Assassins Creed, as a quick read will show, is a favourite amongst many reviewers. Released in October 2013, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag picks up with the same long-run conflict between modern Assassins and Abstergo Industries, though that conflict isn't entirely present in this title. Players assume the role of an anonymous Abstergo Entertainment employee, developing software for the Animus video game console. Specifically, players are working on a pirate-themed title following the life of Edward Kenway, would-be pirate Captain.
Being that the Kenway story has no anchor to the modern-day story, aside from a pair of connections in the third act, the flow of the game has some disconnect between the Employee and Edward. However, both stories are equally compelling for entirely different reasons, and neither stymies the other, so the disconnect is ultimately of little consequence. As a personal note, the story of Edward Kenway is quite compelling; rather than following an established Assassin or a character predestined for Assassin-hood, Kenways tale is that of coming to maturity and exploring the truth of the Creed through first the literal understanding, then the moment of enlightenment following the understanding of what it truly means.
Visually, the title is stunning. Taking place largely on the ocean, scenery is still frequently found and is a welcome reprieve from the vast blue space. The ocean itself is quite well rendered, lending a sense of unease to every voyage. Even with the turbid, anarchic nature of the ocean and its many inhabitants, navigating to a destination is a breeze; A surprisingly scenic one at that.
Audibly, the title is well assembled. The score amps up during tense moments, and then backs down when the action settles on screen. Normally, a cacophony in battle can be kind of a distraction, but the chaos of battle between ships and on land did a lot to heighten the feel of the encounter, making Edwards eventual victory over it all the better.
Gameplay functions a lot like previous titles; stealth-based infiltration with a focus on hiding in plain sight. Each mission comes, again, with side goals to further 'synchronize' the Employee with Edward. The side goals, rather than being additional challenges, can serve as hints on how to proceed; a later mission demands that players assassinate four Brutes while hunting down a specific Captain, which serves as a hint that they will be passing by an inordinate number of Brutes.
The free run mode is a little odd at times, misinterpreting input to send players in odd directions; this crops up often enough to merit mention, but not so much that it kills free run entirely. Further, with every town, cave and island host to a handful of secrets and collectibles, free run gets comfortable quick. The sailing mode, however, works quite beautifully; the sense of being entirely in control of a boat never quite goes away, and there is a certain level of excitement in finding oneself trapped in a battle with four better-equipped ships and fighting with every ounce of skill to defeat them. Unfortunately, it is easy to upgrade out of struggling with most ships, and the legendary ships, which are four man-o-war type ships with extremely difficult specialties and a large currency reward for sinking them, border on the insane to truly battle.
Overall, ACIV is a fitting addition to the Creed franchise, hitting just the right notes and continuing the story in an adequate way. On a personal note; Ubisoft, would you kindly provide us console folk a lady Assassin? I know there was a Portable title, but the rest of the world is probably ready for a female lead.
Spokanites can learn more at the Assassin's Creed minisite here. As always, players can find me on Xbox Live @ OperatorJames. Look me up, I'll be spending time on Assassin's Creed IV: Animus this week.