Assasin’s Creed IV Black Flag is easily one of the best, if not the best Assassin’s Creed games to date. So how is it I will have played it far less than any game in the series so far. Well, I think it’s because it offers so much, but so little of it is any particularly new, the fact is, we’ve been through all this many times already.
It’s been an up and down ride for Assassin’s Creed. Looking back at how badly the first game played it’s surprising it got a sequel at all, but it was fresh and interesting at the time, we’d all gotten used to roaming about a city since GTA3 but the free running mechanic made the world seem so free and open, and it helps plenty that the setting was so compelling. And you had a great sense of freedom during the main missions as well, the main story was only let down by the repetitiveness of the missions lead up to the assassinations.
With the sequel, the game finally felt like more of a finished product, The story writing improved greatly, we had in Ezio and likable protagonist, a classic hero but a bit of a rogue at the same time, like a renaissance era James Bond. There were new mechanics, fighting worked better, most of the game breaking glitches were gone. But as improved as is was, it was the start of the downfall for the series. Gone was the freedom case and plan your assasination however you liked, to charge in, killing all in your way, or to find the perfect way to sneak in and make a clean kill. Now the mission constraints led you by the hand and desynchronisation could happen at any time if you disobeyed the game.
Brotherhood and Revelations played in much the same way. Only with Assassin’s Creed 3 did I realise how good we had it with the Ezio trilogy. Sure AC3 introduced more new mechanics than probably any of the sequels, but this was let down by bland protagonists, a story line that starts out “who cares” and ends just being confusing. Worst of all in my eyes, was the setting, if not for the fact this game was developed in Canada, I’d make some comment about American’s not realising how little the rest of the world cares about it’s history. We really were spoiled in the locales offered before, historic cities with grand architecture to climb; towers, monuments and castles gave way to small wooden houses and the odd church, Amazing landmarks like the Dome on the Rock, Saint Marks cathedral, the Colosseum, Hagia Sophia, AC3 had nothing of the sort.
As the games grew, so too did I. The first AC game was a landmark for me, it was the first game I completed all achievements for. It led to several years of being an achievement whore, an addiction that lasted until the moment my Gears of War 3 save was corrupted. The achievements of the first game were terrible, Collectibles can be a good force in games if done right, but Assassin’s Creed (also GTA4 and Crackdown) showed us of to do it wrong. Hundreds of flags to collect, no in game reward for doing so, and no in game map. But despite all the flaws in the series, I have every offline achievement of the first five games. So now that Black Flag is here, with the best bits of all the previous titles, why am I so unwilling to give it much of my time.
Well first of all, I have less time to give now I’m full time employed, the original game and my addiction to achievements was a coping mechanism with the boredom and depression of varying degrees of having no job, few friends and little contact with family. But regardless, I think I’ve had enough of the “crap” we have to deal with in these games. Black flag has all the best elements of the series so far; AC3’s sailing, the story and character quality of the Ezio games, a great setting, a free and open world made accessible by a fun mechanic for getting around. The problem is, they haven’t fixed the “crap”
Free running is still as glitchy a ever. It’s fine when you’re bounding across rooftops or climbing a large structure, but the fine controls are still terrible, It’s kind of sad that with six games now published (seven if you count liberation) they haven’t fixed any of the biggest headaches we have as players:
- Playable Character gets stuck sometimes at the top of a structure and will not move.
- Game cannot tell the difference between you wanting to run somewhere and run and climb. Meaning that you often climb objects you want to interact with like chests or doorways
- Getting down from high up is tricky without a haystack to leap into
- Playable Character often doesn’t recognise an attempt to jump to a platform, instead leaps forwards often leading to being spotted or falling to his death.
It feels somewhat insulting that after all the millions the fans have spent on the series, it seems as though they haven’t ever tweaked the engine governing the free running since this is the most used mechanic in all the games.
The other problem is the gameplay content, ignoring the story and setting, there is nothing new in this game. you have the same combat accessories as ever in blades and projectiles. Now we can fire up to four guns some would say, but that’s still less usefull than when you could have a bunch of throwing knives, less powerful granted, but they were quiet, didn’t need reloading and could kill an unaware guard. All that Edward can do is copied from a previous game, smoke bombs, poison darts, the rope dart, sailing, The only new things are the Tarzan style rope swings and the ability to capture and plunder ships, and even that is pretty pointless apart from upgrading the ship and gets repetitive quickly.
The missions are the same mixture of swinging between rigid conformity and joyous freedom, and you are never quite sure which way any level will swing. Hence why I will not be getting 100% on all the mission constraints. I’d rather have fun doing things my way then spend hours trying to do levels just the way the game wants me to. As for the collectibles, what’s the point, the tresure maps were a great addition, but forgive me if I don’t feel compelled to search out every last animus fragment, especially now that I have a fully ugraded ship, the best swords and pistols and the reward for the fragments is minimal.
So that’s it. I’ve had my fun with it, I’ve gone though the side missions, the main missions are nearly done and I’ve made my character as strong as he’ll probably get. If you want me to spent the kind of time it did with the last games, going through all the other crap like getting 100% sychronisation or collecting every little pointless thing or completing all the challenges, you’d better come up with a better incentive than a few achievements.