This series is in serious need of a course correction
How do you screw up pirates? I don’t know exactly, but Ubisoft seems to have figured it out with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The once high and mighty series continues its downward trend in one of the most outright boring game I’ve played in years, but it is obvious to see what could’ve been.
Black Flag stars a brand new assassin/pirate named Edward Kenway. Kenway is quite possibly the worst protagonist in the series since Altair. His life story is a weak one. We have flashes to his past, but it is hard to care about his past when his present is so haphazardly constructed. Kenway bounces from one event to the next, with a little historical context thrown in, but not a whole lot of in-game context as to why I should care about these characters.
The characters are really nothing more but walking plot devices. One character, that I can’t discuss very much as the character is part of a painfully obvious “plot twist” in the middle of the game, is so poorly written and voice acted that I found it impossible to care, even when there were horrible things happening to them. The main antagonists are even worse when it comes to development, comprising of mainly the twisted mustache variety, and we are also given little reason to care about them or why Edward should care about fighting them.
So right away, the story dissipates into something that one has to force themselves through just to get to the end. The bright side of all this is that we don’t have to deal with Desmond anymore during the modern day segments. In past games, the segments that take place in modern times were easily the weakest, but in Black Flag, they are some of the most interesting.
The perspective switches to first person for these sections of the game. In modern times, players control an Abstergo employee that has been tasked with viewing the life of Edward Kenway in order to collect data for the company, which claims that they want to make a movie using the footage. These segments contain challenging mini-games that serve as puzzles and also contain a lot of fan service for series veterans.
Back to the historical age of pirates that Edward Kenway inhabits, the story is awful, yes. The characters are awful. But the setting is not awful. The setting is glorious, and I have to give Ubisoft credit for crafting a truly gorgeous world that takes full advantage of the hardware. The game truly captures what it feels to be sailing on the seas as a pirate, with intense naval battles and a lot of fun stuff to do for those that stray from the beaten path. There’s whaling, hunting, and the usual array of side activities in other Assassin’s Creed games, but Black Flag admittedly does it best when it comes to side content.
Those that are creative and are able to make the most of their time with a game will enjoy Black Flag a lot more than I did. I’m not saying that I am not creative, but after coming off a free roaming, open world spectacle on the level of Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin’s Creed IV is automatically underwhelming in that regard. Perhaps if Ubisoft is able to refine a few things here and there, we’ll wind up with something that’s actually good for Assassin’s Creed V next year.
Where the game really falls apart is with its single player missions. Ubisoft has taken all the mission types that are least liked by fans has thrown them all into this game over and over again. Missions that involve tailing other characters for extended periods of time and eavesdropping on conversations are abundant. I would go as far as to say over half of the missions involve one of those activities or both, and it is dreadfully boring. I almost fell asleep playing Black Flag. That is not hyperbole. That is truth.
All the missions involving stealth rely on archaic stealth conventions that have been axed by other games in the genre years ago. The series takes a serious step backwards in this regard. To complete the game, there is about 15 hours of single player missions that are dreadfully boring, and more repetitive even than the first Assassin’s Creed game.
So what we have here is a game that is certainly beautiful. There’s plenty to do. It’s polished. But it’s also one of the most boring games I’ve ever played in my life. I don’t need high octane action all the time. Hell, I am a major fan of interactive novels like Phoenix Wright. I just need for the story to be interesting and for the single player missions to not be so lazily designed. It’s rather insulting really.
What’s worse is that Ubisoft actually buried some single player content behind an online pass. Yes, this has since been rectified, but for those that lack Internet connections or choose not to have their consoles connected to the Internet, their single player experience is forever ruined by a silly decision by Ubisoft to block aspects of the single player behind an online pass.
Why did they do this, you ask? Well, it’s because they knew no one would care enough about the multiplayer to purchase an online pass to access it, assuming they bought the game used or rented it. The multiplayer in the Assassin’s Creed games was interesting at first, hit its peak in Revelations, and has since seen such little innovation that it’s really sad. GTA Online, despite being an absolute mess at launch, has since shown how awesome an open world can be when multiplayer is brought into the equation. Black Flag simply can’t compete.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is outclassed by other open world games, including Ubisoft’s own Far Cry 3. It does a few things right, and I like it better than Assassin’s Creed III, but the game is painful to push through. All the pieces are there for something to be truly remarkable, but someone came and flipped the table over. Is there hope for this series? Certainly. But something drastic needs to be done quick if Ubisoft hopes to preserve the creative integrity of one of their largest franchises.
Tested on Xbox 360. Final Score: 5.75/10