The Golden AgeAs the gaming industry evolves and continues to grow in both volume and popularity, annual release schedules are becoming more and more frequent. It seems that no sooner have the credits rolled on our current adventure that we find ourselves forced to gear up for next. At first glance this trend can appear merely superficial and could be considered as nothing more than good news and a win -win situation for everybody involved. This sadly however is not always the outcome and the unfortunate bi-product of these systematic airtight releases can often be a detrimental deterioration in quality. With the previous entry in the franchise delivering an ultimately disappointing experience , is the golden age of piracy and the exploits of an ambitious young pirate enough to breath fresh life into one of this generations most celebrated franchises?
Assassins Creed Black Flag sees players thrown into the role of Edward Kenway, a capable and ambitious young pirate who’s insatiable lust for plunder and glory see him thrown into the midst of the eternal Assassin – Templar conflict as he struggles with his own selfish pirate indulgences and his allegiance to the Assassin Order. First and foremost pirates aren’t generally known for their delightful social skills and an uncanny ability to leave a positive first impression, but from the immediate onset of his journey Edward portrays the characteristics of an extremely engaging and likeable protagonist. It’s no secret that fans of the series were less than impressed with Connor the hero of the previous iteration, who came across as exceedingly shallow and lacking any form of personality which consequentially led to an inability to truly engage and immerse the player in the titles narrative or create any form of meaningful emotional attachment. It is for this reason that many fans and newcomers alike may approach our new hero with a great deal of trepidation and uncertainty , but fear not as our new assassin may just be the best yet.
One of Assassins Creed’s biggest draw cards has always been its unique setting. The ability to relive sensationalised versions of pivotal periods in human history with its own unique feel and flavour layered over the top. This has always been a series strength however this is the first time in the franchise’s history that it has had a profound effect on how you play. To say the sheer scope of this incredible Caribbean world is colossal would be a gross understatement. From the first time the map is opened it truly dawns upon the player the magnitude of their exotic playground. Creating a mammoth game world and making it gorgeous which of course it does is one thing, but populating that world with an elegant and diverse range of exciting enjoyable activities is quite another. After player’s acquire Edward’s prized ship the “Jackdaw” is when this beautiful and entertaining world truly offers up its spoils for plundering.
“the sheer scope of this incredible Caribbean world is colossal”
Naval combat was perhaps the most redeeming feature of Assassins Creed 3. Praised for offering players a thrilling new addition to an otherwise streamlined formula, and it is has been superfluously converted from an engaging side activity to the cornerstone and heart of the gameplay. Ubisoft has truly found their sea legs with Black Flag offering up a greatly refined naval experience as not only an amazing form of transport and vessel for exploration alongside the titles infinitely improved fast travel system, but also a vital key to Edward’s livelihood. Whether you’re sailing the high seas searching for treasure on an exotic island populated by dangerous wildlife or sneaking into a hidden pirate cove, there is a truly grand sense of glory and satisfaction to be experienced from the raw freeform nature of Black Flag’s gameplay. However what better way to truly immerse yourself in the infamous world of piracy than to pillage and plunder everything in your path land and sea alike. Players will not only find themselves attacking and robbing fellow sailors though the use of the truly remarkable boarding mechanics which offer players a vast variation of approaches and options, but also storming navy warehouses and relieving them off their cargo for great profit. However the “Jackdaw” cannot be sailed solo which is where the new crew mechanic comes into fruition. Piracy is a dangerous business and casualties are an inevitability. Luckily the Caribbean has no shortage of swashbucklers and scallywags and the player will be tasked with obtaining new crew members through various methods whether it be rescuing sailor wrecked at sea or freeing a prisoner from the shackles of the Navy, maintaining the readiness of Edward’s crew manages to be an enjoyable new past time without tedious side effects. Not only does combat at sea manage to provide an enjoyable and addictive combat platform, but also acts as a very viable source of income, as retrieved cargo and currency can be used to purchase upgrades the Jackdaw to ensure she can hold her ground against anything the navy has to offer.
Drawing inspiration from another franchise can often place developers in the crosshairs of a great deal of criticism and debate. Regardless of this fact however when injected into a game’s formula correctly it has the ability to generously enhance the complete package. Far Cry 3 possessed an incredibly well constructed hunting and upgrade system in which the player would hunt and skin specific animals to require resources to upgrade their arsenal. Assassins Creed Black Flag embraces this proven system and utilizes it to further enhance its already stellar offering. Players will find themselves hunting a broad range of exotic and dangerous animals and fashioning rewarding upgrades as a result. This can vary from the ability to carry additional pistols and ammo to merely superficial and cosmetic changes to Edward’s appearance. Unlike its source of inspiration however Black flag doesn’t just allow you to hunt big game on land, but also at sea through the impressive and wildly addictive harpooning mini-game. Players will find themselves up against some of the most fearsome creatures the sea has to offer from the treacherous Great White Shark to giant Blue Whales, each providing a varied level of difficultly and challenge.
The exotic playground that is the Caribbean doesn’t stop offering up spoils there however, as players progress through the narrative they will gain access to the diving bell. An ingenious underwater salvaging device used by pirates to explore the ocean depths as freely as they do the surface. This provides some truly memorable moments as players must mindfully manage their air supply , while simultaneously avoiding predators and scouring the ocean floor for treasure. Diving sequences make for some of the most thrilling and enjoyable experiences and aid to truly encompass and immerse the player in intricate and vivid world.
“truly encompass and immerse the player in intricate and vivid world.”
When it was revealed that the Caribbean would serve as the theatre of war for our latest hero I was immediately overjoyed at the prospect of leaving behind the somewhat bland and uninteresting colour palette of the American Revolution in favour of colourful and striking environments. Make no mistake this is a gorgeous looking game from beautiful and lush beaches and jungles, to the sprawling metropolis’s of Havana and Nassau. Ubisoft has done an excellent job of squeezing every last ounce of power the hardware has available to create a truly visually impressive console title with much improved performance. Enough cannot be said for how much of an incredible job has been done in creating the titles vast oceans. Not only do the high seas appear incredibly life like but also behave in a truly believable and realistic manner. This is most impressive when the sea itself becomes impacted by the dynamic weather system, creating freak tidal waves and hurricanes forcing the player to deal with these events on the fly as well as greatly enhancing the presentation. Equally as impressive this time around is the game’s soundtrack. From the infectiously addictive array of famous sea shanties at offer to the elevated intensity offered during boarding and combat by brilliant high intensity orchestral numbers, the soundtrack truly manages to capture and immerse the player in the game world. This is by far the best Assassin Creed has ever looked and it will truly exciting to see how the next generation console and PC offering further push the boundaries.
At its core Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag is very much a traditional Assassin’s Creed experience. You’ll still be running from rooftop to rooftop from branch to branch, and you’ll still be synching up at numerous viewpoints across the land although they are now doubly useful as a method of revealing hidden collectibles (Spoiler: There are a tonne) and as a fast travel point doing away with the cumbersome system in previous offerings. Black Flag manages to integrate all the appealing and enjoyable components from the best in the franchise’s history, as well as lending a few idea’s from others, and made them fall into place and coalesce with remarkable elegance and fluidity. The team at Ubisoft has not only managed to stay true to what the franchise is and has always been, but also successfully implemented an impressive range of new gameplay mechanics such as hunting, diving and a true naval experience loyal its design and intention to the golden age of Piracy.
*Review copy provided by the publisher
Black Flag is the leap of faith the series needed after the underwhelming Assassins Creed 3. Its truly a golden age of piracy.