Who would have thought that a mere six years on since the original Assassin’s Creed, we’d already have six console outings – not to mention portable offerings as well. As we’ve moved through different time periods and historical events, so too has the speculation as to what would come next. Though the fans’ popular request for ‘Feudal Japan’ doesn’t seem to have made an appearance yet, the teams over at Ubisoft have instead decided to provide us with a route vastly different to anyone before; placing you directly into the shoes of a pirate. Letting you rule the high seas, as well as meet the many legends that inhabit them.
In comparison to previous iterations, Assassin’s Creed Black Flag manages to evolve many aspects, but before I delve into the finer details of the game let’s take a poke at the story. Those who completed ACIII will no doubt be aware that main series protagonist Desmond Miles is dead. After having sacrificed himself for the greater good, Desmond’s actions have set off a far greater chain of events, the outcome of which is fast approaching.
Moving on from Altair and Ezio, you step into the shoes of established pirate Edward Kenway, starting in the early 17th century and set in the Caribbean. But with Desmond gone, how can his memories still be accessed? Fortunately things have changed quite a bit since his death, and now the company that abducted him in the first place, Abstergo Industries, have set up an entire facility aimed towards commercialising the use of the animus. As for the memories themselves, they’ve been uploaded to a centralized server, therefore allowing anyone (in theory) to access Desmond’s genetic timeline and historical past.
As such, you play through the eyes of a current tester at the start of testing the life of Edward Kenway (whilst playing at your desk-situated animus), capturing footage to help the release of a new pirate experience. But this is where things get interesting. As you wander the halls of the facility, or even look at your fellow colleagues desks, you’ll notice previous titles Assassin’s Creed two and three clearly labeled and lying around. Further more, artwork for Assassin’s Creed Black Flag that’s been used during press reveals can also be seen littered around the offices.
I found it a genius decision. In a bold attempt to break the fourth dimension they’ve now added yet another layer of mystery to the multilayered story. I thought I was just beginning to figure things out – I guess I was wrong. Notably, you don’t actually get to see your character for the modern sections, as everything has a first-person perspective. I’d say the split is eighty percent animus and twenty percent modern day. Even though the modern day levels might seem short with their objectives, the amount of content to explore is commendable. If you’re a returning fan, then I suggest you go looking into every nook and cranny, you’ll be surprised with what you find.
As expected your surroundings look beautiful, with a wide variety of locations to explore. Taking over the travelling duties of your average horse, ships are far more prominent this time, as you’re given your very own battle-axe to command, named the Jackdaw. Throughout the main campaign you can proceed to upgrade your vessel, much like in ACIII, which will enable you to take down larger ships without much bother; allowing you to pillage bigger amounts of cargo and supplies at one time.
Furthermore, you can scout out enemy ships from afar with the addition of a telescope, getting detailed information on cargo and the amount of armour they have stowed. If you get bored of battling ships, there are a number of side quests to participate in, such as whaling, exploring wreckages via a dive bell and navigating to hidden coves that might contain loot or treasure maps. The world feels truly alive and there’s never a dull moment. Even if you decide to soar majestically through the waves without engaging in combat, there will probably be other ships in the middle of a scuffle. In this case you can sit back and wait for one or the other to get damaged enough to engage, or watch the helpless crew sink to their deaths and pillage what’s left.
Throughout I couldn’t help but marvel at the freedom of the world. Compared to ACIII’s heavily scripted first act, near enough from the offset of Black Flag gives you the free will to explore as you wish. If for instance, like me, you neglect to upgrade your ship and find two large naval ships blocking your entry to an area, then if you really want, why not swim from where it’s safe and start the mission once you’re close? Technically this was a bit of cheating on my behalf, but it was my choice and I loved it. When it came to scaling walls and free running across buildings, I encountered fewer problems than I had before, finding the experience a lot smoother and hassle free. There were still a few times I awkwardly launched myself off of a building and into the target I was tailing, but most of the incidents were my fault anyway.
- + Large, open and varied locations
- + Side quests and treasures to keep you busy
- + Great modern day approach
- - Showing its age on current consoles
- - Combat can often be clumbsy