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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has become victim to repetitiveness on an annual basis, and many view it on the same level as Call of Duty. As the yearly titles roll out, many wonder if AC has lost its edge, and has fallen into the trap that annual franchises do. But that is just not the case with Black Flag, as Ubisoft delivers another astonishing addition to the AC universe. A mix of what made the original games great and the modern style of Assassin’s Creed III combine to help make AC IV one of the best games you’ll play this year.

Black Flag dumps you into the Golden Age of piracy, in the shoes of Edward Kenway, last year’s assassin Connor’s grandfather. You work as a privateer in the Caribbean, plundering ships and taking control of islands. You’ll find yourself in the company of other notorious pirates, with the likes of Blackbear, Charles Vane, and Calico Jack. Assassin’s Creed titles have always had two parallel story lines, one set in the past and one in the present. While the last game ended Desmond’s storyline, AC IV still features a modern day setting, in which you play as an intern at Abstergo Industries. These modern missions are a fun break from all the pirating you’ll be doing, and are quite a neat diversion.

The story of Assassin’s Creed IV won’t blow you away by any means. It’s more of an excuse to go and do some badass pirate stuff. There’s no problem with this, but I would have liked some more interesting supporting characters. Edward Kenway is great, however, as the central protagonist. While not as suave as Ezio, but not as dull as Connor, Edward has a charm of all his own, and is quite the jokester. You’ll quickly grow to love him and the world of the Caribbean within a few hours.

Assassins-Creed-4-Black-Flag-hello-thereUbisoft takes the excellent pirate gameplay from AC III, and expands that to a full-blown open world adventure in the Caribbean. Black Flag’s map is massive. The scale is impressive. Countless islands litter the map just waiting to be explored, and you’re free to do whatever the hell you like, even avoiding the main storyline as necessary. While in some games, this kind of freedom can be a hindrance, I didn’t feel that way in Black Flag. All of the side activities, from harpooning whales to assassinating targets, feels fun and unique, and doesn’t detract from the main story missions. There are possibly more side activities here than in GTA V, and these are even more fun and rewarding.

When you’re not invading fortresses, synchronizing viewpoints, or hunting animals, you’ll be sailing in the Caribbean aboard your own ship, the Jackdaw. The ship controls are excellent, and the weapons and upgrades you can equip add quite a bit of strategy and complexity to the game. When you attack a neighboring ship, you can choose to sink it to the depths or climb aboard for some plunder. A spyglass can be used to identify enemy ships and see if they contain anything worth taking. You’ll come away with some awesome rewards, that can be used to upgrade your ship. You can add new cannons, upgrade the hulls, set up a new sail, and the entire experience feels personal and fun.

That’s not to say you’ll be spending your entire time out exploring the open sea, however. You’ll also explore island villages and big sea ports like Kingston. Dense jungles also populate the region, allowing for some fun stealth sequences as you make your way through these beautiful rain forests. The main hub city, Havana, is gorgeous, full of crew members to recruit and shops to visit. The city is more detailed than AC III’s Boston, and more fun to explore using AC’s signature free running system. Even more upgraded from AC III, the free running allows Edward to perform parkour jumps and climb things like an animal. You’ll be spending quite a bit of time on the rooftops and in trees, so free running is an essential part of the experience. Sometimes it doesn’t work as well as you’d like, however, leading to some frustration as occasionally you’ll make a jump you didn’t mean to, and then get spotted by guards, ruining your entire plan. AC III was also plagued with these problems, and they are still aplenty in Black Flag, which is a shame.

