The very first game I played on my new PS4 was Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the Nth installment in the Assassin’s Creed series. I don’t know which installment it is because there are a bunch and they aren’t all really numbered in a sequential way.
AC4 follows the same basic premise as the previous games: in modern times there’s a person tapping into their “genetic memory” to trace the life of one of their ancestors who is involved in the millennia-long battle between the Templars and the Assassins. The origin of this conflict involves aliens or something. I haven’t paid close enough attention to all the cut scenes in these games to really understand what’s going on with that.
In the modern times, though, Desmond is dead and you’re a brand new guy who has been hired by Abstergo Studios, an entertainment company who is using the footage of your memories to create movies. Obvs, they’re a front for the Templars just as the Abstergo labs was in the previous games.
The ancestor story is that of the pirate Edward Kenway who impersonates a traitor assassin in an opportunistic ploy to win some unknown treasure called “The Observatory” and ends up getting sucked into the Templar-Assassin conflict while sailing the seas of the Caribbean.
I like the story. I do wish they spent a little more time developing the bad guys but the richness of the various “good guy” characters is really enjoyable. I also like the various betrayals and shifting alliances that happen throughout.
They also seem to have worked out the issues with the ships. I could be wrong here, but in previous games I just could not really get the hang of the ship controls and I won the short battles by accident. At first, I dreaded this game when I realize that a lot of time would be spent on ship, but I got used to it and really enjoyed the ship controls and battles.
I do also like that they kept the hunting side-tasks although the crafting elements were overly simplified from AC3’s very complicated crafting recipes.
Instead of assassin contracts, they have fleet tasks. As you capture other ships on the seas you can add them to your fleet and then you send them off to do things along trading routes. There is this weird little mini-game thing where you can change the risk-level of a given map by staging ship battles which makes the contracts very easy. I like the ship capturing to build a fleet. I did not care for the ship battle thing.
I LOVE the ability to hide in bushes in this game. Previous games have felt limited in terms of finding hiding spots and so many hiding spots limit what you can do. This game clears that up nicely by allowing you to hide in bushes. Unfortunately, this makes some of the challenges exceptionally easy because you can hide so very readily.
The art and graphics are really amazing. That’s part PS4 and part, I think, because the team making these games has a lot of practice.
Speaking of which, I really like how they switch things up with each installment in the series. They don’t merely eliminate the bad and improve the good things, they try something new each time. The result is that they steadily push the bar forward while also delivering a really enjoyable game.
One of the new things they threw in were swimming missions. You have a diving bell that takes you to the bottom of the ocean and you swim around collecting treasures and avoiding sharks and jelly fish. I found these to be pretty fun. I’ll note my complaints below.
The Ultimate Ships are OSSUM. When you first start sailing around fighting other ships it’s somewhat challenging because your ship is the base model. But as soon as you start upgrading things it becomes ridiculously easy and so it gets boring. To mix things up, they have these huge ships out in the ocean that you can attack for big money, but they’re really hard to kill even when your ship is completely upgraded. It’s nice to have those challenges out there.
And speaking of the sailing, I loved the way the weather and time of day would change in AC3 and AC4 continues to improve on that theme with lots of very rich environmental elements that are just beautiful. They’re so convincing and immersive, in fact, that on some missions if the sun started to come up or the rain stopped I got anxious that the guards would be able to see me more easily. They couldn’t, but still.
My biggest complaint about this game: glitches. This could be because I am an early adopter, but still. There were several scenarios where I had to restart the game because it messed up. Sometimes things would start happening with a particular memory or critical part of the action without my having clearly seen what was going on. MANY MANY MANY times the game did not respond to my controller and so my little pirate guy got into trouble. For instance, he would put his swords away in the middle of a battle and get stabbed in the face. Or he’d prefer to jump around on things rather than stopping and fighting. Of course, there were times when the game didn’t respond and it was a good thing for my little pirate guy, too. The map messed up at several points, too. Blah blah blah. Glitches. Glitches everywhere. And they got worse later in the game.
