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PLATFORM Xbox360

Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Ubisoft
developer: Ubisoft Montreal
genre: Action Adventure

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
n/a
ESRB rating: RP
homepage:
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release date: Oct 29, 13
» All About Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag on ActionTrip


Stealth kills, air assassinations, a lot of headfirst diving into water or carts of hay. Those are all instantly recognizable facets of Ubisoft’s compelling assassin-themed franchise. Addictive combat and a lot of exciting free-running across rooftops, is but a mere taste of what players get. Ubisoft Montreal always stuck with pretty decent story-telling. Well, fair enough, allowing for the occasional blunder, like some weird plot decisions and a rather unexpected and equally weird fist fight with the Pope himself, the series is still as appealing as ever. When the chapter about Desmond Miles ended in Assassin’s Creed 3, I started to have my doubts about how they will manage to tie off a story in a completely new installment. Killing off the protagonist was a questionable decision, albeit many would argue that wrapping up the Desmond story was necessary. My own skepticism was fueled by the fact that it’s all about pirates now. Yes, well, pirate clichés are unavoidable if you’re going to make a game where the central character is a fucking pirate, although I was surprised how well this was woven into the centuries-long conflict between the Templars and the Assassins.

You are Captain Edward Kenway, a privateer from Britain who eventually becomes a pirate in a quest for fame and fortune. While the tale of Kenway ties into the previous game only at the very end (actually when the credits start to roll), it leaves a lot of things that went on in-between AC 3 and AC 4 remain unexplained. Assassin’s Creed 4 reduces the number of missions and segments that take place outside the Animus, unlike the previous game. You take on the role of an anonymous Abstergo Entertainment employee who is contacted by a no-name hacker who encourages him to snoop around and dig up important data from Abstergo’s servers.

Stuff that happens out of the Animus in AC 4 somehow doesn’t measure up to what we’ve seen in the story of Desmond Miles. So, all you get to do is stroll around in first-person and check out a few rooms and the occasional corridor. You hack a few terminals via a number of different mini-games until you unlock additional data and history regarding AC characters or indeed relevant historical figures and specific events. Essentially, it’s a kind of an intermission that offers little besides the mini-games we mentioned and an encounter with a few new characters (all of which reveal very little about the main plot). Mini-games are fun for a while. Still, I pretty much guarantee you’ll be back inside the Animus before you know it. Inside the Animus, it’s an entirely different story. The leading male protagonist, Edward Kenway is no Ezio Auditore, although we can certainly claim he’s a lot more compelling than Connor, the half-Mohawk hero from Assassin’s Creed 3. It may be a bit difficult to be inspired by Kenway’s deeds at first, since he is governed by greed and the lust for fortune a not much beyond that. However, the writers have cunningly incorporated some moral traits into Kenway’s character, which all builds up to a rather powerful leading male role. Now, there’s no need for spoilers, so we’ll stop right there.

Assassin’s Creed 4 is a proper action adventure imbued with satisfying and yet somewhat flawed stealth mechanics. Sneaking up on guards is challenging, because they have very sharp eyes and will notice you immediately if you’re not careful – and being careful means you stay out of sight. To do this, you have to creep around behind walls or trees or just use foliage like bushes and crops as cover. The problem comes when Kenway is not behind cover. There’s no way to avoid being detected other than staying in groups of pedestrians (but that’s cover, again). More importantly, there’s no crouch option. Kenway’s inability to walk slowly while crouching seems like a weird choice made by the developers. The need to crouch is something that comes up often in the game.

My sense of pure enjoyment in Assassin’s Creed 4 comes from the game’s amazing scope that involves so many different locations to visit and numerous activities for Kenway to perform while exploring the exotic islands of the Caribbean. If you’re not taking part in assassination missions, you can look for treasures or set out to sea in search of the toughest ships in the ocean and try to overpower them (not an easy task). In addition, there are sections where players can dive into the blue depths and try to find riches among old ship wreckages. While you’re diving and looking for treasure chests and whatnot, you’ll have to avoid stinging jelly fish and menacing sharks. Such moments keep monotony at bay and will most surely make you stick with the game.

Hunting is an additional activity. You can hunt jaguars, monkeys, ocelots and other land animals, in addition to pursuing wild life at sea such as deadly white sharks, killer whales and so on. Hunting whales and sharks denotes a nice segment where Kenway gets in a little boat and hurls harpoons towards the pray. It’s a great addition to whole naval aspect of the game.

Naval battles are, by far, the biggest attraction here. Once you hop aboard the Jackdaw (Kenway’s ship) you’ll find it hard to touch dry land again. Ah yes, the life of the sea – the lads and ladies at Ubisoft Montreal appear to have captured the essence of pirate existence. Thrilling naval engagements await and each encounter with an enemy ship involves intense sea battles, followed by boarding and hand-to-hand battles, until the ship is taken. The excitement during conflicts at sea are heightened thanks to a brilliantly implemented dynamic weather system that generates everything from dense fog, monsoons and heavy storms, to perfect sunshine and calm seas.

The trouble with AC 4: Black Flag is that it sometimes suffers from the same symptom we noticed in other Assassin’s Creed games. As soon as you drift away from the main story, repetition kicks in, even when there’s a generally solid variety of side-missions and activities in the game. Even the story-driven missions have a tendency to force players into the same routines, like following targets, eavesdropping and so on. As for the side-missions, there is a lot to do. However, the general idea in this game is to accumulate resources like wood, metal, cloth and other material needed to upgrade your ship. Your best bet is to take to the seas and hunt down and board as many ships with relevant cargo as you can. Warehouses on land are just waiting to be plundered too. You’ll be boarding a lot of ships and robbing a lot of warehouses, which gives you plenty of lovely loot. This, in turn, may be used to improve the ship’s armor, cannons, sails or whatever the hell you need.

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ACTIONTRIP SCORE
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HIGHS
Never has the life of a pirate been so vividly depicted in a video game, a huge world full of adventure and hidden riches awaits, Kenway is a great character, the narrative keeps you going, incredibly convincing weather effects, mesmerizing naval battles, swordfights and hand-to-hand combat is still great fun;

LOWS
Occasionally weird camera during combat, behavior Kenway the deadly assassin cannot crouch for some reason.

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