A Pirates Life for Me

By: David Isler

I think it was when I heard my crew sing a sea-shanty for the first time that I knew I was in love with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I had finally taken the helm of my very own ship sailing out to sea, shouting out orders to loosen the sails, crashing headfirst into waves, when suddenly my crew of gritty, sea-hardened sailors began singing about whiskey. I never grew tired of their singing.

First things first, Assassin’s Creed 4 is epic. The scope of the ocean you can sail and explore is astounding. There’s almost too much to collect and do: assassin’s contracts, treasure chests, animus fragments, secret bottles, animals to hunt, fortresses to topple, ships to fire upon, board and loot, and even more. There’s an absurd amount of content packed into this one disc/download. To say the least, you won’t be bored during your time plundering and fighting as Edward Kenway.

Our new protagonist, Edward Kenway, has all the qualities of an AC leading man: he’s charming, skilled in combat, brave, self-centered, and greedy. Edward, a member of a close-knit group of pirates including Black Beard, is after any and all treasure within his sights and this greed is what often propels the story. In fact, for most of the game I didn’t really like who I was;  I wasn’t particularly bad, but I wasn’t a very good person either. Edward remains largely greedy and self-interested for most of the game, which in turn could beg the question: what is it like to play the not so clear-cut hero? This is a theme which the AC games have touched upon each iteration and could easily be discussed at length.

Assassin’s Creed 4 isn’t all pirates and plundering however. Ubisoft has very cleverly crafted a meta-game within a game (within a game?). The animus returns and with it all the complexity and technological-magic of living out ancestral history as a form of entertainment. It’s extremely fun to ponder how deep the game goes and the world which they’ve built around the past and the present narratives.

They have also outdone themselves in the sheer scope and beauty of this game. I was blown away countless times by the scenery and gameplay scenarios. This came at different moments like when climbing the mast of my own ship in the middle of a raging storm and jumped over to the opposing ship I was boarding. There’s also the time I swam through an underwater mine, plundered it’s contents, and then swan-dived off a cliff into the ocean and boarded my own ship again. From the crowded streets of Havana teeming with life to the dozens of sprawling jungles crawling with panthers, monkeys, and hogs, the locales all have their own individual personalities. This game is gorgeous by the way. Waxing orange moons, pink/orange glowing sunsets on the horizon, and crystal-clear waterfalls pouring into turquoise basins under tropical-green foliage: I was constantly mouth agape at the epic scale and beauty of Black Flag.

Between all the exotic locales there is constantly stuff to do. And I mean constantly. There are dozens of islands, underwater caves and treasure chests to explore, plunder, and discover; not to mention whaling events to conquer. Whether it’s rescuing people lost at sea, looting loose cargo, discovering hidden treasure chests, or battling a small fleet of Spaniard ships and then boarding them to plunder their resources, there’s always something to do on an epic scale. Firing upon and boarding enemy ships is also thrilling and extremely fun, even if it gets a bit stale eventually. AC4 does a great job of making you feel like you’re truly a pirate captain of the Bahamas.

As for gameplay, the controls are for the most part tight. You make Edward perform combat and acrobatics fluidly. Running along rooftops, masts of ships, and tree branches is effortless. Slicing and dicing from one enemy to the next, while shooting down enemies is also easy to do. My only gripe is that sometimes unintended acrobatics were initiated while trying to simply run around a wall (not up it) or to another roof (not down to the street). Combat also suffered these interruptions where if no enemies were nearby, when pressing the attack button instead of diving into your next combo you would simply flex your arms and twirl your swords in hand. These are minor hang-ups, which at times were extremely frustrating, but ultimately are outweighed by the fluidity you’d come to expect of the series.

You’d also think by the sixth iteration in the series Ubisoft would be able to ship these games without the many minor bugs and glitches which frequently poke their heads out. I can’t count the number of times I jumped and floated in the air. Buggy NPC’s get stuck, boarding ships scenarios get stuck in motion, you run up trees or sides of houses when you didn’t want/mean to at all. Certain elements of the game, like key objects to a mission, can stop functioning as normal. In one mission in particular in which I had to sneak around a plantation and sabotage alarm bells, the said bells would not allow me to sabotage them. Again, these myriad glitches aren’t enough to hinder the overall experience and can be overlooked, but it’s hard to believe the game ships with them. Perhaps if Ubisoft didn’t try to release a game every year they’d have more time to debug?

Overall I am in love with this game, (I played well past 5am my first night on the high seas) but it is not without its flaws. It has the same flaws as just about every Creed game in the series. Any AC fan will know them. By now I’m used to them, and can even look past them because of the engaging story and other amazing dynamics.

Aside from these sometimes infuriating instances of glitches, the game is amazing to play. The same parkour-inspired acrobatic gameplay is a blast to run through on any of the dozens of islands in the Caribbean. Running and jumping and swinging is fluid and spectacular. Once again, I cannot over-state how gorgeous this game looks. All the same game mechanics are here from the past games, and they play as you’d expect. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a must play for it’s beautiful open-world pirating and intriguing meta-story gameplay. Don’t miss out on this treasure.