given all the content Assassin’s Creed IV piles on. So continues the series’ tradition of open exploration, in a world ripe with countless secrets to collect and missions to partake.
Not all that different from land, actually, minus how you navigate. And just like on land, the open waters have their own living, breathing population. Edward and his mates will find plenty of targets to hunt, while taking care to avoid guards and hunters themselves. Sharing the waters with the Jackdaw are merchants ships and navy brigs alike, just waiting for an ambitious pirate to come along and pillage them. The naval ships will fight back, obviously, and they can do a real number on the Jackdaw if you’re not careful about following the game’s naval basics – brace to reduce damage, make use of attack prompts, and so forth. The tougher the ship, the greater your rewards will be.
Plundered supplies can then be sold or used to improve the Jackdaw’s performance and appearance. Upgrades encompass armor, weapons, ammunition capacity, and attack power, as well as cosmetic features like figureheads and colored sails. After all, a ship must look as fabulous as its captain. Of course, Edward can be made more effective with his own set of upgrades. Materials acquired from other ships or by hunting the Caribbean wildlife can be used to craft some non-Assassin attire or special weapons not sold by vendors.
Hilariously, the game doesn’t appreciate attacks on civilian ships, so harming one of those brings up a “this ancestor did not kill civilians and domestic animals” message. Clearly, Edward was history’s most courteous pirate when he was still alive. Who knew, right? Still, blowing up merchants and naval ships will earn you plenty of Notoriety, separate from your Wanted level on land. Yep, being a pirate sure is fun, but it can also start feeling a little tedious when you’d rather reach your next destination than tangle with the authorities. Navigating the seas isn’t as easy as traveling by horse, like the good old days of Assassin’s Creed, and the scenery gets old pretty quick. Although the higher challenge of naval combat can seem refreshing at first, the novelty wears thin on more than a few occasions. Even so, there were some truly enjoyable moments when I'd be sailing peacefully and humming along to the crew’s delightful shanties.
Social and Multiplayer
Multiplayer joined the Assassin’s Creed franchise quite a few years back, but if you’re looking for a less direct form of social gaming, Assassin’s Creed IV has that too. Leaderboards track the richest pirates (players) in the world, and certain treasures are marked as “social,” meaning when you find them, the data is logged so that other players will be able to follow your tracks to the same loot. “Asymmetrical multiplayer” is what some call it, a feature Dark Souls was known for. In Assassin’s Creed IV, it’s more specifically referred to as “discovery sharing.”
Assassin’s Creed IV does bring back multiplayer, hence the second disc. It’s bigger than ever, with an updated roster of era-appropriate characters and maps, multiple game modes, and the same level-based progression. You’ll find the same cooperative and competitive modes from previous games, including the well-received Wolfpack mode, as well as new ones like the narrative-driven Discovery mode. Perhaps the biggest addition to the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer experience is Game Lab, a creation tool that lets you customize and create a game mode to your preferences. If you really like aerial assassinations, for instance, then you can set up a match where aerial kills are the only way to win. I’ve heard before that Game Lab allows over 200 different parameters, so go nuts.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag definitely comes with a few shortcomings, but I can’t deny my excitement. For the first time in what feels like forever, I want to play more Assassin’s Creed. Edward Kenway is undoubtedly the most interesting protagonist we’ve had since Ezio was still in his prime. While not exactly likable, he is undeniably fun.
The naval component, which so many fans have been looking forward to, fell short of my initial expectations. A ship, great! The open seas, wonderful! Then I end up playing the usual “How High is My Noteriety?” game. Regardless, the naval combat and exploration proved engaging enough to keep me going back in search of tougher opponents to blow up. Each defeat would only drive me back to the water for another chance at loot and glory.
All the little pros and cons aside, Black Flag takes Assassin’s Creed in a very good direction, and I’m so incredibly hopeful that this will revitalize the series for me and other fans out there who haven’t been entirely content. Assassin’s Creed II may have been the Golden Age for the franchise, but maybe there is still room for a comeback.
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