“Farewell an’ adieu to you Spanish ladies, Farewell an’ adieu to you ladies of Spain, For we’ve received orders for to sail for old England, an’ hope very shortly to see you again.”
I cannot get this out of my head. This is one of just many songs that your crew sings while sailing the open seas in the surprisingly addictive and enchanting Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. Going into this game, I didn’t have high hopes. I have not enjoyed really any of the Assassin’s Creed games over the years. The first one got stale, fast. The second one I dropped after realizing it was the same damn thing. I didn’t touch another one till 3, and the only reason I did that was because it was: a new character, new environment, new time period, and naval combat. I gave up on 3 after several hours because of some stupid assassination mission that had to be done perfectly or else I got killed….every….damn…time. I just couldn’t stand the same stupid parts in this series where you had to do things their way (that and the stupid subplot with Desmond and the Templar blah blah blah), BUT there was some light at the end of the tunnel. The one thing I did enjoy about AC3 was the naval combat. It was more of a side mission, but fighting with other ships on the open seas felt really special. ENTER BLACK FLAG
From the start of this game, you’re thrown into the shit. Fighting, open seas, and for a few minutes you have to enter the “real world”. For those that have never played an AC game, the majority of your time is spent living/reliving an ancestor’s life in this device called the Animus. The real world comes into play when you step outside of this machine. Ubisoft changed this a bit in the latest installment as every time you step out of the animus you’re in a first person view, and the time you spend walking around and doing what is asked of you is EXTREMELY limited (I’ve even read that total time you spend out of it is like a ½ hour, but if you choose to you can explore and spend several hours there too; nice touch). Once you’re done doing the stupid shit, back to the fun! Even when the title screen comes up for the first time you get the feeling that “ok….this is gonna be awesome”.
The game opens up with a vast Caribbean world filled with sights and sounds to behold. Environments are lush and rich with detail, and should make most nextgen console owners very pleased. The map is HUGE. Every time I show a friend or family member this game, I just zoom out on the map so they can see how many places there are to explore. There are tons of towns, islands with buried treasure, and many enemy ships for you to plunder.
Black Flag does a good job at not throwing everything in your face all at once; things are introduced gradually as you progress through the story. You’ll see that in each town/location you come across there are a ton of collectibles too. Things like: animus shards, treasure chests, treasure maps, notes in bottles, sea shanties (which I’ll mention again later); there’s a TON of stuff to find. All of this cool stuff aside: in your questing and pirating and looting, the masterpiece of this game is your ship, the Jackdaw.
The Jackdaw is not immediately available when you start the game (even though you sail in the game REALLY early). After “getting” your ship, you find that it’s quite fucking awesome. Completely upgradeable, this is YOUR ride. Cannons, fire barrels, sails, mortars, armor; there’s plenty to upgrade as you plunder. Just sailing is amazing as the wave’s look and feel like they would in real life. Enemy ships are throughout the world so combat is almost always available if you choose to engage. Fighting other ships seems a little much at first as controlling a ship and firing side/front cannons is not in your traditional game, but trust me when I say that it’s fairly simple and easy once you get the hang of it (AND SOOOOOOO GOOD). Some areas are not immediately accessible and some areas you should NOT venture into yet without upgrading your ship a bit or you will get fucking owned. Storms can come at almost a moment’s notice and when you see your first waterspout, you’ll fear for your ship a little as they can devastate you easily if you let them. Then there’s your crew. You can upgrade your ship to gain more crew so you can board ships more affectively, but it’s their singing that got to me (in a very good way). I mentioned collectibles and how you can grab shanties as you go; some locations have more than others, but you only have a handful when you start. As you sail, your crew will just start singing. It’s cute at first, but the more you sail and the more shanties you find, you can’t help but get these songs stuck in your head. You’ll have some favorites and I would bet money you’ll be humming some of them while you’re at work or out and about when not playing. And for those that don’t care for em, ubisoft has you covered again as you can just turn them off in the options menu (not that I ever would, but still).
When you’re not sailing, you’re still fucking shit up. Combat feels more fun and refined too. Running around with two swords and several pistols definitely gives you a great pirate vibe. An assortment of smoke bombs, throwing knives, and other things are also involved so it doesn’t really get stale. Man, each time you counter someone and time it correctly; plunging your sword in someone’s face just feels…right. Maybe I’m a little sick, but it feels quite badass.
There are some slight issues I have with the game. Like previous entries in the AC series there are still some assassination missions and stealth missions, but they play a lot smoother and they’re more forgiving than previous entries. The combat is a lot of fun, but it can get a bit confusing when you board an enemy ship and you have 5-10 guys in your face. Free running on some objects can get you a little stuck too or caught on objects that you shouldn’t get stuck on. The weakest part of the game has to be the main story which seems to be a bit of a trend for these games (that could just be me, but to each his own). However, ALL of these are slight grievances for a game that has so many high points.
At the time of writing this, I’m not even close to done. I’m a good 25-30 hours in (maybe 30% complete), and I CAN’T STOP. I find that out of all the nextgen games I’ve played recently, this is the one game where I have to literally put down the controller and walk away. I keep thinking “just one more ship” or “oh, what’s that over there” or “well I can finish collecting stuff on this island”; THERE’S SO MUCH TO DO! For those in look of a good sandbox game, a fun AC game, or like I say “ONE HELL OF A PIRATE GAME”; do yourself a favor and pick this shit up and have fun….you ole sea dog you
Images from Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag Copyright Ubisoft