by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Refined Mechanics and Fresh Takes
To that end, running around as Edward is an absolute joy. So many systems have been tweaked and adjusted to increase the fun factor. Parkour is improved from Assassin’s Creed 3 with much better designed cities and clear sightlines to get from one place to another. The sense of velocity when running and leaping is also much greater and all the more fun because of the smart movement system which prevents you from leaping to an accidental death. There are less rooftop guards to slow you down, too.
Depending on your inclination, Black Flag is either a collector’s dream or their nightmare. There is an incredible amount of items to gather and random events to complete throughout the world but especially in cities. Before completing the third mission, I had spent more than two hours gathering animus fragments, sea shanties ([I]AC4’s take on AC3’s floating pages), chests, rescuing pirates, and sync points throughout Havana. This is nothing compared to the game’s gathering and crafting systems.
As you progress, you gain the ability to craft upgrades for your character and ship. Gathering the materials for that just one more upgrade means collecting them in the world, wrecking or pillaging other ships, or hunting animals. If completing each city wasn’t enough, this system is downright devilish in how addictive it is. Each of these upgrades also has a cost, so gathering enough money is another draw.
If done wrong, these systems could have become frustrating roadblocks, but nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, they act as a constant motivation to login and play, even if you only have small chunks of time to work with. Collecting acts as a bite-sized accoutrement to the game’s larger pastimes.
The game also features a full multiplayer suite akin to previous games. In my play time, these seemed as refined as they have always been, though I did not spend as much time with them as I would have liked. I will need more time to formulate an official opinion but the funnest mode remains.
And Others, Not So Much…
Combat, however, remains largely untouched outside of the new, flashy kill animations. This is a plus and a minus. On the positive side, getting into fights remains intuitive and easy to understand. Thanks to the new executions, it is as satisfying as it has ever been. On the down side, AC4 remains saddled with a system that was too easy by Brotherhood and now feels almost exploitative.
Just as in past games, enemy AI remains remarkably stupid. Guards will still climb up a ladder one by one just to be slaughtered. Taking on large groups is often as simple as holding the counter button and pressing “kill” when the camera pans into slow-mo mode. As always, this system gets more complex as time goes on and there are some new screen effects to accompany special moves, but all of these are dressing on a system that desperately needs an update.
Movement is another area that largely went ignored. There is a greater sense of momentum but you are just as likely to run up a wall instead of through a doorway as ever. While stealth is much, much improved over Assassin’s Creed 3, the lack of a dedicated crouch button is still disappointing. Why, oh why, can’t our master assassin duck? It seems like a necessary skill in that line of work. But I digress...
Hightailing it on the High Seas
The single biggest addition Black Flag brings to the fold is the ability to own your own ship. I was not a big fan of ship combat in AC3 but I could see the appeal some found in it. In Assassin’s Creed 4, ship combat has been expanded and refined to a fine point. Navigation is still a potent blend of raising and lowering your sails to meet the wind and to make sharp turns. This may be the first game to emphasize sail management.
Ship combat has also been enhanced. Weapons feel tighter and more powerful thanks to an added degree of control over each weapon. The sound work takes the experience to a new level. Feeling the weighty boom of your cannons, hearing the splintering wood of your hull and the sails whip in the wind do as much to make the experience feel real as the astounding visuals of open sea combat.
Which is as it should be considering how deeply these systems play into the overall experience of Black Flag. You are a pirate, after all, so hunting out ships and barraging forts is a large part of what you do. They should feel good and they do. Upgrading your ship to be more effective in combat is a potent gameplay loop.
Having your own vessel also brings exploration to new heights. You will come across islands with hidden treasure. You will discover legendary ships (and legendary owners) that will challenge your skills as a captain. You will set out on fishing trips for that one last material to craft an upgrade. Assassin’s Creed 4 wastes no time in opening itself before you. Once you receive the Jackdaw, you are free and the world is your oyster.
There are some reviews which are difficult to write, not because you are conflicted or unsure, but because there is simply too much to talk about. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is one of those games. I could tell you about its 25+ hour campaign. I could tell you about how fun the optional objectives can be. I could tell you half a dozen stories about my high seas adventures. What I’ll end with is this: Ubisoft has delivered a title which not only addresses the issues of its predecessors but adds plentifully on top of them. It stands as one of the best pirate games ever made and never once falls to cliché. There are refinements still to be made but Black Flag is a stunning return to form worthy of any gamer’s time.
Fixes most issues of its predecessors, exceptional gathering and crafting system, joyous open world exploration and ship combat, SO MANY THINGS TO COLLECT
Combat system is basically untouched, movement still feels gross and imprecise