When a franchise releases a major title every single year, its developers have to work extra hard to keep the experience from being the same old thing. After all, if you’ve only just finished the last game in the series, you’re not likely to be enticed by a new game that only promises more of the same.
Assassin’s Creed is just over six years old, and developer and publisher Ubisoft have managed to crank out six series releases in that time, along with numerous spin-off games and side stories. It’s a pace that has pushed some to burnout on the series, frustrated with sequels that are just a little too similar to one another to merit a purchase.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is decidedly different from its predecessors. Whether you’re a lapsed fan, or you’ve never donned the assassin’s iconic white cowl, Black Flag is absolutely worth your time.
A Full Fledged Pirate Life
Assassin’s Creed games have always been about variety in an open world. When the game lets you off the leash, you can scour the world for collectibles, climb towering spires of famous buildings, take on optional assassinations, or improve on your home with your plentiful payments.
Black Flag not only lets you off of that leash mercifully early, it turns you lose in a world that’s stunningly rich with things to do. While many of the standard assassin activities have returned, they’re joined by an array of new tasks that deliver on the fantasy of high seas piracy. Follow vaguely scrawled maps to buried treasure, or dive down to a shipwreck and take its cargo for your own. Get into bar fights and prove that you’re not to be messed with, or search the shoreline for a message in a bottle. You can even go harpooning for whales if you need to satisfy your inner Captain Ahab.
The sailing mechanics touched upon in Assassin’s Creed III really take the spotlight in Black Flag. The process of softening an enemy ship with cannon fire, boarding it, and deciding the fate of its crew is an immersive thrill that hooks you in the first time you try it. Gather materials and blue prints to upgrade your pirate ship, and become a legendary menace of the seas.
Combat That Empowers You
In prior Assassin’s Creed games, open combat was something to be avoided. You played a character who worked best from the shadows, and if you found yourself surrounded, you had to prepare for a long and tedious fight of looking for openings and whittling away at health bars. It resulted in a sense of weakness when enemies discovered you. It was often easier to throw in the towel, die, and restart your task than to fight your way out.
Well, Black Flag’s Captain Kenway will have none of that. Four men come to kill him? Cute. Almost every hit he parries creates an opening for a lethal blow. Instead of challenging you with just a few basic soldiers, Assassin’s Creed 4 saves the difficulty for situations when things really get out of hand. Play brazenly and you can find yourself surrounded by a dozen men, one of whom is pitching bombs at your feet, and two more of whom rain down musket fire on you from nearby rooftops. Yet, even when things get that far out of control, careful fighting can still leave you the last man standing a mere minute later. If former Assassin’s Creed protagonists were grounded human beings, Kenway is an over-the-top action hero, and he’s a joy to play.
A Farewell to Desmond
If you’ve played this long running series at all, you know that Desmond Miles is one of its key framing devices. Each game has him using a virtual reality device called the Animus to train for 21st century covert ops by reliving the memories of his ancestors. Because genetic memories or something. It’s kind of sci-fi like that.
Black Flag no longer saddles you with Desmond’s baggage. Instead, you’re you! Leave the Animus, and you’ll find yourself playing from a first person perspective as a quality assurance tester for the latest pirate themed video game in development. Naturally, in a series rich with conspiracy, not everything is as it seems, and you won’t have to play long before you’re in over your head. You no longer need to have an appreciation for Desmond’s history to enjoy the game’s metaplot. He’s referenced lightly throughout the game, but your encounter with the ongoing feud between Templar and Assassin stands on its own.
So don’t be afraid of coming into the game with no prior experience. Knowledge of what came before will enrich your time with Black Flag, but it’s in no way necessary.
A Next Generation Showpiece
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are finally here, and they’re systems full of great promise for the future, but you need something to play today! Launch lineups being what they are, you only have so many options, and only a few games for each system have proven to be as fun to play as they are pretty to look at.
As you can see from the video above, Black Flag is a noticeably more attractive experience on your next-gen system of choice. Fogs used to mask texture pop in are lifted, foliage is filled out, and it rocks gently in the breeze, and shimmering waves lap the beaches. Character textures like clothing and skin shed a dull and muddied look console gamers have been used to since 2005. And when you see a wave crash over your ship and watch the water run down its surfaces and across its deck, you’ll know why you jumped on the new hardware bandwagon early. Developers will only get better at using the power of these systems, but for now, Black Flag is a satisfying taste of things to come.
Assassin’s Creed is a series with a great deal of history and tradition behind it. That’s a double-edged sword, because while sequels can seem like a safe purchase when you need to choose your games carefully, too much reliance on crafting the same experience over and over is a habit doomed to grow stale. Black Flag breaks its traditions and shakes things up in a way that breathes much-needed life into a long running franchise. If this is what the game looks like in the Caribbean, I can’t wait to see where Assassin’s Creed might take us next!
Have you gotten a chance to play Black Flag yet? What do you think of it? Tell our community in the comments below.