Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Xbox 360 Review
Load the cannon with puns aplenty
SRP: £39.99With a dramatic opening at sea, it’s clear from the outset that Assassin's Creed has changed, and whether this change is for the best or not is probably going to be something of a great debate. One that will either have people reaching for the rum in jubilation, or have them reaching for it to become legless and forget the Assassin's Creed franchise for good. You see, Ubisoft have learnt a lesson, a hard one at that, and the elephant in the room that was Assassin's Creed 3 has thankfully been forgotten.
Assassin's Creed: Black Flag comes a year after its predecessor (a nasty, yearly cycle Ubisoft just can’t seem to break) and picks up on some key mechanics from it and creates a fully-fledged title from them. For those who played 3, they will remember how quickly the optional naval sections were abandoned in favour of the story. However, you will have no such luck here as Black Flag nearly forgets its Assassin heritage and instead favours a world of piracy and tyranny. You play as Edward Kenway - grandfather of Connor Kenway - who is a pirate motivated solely by gold, treasure and adventure.
His story is one that is rather simple; he seeks to take down the bigwigs and fat cats around the Caribbean and keep the money for himself. A sort of selfish Robin Hood, whose intentions aren’t always clear and is looking for the Observatory which, by the Templars' description, is a tower that enables you to view anyone’s actions in the world. From loading the main campaign to discovering Edward’s past and future there is a much shorter duration when compared to 3 which was arguably a drunken stumbling affair for the first ten hours.
His story is one that is rather simple; he seeks to take down the big wigs and fat cats around the Caribbean and keep the money for himself.
As part of the streamlining process, the Desmond Miles interludes have gone, and in their place are sections within the Abstergo building which you complete in the first person as a nameless employee. Abstergo are building a future where people can access past events from around the world, and you are part of the team which find the best bits. Confusingly, the moments in the present take place after the Desmond sections of old, whilst the sections in the Animus take place before those of Connor and Haytham.
So after the briefest of introductions to the Templar order and that of the Assassins, there’s a swashbuckling adventure out there waiting to be discovered. From a geographical standpoint, the Caribbean is a phenomenal location, the reasons why it's such a popular tourist destination are the exact reasons that make it an amazing setting for Black Flag. Graphically the game sets a new benchmark not just for the series but arguably for open world games as a whole. Not only are cut-scenes highly detailed, the entire world is too, with few flat textures or weak sections that are buggy or below par. There is an occasional annoyance where the frame rate becomes choppier than the seas you sail on, which does make navigation incredibly difficult.
To hope for the sci-fi sections to be completely gone would be a misplaced pipedream as Ubisoft seem to be too heavily attached to their fantasy storylines. Whilst the influence of fantasy has been heavily reduced, the plot still revolves around a magical piece of glass that holds human blood needed to activate the powers of the Observatory. Whilst it is lauded by many as nothing more than a fantasy and fairy tale, Edward makes it his goal to ensure he’s the one to discover its power and not the Templars.
So it’s an unusual setup for an Assassins Creed game as you’re not really an Assassin, you just help them out to try and stop the Templars. You don’t care for their views or opinions as such, you just want as much gold and treasure for yourself as possible. Whilst that’s a nice change of pace, calling it an Assassin’s title is somewhat dubious.
The air of familiarity hasn’t escaped from Black Flag though as all the basic principles are the same; you run, you jump, you kill and you flee. Thankfully the mechanics for these have been tightened making free-running and climbing a lot more cohesive unlike trying to control Connor in 3. The combat mechanic is much more fluid too, allowing you to break enemy attacks and block incoming ones with ease. Not so much that you can carve your way through a giant horde of enemies, but there’s sufficient balance to make it rewarding enough to not avoid battle sections altogether.
You just want as much gold and treasure for yourself as possible. Whilst that’s a nice change of pace, calling it an Assassin’s title is somewhat dubious.
For completionist’s and those with OCD, there is a neat little interface that now allows you to view location details and reveals how many secrets you have found and how many are left for you to discover. Holding down the right bumper will give you this information and makes it much easier for you to find where you are and what you have left to find, should you be looking for every last booty chest or Mayan secret.
Some ideas have been taken from the successful Liberation title that launched in tandem with Assassin's Creed 3 last year on the Vita, which is nice to see. Such things as the blow gun have been lifted into Black Flag, whilst you can’t help but feel some of the locations have been inspired by the Vita game too. Liberation took place in the swamps of the US, but blended town sections excellently with that of forests and swamps which is also seen here thanks to the Caribbean locale. One minute you’ll be swinging through trees before finding yourself hopping between rooftops in the next.
