There has been a lot said about the new Assassins Creed (to be honest, I use the word ‘new’ very loosely), and most of it has been rather positive. It has been praised for its gripping story, smooth graphics and buckles so swashed that you would assume Black Beard himself had co-wrote the plot. Yet, for all of its piratey profiteering, winding and weaving story, brutal swordplay and cast of thrilling characters, it’s still just Assassins Creed. Sure, a much more polished version, one with slightly better gameplay and a little more to offer than its predecessors, but Assassins Creed nonetheless.
That’s not to say that it’s necessarily a bad game. At times, it’s far from it, and to be fair there is quite a bit to enjoy in this game, so I’ll start with what it does right. As you’ve probably already read or seen, one of the best aspects of this game is the open-world pirateness. For the first time in gaming history, Ubisoft have created a fantastically executed pirate RPG. But, sadly, they’ve only created half of it. The other half is Assassins Creed. As Edward Kenway, you captain a medium sized pirate ship and sail the seven seas searching for plunder and adventure … oh, and the ‘Observatory’ of course, a Precursor Race structure that allows the user to see through the eyes of a subject through the acquisition of a blood sample. The story is far from simple, but pretty much the same as ever. Abstergo Industries, the present day Templar organisation that is hell bent on discovering everything they can about the Precursor Race, are, as always, using the Animus to recover the memories of past influential Assassins from their present day descendants. For anyone unaware of Assassins Creed or the story behind it, this might all sound a little confusing. For anyone, like myself, who has played all six Assassins Creed titles, you kind of get the feeling that Ubisoft are clutching at straws now. In Black Flag, you no longer play as Desmond in the present, rather you control Edward, a relation of Desmond, through a nameless individual made possible through DNA recovered from Desmond’s body in a previous title … it’s alright, I was confused too. With this game, it’s clear that people have begun to forget about the fact that the story is starting to make little sense, or is at least a stretch to make ends meet, and are instead mesmerised by the ‘shiny shiny’ pirate mechanics. Which are, in truth, mesmerising.
For me it was the game mechanics for the sailing and exploring that made the game so enjoyable. The game world is incredibly detailed and loads seamlessly as you sail through the stunning islands. You manually steer the ship to its destination, plundering and exploring on the way – you can even recruit new crew members and instruct them to sing old sea shanties on your travels, to warm the heart of any old sea dog. There are islands to explore, other ships to board and plunder, treasure to discover and all of it done from the Condor, a fully customizable and upgradable pirate ship. The pirating is by far the best aspect of this game, and part of me wished that it would never end. Give me a ship and my crew and I could explore all day, I would have gladly listened to the sea shanties for hours on end as I sailed the seven seas.
At times, Black Flag often felt like the prize for enduring Assassins Creed III, and that’s not what you want from a game.
But, inevitably, the Assassins Creedness shines through, and you’re torn from the pirate world and forced to endure the same old stuff from the past five games. The samey combat, the samey stealth kills, the samey upgrades and side missions. If it wasn’t for the different setting and breath-taking graphics, you could never tell that you were playing a new game. But perhaps I’m being overly critical, perhaps this is just a symptom of the industry. Your Call of Duties, your FIFAs, even your Battlefields – eventually it gets to the point where the developer can’t really change much, because they’ve done everything already. It’s not really Ubisoft’s fault, the pirate side of the game was fantastic, a brilliant move and was executed spectacularly well. Other than packing in the Assassins Creed series and creating Pirates Life, there wasn’t much else that they could do than make what felt like almost two different games. I quickly became bored of the second game, the Assassins Creed IV, and often longed for Black Flag. I could hear the waves calling me as I scampered around the slums of Havana and scaled the buildings encircled by the gorgeous ocean. I would stare out to the blue ocean and think to myself “as soon as I’ve completed this mission, I’ll jump back on the Condor and find that treasure I’ve been searching for”. At times, Black Flag often felt like the prize for enduring Assassins Creed III, and that’s not what you want from a game.
I was once a fan of Assassins Creed but, much like the Call of Duty series, I’ve slowly become disillusioned with the franchise over the years. In truth, I’m probably bored of the same old stuff in the same old format – Abstergo finds long dead relative associated with their goals, creates simulation for unsuspecting present day relative, present day relative becomes suspecting in the process of re-living the past of their family member, Abstergo attempts to kill present day relative. Rinse and repeat. Just like Call of Duty – terrorist threatens the world, world crumbles to terrorist, America comes in with their tanks and guns and day-saving ‘ooh rah’ attitude, throw in overly English soldier and novelty Russian, and in the dying seconds, hero kills terrorist and saves the world. There is just no end to how many times they’ll try to rehash the same old stuff just for a quick buck. Of course, it’ll be under the guise of the ‘best one so far’, but I can’t see them getting away with it for much longer.
In all honesty if you still love Assassins Creed, and that’s understandable because it is a good game at times, then you’ll adore Black Flag. If you once loved Assassins Creed but have become bored of the series, then, when the title drops in price, I strongly recommend picking it up. It’ll give you a good few hours of joy, but it’s nowhere near worth the £55 price tag. If you’ve never played Assassins Creed before, then this game will be perfect for you and well worth picking up. I wouldn’t worry if you don’t know the story or haven’t played the backlog of Assassins Creed titles, it really doesn’t matter, the only difference here is that this one has pirates.