The pirate image and legend has left an unmistakable and lasting impression on the world. Much like the cowboy, pirates are often vilified and romanticized as hard drinking thrill seekers with a deadly reputation, and it was only a matter of time until someone developed the next great pirate game. Ubisoft Montreal released Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in the last week of October, 2013. Does the new AC have what it takes to dethrone Sid Meier’s Pirates for the “Bane of the Briny” crown?
The death of Desmond Miles in AC3 forced the modern day Templars to salvage what DNA they could from Desmond’s remains in order to claim worldwide dominance or something. The Templars tasked the entertainment branch of their dark empire, Abstergo, with exploring the memories contained within these DNA samples using paid talent plugged into an animus. The player is tasked with exploring the character of Captain Edward Kenway, a privateer during the heyday of Caribbean piracy, father of Haytham Kenway, and grandfather to Connor.
A Pirate’s Life
Through the animus, we find Edward washed ashore after a particularly destructive ship battle along with a turncoat Assassin. Edward kills the Assassin, assumes his identity and sets off to Havana, on a merchant vessel, to collect the traitor’s reward. Once in Havana, Edward discovers that the Templars are looking for a supernatural Observatory and the only key to unlocking the place is a “sage” by the name of Bartholomew Roberts. However, Edward, disappointed by his paltry reward, decides to interrogate Roberts on his own, as Edward believes that this Observatory is his key to fame and riches. However, Roberts has been liberated, Edward’s ruse is discovered, and he is sent away in chains for a short drop with a quick stop. Kenway escapes his date with the gallows and steals a ship, which he names “The Jackdaw,” thus promoting himself from pirate to pirate captain.
Although booty is gained in the traditional pirate fashion, Edward’s storyline is driven towards finding the Observatory, and his growing relationship with the Assassins as well as the pirates of the time: Blackbeard, James Kidd, Calico Jack, Charles Vane, and Black Bart. Aside from looting ships, money can also be made by completing assassination contracts, digging up buried treasure (you may need a map for that), robbing warehouses, looting corpses, and sometimes collecting shit that is just floating around in the water.
Money can be used to upgrade the Jackdaw: bigger and more numerous broadside cannons, hull plating, mortars, ram strength, crew and cargo capacity, chain shot, fire barrels, sails, wheels, and figureheads. Edward’s personal armor and weapons can also be upgraded.
Edward the Pirate
Ubisoft considerably expanded on the best part of Assassin’s Creed 3: the ship battles. Players start out with a modestly outfitted Jackdaw, and upgrade it as they see fit. The bulk of the money gained in the game must be taken from other ships, usually in the form of sugar or rum, and traded off at a harbor master in any port, or from the Captain’s Quarters on the Jackdaw. The harbor master is also the guy to see about upgrading the ship. Pirates start their careers by ripping off schooners, eventually upgrading their ship and crew enough to take on Galleons and “Legendary Ships,” with accompanying legendary booty: the larger and better armed the ship, the better the take.
Since the goal is to plunder the enemy ship, not to sink it, firepower is directed at enemy ships to incapacitate them, grapple, then board. This method requires a crew to storm the deck of the target ship, so maintaining the largest crew possible aboard the Jackdaw gives the player an advantage. Surrendering vessels can either be dismantled to repair the damage done to the Jackdaw during battle, used to reduce the Jackdaw’s wanted level, or added to Kenway’s fleet for side missions. Ubisoft indicated that if enough interest is shown in naval battles, they would consider adding it to multiplayer.
Naval fortresses protect quite a few of the shipping lanes in the Caribbean, so if players want unrestricted sailing, premium fast travel locations and access to all of the assassination missions and points of interest indicated on the world map, then these fortresses must be taken and claimed. Other naval activities include diving for sunken treasure, hunting sharks and whales, which are important for upgrading Edward’s gear, and buried treasure hunts, which often unlock elite upgrades for the Jackdaw.
Edward the Assassin
Edward begins his journey masquerading as an Assassin. It doesn’t take long for him to learn the tools of the trade and gain enough proficiency to warrant a meeting with the real deal and at least one of Kenway’s associates on the pirate nation of Nassau can lubricate that process. Exploration of Edward’s Assassin career is vital to plot progression, as Abstergo is interested in the Observatory, so players will spend roughly half of their play time on dry land.
The turncoat Assassin’s contribution to the Templars, for which Edward was so poorly rewarded, is a map with locations of all of the Assassin Bureaus marked on it: Bureaus that players should take the time to defend if they want the set of Templar armor and to set things right with the Assassins. Assassination contracts can either be delivered by carrier pigeon, or given directly to Edward by a representative. These contracts are moderately rewarding, often including a bonus for avoiding combat, but they can also be the most repetitive part of the game.
Edward proves to be a formidable assassin and his bag of tricks certainly puts him on par with Ezio. Edward can dual wield cutlasses, carry multiple firearms, throwing knives, rope darts, smoke bombs, blow darts coated with either a sleeping poison or berserk potion, and of course, employ his trusty retractable Assassin’s blades. Edward can engage multiple enemies simultaneously by attacking, blocking, parrying, disarming, or throwing enemies off balance.
Ascending and synchronizing high altitude viewpoints unveils points of interest and opens up parts of the map and is followed by the signature Assassin leap of faith. Edward possesses the “Eagle Vision” to mark and differentiate his targets.
Manhunt is a hunter versus prey affair. Hunters must search for unarmed prey who are blending in with similarly dressed NPCs. Killing prey gives hunters points, killing bystanders freezes the scoring temporarily. Locking onto prey for a longer amount of time rewards the hunter with a more brutal death animation and a better score, as do aerial kills. Prey score points by remaining anonymous in crowds or hiding. Prey possess the ability to stun their attacker, but this gives their location away to other hunters, even through walls.
CoD players will find Domination very familiar. Two teams of four Assassins each fight to dominate three key areas in a map. The team that dominates one of these keypoints has the ability to use deadly force to protect it while trespassers are only able to stun dominating opponents, much like playing as prey in Manhunt.
Deathmatch pits eight Assassins together in a free for all. Each Assassin is assigned a target while avoiding the same fate from their pursuers. Only the target may be dealt deadly force, all others can only be stunned, and this includes any pursuers that may be stalking the player. This is a timed match: whoever has the most points at the end of ten minutes is declared the winner.
AC IV has a lot of good things going for it. The naval battles are a fucking blast, especially the naval fortresses and Legendary Ships, which require a fair amount of tactical ability to come out on top. Weather was a nice touch and an added threat to the Jackdaw, as rogue waves and waterspouts can damage the ship and decimate the crew. At times the plot would cross over into absurdity, but I never lost interest in discovering what was next. I felt equally formidable as both pirate and Assassin, but given the choice I would prefer pirate.
The part that kills every Assassin’s Creed game has found its way into this one: the modern-day Templar agenda. Why does this series have to be grounded in the modern day when all the good shit that ever happens is far into the past? I was glad when Desmond got his ass killed. I was hoping that the next game could be centered completely in the era of interest without the immersion-killing piece of crap animus pulling me out every time shit started to get real. Kill the animus bullshit and just set the game in the past. What’s so fucking hard about that?
Despite my aggravation at the animus, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
is not only the best AC
game I have played, and I have played several, it is one of the best games I have played all year. In a year that gave us new Bioshock
, Tomb Raider
, and GTA
entries, that is no small statement. AC IV
gets a perfect score and due consideration for GOTY.