The combat in Black Flag remains largely unchanged from the previous title. You can counter, disarm, and break enemy’s defenses. The enemy types you encounter mimic those that you found in AC III. There is still little variation in the combat system, unfortunately. The weapons you can use still feel fun though. You can buy new scabbards and rapiers, increasing the damage dealt, and you can also wield a wide variety of pistols. The pistols are seamlessly interjected into the combat, as you’ll be pulling off double kills and using your dual-wield pistols to great effect, chaining together spectacular kills worthy of the slow-motion finish. Stealth is also a big part of Black Flag, even more so than in previous games. You can still stalk enemies from above, eliminate them from haystacks, and silently pull them from ledges. Sometimes you’ll even need to be stealthy while aboard your ship, as you tail enemy ships in order to find out where they are headed. These missions became frustrating, as sometimes you’ll become engaged in combat with other ships, and have to restart the mission. The constant stalking missions became tiresome after a while, and some more varied mission structure would have been much appreciated.assflag

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag is gorgeous, and made to be played on next gen systems. I played on the PS3, and the game still looked stunning. From the beautiful open sea, to the populous cities, there is no shortage of eye candy in Black Flag. Characters on the whole look solid, and the universe is very well detailed. However, at a price for such beauty are the occasional graphical glitches and texture issues. The draw distance is limited, adding some strange pop-ins when islands appear out of thin air. Cutscenes are also a mess, as character’s voices don’t match up with their lips, and the cutscenes feel more like loading screens as they are poorly rendered and look unpolished. This is a shame really. A few extra months of work would have made the game even more beautiful, but it still is an visually enjoyable experience all around. The soundtrack is great, featuring high-adventure songs reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. Your crew even sings a variety of sea shanties while you sail, and these are a lot of fun.

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag is everything you would have hoped for out of a pirate game. From the expansive world map to the massive number of diversions to take part in, you’ll have no shortage of activities to do in the Caribbean. Beautiful visuals carry frequent visual glitches, and the missions still need a bit more of polish, but on the whole, Black Flag is another great addition to the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Overall: 8.8 out of 10.0

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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in Game Reviews

 

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Assassin’s Creed III Review

Assassin’s Creed III – Ubisoft (PS3/360/PC)

My time with Assassin’s Creed III has been interesting to say the least. I’m still new to the franchise, and my first game in the series was Brotherhood. I wasn’t a big fan of Brotherhood or Revelations. I found the combat to be confusing and frustrating, and overall I was a little lost in what to do or where to go. That said, I came into AC3 expecting more of the same, but what I got was an entirely new experience that is full of things to do and excellent gameplay and design.

Now, if you’ve played the previous games in the series, you know Desmond Miles and his story. He has been kidnapped and forced into the Animus to take control of his ancestors and stop the Templars’ plot. I was never a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed story. I never liked Desmond and his tale. But the bulk of the game will have you playing as Desmond’s ancestor, Connor Kenway. Whereas previous installments put you in settings such as Rome or Constantinople in the 12th century, AC3 puts you right in the middle of the American Revolutionary War. It’s the setting that makes the game here. You spend your time split between big cities like Boston, and the wilderness of the Frontier. These settings are the base for the story, and they’re a marvel. Connor’s story has him protecting his Native American heritage while the British Redcoats infiltrate the Colonies. Along the way, Connor meets up with many historical figures, including George Washington and Paul Revere. You get a bit of a history lesson here, and it’s a lot of fun to play through what you learned in 5th grade. You’ll play through historic moments like the Boston Massacre, The Battle of Bunker Hill, and visit locations such as Concord and Lexington.

Murdering the British has never been this fun!

Connor is very nimble, and his particular set of skills sets the tone of what you’ll be doing. Free running has been improved since last games, allowing you to perform parkour-style moves along the Boston rooftoops or in the Frontier canopy. It works well for the most part, and it looks pretty badass. There were some times when Connor jumped to the wrong branch, or jumped off the roof altogether, but these mistakes aren’t as common as they were in Brotherhood or Revelations. The combat has also been improved. In fighting the Redcoats, Connor can block, counter, and attack in a wide variety of ways. One reason I wasn’t a fan of the first AC games was their combat. I found myself confused in what I could do, and enemies always blocked my attacks. For this reason I avoided direct confrontation a lot. Here, that’s not the case. Combat is a breeze, and follows a simple pattern of push one button to dodge, and then you have a split second to counter, disarm, or roll away. It’s simple, effective, and a lot of fun. You won’t die too much, but mistakes are common. Connor’s arsenal consists of his tomahawk, a bow and arrow for ranged takedowns, the classic hidden blade, rope darts, and a lot more. Experimenting with these weapons is a lot of fun, and it allows for a good amount of player choice in determining which weapon is right for the job.

