Monday, April 7, 2014

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Xbox 360 Review

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is the latest installment in the ever popular Assassin's creed franchise, but does it add/improve anything to the series that is worth checking out. The last entry to the series Assassin's Creed III, centered around the Native American assassin Connor Kenway, the game received a mix of praise and dismay. One of the major things talked about was the addition of Naval Combat, while Assassin's Creed III's Naval system was simplistic at best, and on some missions (The Giant and The Storm) down right frustrating. I never truly felt attached to the Aquila, it was a nice vehicle added by Ubisoft to break up the core gameplay. But I otherwise felt that AC III had officially hit a stride in the series where things felt balanced and fast paced.

I'm happy to say Assassin's Creed IV takes this formula and vastly improves it. I will start with the story and work my way around to the finer details. The story centers around the down-on-his-luck type of pirate named Edward Kenway, which would make him the Grandfather of Connor the protagonist from AC III. The beginning of the game starts with the ship Edward is on being attacked by an unknown assassin. When the ship crash lands on a island Edward chases the assassin down and finds himself in the middle of an ancient war between the order of Assassin's and the Templars. The story is well constructed and all the NPC's you will come across in your adventures around the Caribbean feel engaging and interesting. You get the sense that all around you there is mystery and another plot twist is just around the corner. The narrative also manages to tie up the Kenway lineage in a nice fashion.

The combat is mainly unchanged from the third installment, you can still approach combat in various ways, adding in the option to take a ranged non-lethal approach with the blowgun, even giving you berserk darts that will cause you target to attack everything around them giving you an option to sneak past undetected. Counters still work in the same way and feel easy to pull off even when taking on multiple opponents. You can purchase more powerful swords, and up to 4 guns to have on you at one time, allowing you to take out 4 enemies at one time. The 4 gun scheme seemed a little weird at first but as the game progressed it became cannon in crowd control, I felt utterly bad ass taking out 4 people at one time and then launching straight into cutting down the next 9-10 guys in a counter heavy frenzy. Hopefully Ubisoft will keep this scheme around because it works incredibly well.

The Naval portion of the game has been drastically improved upon from the third game. Where-as in III I felt detached from my ship and merely completed Naval Contracts and the like to gain money, supplies for crafting, or because I wanted a 100% synch. AC IV breathes a life into the Naval portions that feels addicting, I loved sailing around and wreaking havoc on everything around me. The Jackdaw (Edward's ship) can be upgraded with a host of enhancements that will make the ship more durable and more of a force on the seas. You can board ships you attack allowing you to choose between simply sinking the ship and as a result repairing yours, or you can gain more crew members and adding a new ship to your fleet. The ship boarding is a thing of beauty, there is so much chaos happening in such a small space that it really instills a sense of awe when your crew is swing in and cutting down everything in sight. You can also take on Legendary ships, which are better not attempted until you have gained enough upgrades to make the Jackdaw a formidable foe.

Once you have gained some ships you can then send them on small missions which take place in a turn-based mechanic that you will seldom ever fail at. This is probably one of my biggest gripes about the game, this mechanic really feels useless in the grand scheme of things. You can control it using an Android or IOS device and it functions pretty well on those, but I seldom found myself using it outside of when I needed it to open up something else in the game. Also Ubisoft used the cheap mechanic of by making waterways safe, they become quickly overrun again sometimes literally 2 minutes after you secured it, which in-turn forces you to keep plugging away at a never ending, and boring mechanic that pulls you out of the main game.

The exploration in the game is probably the most vast in the game's history, there is so much to do and see that you really can get lost in it. You can explore all the various islands of the Caribbean,  and once you gain the upgrade for your ship you can use the diving bell to explore beautifully detailed and engaging underwater segments. You can also engage in spearing sharks and whales, which feels cool the first couple times you do it, but quickly becomes an expendable throw in. There are the usual extra areas to explore such as smuggler's dens, forts, and plantations that you can clear for more supplies. I really never tired of exploring and doing the optional missions. The world AC IV takes place in, is honestly one of the best in franchise.

Being as I don't have a PS4 or Xbox One, and my preferred platform is the Xbox 360, the version I played was the 360 version. Even with that being said, the graphics are absolutely stunning. From the look of the rain, to the gorgeous underwater segments, the game looks beautiful even running on last gen hardware. The game does experience the occasional frame-rate drop, or the occasional rendering issue the game runs well.  I didn't experience nearly as many issues play AC IV as I did with AC III. I definitely didn't fall through the world or anything, like many did with III. If you have a PC capable of rendering high resolution graphics for today's games or you own a Next-Gen console you may want to pick it up on one of those, but if you are restricted to last gen, you will still get pretty much the same experience here.

The game continues add multiplayer to the mix, giving you all the same mechanics found in AC III. The multiplayer plays exactly as it has in previous titles, so, if you didn't like it before, then you still won't like it now. Players still run around aimlessly with little to no care for stealth or mission objectives. I have never really been in to AC multiplayer, and this game didn't change my mind any. I played it for achievements and pretty much nothing else. Speaking of achievements, there are nice and varied, not terribly difficult, but adding enough challenge to the package to keep you playing. They added a social aspect, allowing you to share locations of White Whales or Treasure Chests, but I found that unless you have many friends playing through Uplay you will not find very many of these. I really wish they would have made this portion a little more accessible, I had one friend who was actively playing when I was, and I have yet to come across a "Social Chest", nor did his Uplay feed ever reflect when he found anything or when I did. Uplay is a nice extra feature, but in trying to make it more tied to the game they just made it annoying.

All in Black Flag exemplifies what is good about Assassin's Creed, and proves why it is still one of the deepest games out today. Hopefully they can continue the trend with Assassin's Creed: Unity and it's last-gen counterpart Comet. So, if I had to give it a grade out of 10 it would be a 9, docking it for the lack of inventiveness with multiplayer, a function that I really wish they would do away with. The useless and annoying integration of Uplay and Kenway's Fleet also take away points, but all in all the game is an excellent package and should be picked up if you love the games, are new to them, or if you fell of the franchises bandwagon and are looking to get back into it.