Assassin’s Creed IV seemed like a joke when it was first leaked on Reddit, and hopefully I wasn’t the only person who scoffed when a couple of weeks later, the game was officially revealed. An entire three months or so after AC3 came out. I scoffed, though I knew I would be buying it. Fortunately, ACIV happens to be one of the best games in the franchise – certainly the best since AC2.
Black Flag sheds most of the lore of the franchise, mostly abandoning Templars and Assassins in exchange for the conflict between Pirates and the British authorities in the region, to make a game that’s pretty much all about sailing around and doing what you want. The story plays a back seat to the gameplay, so much so that it seems to abruptly cut off with no resolution after an admittedly disappointing end. That is just the timeline section of the story, too.
The modern day story, while providing a wealth of backstory and expanding the AC universe beyond the first five games, is entirely predictable and downright implausible once you actually see what’s happening (which will be within 2 minutes on the first mission, unless you go around hacking computers first.) It also stops making much sense by the end of the last modern day sequence. Did I mention that you play a John Doe in first person view the whole time, who is hired to use the animus in mining Desmond’s memory “for next-gen movies?” Obviously that’s not entirely true, but it feels incredibly cheap and ridiculous.
Even worse – the expanded back-story that you read in the game, from Abstergo, quite literally outlines all the brainstorming Ubisoft has done in regards to potential future AC games, with several different time periods mentioned and classified under Desmonds matriarchal and patriarchal lines of lineage. It’s both awesome, and sickening at the same time, because you can see how they have plans to potentially extend this franchise for years to come.
In terms of gameplay, Black Flag combines almost everything from the previous games into the most comprehensive and stream-lined package yet. Combat is very smooth and has been dumbed down about as much as possible, though it remains fun. Free running and climbing has changed very little, other than the tree platforming having been improved. Unfortunately, though, you can longer call upon assassin’s to do your bidding, as you have no assassin’s. You consequently have no assassin minigame. And, ultimately, the game still has the same clumsy oversights or glitches that have plagued every title.
You can still suffer from accidentally running up a tree or building when trying to chase someone, or you may end up getting nearly killed when an enemy swings at you because counters are only recognized if you are within a certain distance and moving minimally. Compared to previous titles, these things almost never happen.
Having played AC3 extensively, there is an inarguable positive to this game in comparison: Ubisoft did away with the troll-tastic “optional objectives” from AC3. They also did away with horrid chase missions, almost entirely. Every optional objective is reasonable and attainable. Every mission is “easy” enough that it doesn’t become a complete pain in the ass, though some will be frustrating.
Black Flag’s biggest appeal is that it features a ridiculous amount of content. The main story isn’t terribly long, but the sheer number of areas to explore, side missions, items to collect, animals to hunt, weapons and other items will keep you playing for a long time even before any DLC comes out. The cohesive grandeur of the older games may no longer be present, but it has more than been made up for with gameplay.
And last but not least: sea shanties. So many sea shanties, so many of which are excellent songs – though their real world versions are less politically correct and much more entertaining.