In a world domineered by fandoms dedicated to all other sorts of supernatural hoo-ha, it’s comforting to know that, someway, somehow, the swashbuckling, rum-guzzling pirates of old aren’t exactly ignored subject matter. Modern film lovers have had themselves Pirates of the Caribbean to cling onto for quite some time, and now gamers by all manners and means have none other than the well-established Assassin’s Creed to turn to for their fix of adventures across the high seas. In Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the Kenway family returns to the forefront with its protagonist, Edward, all while amending most of what gamers found wrong with his grandson Connor’s adventure last year and tossing in a heaping mass of its own trigger-happy, cannon ball-hurling pirate influence for good measure. These promises alone make this year’s Assassin’s Creed one of the most anticipated games of 2013, and thankfully, it just so happens to live up to the hype.
As previously mentioned, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag primarily puts you in the shoes of Edward Kenway, father to Haytham and grandfather to Connor from 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III. Though, much unlike his future contemporaries, Edward is not dedicated to any one particular faction. Writers for the series have instead opted to have this brazen, strong-willed character work independently. He’s not an Assassin and he is most certainly not a Templar. Instead, he’s but a pirate and nothing more, searching for a better life through amassing enough of a treasure when he is thrown into the “game” between the two factions by chance. The little nuances hidden within Edward and other characters during their adventures across the vast Caribbean makes for a fresh and compelling story, perhaps even exhibiting the most well-done in-Animus plots the series has had yet.
The same cannot necessarily be said for the signature out-of-Animus adventures, featuring a nameless, faceless protagonist who just nabbed him or herself a job over at Templar-run Abstergo Entertainment. The out-of-Animus scenes are seemingly crafted this time around to more smoothly transition the game’s main story into a time jump than anything else, though what moments we do get with our avatar are intriguing and go by fast enough to not really have any complaints about. All in all, the Abstergo scenes are not extremely exciting, but they offer something new and interesting to the game’s overarching story. It’s hard to deny that Ubisoft did an adequate job transitioning from Desmond Miles to Abstergo over the course of a single game, as gamers should love the meat of the game with Edward whilst not necessarily being downright angry about being torn out of the Animus and back to the present for a good few minutes or so any longer. You get to learn more about Abstergo’s infrastructure, and information on a certain event unlocked during the course of the modern day plotline could provide some further closure for fans disappointed by the abrupt ending of Assassin’s Creed III.
Speaking of Assassin’s Creed III, fans of the series who were displeased with some of the title’s elements will be pleased to learn that much of the unnecessary excess has been eliminated with this fourth installment. Gone are the great majority of the unexciting fetch quests and various other meticulous frontier ventures in place of an immeasurably vast sea brimming with ships to plunder, forts to siege, and underwater caverns to explore in search of grand treasure. The ship mechanics that many had celebrated as Assassin’s Creed III’s greatest introduction have been fine-tuned here, making transitioning from land to sea a breeze as well as a pleasure to be had. Furthermore, the diving bell adds something unique and authentic to the Caribbean experience while introducing a new mechanic to the Assassin’s Creed series that will surely be celebrated. You feel as adventurous and daring as you feel isolated and afraid down there, surrounded by bloodthirsty sharks while searching for a treasure you’ve been salivating for for a while. Taking siege of ships and forts to expand your influence and gain supplies is a mechanic that will never quite get old for even those with a middling view of pirates, and the game is just vast enough for gamers to find themselves discovering something new and exhilarating tens upon tens of hours in.
Ubisoft Quebec has also succeeded in developing an exciting land-based experience. The mechanics which fans of the series have grown to love throughout the years are still largely present, though some exciting new techniques have been tossed in there, as well. Amongst them is the blowgun obtained early on in the game which allows you to shoot darts that can either put your enemies to sleep for an allotted amount of time or make just about loopy enough to do the dirty work for you, attacking fellow adversaries before felling themselves before too much time passes. Both the blowgun and regular flintlock prove to be impressive pieces of long-distance weaponry that gamers will find themselves using again and again with the added spot-on precision provided by the developer here by comparison to past games. Headshots? Black Flag’s got ’em, and they’re incredibly satisfying.
Specifically on the Wii U, the Gamepad acts as a miniature map, perhaps allowing for a more fluid adventure than on other platforms that the title is available for. Other than that, graphically, the game thrives, as expected. The Wii U is marginally superior to the PS3/360 version of the game and marginally inferior to the PS4 version, so it acts as the “middle child” in terms of graphical power, for those of you that base their purchases off of such things. The game is also available to play in full on the Gamepad, and it looks pretty darn good for a standard resolution mini-screen while running just as well as it does on the big screen. It features far less graphical tearing, lag, and pop-in then the last installment of the series on Wii U, allowing for a smoother and far more enjoyable overall gameplay experience than the previous Assassin’s Creed installment. Some humorous glitches are still apparent, such as when the occasional group of hammerheads ends up floating in the sky for no reason whatsoever when transitioning from plundering a Spanish ship to returning to Edward’s own Jackdaw, but it’s nothing that inhibits the flow of the game.
The game’s soundtrack is done amazingly well. There is not a singular moment throughout the massive experience where a singular sound effect feels out of place. The real-life sea shanties sung by Edward’s crew are thrilling to have had incorporated in that they offer so much more substance to the game’s ambiance in themselves. All the while, the game’s actual musical score is nothing short of gorgeously enlivening, perfectly encapsulating gamers in the moment as they stealthily traverse a steep mountainside into a fort teeming with Redcoats to save their pirate brethren from an early demise or take their first steps onto an unknown island with the promise of a great fortune awaiting them within.
Multiplayer-wise, the series does well in continuing its traditional game of cat-and-mouse here with some small changes or improvements here or there. On the overall, fans of the series will find that they have a lot of the same to come back to, and it isn’t a bad thing in terms of this unique online experience. The Wii U install base is somewhat low right now, however, making it a little harder than it should be to get a full match going. On the overall, multiplayer is far from the main reason to own Black Flag, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have it, either. Fans of the style of play will be pleased to have it back, but they may not have a whole lot of people around the world to play it with them just yet.
On the overall, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag proves to be an incredibly worthy addition to the series, and perhaps even the best thus far. The pirate setting is endlessly appealing with its extreme vastness inviting players to keep on coming back for many a new excursion with strong-willed Captain Edward Kenway and the crew of the renowned Jackdaw.
Featuring a slew of land and sea adventures sewn into one of the world’s most intriguing and action-packed moments in history, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag meets its hype and then dares to go above and beyond its expectations from there, easily becoming one of the must-have titles of the entire year and one of the most scintillating journeys of the decade thus far. Longtime fans of the series will be impressed by the vastness of the game’s open world and its in-depth main storyline while Creed newcomers are offered a great time to jump in with the back-story taking a new twist with the Abstergo worker plot. If you’re in need of adventure, look no further than Black Flag.