Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has built a great deal of momentum considering it was birthed on current-generation formats. No less than six home console editions are now available as well as mobiles titles, handheld releases, comic books and novels. Not bad for a hardware cycle […]
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Electronic Theatre ImageThe Assassin’s Creed franchise has built a great deal of momentum considering it was birthed on current-generation formats. No less than six home console editions are now available as well as mobiles titles, handheld releases, comic books and novels. Not bad for a hardware cycle of only eight years. However with such diversity comes the risk of diversifying so much that the gameplay foundations wear thin, or overly complicate so much that the storyline becomes obtuse. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag does it’s best to avoid these issues while cementing over the cracks of what has gone before.

Assassin’s Creed became a force to be reckoned with not just for commercial success but for open world innovation also upon the release of Assassin’s Creed II. Since then it has wavered both in terms of gameplay and story quality, but most would concedeElectronic Theatre Image that every new title did offer something of worth that hadn’t been seen before. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag strips the formula back to these finer aspects, and the takes the series in an entirely new direction.

The storyline follows the Kenway family first introduced in last year’s Assassin’s Creed III. Sadly it’s easier to hate Connor Kenway than it is to like Edward Kenway, and as such the events of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag offer far less interest than that of its predecessor. Given that lessened emotional investment it can be tiresome to keep up with the many twists and turns that Connor takes, or the modern day first-person action at Abstergo Entertainment which never really seems to get off the ground. Assassin’s Creed needs to find a way to break the storyline and realign on a different aspect of its world for the sake of newcomers, and not simply keep trudging towards the inevitable reboot.

With regards to the actual playing of the videogame, one of the most widely respected additions to the formula brought about by last year’s Assassin’s Creed III was that of open sea adventures. Here in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag however, naval Electronic Theatre Imagecombat has become such a big part of the experience that the videogame teaches you the basic controls of steering and cannon fire before it even teaches you how to run. This is a videogame built upon the foundations of everything that the fans have loved from previous titles, scrapping away the dead wood and making something that feels fresh, just as Assassin’s Creed II – still arguably the best title in the series to date – did back in 2008.

Immediately after this swift introduction to sailing the player is given a playground densely populated with vegetation and manmade wooden structures in which to try out the videogame’s free running mechanics. Essentially a slightly touched-up version of Assassin’s Creed III interpretive system with a great deal more impetus on sprinting, this opening section presents great promise which, for the most part, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag does well to capitalise on. Electronic Theatre ImageRegardless of the story, mission structure, side quests and personal investment, here we have the core defining mechanics of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag: sailing and free running. And both are more convincing than they were in Assassin’s Creed III.

Of course, to hem the videogame in such a way would be to ignore many of its better assets. The storyline, though often ham fisted in its delivery and too convoluted to be taken seriously, is enjoyable whether or not you are already invested in the Kenway bloodline. The many side quests available – both those forced upon the player and those which are welcomed in a leisurely fashion – are frequently more enjoyable than the core story missions and the opportunity to development your ownElectronic Theatre Image crew and naval force is clearly an evolution of the brotherhood mechanic from previous titles. That said, the core missions are perhaps some of the worst that the series has seen since the original Assassin’s Creed.

On foot the player is invariably tasked with remaining stealthy or openly engaging in combat. The assassinations themselves are no longer fun as the player is simply funnelled through a long tail before given a small arena in which to commit their crime and then escape. No longer is there the opportunity to plan and execute a strategy through the path of least resistance, instead and almost tangible artificial construct lies in wait: this is the man you must kill and these are the steps you must take to do it. Any sense of real freedom is lost when the player is told to Electronic Theatre Imagedisarm the alarms before waiting for a friendly character to grant access to the next stage of the mission. The route is clearly carved out for you, and you are merely treading the path presented.

At sea things are a little better, but only due to the inherent nature of naval combat. It’s a numbers game: destroy X amount of ships, secure X amount of cargo etc. It never really dares to step out of this comfort zone as for a reasonable amount of the videogame you’ll naturally be following these rules simply in order to progress through the story. What is here remains enjoyable throughout however, and where it not for the slackness of Kenway’s swimming the player could be encouraged to be more daring in their use of the Jackdaw when planning attacks on shorelines also.

It’s much easier to be forgiving of the multiplayer component of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag than the single-player simply due to the nature of it. Online open world videogames are fairly common these days, but limiting that open world to make for a tight, refined multiplayer experience is always going to be a brave decision. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag builds onElectronic Theatre Image the stalker gameplay of previous instalments significantly with its levelling system, but also with the brand new Game Lab mode. Here players can customise their matches extensively, not simply to create your typical ‘custom match’ parameters – though this option is also available – but to actually design your own unique multiplayer experiences. Far more extensive in it’s options than most multiplayer components of AAA titles would dare offer, everything from the perks and abilities to the scoring system can be manipulated to your preference and then shared with friends of the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag community at large. It’s the most open-ended multiplayer option that Electronic Theatre has played on a long while, andElectronic Theatre Image proof that investing in a second team to handle the multiplayer as an entirely separate entity from the single-player can pay dividends.

On current-generation consoles Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag does look very good indeed, pushing the envelope for open world titles in terms of mass and distance while remaining comfortable in the animation of it’s character models. The usual faltering with shadows and bystanders is to be expected perhaps, given the variety of textures drawn on a densely populated environment for the most part. Next-generation editions have already been seen to be far in excel of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U, and yet still the minimalist loading delays and vastness of each of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s cities manages to impress. The voice acting is also of aElectronic Theatre Image generally high standard, though there is the odd misstep where you can tell that the writers where expecting a different emphasis to that which the actor delivered. It’s never clear why these moments weren’t fixed, as they are fairly frequent throughout the campaign.

With the Assassin’s Creed franchise now receiving annual instalments being worked on by hundreds of developers, you would hope that each next entry offers something new. However, despite the dramatic change of environment and character, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is simply building on that which has gone before. It’s refinement and not revolution, but in this it does a more than comfortable job. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is unlikely to divide opinion in the same fashion as Assassin’s Creed III as it makes far fewer brave decisions, but in that same respect it’s far more likely to find an audience generally happy with the content it delivers.

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