A pirate’s life for me!
Ubisoft offers perhaps the greatest pirate experience since the actual Golden Age of Piracy in the seventeenth century. While I mostly enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (both the ride and a couple of the movies), Sid Meier’s Pirates and Treasure Island, none of those actually let me be a pirate, which I have recently decided will be my Plan B if this job does not work out.
Black Flag not only breathes life back into the franchise, but performs desperate CPR, in an attempt to bring Assassin’s Creed back from the brink of mediocrity and repetivity. Taking the half-baked, but awesome idea of naval combat from Assassin’s Creed III, honing it and whittling it into a well-oiled machine, along with the amazing cast of historical figures and awe-inspiring graphics combined with mind-shattering environments makes Black Flag the best game in the franchise.
Black Flag’s story is one fit for a pirate. Our protagonist, Edward Kenway, feels restless in England with his plain life and longs to head for the Caribbean and take part in the debauchery and hope to stand to make a fortune. He meets and befriends a number of famous historical figures like Blackbeard, Benjamin Hornigold, Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane, et cetera. The pirates are being hunted down by Woodes Rogers of the British Navy and a number of Templars. Let me take a minute and brag on Black Flag‘s interpretation of Blackbeard. They painted him as a sympathetic character, with genuine emotion and desires; he’s still very much a pirate, but with a heart and passion. Blackbeard was perhaps the most multi-dimensional character in the game, and I feel that that is owed in a large part to the man who played him: Mark Bonnar. I did not know who Mark Bonnar was before playing Black Flag, but I had to look up the man who portrayed Blackbeard, as the performance was so incredible to me. Shout-out to you, Mark Bonnar; that was the best acting in the game, hands down.The typical trappings of an Assassin’s Creed game are prominent, yet slightly different here from the other games in the franchise, in that Edward is not a true “Assassin” until nearly the end of the game, and the “First Civilization” is featured much more than the previous games. Also, the “modern day” segments loosely relate to the previous Desmond-focused entries, but only so that the Animus still kind of makes sense. The Caribbean sea is the real star of Black Flag. There are very few games that have issued audible “oohs” and “ahhs” from me, as I took in the scenery. Black Flag did so in spades; so much so that I expected to hear “ting tang walla walla bing bang” from myself as well. This game spares nothing in the realm of detail and graphics, from the immaculate water, to the rugged little shanty towns and fishing villages spread all over the enormous map. The characters look fantastically real as well. I was told by friends to wait to purchase Black Flag on the current generation consoles, that the graphics would blow my mind in comparison to the last generation’s version; let’s just say that my mind is currently blown. It was absolutely worth waiting for the Playstation 4’s more powerful engine before I took the dive into this game. All of these factors help contribute to perhaps the most unique and original Assassin’s Creed game so far.
The gameplay is similar to the previous entries in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, though decidedly more fluid and refined. The controls felt more responsive, especially in the combat. I appreciated the somewhat expansive selection of weapons, building off of the cache of weapons available in Assassin’s Creed III, and allowing for a small variance in play styles. The auto lock-on, rapid pistol firing was an awesome touch, especially once you have all four pistols. There is also a slight customization of Edward permitted, which grants the ability to craft armor and weapon upgrades. The upgrade and customization system encourages exploration of the game world, and to hunt the various exotic fauna and wildlife that you find inhabiting the islands and waters of the Caribbean. The free-running feels much smoother in Black Flag as well. The naval combat and adventuring shines as the standout highlight of the entire game. There’s an undeniable charm to manning your own ship, customizing and upgrading every aspect of that ship and then using said ship to single-handedly send Spanish, Portuguese and English navies straight down to Davy Jones’ locker in droves.
The soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was everything that I hoped it would be and so much more. Between the sea shanties that your shockingly musically-gifted sailors belt at the top of their lungs and the game’s actual soundtrack, I felt like a legitimate pirate for the length of the entire adventure. It’s that kind of swashbuckling, treasure-hunting, Indiana Jones meets Pirates of the Caribbean type music (as if that genre even exists) that solidifies the mood and tone of Black Flag. The shanties are infectiously catchy and most, if not all of them are actual tunes from the era. They are a bit of a cult classic favorite feature within the Assassin’s Creed fan base, as they add a bit of verisimilitude and an overall jovial spirit to the already fantastic act of sailing on the open waters in Black Flag.
The cons of Black Flag are mostly nitpicky, with only a few legitimate technical issues that I had. The parrying is much more accurate and responsive than the earlier games. Where I felt in Assassin’s Creed I-III that the counter cue was being missed by a second, causing large brawls to be very difficult to survive, in Assassin’s Creed IV, I was only missing the occasional counter. It was frustrating nonetheless, but not nearly as much as it used to be. The free-running also felt more polished and flowing, though my complaint with the free-running traversal system has not changed since the very first game in the series. When you are merely exploring the city, all of the triggers for a vault, climb or jump seem to be perfectly on the nose and accurate, but when you are in pursuit of someone or being pursued, it seems as if the triggers go insane. Instead of climbing straight up the side of a church or fortress wall, you will run up the side a couple of steps and fall straight to your death. It seems inaccurate as to where the trigger happens that causes you to be able to climb a wall or surface. Maybe I’m just bad at the game though? I’m never one to rule that out.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a brilliant game in every aspect. It builds upon its predecessors, as any good sequel should, but also cuts its own path. Instead of featuring enormous in-game cities, it favored smaller cities, towns, villages and remote islands. The naval focus of Black Flag also allowed for gargantuan expanses of continuous exploration with practically seamless transitions between your boat, the open sea and some of the un-instanced islands. Not to mention, there is a metric buttload of side objectives and collectibles to get, if you tire of the main story. It is an unrivaled adventure experience and I just want to get back to that pristine virtual Caribbean sea.