Has there ever been a moment in your life when everything comes together in the most wonderful way?
As an American colonial-era history geek and as man-child with an affinity for pirates, I experienced that perfect moment of wonder while plundering and pirating around the virtual 18th-century West Indie seas of “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.”
Fans of the series should be used to the familiar elements in each game, most of which return in this release. “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” is the sixth installment in the main series of games, (which is a confusing nomenclature, I know). The standard story architecture continues, with interweaving plots uniting present-day events with the happenings of our 1700s privateers.
Hired as a new employee at Abstergo Entertainment, the player’s job description requires long sessions in a high-tech virtual-reality simulator known as an Animus. The Animus allows the user to tap into the genetic memories of their ancestors, in order to re-live the course of history firsthand. The subject of your studies is Edward Kenway, a highly revered pirate who kicked ass and took names, while crossing paths with the titular Brotherhood of Assassins we’ve all grown to love.
Drop yourself into Edward’s virtual shoes, and the game feels just as it did when we last left the series. Gameplay still involves executing parkour moves, sneaking around, a decent amount of stalking, and sword fights and fisticuffs.
The naval-based combat introduced in the game’s predecessor returns, only this time playing a much more involved role. Numerous customization options are available in the form of outfits for Edward, aesthetic and functional upgrades for his ship, and weapons and tools used to fight your fellow man. Crafting supplies and hunting wild animals return as well, though these are entirely optional, which is good news for those sympathetic to the plight of virtual animals.
Routine is all well and good, but the crux of a new release is the new elements brought to the table. Though the naval-based combat introduced in Assassin’s Creed III has seen some minor upgrades, the biggest change is how large of a role it plays. A considerable amount of time is spent out at sea, either traveling between islands or engaged in battle with an enemy fleet. Sailing Edward’s ship demands a totally different set of skills than a typical Assassin will possess, but mastering these skills lead to overt rewarding gameplay. Most ships can be boarded after enough damage has been made to them, and pillaging commences after taking down enough enemy crew for them to surrender.
Transitioning between sea and land is surprisingly seamless, and after visiting a location, the option to fast-travel is available to save you from trekking the length of the map (which by the way, is HUGE).
In addition to aquatic misadventures, “Black Flag” regales us with a brand new story. Always a strong quality of the series, “Black Flag” doesn’t disappoint. Edward Kenway remains a protagonist through and through, whether he is winning or losing, strong or vulnerable, ravenously good-looking or… well, let’s be real, he always looks good. The cast is fleshed out by famous privateers like Blackbeard, but sticks to a historically accurate depiction of the freedom-seeking pirates of the Bahamas and Caribbeans who were harassed to extinction by the Royal Navy. The present-day story plays a very small role in the overall game comparatively, and appeals more to long-time fans than newcomers. The majority of the modern-day story comes from tidbits of information found by hacking computers, and helps fill in some gaps in the overarching story that spans the entire series.
The biggest disappointment in general stems from just how familiar it feels. In many ways “Black Flag” only slightly improves over “Assassin’s Creed III,” released just a year prior. Many mechanics of gameplay are structurally identical, and the graphics feel very similar. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a pleasure to jump across buildings or gaze upon the crisp Caribbean Sea, but I was certainly hoping for more. This may be in part due to the limits of current-generation technologies, and we may see a wider array of improvements when the game releases on next-generation consoles, namely the Xbox One and Playstation 4.
While “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” doesn’t feel like a major upgrade over its predecessor, it remains a fun and solid addition to the franchise. Straying from the established formula by emphasizing the naval gameplay was a risky move, but one that ultimately pans out with a strong execution. Minor though they are, the improvements present are welcome. Fans of the series will feel right at home, while newcomers will be eased into the series without struggling.[divider] [/divider]
James is a 21-year-old college student seeking a degree in elementary education. He lives in Northern Virginia, where he has taught in a variety of preschools and after-school programs. A rather short attention span coupled with a “general fascination with stuff” has resulted in a wide scope of interests, including music, sports, technology and video games, constitutional history, and many science-related field such as physics, astronomy, and neurology. Once in first grade, James wished upon a star that he might wake up the next day as the fifth member of the teenage mutant ninja turtles. Waking to find his wish unfulfilled, James has never again been able to believe in anything.
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