Ubisoft's latest title, Assassin's Creed IV, black flag breathes new life into an arguably tiring franchise. The game, really designed in all accounts to be played on the next gen consoles has some truly remarkable aspects, sail as a pirate/assassin around the Caribbean performing deadly high seas swashbuckling and assassinations in equal measure (a concept, at least, that it is hard not to get excited by). The most exciting part of it being of course that in black flag, sailing is as much part of the main game as being on foot, a far cry from the previous game where sailing was a very choice free zone.
Look Out! A Pirate Assassin!
You play Edward Kenway who is a blood relation of Connor in Assasins Creed III. Oddly however Edward becomes involved in the brotherhood of assassins by chance and really is moreinterested in robbing and plundering as any true pirate would be. As the story progresses there are historical characters to meet and many people to assassinate which is all very entertaining although as with every single assassins creed game ever made, not historically accurate. In between piracy and assassinations of course there has to be desyncronisation and a return to the evil templar corporation. Their aim this time, more nefarious than ever before, is to produce a video game. Yes thats right, it's mainly used as a plot device, driving the game forward and justifying a lot of the story missions. You will have to play some rather tedious hacking missions between being a pirate assassin, if you ask me perhaps pirate/assassin/hacker was a leap too far.
She be a Beauty
That being said the game has a lot it that makes it great fun to play. First and foremost, it is stunning. Played on a next gen console the game plays as it does on a high end PC, the Caribbean is beautiful and running and sailing around it is genuinely a pleasing experience just for the sights. Storms brew, the sea swells, the visuals and sounds of black flag really shine through on the modernised hardware of next gen. The controls as before are smooth and immersive, you can run on rooftops, leap and climb, motion feels fluid and instinctive throughout, and on foot hasn't changed a whole lot if you are familiar with the series. If you are not, it bears being said that the series is somewhat renowned for its smooth controls on foot as you explore the map.
Sail the Open Sea
The greatest achievement for black flag however is that of its newest addition to gameplay, sand box sailing. As a pirate you would be expecting an element of piracy on the high seas, being set in the Caribbean at the height of buccaneers of old you would also expect it to be quite the important aspect to the game. You are right of course and Ubisoft have made sailing an awful lot of fun. You can sail around the open waters and scout out merchant vessels, sail towards them and make ready your cannons. Delivering a barrage of cannon you can then board and fight on decks claiming your bounty. The controls are gloriously simplistic and it is just a case of raising or lowering sails and pointing your ship in a direction and telling it to go.
A Leap too Far?
As I touched on before a big negative to me is the attempt at linking Edward, our pirate assassin to the franchise of assassins creed. Pulling the character back to the modern era and the concept of the animus (the device that allows travel to peoples memories) as a whole is tired and serves little purpose other than to move the story along. It could then, be removed altogether and different plot devices could be used to narrate an otherwise exciting storyline. Worse still is that to seemingly justify the animus your character (the games developer, not the pirate assassin) has to perform hacking missions which although aren't poor, do not shine on their own merits.
The story line with the animus and being brought back forward in time is very clever however, and is still engaging. It could be said that without the animus and the travelling in memories past, the Templar and the assassins then the series could never truly be concluded. To that I ask is it likely that a franchise like assassins creed will ever be concluded regardless.
More of the Same
Assassin's Creed IV then is beautiful and the fun of sailing the truly vast seas definitely makes the game worth the time. The story albeit somewhat conceited at this point in the series is still very sharp and cleverly written. On the next gen it looks like a work of art. It must be said that it can feel very samey but if you are a fan then it is definitely worth a punt.