Game Review: Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag

2396855-ac4blackflag

I recently finished playing Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag on PS4.  I had been wanting to play the game for awhile and I knew Assassin’s Creed was quite popular, but I didn’t know much about it or where to start in the franchise since there are 9 main games that have been released.  I found out that Black Flag was generally agreed to be the highest rated AC game among most users and critics, so I decided to give it a go.  Through Nerd Machine’s Picking Favorites podcast with Scott Porter, I learned about Assassin’s Creed parkour free-running (yes this is a thing) and Assassin’s Creed obstacle course this year at San Diego Comic Con, which naturally piqued my curiosity.

I really enjoyed this game. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag actually made me remember why The Pirates of the Caribbean films (at least the first one) was so much fun. Depending on your opinion of Pirates of the Caribbean, that might seem like a backhanded compliment but I fully intend that for that to be taken as high praise.

rum giphy

Come on, we all loved this.

In Black Flag, there’s elements of stealth, hand-to-hand combat, puzzle-solving and even naval combat.  You indeed get to pillage and plunder!  A large part of the game is you are captain of a ship (the Jackdaw) and you must attack other ships, blast them with cannons, board the enemy ship and pillage whatever loot (rum, sugar, metal, wood) they may have on board to sell or use to upgrade your own ship. Attacking fortresses was great fun as well — first you bomb the fort from a distance.  Once you’ve done considerable damage by destroying the fortress towers, you dock at the harbor and infiltrate the fort and kill the commanding officers.  It was incredibly satisfying to see the British or Spanish flag get pulled down with your own black pirate flag raised up.

pirate's life

Yo, ho, yo ho, a pirates life for me!

There is a modern storyline where you (from a first-person perspective) are hired by Abstergo corporation to sift through the virtual memories of Captain Edward Kenway, a pirate turned assassin for hire in 1700s in the South Seas/Caribbean/Golden Age of Pirating.  This portion of the game involves a lot of hacking and corporate espionage.  I wasn’t as jazzed about playing the modern day storyline–it always seemed to be an unwelcome break in the more colorful and adventurous action of the Caribbean storyline.

viewYou can’t deny the view though.

The real fun is when you are playing as Edward.  I was pleasantly surprised about how enjoyable it was not only to Parkour free run across the rooftops of Kingston, Havana and Nassau, but also how freakin’ FUN it is to go around attacking and looting other ships, be they British brigs or Spanish frigates or best of all–other pirates! The graphics are gorgeous and some of the most enjoyable parts of the game is simply helming the ship and sailing past breaching whales and dolphins as the sun is setting over the Caribbean.  You cross paths with famous pirates of history, including Blackbeard, Mary Read and Hornigold, which I appreciate as a history buff.

assassinate

Parkour!  Parkour!  Parkour!

To earn extra money, you can accept assassin contracts (you pick them up discreetly at chicken coops located in settlements scattered throughout the islands) and then complete them by locating your target, tracking them and then killing them, preferably covertly (successful assassinations without attracting attention of local enforcement means more money…yay!) You also build up your crew by rescuing other pirates from British soldiers attacks or kidnapping.  Best way to earn loyalty, am I right?

There were lots of fun collectibles too–you can collect “shanties” which are really just musical notes that sometimes appear and float around and you have to catch them before they fly away.  By catching a shanty, you acquire a new pirate song to teach your crew.   And get this–they will actually sing it while you’re sailing!  I was humming “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor” all week, much to my husband’s amusement.  The crew also cheers loudly anytime you step up to the helm, which is always a great ego boost.

Another fun element is treasure maps.  There are treasure maps hidden on cadavers spread throughout all of the islands.  If you manage to find a treasure map, it includes coordinates and a picture with a genuine “X marks the spot.” It’s up to you to visit the coordinates, and then decipher from the map where exactly the treasure is buried.

There were a few things I wasn’t crazy about in the game — the combat is sort of underwhelming (I believe “meh” is the technical term).  It’s hard not to compare Black Flag to The Last of Us, where the melee/hand-to-hand combat is so realistic and gritty.  By contrast, the actual sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat on the ground in Black Flag is almost comical.  I specify “on the ground” because I think the stealth and “air attacks” were still pretty fun.

don't hate

Don’t hate. Assassinate.

Another downside is that plot of the main storyline starts to get convoluted.  You are ultimately set on a path to find a mysterious place called The Observatory, a place of significance for the Templars (in the modern storyline, the Abstergo corporation is a front for present-day Templars).  The Observatory houses an ancient device that can track the location of anyone in the world as long as it contains a sample of their blood.  However, I didn’t find the mystery all that appealing or intriguing and I was honestly always more interested in the mission and side missions, be it an assassination, eavesdropping a conversation, or simply sailing to a distant island to collect some treasure.

I completed the main mission and played the storyline all the way to the end and was only 60% through finding all artifacts, treasures and side missions.  Even when you complete the main mission, there’s still plenty more looting and treasure-collecting that you can do to your heart’s content.  The end–by the way–includes a oddly touching moment where your Irish-born first mate sings classic Irish song “The Parting Glass” as a farewell.  Some of you may remember this song from The Walking Dead, Season 3.  (Buskers Ed Sheeran and Glen Hansard also do their own respective versions).

parting glass

Glenn’s Irish first mate Maggie singing The Parting Glass.

One thing I never got to accomplish was taking down 4 Legendary ships.  These are massive, powerful ships that it’s probably impossible to beat unless you have a completely upgraded ship (which I did not).  I was just relieved I had upgraded my ship enough where I could take down a Portuguese man o’ war.  I may eventually attempt to upgrade enough where beating a Legendary ship is even plausible; however, I’m not currently motivated in that direction.

Overall, this game manages to capture all of the adventure of a pirate’s life with none of the mutiny, marooning or scurvy.  It’s an absolute blast and you’ll enjoy yourself as long as you don’t get too caught up in the plot. I’m intrigued to check out Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate which will be released October 23rd of this year.

Until then, good night and joy be with you all…

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