In the Golden Age of Piracy, you play as Edward Kenway; a brash chap who has left his mundane and dull life back in England to go and find the treasures he desires and to live a life of comfort and luxury where he is not governed by the rules of man or society. Along this journey, Edward finds himself unwittingly in a crucial position which pivots the war of Assassins and Templars in the islands of the Caribbean. A dashing pirate turned assassin, Kenway is perhaps the most reluctant of the Assassins in the series to join the noble cause but not without his own interests coming in as first priority; fortune and prosperity. This is the goal that the majority of your time will be devoted to.
In present day, you play the role of… you. In an interesting design choice, you are hired by Abstergo Entertainment Montreal (the modern day Templars) to enter one of many animus’ where you scour the memories of “Sample 17” for any usable data that can be used to create epic blockbuster movies. This is obviously a front to cover up Abstergo’s real intentions.
Veterans of the series will be pleased to know that a resolution of sorts comes to fruition after Assassin’s Creed 3 near apocalyptic ending and further plot developments appear to continue the present day scenario.
To describe the visuals of Assassin’s Creed 4 is a daunting task, to strike the perfect chord and do the visuals justice. The Caribbean is a tropical wonderland; the wading sections of the water are clear and welcoming. So much attention to detail has been thought of that even swash atop the water casts a shadow to be seen on the golden sand that lines the shore. The vast ocean is captured perfectly and represented by a darker blue to give the depth. Waves topple over with force and come crashing down. Every once in a while a monster wave nearly tsunami like will destroy everything in its path; the sheer size and gravity of this wonder is amazing.
The world Ubisoft have created is truly authentic and really represents the perfect pirate world. Small fishing villages are held together by bamboo, timber and twine. Bustling cities offer much more to the architecture, permanent fixtures of stone rendering and a variety of NPC’s going about their day. Plantations and the jungles’ flora is noticeably dense and multilayered, offering a flawless and complete stalking zone. Perhaps the best environment detail I found is the particles in the rain and clouds which are absolutely phenomenal. Running at a smooth 1080p on the PS4 is an absolute visual treat.
Our lead character Edward, is portrayed by an excellently cast Matt Ryan(also of Welsh decent). He captures Edwards’s rugged charm and charisma perfectly. Historical pirates also have a share in the spotlight, such as Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, Anne Bonny and Calico Jack. Whilst the majority of the characters (apart from Edward) do offer valiant performances, they are forgotten very quickly and fail to leave any lasting impact on the player; which unfortunately is where Black Flag tends to fall short in story.
The most pleasant sounds of this game are undoubtedly the shanties sung by your crew on your travels, they are absolutely brilliant. Catchy, cheerful and full of enthusiasm, even for a ship’s captain behind a controller. So much extra effort has gone into the work of the shanties that your ears will love them.
Ubisoft Montreal have basically broken the Assassin’s Creed series to its core and reconstructed it to not only become much more open for new entrants to the series but given it a much more broad, relevant and accessible feel for returning fans of the franchise.
Black Flag is a sprawling world of things to see and do amongst the beautiful Caribbean. Throughout your journey in the Golden Age of Piracy, not only will you be controlling Edward but you will also be captain of “The Jackdaw”; a ship Kenway has acquired. The ship acts as a kind of second character to the game, adding much more depth and variety to the game. Continually upgrading this ship is essential to your successes as a pirate. Armour, rams and weaponry can all be upgraded as you plunder the applicable supplies from various ships of the English or Spanish fleets. To loot the ships you are going to have to battle them to a weakened state. The naval warfare is perhaps one of the strongest, smoothest and most refreshing aspects of this game. All the controls are smooth and responsive. To top it all off, these segments are incredibly engaging, time and time again you will find yourself totally immersed by the action these encounters offer.
Battling is not all you can do with your ship, Black Flag offers over 50 interactable areas inside a massive, massive world. Large cities of Nassau or even just small tropical islands can be discovered.
Talking of discovering, Assassin’s Creed 4 lets the player off the leash much quicker than the previous entry of Assassin’s Creed 3. Players have rejoiced for this decision. Opening up the world for discovery and interaction at the players discretion rather than when the game dictates. Having said that however, there are a few instances where side missions such as assassination contracts are opened up well before they are explained to you in the confines of the main story. This is by no means a game breaker but I found it odd that it was revealed to me in the story progression after I had completed every available contract at that time.
