It’s fair to say that Assassin’s Creed 3 wasn’t the success that Ubisoft had hoped for. While the game looked amazing, and the world felt real and dynamic, the very American story and its characters just didn’t translate, with most people considering Ratonhnhaké:ton ‘Connor’ Kenway a bit dull.
One part of the game that people found themselves enjoying were the Ship sections, and being able to take to the seas to fight battles. Never one to miss an opportunity, Ubisoft have taken this loved game mechanic and essentially built a new game around it; Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag continues with the Kenway line, but this time we head backward to Connor Kenway’s buccaneering grandfather, Edward Kenway. Edward Kenway is an ex privateer trying to make his fortune in the Caribbean when he stumbles inadvertently into the battle between Templars and Assassin’s. This time the Templars are searching for the Precursor structure known as The Observatory.
Outside of the Animus, the modern day story has also taken an interesting turn. Building off the back of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, the modern day story takes places with an unnamed character on their first day with Abstergo: Entertainment, a new division of the Abstergo brand focussed on using the memories extracted from the Animus to create films. Your character will become embroiled in the secrets behind the façade and help out a few familiar faces.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, if you ignore the number & sub-title naming, is a much better game that it’s predecessor, and in fact more so than Revelations. I haven’t enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed game like this since the series began. The story, setting, characters and game mechanics have come together to invigorate the franchise.
Edward Kenway is a far more interesting character than his grandson Connor. This Welsh born Pirate doesn’t get involved because of a sense of duty, or because of revenge; Edward’s motives are simple, he wants the gold and treasures that only a life of Pirating can provide. That’s not to say that Edward is a bad man, he has a misplaced sense of honour as only a Pirate can have, but he is definitely in this for what he can get.
A good Pirate needs a good ship, and Edward Kenway has the Jackdaw. Acquired early on in the game, The Jackdaw will become your home as you travel the Caribbean, and what a home she is. She can be upgraded in almost every way, you can purchase upgrades, outfits, weapons, and even later on you can manage your own fleet of ships.
Once you have liberated The Jackdaw, the ocean is your oyster. With the game’s open world environment you can travel anywhere on the map you like. The Caribbean is yours to explore, of course not everywhere will be safe for you to travel to, not until you’ve upgraded your arsenal and defences, but the map is split into sections that tell you of the ships you are likely to face once you enter, so you can avoid them if you wish. And for the most part, unless you are in a restricted zone, then ships will usually leave you alone unless you fire first. Forts however won’t be so kind, get within range of one and expect to come under heavy fire. Even the easier forts are best left until you’ve become accustomed to naval battles and the ships manoeuvrability.
Once you get back onto land, Assassin’s Creed 4 shows its weaker side. If you’ve ever played an Assassin’s Creed game then the cities you’ll explore, and the missions you’ll be given are the same as you’ve played before. Tail this person without being detected, stealth kill this person, bypass all these guards and steal this item. It’s pretty standard fare. Completing each mission will only complete usually around 80% of it, to fully complete it you have to also complete a certain number of mini tasks, these can be anything like killing three guards using a certain weapon, or air assassinate an Ocelot. Very varied, and there’s a sense of achievement when you do fully complete them.
Each city, and the map as a whole, is filled to the brim with collectible items for you to collect, Abstergo fragments, uncharted chests, or my personal pet hate – Sea Shanties. Again these are quite addictive, and I found myself covering vast distances across the seas to collect and complete these side quests, for no real reason other than the sheer enjoyment of sailing.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is a great game. After last years rather serious offering, this instalment brings back a sense of humour, and light. There are still issues with the story and game play, (How can Edward participate in Assassination missions before he’s become an Assassin?), but they are balanced by the invigoration of the sailing mechanic. This somehow makes Black Flag a better pirate game than it does a stealth combat game. Saying all of this though I’m not sure another game set in this era would be welcome, especially when the out of Animus information you find about Abstergo reveals so many other interesting options.
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Tim Bowers is the ex-Editor of Zero1Gaming, he also occasionally writes when he's able to string sentences together. He can usually be found waiting for Nintendo to remember about Samus Aran.