Sunday, 7 September 2014

The pirate life for me - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Oh, Assassin’s Creed, we’ve had our ups and downs, you and I. To be honest, probably more downs than ups. It couldn’t have started better for me. Sure, many people found the first game to be repetitive, but it had such ambition. Here was something genuinely new and exciting that played great and was the best looking game on the market.

Then Assassin’s Creed II came along and again the world and I disagreed. They found it to be a massive improvement on the first game and still consider it to be perhaps the best in the series. While I liked the new protagonist and loved the Italian setting, I found the game frustrating.

Brotherhood only continued this frustration on and it wasn’t until Revelations where I realised by the end that I’d felt more enjoyment than annoyance.

Assassin’s Creed III came with the promise of an overhaul. A new main character and historical setting. It did feel fresh, there was no doubt, but the tutorial ran to about 3 hours and the new character was terrible.

I was getting close to quitting the series. The yearly instalments were taking their toll on the franchise in much the same way as was happening with Call of Duty. But then, with a ho-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag crested the horizon.

Set in the Caribbean in the early 18th century, the fourth main entry in the series tells the story of Edward Kenway - a privateer-turned-pirate and his involvement with the Assassins order. The modern day sections are now little more than first person hacking mini games and though I wouldn’t want to do away with the sci-fi framing device, I think the added emphasis on the historical setting here is a good move. The wanted posters, over sensitive AI and need to buy and upgrade property - all the pointless and/or annoyances from the previous games - have been all but stripped away, leaving us with the stealthiest, smoothest Assassin’s game we’ve had in years.

The ship battles which were the best part of the third game make their appearance here (it is a pirate game after all) and they are great fun. Occasionally over the course of the game you will be told your ship - the Jackdaw - just isn’t up to the task of the next mission and this prompts a period of grinding out enough money to upgrade. That aside, the sequences at sea remain a fantastic addition to the series.

On land the gameplay, is a great deal of the time based on stealth, which I love and the main character is a massive step up from AC III - in that he has character!

On the last gen consoles Assassin’s Creed Rogue will be staying in this historical period, albeit with a protagonist on the Templar’s side hunting down the assassin’s. On the Xbox One and PS4, Ubisoft are moving the series to revolutionary France with Assassin’s Creed Unity and it’s looking very good indeed. For the time being though, Assassin’s Creed IV stands tall as - for me at least - the best entry in the franchise since the original and as welcome proof that there is life and innovation still to be found under the hood.

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