Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag turned out to be the bad kid that got straight A’s at PAX Prime this year. Ubisoft Montreal has taken the naval battles from Assassin’s Creed III and went on to build what is appearing to be an incredibly refreshing addition to the series. Forget anything that Disney’s Peter Pan has taught you about pirates. Black Flag is the real deal and is aiming at landing the most authentic and engaging depiction of the Golden Age of Piracy in a video game to date. Also, as an added bonus to all of that, the game is actually shaping up to be the funnest Assassin’s Creed title in the series thus far.
On this adventure you take control of Edward Kenway, the grandfather of the previous game’s protagonist Connor. You’re the swashbuckling captain of the avian-themed pirate ship, the Jackdaw. Managing the Jackdaw’s crew and it’s upgrades are a focal point for players throughout the game. There are a plethora of different ways to accrue currency to improve the Jackdaw and every action you take will have an effect on your ship so that it may hold it’s own over Black Flag’s harsh waters.
Right off the bat, I noticed that Black Flag feels a lot more open than the previous “Creed” installments. You want to sail across the ocean to uncharted territory while hijacking other ships along the way? How about using a diving bell to deep sea dive and find treasure or spelunking through caves that can only be accessed from down below? These are just a few of the side-missions that you find yourself being sucked into. How and when you choose to engage in these activities is completely up to you, but succeeding in them feels extremely rewarding since the earnings can be used to grow your pirate empire on the Jackdaw. The motivation to make your ship the best it can be makes the sidequests feel a lot less chore-ish and serve as a stern distraction from the game’s main storyline.
I got extremely absorbed into one particular activity while demoing the game and I’m sure it may have made some folks question my stance on animal cruelty. Hunting sea animals with harpoons is indomitably fun. At first I mistook the activity as a simple, quickly packaged mini-game, but soon learned that there was a learning curve to the activity that required precision and timing to succeed. Not to mention the bull shark I was hunting actually fought back and rammed the boat in anger and desperation if I failed to kill it fast enough. There was an odd-yet-extreme look of pleasure on my face as I penetrated the poor shark with harpoons until it stopped moving. It was a gratifying challenge ; especially when considering how the successful hunting outing would benefit the Jackdaw.
It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game, however, without extreme human-on-human combat. I was able to check out a bit of the game’s fighting sequences and can say that the combat system feels as smooth as ever. Edward is an expert swordsman and can switch between his main weapon and handguns just like his grandson Connor. As usual with any Assasin’s Creed game, you can choose whether to take out enemies full on or with a quiet, more stealthy approach. Movement around the environment feels the same as before also, so veteran Assassin’s Creed players will have no trouble adapting in Black Flag.
Since I was demoing the PlayStation 4 version of the game, I noticed several nice features made possible with the Dual Shock 4’s touch pad. The ability to view the game’s map with the touchpad was a nice addition and feels about as intuitive as using google maps on a smartphone does. All of your normal swipe and “pinch to zoom” motions that have become second nature are present and setting waypoints is as easy as tapping the touchpad. The possibilities the PS4 touchpad offers have become more evident thanks to it’s solid implementation.
If you’re curious to see just how open Black Flag is shaping up to be, have a look at this thirteen minute gameplay video.