Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: Open-World Adventure / Stealth
Release Dates: October 29, 2013 (EU & NA)
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has the advantage of being an entry in one of the most iconic franchises in modern video game history, but instead of leaning on just that and spawn yet another predictable sequel, AC4 takes it all to the next level as the action takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy which begins in 1715 and expands as the story moves on. Black Flag is what everyone would call the ultimate pirate game, as it takes everything that made pirates so popular in the first place and mashes all of those elements together into one unique and exciting experience that will surely make you feel like a true pirate.
Using an improved version of the naval combat mechanic from ACIII, Black Flags gives you freedom on the seas, allowing you to travel with your ship at will and explore all the great things that the game has to offer, and there is plenty to explore. Aside from the main cities such as Havana where most of the story will take place, there are plenty of randomly scattered islands, ancient ruins, underwater shipwrecks and small pieces of land, all which can be explored at will whenever you feel like it. After the prologue which introduces you to the basics of the piracy life and the background story of Edward Kenway, Connor's grandfather, the game will show its true potential of naval exploration and basically anything related to a pirate's life as it gives you full control over the game and allows you to complete things at your own phase without forcing you to remain focused on the main plot and even if you are the kind of person that likes to remain glued to the main missions, on your way from point A to point B the game will make sure you'll stop at least a few times simply because there are so many locations to explore, treasures to find and collectibles to unlock.
Assassin's Creed IV was clearly created as a pirate game first and an Assassin's Creed game second, but the game does an excellent job hiding that, simply because there are so many Assassin's Creed trademarked secrets to find in the game, especially throughout the modern day gameplay sequences where the newly introduced character that bears your own name and takes Desmond's place as the present day protagonist in the series will be introduced to the Templars vs Assassins war for the first time, finding out new juicy details and expanding on that already famous idea. While Edward's story might not be the most iconic in the series as it gets incredibly predictable by the end, the road to end of his story surely is a blast, as you will visit some of the most famous locations during the Golden Age of Piracy, meet piracy legends such as Blackbeard and basically live the life any pirate would dream of.
Aside from Edward Kenway himself, who is presented to the smallest detail and you'll find more about his lifetime story and how he became a pirate as the story moves on, the rest of cast of characters takes advantage of the same attention to detail, as historical legends such as Blackbeard will act just how you'd imagine they were in real life and fictional characters have emotional background stories that in the end will all fit into Edward's life.
Assassin's Creed IV's biggest game changer is that you live as a pirate captain, so your main weapon is your own ship, the Jackdaw, which can be upgraded and used in battle in whatever manner you see fit, and as a true pirate you will spend most of your life on the sea or on little islands that can be explored in order to find treasures, hidden artefacts or collectibles, and less time in major cities like you were used to in the previous titles; however that is only for the best, since the game puts so much emphasis on exploration.
The naval combat mechanic has been refined to perfection as it is now easier to control your ship than ever before, while still making it a challenging mechanic that will reward skilled players for taking down higher level enemy ships or take your changes against the Legendary ships which will provide you with unique rewards once you defeat them. As much fun the naval combat is, the game hasn't forgot that it is still an essential part of the Assassin's Creed franchise, so Edward Kenway is equipped with everything an assassin would usually have starting with the series' trademark, the hidden blade and moving on to more recent additions such as the pistols. Using each weapon in your arsenal efficiently is the key to becoming a pirate legend as you will often be put in the middle of tricky situations where you'll have to deal with multiple enemies at once, some fighting with swords and others sniping you out with their rifles from a distance, so avoiding those attacks and countering them at the right time becomes essential.
As a pirate you can engage in all sorts of activities such as pillaging other ships, stealing goodies and selling them on the black market, getting drunk in a tavern and passing out next to it, fighting the law, looking for treasures underwater or in abandoned ruins, hunting sharks and many more, but it is the story itself that brings the truly entertaining activities out in the open, such as the forts battles which will put you and your ship's crew in a two part battle, the first one being the sea battle where you will have to fire your ship's cannons into the fort in order to weaken its structure and the second part once you have docked the ship, when you'll have to eliminate all the remaining opposition and eliminate the leader in order to take it for yourself.
As an assassin you still have all the usual activities such as assassination contracts, eavesdrop missions and stealth segments, but in this case what you're truly looking for are the main story missions which will introduce Edward to the real assassins world, and show him the swings as he learns new abilities and takes on different journeys. There are occasional bugs such as disappearing bodies when you leave an area and return back a few seconds later and the never-ending issue with wrong jumps when you deal with multiple rooftops still occurs from time to time, but those are only minor issues and even if they occur at the wrong time, the checkpoints will make sure you won't have to replay more than a few minutes of the game if an issue comes up and you have to reload to the latest checkpoint.
AC IV looks absolutely astonishing, pushing the boundaries of this generation of hardware to its very limits and creating some beautiful environments like nothing you have seen before in a game, truly making you feel like an important and omnipresent part of that pirate life. Everything from the locations to the characters, the environments and even the little details feels authentic to the period and in theme with everything around it. Each island feels unique and distinct in its own way and you will most likely recognize the ones you have visited before by certain landmarks that you might not even notice when you first step foot on that specific island, while still making you feel lost once you get into the center of it, where you'll be surrounded by jungle and wild life.
The visual effects are blast to look at, especially those amazing explosions of enemy ships in specific places according to where your shot was fired at and which type of ammunition you used and the list moves on to other things such as forts or bombs. The water effects are absolutely amazing and the underwater wreckage missions could be an entirely different game on their own, simply because they are so different from anything you'd experience on the surface and so memorable that you'll want to replay them again and again even if you have already found every secret in that place.
Just as the visuals, everything that you'll hear inside the game sounds authentic to the time period and the location of the action, from the waves of the seas to the wildlife and the gunshots, there is so much nature created around this game that combined with the man-made cities and establishments will create a truly believable and authentic experience. The sword fights will sound just as good as the naval combs or the rifle shots, as each strike has a specific pitch to it according to the way you strike, where you hit or if your opponent countered or at least tried to counter your attack.
Another great thing that pushes the pirate authenticity element further comes in the form of shanties which can be collected from various locations around the world, and which can will be sang by your crew during long sea trips in travel mode, and just like a radio station you can switch between those so you won't feel lonely at sea. The soundtrack is just as good, with songs always hitting the serious or fun notes depending on where exactly you are with the story, and the feeling you'll get once the right song comes on after an intense emotional segment in the game ends is simply priceless.
It will take dozens of hours to visit every location in the game, complete all the assassin contracts, unlock all the taverns, find all the artefacts and treasures scattered around the world and explore everything there is both on land and underwater, and even when you think you have found everything you'll bump into a location you haven't visited before, the amount of things you can do in here is absolutely insane.
However, even after you will eventually find everything there is you will still want to return to specific missions in order to get better scores, unlock achievements or just relive that great experience. And when you're done with that, there's multiplayer, an improved version of the multiplayer concept from ACIII that now takes places in the world of pirates, so you can travel between islands and have even more fun with your friends than ever before.
Assassin's Creed IV is without doubt the best pirate game ever created and a must buy for any fan of pirate-related things, but also for those long term Assassin's Creed fans, because even though at first it may not seem that way, AC IV continues the war between Templars and Assassins in an unexpected and satisfying way even without Desmond's story, and just looking at the present day missions you can get a taste of what's coming next in the future for the franchise. Even if you aren't that interested in those concepts, AC IV is one of the best games of 2013, so if you haven't picked this one up by now and have some spare bucks, hesitate no longer, because Assassin's Creed IV is an experience that you won't forget any time soon.