Games We Play; Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
By: Brandon Fern
Live Wire Web Reporter
Considering your childhood, what do you think of when you hear the word “Pirate”? Do you think of Capitan Hook, The Flying Dutchman, Patchy the Pirate or Jack Sparrow? Characters like this have given us a watered down view of pirates and piracy. Ashraf Ismali, a director for the Assassin’s Creed series and the latest game, stressed in an interview with IGN.com that his global team was focusing on placing the game into a more historically accurate take on this era – no parrots, no Krakens, no theme park shine, using “a General History of Pirates” and “the Republic of Pirates” as reference and resource. Ubisoft took a risk with this watered down genre, to bring us a “more accurate” representation of Golden Age of Piracy with the latest main series game Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.
The game takes place during 1715 and 1722, and places you as the brash welsh privateer turned pirate Edward Kenway, grandfather of Assassin’s Creed III Protagonist Conner. After being shipwrecked during a storm and naval battle, he ends up killing and assuming the identity of Duncan Walpole, an Assassin to Templar turncoat who promised the Templars maps leading to the Caribbean Assassins in exchange for gold. Wanting to claim Duncan’s reward, Edward makes his way to Havana to make the sail. Eventually discovering that the Templars plan to use a ancient device called “the Observatory” to gain power, Edward is discovered and imprisoned by the Templars for taking Walpole from them. Aboard a Spanish fleet, he and Adewale, his eventual quartermaster, break free and capture a Spanish brig to escape, later christening it the Jackdaw the games main ship. Resolving to find the Sage Bartholomew Roberts(the only man who can access the Observatory) and the Observatory before the Templars, Edward finds himself staring down the flintlock of the Templars (for killing Duncan Walpole and meddling in their plans) and the Assassins (for fulfilling Duncan’s final betrayal in giving the location of Tulum to the Templars) while living a life of debauchery and rum with his fellow pirates.
The game brings back the naval gameplay from Assassin’s Creed III, except naval gameplay takes up 40% of the game, placing you as both Capitan and Helmsman of the Jackdaw. For the majority of the game, you are required to sail the West-Indies in order to find new locations, capture ships and gain cargo, and progress the general story. While fast travel returns in the game, it can only take you to places you’ve visited, and even then you need to sail out of that location.
Among the many islands in the Caribbean you can sail to, the Major ones are Havana, Cuba, Kingston, Jamaica, Nassau, Bahamas Great Inagua (Kenways’ Hideout) and the island of Principe off the coast of Africa. In roaming the seas you will encounter a variety of ships such as gunboats, schooners, brigs, frigates, Men o’ War, and legendary ships usually carrying large amounts of Reales, the currency of the game. In order to sail through the sea worry free, you need to upgrade your ship, and the required cargo is found in naval drops, chests and floating in the sea. However the most reliable way to gain cargo and money is by capturing ships, and will help you repair your ship after battle. However you can also send any captured ship to your fleet.
Fleet missions replace the apprentice missions from the previous games, and are another way of gaining money, however while these missions take time, the payout can be rather large after a certain point and can help you pay for that fancy hull upgrade, or buy a mermaid figurehead for your ship. The notoriety system is removed from the game (you’re a pirate, it’s your job to be notorious) and replace with the wanted level system. The higher your wanted level, the more hunter ships will come after you. You can destroy these ships and continue sailing, but capturing them, and any other ship, can lower your wanted level and get the hunters off your tail. The only other way to get rid of your wanted level is to go ashore and bribe an official.
At a point in the game, you gain a Diving bell, giving you access to ship wreaks, smugglers’ dens and the terrors of the deep. However you need to tread carefully because a storm can pop up at any time, and it can easily turn into a hurricane.
The remaining 60% takes place on land, with the traditional tailing, climbing and killing of games past. Stalking zones return with all the lush vegetation of islands and towns, and make it easier to sneak around, or hide dead bodies (especially since you can lure guards over and kill them in the bushes before they attack you). Dual-wielding returns with a vengeance, as Kenway possesses dual pistols and swords and can carry up to four pistols at once through upgrades (along with the iconic hidden blades). Kenway also possesses a blowpipe, capable of silently putting guards to sleep or sending them on a berserk rampage. At a later point you obtain the rope darts, but those retain their original function from the previous title. it original function being, hanging enemies from high places or dragging them in for an easy kill.
As a pirate, you have a medley of collectables to find. Sea Shanties give your crew new songs to sing on your voyages. There are also treasure maps to find that will lead you to buried treasure, some of which contain blueprint designs for your Jackdaw. There are also mysterious messages in a bottle lying on the beaches of the various islands, as well as Animus data fragments from Assassin’s Creed Revelations. There are also Templar Keys and Mayan Stelae that when all are found, grant you access to special armors. Hunting makes a return, and allows you to craft new upgrades, ammo for certain weapons like the blowpipe, and outfits. Hunting can also be done out at sea, with upgrades form the boat and harpoons available. The prey at the end of your blunderbuss include: whales, crocodiles, monkeys, jaguars and sharks.
The modern day aspect puts you in the shoes of a faceless Abstergo Entertainment employee, hired to the Sample 17 project, with your job being to leaf through the memories of kenway to find and record memories that the company could use to for their products (Liberations, the in game version of the Vita exclusive game and its eventual HD cross-platform port, being used as an example).You are also roped in by a mole in the company to hack your co-workers computers and Animi for the moles use, the puzzles for hacking replacing the Subject 16 puzzles.
Speaking of Abstergo Entertainment, the multiplayer once more uses the name, going as an animus product for the company. The biggest improvements include Wolfpack Mode, which features a story mode and discovery mode, which allows the player to play with up to four friends on or off line as they work together to take down a target. It also features a Game Lab mode, which allows players to make custom game modes, for unique experiances, so as to make every game you and your friends play unique.
If you’re willing to progress your experience further, but don’t want to buy the season pass, the companion app, available for smartphones, allows you to examine the app and set waypoints mid game, manage your fleet on the road, view the database, and even take a closer look at those pesky treasure maps. Macfarlane Toys, a company that produces high quality line of action figures for video games and the like, acquired the rights for Assassin’s Creed products and released Action figures based off Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Each figure also comes with a code, giving you access to special swords, different outfits, and unique sails.
The game itself features some glitches, which is expected since the game plays for both the Current Generation and Next-Generation of gaming. The biggest glitch I encountered is when in the middle of combat occasionally you or one of the Non-Player Character enemies spazzes out temporarily. Most of the glitches have been smoothed over, but the spazzing can be an inconvenience, especially when it leads to you getting your head smashed in by a brute. The game doesn’t take time getting into, but the sailing can seem tedious, unless you have an objective in mind (discovering a new island, getting all the collectibles, assassination contracts, taking down ships, etc.). You also may find yourself setting out to do a story mission and won’t get to it until much later than you expected due to everything going on. The story also brings an original element to the table, being that you’re not an assassin from the start, as well as bringing back a cavalier and complex character as the protagonist. So if you’re ready to join the collective madness of Nassau’s pirates: sharpen your cutlasses, load your pistols, and get ready for a pirate that puts Jack Sparrow to shame. I give Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag an A-; while the game is an exciting adventure worthy of the name “Assassin’s Creed”, the glitches can piss you off when it leads to your death, and the sea can seem tedious at times.
See you on the sea, laddies.