The latest instalment of the well-known Assassin’s Creed franchise was released at a unique period in gaming history and frankly had to excel to compete. New generation consoles are upon us and will gradually phase out the prehistoric hardware we are dabbling with now. This is coupled with the fact that more developers are readying themselves for this big step and the question then remains whether or not current consoles, and the associated games, are worth the time and money.
AC Black Flag moves away from the gritty American Revolution of its predecessor and into 1700’s Caribbean. As is customary with the franchise, the antagonist steps into an ancient war between the Templars and the Assassins. You are Edward Conway, a charming and well-spoken pirate (yes they exist); whose aim is to simply make as much money as possible.
Being a pirate, it is obvious that Edward is a bit more off the rails than the previous antagonists, doing whatever he wants to whenever he wants to and having no problem taking out anybody he wants to. This is a nice contrast from some of the previous titles which integrated a sense of false morality into the storyline and gameplay.
Once you complete the first few missions, which I’m glad to report take a lot quicker than AC 3, the reality of the sandbox hits. It is a massive map, including huge areas of open sea, islands and cities. Every area has its own treasures and hidden activities. As per usual there are the classics of the AC franchise such as climbing up to vantage points so as to synchronize the map or bounties but there are also unique extras such as Mayan puzzles.
Hunting has been carried over from the previous title but has been made even better with more diverse wildlife. A personal favourite is the ability to hunt for marine life when out at sea. You are sent out in a smaller boat and harpoon up to 3 different types of sharks and whales. Hunting isn’t simply meaningless killing however, as each type of animal can be used to improve and enhance Edward’s gear and inventory. The hunting element is becoming a big part of modern open world gaming and is seen in Red Dead Redemption and in Farcry. It is a great addition and makes the world seem more alive. Seeing a whale or Great White shark breach the surface while sailing is always an exciting moment and helps capture a realistic feel.
A large part of the game is the sailing and the fact that you can attack random ships and plunder their booty (don’t you love the way pirates talk). Problems arise where ships are bigger, faster and stronger than you but as with Edward’s gear and inventory it is possible to upgrade and strengthen your ship. Once an enemy ship has been cannoned out, Edwards and his crew will board it so as to fight their way to glory. When you are not fighting naval battles or ‘plundering booty’, sailing around the beautiful map is just as capturing. The graphics are at the edge and it is clear to see that the breakaway to next generation consoles is a much needed step in gaming evolution. Certain islands have forts to take over which is always a fun side activity. They can however be rather annoying as they will try to sink your ship even if you are simply sailing past.
Apart from the ocean and all its wonders, AC Black Flag has done a brilliant job on the land and the Parkour style running has become the smoothest it has ever been. Fighting is very similar and can often be rather repetitive, blocking and counter attacking constantly. This has never been a problem for me as it is so dynamic and I simply love the way that Edward can seamlessly interchange between a myriad of weapons and opponents to kick ass.
Negating a few small glitches and the fact that it is obvious we have reached the limits of current generation consoles AC Black Flag is the benchmark for the franchise and impresses on so many levels. It constantly feels as though I am distracted and just reaching a mission can be a mission by itself (in the fun, ‘yay I have so much cool stuff to do’ way rather than the boring ‘damn what a mission way’). It is definitely not my favourite game released recently but it is certainly a great success and an impressive game.
Assassins Creed Black Flag Rating: 8/10
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