ACIV Black Flag: First Impressions

Annualization into Apathy

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Playstation 3 | UbiSoft Montreal | October 29, 2013
Also Available on Xbox360, Wii U, Xbox One, PC and PS4

First Impressions are crafted after spending a few hours with a game, but not completing it. There is no review score provided as it wouldn’t be appropriate before seeing everything the game is offering. No spoilers occur, please do the same in the comments.

The sun will rise tomorrow, Christmas is December 25, kids these days have no respect for their elders and a new Assassin’s Creed is released in the fall. There are some events that occur with such regularity that no one is surprised when they pass, but people still look forward to these experiences with fanfare. I played through AC, ACII, plus the sequels, and thoroughly enjoyed each one. After ACIII I vowed I was done with the series, due to repetitive missions, an uninspired protagonist and a weak plot. The fanfare and excitement surrounding Black Flag forced me to return to the franchise; after all four out of five was a good record.

What I returned to was an AC experience derivative of what came before it and stripped away to the barest of essentials. Gameplay is king, and still in top form, but all of the trappings and experience surrounding it feel rushed and lack any meaning of the predecessors. Black Flag’s protagonist, Edward Kenway, is obsessed with gold, and it feels like his search for a cash grab is a metaphor for UbiSoft.

What is a Critical Hit!

Even on ‘last’ gen hardware this game is amazing to look at. The environments are gorgeously rendered and filled with context clues. The player will know if a mountain side is climbable just by looking at the surface and seeing textures within the wall. The water effects display a graphic fidelity that shows the PS3 can still push out a beautiful picture. Character faces display a wide range of emotions during conversations and battle animations remain fluid.

Combat is not adjusted from previous AC games, and that is okay. Players are able to utilize a combination of fisticuffs, hidden blades, swords or pistols to dispatch foes. Edward is a competent fighter, able to dispatch five-plus adversaries in a battle through attacks, counters and kill-streaks, but he is not invincible. Black Flag introduces snipers who are able to tear through Edward’s health bar. Despite his duel wield combat style, Edward can still be overwhelmed by heavys and captains who require advanced techniques to dispatch. The assassination animations, kill sequences and combat are easy to pull off on the controller, and return a visual spectacle on-screen.

Black Flag’s exploration, mission structure and sidequests are constantly rewarding the player. Through each action Edward is earning additional gold for his pile and the player has a sense of accomplishment. There is always a data piece, treasure chest, shantie or contract slightly off the beaten path, but after collecting ‘just one more’ a few times you’ll find yourself on the other side of the world from the original mission marker.

What is Not Very Effective…

In previous releases the story and mythology of AC was significant to each entry. The Assassins Order is locked in an eternal struggle with The Templars, to shape mankind and prevent the loss of free will. In Black Flag, Edward wants money and doesn’t really care about anything else. He is in over his head as political intrigue and the organizations discuss otherworldly matters, and so would any newcomer. Edward is not likeable in his pursuit of gold; he will betray friends, steal from allies and abandon his loved ones if there is profit involved. It can be difficult for some players to control a character who they don’t care for.

One of the ‘twists’ in the AC series is that the historical setting is actually a modern-day protagonist experiencing the past lives of their ancestor. ACIII ended with a dramatic shift that people who enjoyed this storyline would like to see continued, but this is not the entry you are looking for. Instead, players go through an alternate reality version of UbiSoft where they make AC games, send memos about deadlines and deal with office politics. It is an awkward first person perspective that doesn’t fit with the tone of the game or previous entries. I would prefer the approach taken with AC: Liberation, just throw the player in the past with no present day scenes required to this jangled overly-meta viewpoint.

The story missions within the first sequences are a remix of the worst missions from the previous entry. Players will blend in with a crowd to overhear a conversation, tag enemies with Eagle Vision (a view that turns the screen into shades of blue, yellow and red) then follow them, throughout the city. There are numerous ‘chase’ missions and the first few sequences are more tutorial than gameplay experience. It is a difficult situation for UbiSoft to juggle, each entry can be someone’s first, but the first hours are repetitive to anyone who has played before.

Returning from ACIII is the ship combat. This mini-game breaks apart the monotony of assassin jobs that are recycled from previous entries, but the water battles are repetitive. The ship is not nimble and fighting for position against the AI can be a chore. The enemies feel like damage sponges, whereas your own vessel will fall apart after a few attacks. There is an upgrade system in place, and I hope as Kenway gains more gold, resources and progresses the plot his boat will overpower the enemy’s.

Status Summary

Black Flag possesses the best combat in the series, by a small margin, and the weakest plot, by a large margin. Newcomers can enjoy the game for its fluid combat, ease of exploration, rewarding treasures and visual style. Fans who played through the other five AC games, will feel like they are going through the same motions that they have before.

If you enjoy action-adventure games and focus on gameplay, than you will enjoy Black Flag. If you prefer your stories to have meaning, characters likable and want the best of the series, then you should sail past this entry.

Likelihood to Complete: 50%
Likelihood to Platinum: 0%

Level Up, Friends!