But with the pirate territory comes crossing the seven seas and sadly there is no avoiding it this time. Unlike 3, naval missions and sections are compulsory and will once again split opinion; you’ll either love them or hate them. As it stands, some of the missions can be rather good but some are over used and just break up the story a little too often. Granted, it can’t be avoided with you being a pirate and all, but the ships are still probably the weakest parts of the game. It’s nice to see that Ubisoft have put work in to make these more in depth with unlockables and upgrades (and it’s great listening to your shipmates sing as you sail) but they’re all still a distraction from the main course in truth.
But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and this one does as the ships open up the world beautifully with a ton of locations for you to discover and plunder. There are the big towns and cities which breathe with life and character, whilst there are more secretive coves and beaches for you to stand and admire the view from. Nobody could blame you for gazing at the view from anywhere in the game though as it looks fantastic throughout. The level of detail has been ramped up and the sheer beauty of the locations and islands is excellent, just proving that there is some juice left to be squeezed from the ageing current-gen machines.
Whilst the main story to Black Flag is quite extensive, and thankfully very enjoyable, there are the usual side quests for you to partake in should you wish to. There are assassination contracts to be completed, animals to be hunted, treasures to be found as well as naval contracts which see you taking on some high-value targets at sea. Ubisoft are clearly working on improving the series as mission completion comes with a feedback request which allows players to rate missions from 1 star to 5. Obviously some will corrupt the system with false votes, but hopefully some of those annoying eavesdrop missions will be written off as a result of this exercise. Yes, they are still here and yes they are still as irritating as ever, but we can live in hope that one day we don’t have to do them any more. Even the updated and improved checkpoint can’t save them from being overly irksome, good try though Ubisoft.
There are a few nuances with Black Flag which can’t go unnoticed sadly, and all creases have not been ironed out. Given that this is being produced for six different platforms it’s hardly surprising, but they are prevalent nonetheless. For example, in one section of Sequence 12 I couldn’t initiate the opening sequence of it. Reason? Simply because the previous mission removed my swords, and I had to go re-equip them. Not a big deal really but considering it did not alert me, then it was a tad annoying. There are also the occasional quibbles with controls over Edward when you’re trying to climb, he will ignore your commands and leap in the wrong direction which is frustrating.
As many found with the third instalment, Black Flag is much more entertaining when you play it how you wish rather than how the game is telling you to. In sections where you must locate an enemy or clear a safe passage for your colleagues, it’s much better to just do as you wish and ignore the secondary goals. Skulking around in cover, distracting guards shortly before they meet an untimely demise courtesy of your hidden blade or blow gun has never been so good. It’s here that Black Flag truly excels and shines, giving a glimmer of hope that there is a positive future in store for the series, and one that will hopefully break the yearly rinse-and-repeat cycle it’s got itself into.
With a character like Kenway at the helm of this title, it’s hard not to enjoy it, as it throws overboard that forgettable game we saw last year. Despite being a bit of an arrogant fool, Kenway does have a charming side as he wants to come good in the end and provide for his wife. It’s the best story you’ll find in this franchise for a long time and one that focuses more on the stuff that happens in the Animus rather than out of it. There are some moments outside the Animus that pass very linearly, but they serve a purpose and are much more bearable than before. A secretive Andrew Ryan-esque character keeps things moving nicely and gives these sections more function and personality than Desmond Miles ever could.
Whilst the mainstay for the majority will be in the single player, there are still some multiplayer moments to be enjoyed for those who have dabbled in this before. The old seek and kill modes are still the most entertaining as you can have some great fun in there, hunting down adversaries and trying to pick them out from a crowd of NPCs. It’s short, but thrilling nonetheless and not just some cheap afterthought as the multiplayer does work quite well.
- Best game since the second outing
- Looks astonishing
- Nice new direction
- Huge replay value
- Tightened mechanics
Lost at Sea
- Annoying naval sections
- Some undetected bugs
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Xbox 360 Review
This is an Assassin's Creed game however, and you can’t help but feel the series isn’t sailing onto pastures new and better, because we all know what Ubisoft have done in the past. We’ve had high points, particularly AC2, but then there have been the low points, I’m looking at you Revelations and 3. But you can only hope this serves as a sign for Ubisoft to change the Assassin’s series. Nurture it, and let it grow into something new, become a forerunner for the next gen and innovate. As it stands, the title flies a flag that should be seen as one that can be trusted. Play it, love it and savour it. It’s the best Creed game we have had since 2.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £39.99
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