The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been a subject of controversy for a couple of years now. For the most part, that criticism has been warranted. Once the series became annualized, gamers realized just how stagnant the games were becoming. Mission variety consisted of trailing an individual and than killing said person. Of course there were a few optional methods of performing the kill, such as stealing from a person before killing them, or sneaking into a location undetected before striking the person down. But variety is practically nonexistent.
If you came into Black Flag with expectations that the newest entry would alleviate some of the stagnant mission variety, than you may leave disappointed. However, and this is a rather large however, this is by far the most fun I’ve had with any game in the series.
Compared to other A.C. games, Black Flag has the simplest story yet. Most people will probably scoff at this and mark it as a flaw, but it actually makes the game more enjoyable and accessible. Sure it helps if you know the story of Desmond, but you do not need to have played them to enjoy this title. Players control, privateer turned pirate, Edward Kenway, through his love-fueled journey to make enough money to support his family. During this adventure, Kenway gets swept up in the never-ending fight between the Templars and the Assassins. This conflict hasn’t altered much from previous entries, in that, the Templars are still out for global domination and the Assassins are tasked with stopping them.
If Assassin’s Creed 3 was a slow crawl that built in anticipation, than, thankfully, Black Flag moves from 0 to 60 in the first couple of minutes of gameplay. Players are given control of Kenway’s flagship, The Jackdaw, with every option to sail and pillage wherever you so choose. Which is nice, because there are dozens of islands and towns to explore at the players leisure.
Most of the locations contain several chests to loot and secrets to obtain, which breaks up the monotony of sailing from one island to the next. Although roaming around an island can be fun, the most entertaining feature in the game is sailing. The development team took what was an interesting mechanic in AC3, and made sailing the main reason to play Black Flag. Nothing beats sailing your way through the Caribbean, especially when ship-to-ship combat, harpooning locations, discoverable shipwrecks and the occasional storm surrounds players at every turn.
It is also through the sailing mechanics that you notice how beautiful and detailed the world of AC4 really is. Dolphins swim alongside of The Jackdaw, hurricanes and storms bristle in the foreground before encroaching upon your ship, and whales can be found breaching while you move past their locations. Once you discover a location that you want to roam around on, lush forests that harbor inner secrets surround the players at every turn, making exploring an island in full 1080p one of the best reasons to own a PlayStation 4.
Black Flag’s gameplay mechanics are more polished than previous titles, but there is some real room for improvement. There were times where Edward would be running through the jungle and stop abruptly on what would appear to be an easy ledge to climb, especially given that he jumps from heights of fifty feet or greater into a pile of hay without getting injured.
Similarly, while I was playing one mission towards the end of the game that tasks players to sneak into a fort, Edward would continually come to a complete halt while traversing a gap no greater than one foot. This led me to getting caught repeatedly, forcing me to replay the same segment seven or eight times in a row. While this didn’t occur frequent enough to make it a major complaint, it was annoying nonetheless.
Meanwhile, current day missions feature a new character, that doesn’t speak, show any emotion, or really have any point other than being the glorified gopher for a voice in his Bluetooth headset. You are told to go from one location to the next, than back to your previous location for no apparent reason other than progressing the story. When you are given the ability to discover the Abstergo building, you can’t really do much besides collect sticky notes and hack computers. Although hacking computers will reveal some hidden information about Desmond and other subjects, there is no real substance to going out of your way to accomplish this. It’s a shame that Ubisoft can’t figure a way out to make current day events more than a tacked on way to waste time.
As far as multiplayer is concerned, if you weren’t a fan of it in previous games, than this time around will not change your attitude. It is essentially the same gameplay from the last couple of games, just with different maps and characters. Although it is fun for a couple of hours, it is nowhere deep enough to make me want to replay it frequently.
Overall, the world of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag has kept me happily occupied for longer than any other game in the series. At no point in my two-dozen or so hours playing the game, was I at a loss for content. While the story isn’t the best, it is certainly stimulating enough to keep you interested in Edward Kenway and his exploits. Beyond the minor gameplay complaints and lackluster current day events, Black Flag is a game well worth placing into your library.