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Black Flag an open-world masterpiece

Nov 15, 2013

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag"Come all you young sailor men, listen to me,I'll sing you a song of the fish in the sea;
And it's ...

Windy weather, boys, stormy weather, boys,When the wind blows, we're all together, boys;
Blow ye winds westerly, blow ye winds, blow,Jolly sou'wester, boys, steady she goes"

There have been video game mashups of all types over the years, with countless genres being mixed and matched to differing levels of success. With Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Ubisoft has somehow managed to successfully marry the worlds of silent killers and pirates, and what results is a bonafide masterpiece, easily making this the best game in the series.

In Black Flag, you control Edward Kenway, father and grandfather of Haytham Kenway and Ratohnhaké:ton, respectively - the two playable characters in Assassin's Creed III. The game begins in thrilling fashion in the middle of a naval battle during a storm, but it's just a hint of what's in store for the budding pirates both in the game, and on the couch.

The initial battle on the seas results in a shipwrecked Kenway assuming the identity of a dead assassin who is thought to be still alive. From here, Kenway travels back and forth between land and water as he gets caught up in a typical Assassin's Creed-esque plot that takes many twists and turns as it unravels over more than a dozen "sequences," or chapters throughout the Caribbean beginning in 1715.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagThe gameplay is split fairly evenly between the land and water, although in terms of the campaign proper, there's more of a focus on the land-based "assassin" aspect. The great thing about Black Flag is that Ubisoft has both honed the stealth gameplay it's been returning to for every game in the series, while providing a thrilling extension of the naval combat first touched upon in Assassin's Creed III.

Whereas the preceding game simply took far too long to truly find its way, it won't be long in Black Flag before you're both slicing up bad guys, as well as sailing the high seas on your ship, the Jackdaw. That said, certain gameplay and plot elements are introduced throughout the campaign, so Black Flag constantly feels fresh.

The amount of small but welcome changes introduced in Black Flag are numerous. Whereas past games offered little in the way of explanation while expecting far too much memorization of minute controls, Black Flag simplifies a lot of this, and it's made better for it in every possible way. Combat in particular is much more fluid, without feeling like a mindless button masher.

That said, Ubisoft still hasn't perfected how the protagonist controls while running around a given area on land. Edward feels a little too "sticky" sometimes, and I occasionally found myself grabbing onto a wall I didn't want to, or leaping to my death (er, "desynchronization") after falling off a tower, when all I wanted to do was drop to the hand-hold a few feet below me. Still, more often than not, the controls are smooth, and only add to the feeling of controlling a stealth-like killing machine.

Taking the wheel of the Jackdaw, on the other hand, is an absolute delight. You'll be traversing the Caribbean with ease within a few moments of claiming ownership of the Jackdaw, and while battles with other ships provide a different challenge, they're never unfair or frustrating.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAnd those battles are truly exhilarating, even after dozens of hours of playing. Incapacitating an enemy ship is one thing, but leaping off the Jackdaw and taking over another vessel is, in a word, awesome. Throw in a storm, a water devil or two, and waves that look ready to capsize you at a moment's notice, and you have yourself a game within a game that's done to near-perfection.

Beyond the campaign, which has its fair share of water cooler moments, there is a dizzying amount of side quests in which to partake. This is the Grand Theft Auto of the high seas, replacing jacking cars, tuning into your favourite radio station, and killing innocent civilians, with ramming and destroying Man O' Wars, listening to your crew singing sea shanties, and saving shipwrecked men and putting them to work on the Jackdaw.

Personally, I'll take traversing the Caribbean on a ship over driving through Los Santos in a rebadged Hyundai seven days a week, and twice on Sundays.

Another reason why this is the best Assassin's Creed game is because of the characters. Kenway himself is much more of an "everyman" compared to past protagonists such as Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad or Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Yes, he's a pirate and a skilled assassin, but at the beginning of the game, he's clearly a simple man, eager to earn riches while experiencing adventures beyond his home in Nassau.

The supporting cast is equally as good, if not better. The rescued slave Adéwalé serves as Edward's second-in-command, and his constant words of wisdom are always worth listening to, and the same goes for the legendary pirate Blackbeard, whose memorable quotes are delivered in a far more terrifying manner. Ubisoft should be commended for making a character such as Blackbeard so empathetic as the story progresses.

The campaign does falter slightly in one respect. As in other Assassin's Creed games, there is an overarching plotline involving the real world, and in Black Flag, you play a voiceless character who works at Abstergo Entertainment's offices in Quebec.

These missions typically consist of you being tricked into doing bad things in the office, such as hacking co-workers' computers to gain information for a mysterious character who is essentially using you to do his dirty work.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagThese segments are thankfully relatively short, and the hacking is actually kind of fun, if a little simplistic. At the end of the day though, it takes away from all the pirate and assassin goodness, and only serves to take you out of the world that Ubisoft has so lovingly created and enveloped you within. To be quite blunt, it also feels like some kind of lame recruitment promotion for potential game developers.

Multiplayer returns in Assassin's Creed IV, and it's still one of the most unique multiplayer offerings available right now. There's a wealth of competitive game modes available, including the capture-the-flag clone Artifact Assault, as well as classic Deathmatch, and a lot more.

There's now a Gamelab mode that lets players create their own modes, although it's more about adding - or taking away - your own individual features. One mode I played actually disabled melee kills, which is the bread-and-butter of Assassin's Creed multiplayer. Surprisingly, it worked well.

The co-operative Wolfpack mode is back, and includes the story-driven Discovery mode, which has players completing increasingly-difficult objectives.

While it's not always easy finding players who will work together as a team and do the things that will net them big points - such as, y'know, sneaking - that's not an issue with the game itself.

When you do find a team that works together and plays the multiplayer as it was meant to be played, you'll see why this is one of the most novel online experiences out there right now.

There is also a slew of customization options, from perks and abilities, all the way down to how your character looks. As far as I'm concerned, a lot of that stuff only gets in the way of an experience that can stand on its own as something great. The Last of Us multiplayer has proven that all you need is a good idea, and the game itself will stand the test of time.

I did encounter more than a few connection issues during my time with multiplayer, and here's hoping that Ubisoft can patch things up sooner rather than later.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagRegardless of whether or not you take your assassinating skills online, the campaign is where Black Flag shines the most. This is a world you'll want to revel in, taking in all the sights and sounds. Heck, the pirating world is so well-crafted, you can almost smell the open water, gunpowder, and rum.

Do your best not to miss out on this game. It's sure to placate series fanatics who may have been disappointed by the misstep that was Assassin's Creed III, and there's no reason why it can't be a great jumping-off point for newcomers who have never donned the hood and used the hidden blades.

 

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Format: Playstation 3
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+
Official Site: http://assassinscreed.com

Rating: 9.5 / 10

 
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G4 Canada (formerly TechTV Canada) launched in September 2001. G4 is the one and only television station that is plugged into every dimension of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Owned Rogers Media Inc., the channel airs more than 24 original series. G4 is available on digital cable and satellite. For more information, see www.g4tv.ca.