I mentioned that stupid ship battle mini-game in the fleet mission area, right? Well, the reason this sucks is because it’s kind one of those retro handheld game things we had back in the 80s. These battles were very easy and mostly just a waste of time.
The story. Yes, I know the story was something I liked about this game, but there were pacing problems I had with the story. The shifts in Kenway’s character were really stilted and lurching. One minute he was a hedonistic, carefree, opportunistic pirate guy and the next he was pining for his wife back in Wales. And then he goes to prison and suddenly he’s all philosophical about life and wants to be an Assassin or something. Putting aside the development issues the rising action is so long and then the climax is rushed with a too short denouement. In fact, when the game ended I was like, “Wait. What?” So, while I loved the story in this one for some of the complexities that they introduced, I felt like they almost needed another six memory sequences to really make it flow more naturally. (There are 12 memory sequences.)
Also, the modern-day storyline is complete loose end. Actually, this is not a complaint. I think that part is fine, though I wonder why there are any tasks or missions associated with the modern world at all when you’ll never really get an opportunity in that storyline to finish them. But whatevs. I love that the AC series carries a story between games. That brings me back for more! So, ignore this as a complaint.
There are WAY too many treasure chests and stuff in this game. In past games there were a lot and you could spend a fair amount of time running around a city collecting them all. Well, on this game there are hundreds and hundreds of them strewn around the ocean. Yes, you can go collect them all, but to do so you have to stop your boat, swim to the location, run to the island, collect the treasure, run back on the land, swim back to your boat, and climb back up to your wheel so you can move to the next location. It quickly becomes so tedious to attempt to collect these things that I ended up ignoring them unless they were DIRECTLY in my path to my next destination… which by the end of the game was never because I didn’t want to spend 10 minutes sailing to the next place and so I just used Fast Travel to get around.
The swimming missions were fun, but they were kind of flat. You’re basically unarmed, so you have no way to fight the sharks, eels, and what not. Also, the swimming controls are kind of annoying. It’s easy to get turned around and confused about where you’re going.
It’s hard to see on the map what you missed. For instance, I missed two treasure chest maps because I didn’t know from the beginning of the game that you have to talk to the barkeepers. Moreover, when the barkeepers tell you a secret, it seems you have to pursue that secret before you’re allowed to ask for another. So, if they tell you about a stupid convoy you have to go attack that convoy before you can go to another barkeeper for another secret. I have no idea which barkeeper knows where the other treasure maps are. I gave up on that even though I kind of like the treasure map thing. Another example: There are these “Templar Hunt” missions that you need to do in order to get some keys to a closet in a house you stole and I didn’t know where those where. I was actually over 75% done with the game when I realized I was missing one of them and then I had to hunt all over the map to find it.
I’ll stop complaining there. Anything else in the game that bothered me was minor and I would just be indulging in whining to bring them up.
One whine: I hate how you don’t get all your weapons until the game is almost over! That doesn’t give me any time to perfect my technique or appreciate what it means to use them. Specifically, I never once hanged anyone with a rope dart. Why? The first, best opportunity I had was glitch-afflicted and then there was only really one (and a half?) memory sequences left after that.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Assassin’s Creed games since the very first one and I think the studio has done a great job of improving over previous games and constantly pushing the bar and finding new things to do. They also write good stories for these games; I’m a person who plays games for the stories a lot.
I will say that when I was tired of the game I was TIRED OF THE GAME. And I ended up rushing through the final memory sequences just to be done playing it already. But I blame that less on the game than on the limitations of my playing schedule and the way I approach playing games like this which — I admit — tends to magnify tedious aspects of the game. So, yeah.
Bottom line: I really enjoyed AC4! Scale of 10, I give this an 8.
I actually think I liked this game more than previous AC games because I found myself avoiding the main mission just to do side missions and exploring other areas of the world. I loved being a pirate and doing the ship battles. I think my favorite part is the little cannon I have on the sides of my boat and the rope swing that allows me to swoop over to other boats.
And the weather! THE WEATHER! I just couldn’t get over the rain and the bushes and the light and the fog… the whole texture of the environment was so lush and wonderful and beautiful.
So, yes, I totally recommend this game.