In addition to the main quest, you’ve got plenty to do on the side. The Homestead allows you a metagame of managing your land’s economy. You recruit settlers by rescuing them or meeting them in the Frontier, and they’ll set up shop at your home. You can then buy their products and craft new items, or trade via convoys to make a little money. It isn’t explained very well, but once you figure it out, you’ll be making solid revenue in no time. There is a wide array of collectibles to pick up along the way. Benjamin Franklin’s pages of his almanac have been lost and are spread all over Boston and New York, and it’s your job to find them. Also, eagle feathers and treasure pieces in the Frontier will keep you on a constant treasure hunt. Speaking of hunt, hunting is a very deep diversion that can be very addicting and rewarding. Animals are spread out all over areas of the Frontier, and Connor can trap and kill them in a variety of ways, using bait, setting up traps, or simply shooting them with a bow. You can skin these animals and trade them for profit, and it’s a lot of fun, even more fun than Red Dead Redemption’s hunting sidequests. Naval missions allow Connor to take to the seas aboard a naval vessel, and engage in some ship battles. These are easily one of the best parts of the game, and upgrading and commanding your cannons as captain of a ship is a blast (get it?). Also, assassin recruits are back, but these aren’t as full-fledged as they were in Brotherhood, which is a shame.

Assassin’s Creed III is a technical marvel. Boston and the Frontier are brimming with detail and movement. The colors shine, and particle effects are beautiful. The campaign is set in different seasons, and the snow forests are literally a sight to behold. At sea, your boat rocks back and forth amongst the waves, and the view distance is incredible. Enemy attacks are as gruesome as ever, and you’ll have a lot of fun finding creative ways to kill a Redcoat. All that attention to detail in the environment, however, is lost when it comes to characters and cutscenes. Characters are a blocky mess, especially in the faces, and it’s disappointing when a cutscene loses its luster because of poor attention to detail on characters. Cutscenes are a mixed bag; some are beautiful, others are a mess.

You don’t want to mess with this badass.

Surprisingly, Assassin’s Creed III is full of bugs and glitches, and it makes me wonder if there was any debugging of any sort at all. At one point, a character’s mouth didn’t even move when he was talking. In another, Connor got stuck in a rock and I had to reset my PS3. It’s disappointing when freerun doesn’t work because of a glitch, and it almost breaks the game to be honest. The soundtrack is nothing special. Voice acting is good as always, and some intense battle music is pretty good.

Multiplayer is back from Brotherhood and Revelations, and it’s been switched a bit for the better. Deathmatch is back, along with Team Objective and a variety of other modes I have yet to play. Multiplayer is fun, and it’s a unique way to approach the Assassin’s Creed gameplay with multiple players. Basically, you have to kill one target, while another target is hunting you. You can use a variety of diversions, and it helps to blend in with the crowd and keep hidden. It’s a lot of fun, and can get very intense. Wolfpack is the new co-op mode, where you and friends hunt NPC targets, and you try to coordinate your kills and gain more points.

Assassin’s Creed III changes up the AC gameplay for the better. Connor is a joy to control, combat is much better, and the sidequests will keep you busy for a long time. Graphics are great, but a few game-ruining bugs are present, and multiplayer is a fun diversion from the main campaign. If you gave up on the AC franchise for whatever reason, AC3 is a great place to jump back in.

Pros:

Excellent Story and Setting

Refined Assassin’s Creed Gameplay

Bajillion things to do

Fun Multiplayer

Cons:

Game-Breaking Bugs

Some things aren’t explained very well

OVERALL: 8.9/10.0

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Game Reviews

 

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