In this world and as standard for Assassin’s Creed, there is an abundance of collectables. Some simply provide more money while others offer you much greater rewards for your invested time such as in game benefits (without spoiling the fruits of your invested labour). Animals can be hunted and skinned for the purpose of crafting new upgrades for Edward, such as holsters of one of four pistols, health upgrades and storage pouches. It is great to see that the crafting mechanic being relevant and utilised as well. Another collectable that is relevant and perhaps the most engaging of them all is the collection of sea shanties for your crew to sing as you sail the seas. These are incredibly catchy and I was singing them for days after.
Once again the staple formula of using stalking methods such as blending and hiding to assassinate your prey is present. This time it has a much stronger presence as opposed to last year’s entry where you could easily opt for brute force, expect to spend a bit more time lurking in the shrubbery silently reducing the opposing Templar numbers. Brute force still works but only to a point, a few sections require unnoticed infiltration and stealth. To me this is a most welcome and engaging direction, it is a trait of an assassin after all.
Unfortunately Assassin’s Creed with its bustling world of interactables and things to do does cause a lot of repetition. Conflicts are perhaps the most mind numbing repetitious portions. Attacking until you are required to counter, followed by a kill which opens up a kill streak. These easy kills are obviously quite effective and offer a great kill animation though they don’t outweigh the frustration of having the same battle over and over. Tailing a suspect during missions is of the same nature, repetitious and boring but seems to be a developer favourite in the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed 4 offers a practically seamless world, meaning I can jump from The Jackdaw to land or into water without even the slightest hiccup in loading or frame rate. This is a remarkable achievement especially on a world of this scale. I do have to fault one aspect however, if the transition from boat to land or vice versa is meant to be seamless, why are there so much hurdles placed between boarding The Jackdaw and the ships wheel; cannons and crew can provide an inaccessible path at times. I understand they need to be there for common sense, it is a boat after all but can cause a severe punish in the flow of your gameplay.
I’ve barely hit the tip of the iceberg, when talking about things to see and do in the Caribbean, raiding forts to claim as your own and hunting oceanic wildlife are sure to take up your time in some exhilarating harpooning segments. PS4’s Remote Play provides the perfect opportunity to experience and complete these side tasks. The Vitas button transfer is perfect and feels absolutely natural. I couldn’t recommend playing main mission story segments however at the risk of missing a breathtaking moment that could be experienced in full on a much larger TV screen, but that is just a personal opinion.
Replacing the brotherhood system is a form of fleet management, sending out ships in your fleet to complete naval contracts, offering you simple payment. The payout isn’t great but the Assassin’s Creed Companion App allows you to access these contracts in real time to manage more contracts when you can’t be present for your console. The app also works as an interactive map when connected to your console. You can select a location on your phone and instantly the directions to that location are on your TV screen. Ubisoft describe it as a first mate for your adventures, they couldn’t have been more accurate.
The present day, is more of a discovery tool to dive deeper into the lore of Assassin’s Creed as well as connecting the dots from game to game. Accessible at any time, they offer a welcome break and a, wealth of knowledge through hacking various computers. Hacking is a form of puzzle/challenge and offers some easter eggs to other Ubisoft games. A hint, one rhymes with batch-cogs.
It is no secret that Ubisoft could have easily made a pirate themed game and it could have been immensely successful. The essence of Assassin’s Creed that’s included just makes this game even greater. Right from the word go a vast and beautiful Caribbean is open to the players, with so much to see and do. These activities will keep you busy for hours. Naval segments are brilliant; this includes battles and general exploration. The worlds locations are beautiful and could easily be pictures on postcards, tropical paradises you tease your friends about. Unfortunately for a world full of quests and activities it feels as if the story cannot quite keep up and isn’t quite as deep as veterans of the series are accustomed too.
A lot of people have criticised the previous modern day segments of the Assassin’s Creed series sighting them as boring and dull, personally I find these portions the reason to keep coming back to the series. Black Flag takes an excellent approach to these controversial segments by opening the floor for new players to the series by alluding to prior events without basing the whole game on them but giving enough detail that people can quickly piece together what has happened.
There are still a few bugs in this game, which is a given considering that no one’s play through will ever be the same. What bugs there are though are generally hidden underneath the beautiful aesthetics of the game. Some missions can become repetitive and tiresome, but please don’t let that dishearten you. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is an excellent game and one of the best games of the year without a shadow of a doubt. It is completely refreshing for the series and for the fans as well. Your holiday to the Caribbean will be time well spent.