By: Joe Lomán
So I’ve been playing some of the previous generation games that I considered really good and I just finished Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag and I suddenly remembered why back in its day, it was considered the best AC, with some even comparing it to the legendary AC 2. And it makes sense in many factors. Both games came as a sequel to games that, while being fairly praised, didn’t exactly delivered the full potential they promised, leaving their sequels to do the job. AC 1 was meant to be a test to see if people liked the idea, and AC 2 was what the real deal. AC 3, while meant to be a complete game on its own, plus featuring a new engine and a bit more technology, didn’t deliver the experience it promised. But AC 4 was the game that really took advantage of the new engine and became a great experience and seemed to be a new step forward to the right direction of the franchise.
If there’s one thing Ubisoft has done right with their AC games, it’s creating a huge and immersive world that captures the essence of the epoch the games are set in, and this time we found ourselves in the amazing Caribbean seas during the Golden Age of Piracy in the 18th century, with our protagonist being (you guessed it) a pirate named Edward Kenway, grandfather and father of Assassin’s Creed III protagonists Ratonhnhaké:ton and Haytham Kenway respectively, in his journey to discover his destiny as an Assassin that will take him to the Observatory, a First Civilization structure.
The reason why we are now watching Edward’s story is because in the modern era, the Templars are trying to find said Observatory for their own purposes, with the help of DNA samples from Desmond Miles, main protagonist of all the previous entries of the franchise, and the last known descendant of Edward. Meanwhile, the Templars are hiding their true motives by claiming to be creating a video game based on the life of the pirates using actual historical data.
This game has the same essence of the previous games. A parkour fan assassin with a huge talent in using the surroundings to blend and perform stealth assassinations in a big open world for you to explore and find hidden secrets. But some of the new features of this entry is that, as a story based on a pirate’s life, you get your own ship to sail across the Caribbean, looting and taking as you please from other ships in really engaging, intuitive and addictive naval combats. You can challenge basically every one of the different ships that are available, which are the Schooners, Brigs, Frigates, Man o’wars, Hunters and Legendary ships which are the closest to boss battles that I’ve seen in the franchise (and they are spectacular). After you’ve taken the ships down you can choose to either sink them right away with more cannon power or board them to take the ship as yours with the help of your crew, which I think is a really nice move.
The sea is full of different islands and early colonies with many some nice side activities, too. Assassination contracts that can be either on foot or naval contracts, with very nice rewards to improve your ship. And trust me when I say that when you see your ship getting stronger, you won’t want to stop upgrading it.
Something else that helps the atmosphere of the game feel unique is that, while sailing the seas, there’s no real background music, but rather shanties performed by the crew! It’s a really nice gesture to make you feel part of the sea. Sometimes I would just sail the seas for a while before the next mission to listen to them. Very addictive.
The only “down side” for me would be that, as the game takes place in early settlements of the British or Spanish governments, or other uncharted islands, there are not as many things to climb as in previous entries. Instead, the game itself focuses on bringing you more freedom on the sea itself to explore it on your own. And like I said, the sea itself with the naval combats are amazing, but there’s not much to do in the islands themselves other than the assassination contracts, since finding collectibles are not very rewarding and often becomes a bit boring and repetitive in every island.
Nonetheless, there are some cool side activities on the sea itself, too. At some point of the story you’ll be able to dive and search around sunk ships to find loot and treasures to upgrade your loyal ship with dangers of its own, like sharks, eels and jellyfish guarding the place. It’s like you have to act stealthy even under the ocean itself, and with the music that is played on the background, the tense is real.
Out of the ocean, the story itself is a really refreshing change of airs as our main protagonist, Edward Kenway, grew up knowing nothing about his Assassin talents, to which he refers to as “coming natural”, and is actually on the move to his own riches and fortune and occasionally helps folks, like the Assassin’s themselves, for a price. But the great thing here is that, unlike Ezio and Connor’s reasons to join the creed, Edward will find by his own mistakes and losses a more honorable way, and there’s not a more honest story for me, than the one of wanting to do things right and redeem yourself.
All this is also thanks to the charisma and charm of our protagonist who has a talent with words to get his adored treasure, rum and women. In addition, there are also non-playable characters in the game full of charisma, such as the grand Black Beard who likes to run shows as the Devil himself to get what he wants with the help of Edward.
However, the combat on foot itself continued to be a bit repetitive and boring. While the combo system remained after AC3, it’s still the same, unchanged mechanics where you can feel as if you were fighting against the same soldier every time, and will make you fond of using the stealth mechanic. After all, there’s always charm in being a silent assassin, and even more if the alternatives are boring.
To end with, if I had to choose a few words to sum up this game, it wouldn’t be “plot-twists” or “shocking” or “dramatic”, but rather “charismatic” and “engaging” in both the story and the naval combats. After all, even with the “finding his true self” kind of personal story of Edward’s, the real aim of this game is to portray the easy-going and free-of-rules kind of life that pirates loved to have. And that is done really nicely.
All in all, this was a game that represented a nice change of airs in the story, atmosphere and setting of the franchise, as well as a good step forward to upcoming games before they ran out of creativity. The story is engaging, the naval combats are something entirely fresh and addictive, the charisma of the pirates in the game is unique and essence of an Assassin’s Creed game was in it. If only the combat on foot would have been less repetitive, and the locations had been filled with more interesting side quests and collectibles, Black Flag would have been a master piece. But overall, it was a job well done.