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Gaming review: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

December 07, 2013 12:05 IST

Gaming review: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

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Murali Venukumar

Set in the Caribbean, slightly before the Assassin’s Creed III timeline, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag centres around a pirate unwittingly dragged into the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars.

Platforms: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC

Price: Rs 2999 / Rs 1499

Developer: Ubisoft

Publisher: Ubisoft

Distributor: E-xpress Interactive Pvt. Ltd.

Genre: Action/Adevnture

Age Rating: 18+

The Assassin’s Creed series has lost its way recently; mostly thanks to Ubisoft’s insistence that it become a yearly franchise. With multiple studios across the globe racing against the clock to complete each annual release, it’s only natural that gameplay and narrative cohesion take a back seat. We’ve come from Assassin’s Creed II’s respectful rendering of history to slipshod attempts at shoe-horning the franchise into regions and time periods that suit it least.

Assassin’s Creed III was, without mincing words, a disappointment of epic proportions; a game that chose to do so much but accomplished so little. The only gameplay element that stood out was the exhilarating sea battles developed by Ubisoft Singapore. And with tech and gameplay that was actually enjoyable for once, it probably made business sense for Ubisoft to expand it to a standalone game.

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Photographs: Ubisoft

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Enter Black Flag. Borne of failure, nothing to lose -- an apt introduction as any for the pirate premise it runs with. Set in the Caribbean slightly before the Assassin’s Creed III timeline, you play Edward Kenway, a pirate who is unwittingly dragged into the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars.

What’s different here is that Edward doesn’t really care which way the battle swings and is in it for his own personal interests, thus giving you a third person’s view of what has now become a true mess of a universe. This also applies to the real world/present-day part of the game where you play (in first person), a video game developer working on -- wait for it -- an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s brazenly meta and a nice change from the now forever tainted Desmond arc. 

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Photographs: Ubisoft

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The good thing with Black Flag is that Ubisoft really did pick the best mechanic to build a game around. You do run through emerging settlements and what not in the Caribbean, but a lot of your time will be spent at sea as Captain of the Jackdaw. You can upgrade her as you start attacking, boarding and looting other ships, but even at the start, the sheer visual splendour of steering her through a storm is a sight to see. You are quite literally sailing the seas and looking for adventure. It’s brilliantly realised.

There’s also wildlife and sealife in the world, going all the way up to massive whale sightings. Like Ubisoft’s own Far Cry 3, you hunt to craft -- building your own character upgrade path as you see fit. The Jackdaw is manned by the crew you recruit while you’re out and about on land -- maybe you’ll save them from executions or from being harassed by the local constabulary. 

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Photographs: Ubisoft

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And land is where Black Flag falters a bit. The irregular geometry of Assassin’s Creed III is still evident, with settlements that just aren’t built for free running the way the earlier European locations were (although Havana isn’t as bad). You’ll find it quite a chore to run a decent length without tripping up. And while the cities in the game may never be as interesting as the intricate marvels that were Rome or Constantinople, they sure are vibrant. There’s a good variation in NPCs and a lot of little in-world detail that adds to the atmosphere, although some locations really could use a lot more dirt and grime.

Exploration is also catered for thanks to ruins and coves as well as underwater wrecks are more than enough incentive for you to put your next story missions on hold. Unfortunately, while you rub shoulders with the who’s who in the pirate world, the story isn’t nearly as impactful as previous games. This can be a good thing, though. We’ve played this series for so many years that any variation is welcome, but you’ll have a nagging thought at the back of your mind that this really could have been its own franchise. A real, dedicated game on the pirates of the Caribbean without the baggage that comes with the Assassin’s Creed universe.

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Photographs: Ubisoft

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Add in the now standard and mostly unchanged multiplayer modes and you’ve got a package of significant value. Those of you playing on a PC can also have a sneak peek into next generation console tech if you max out your settings. Black Flag may not rise to the same high as Assassin’s Creed 2 or Brotherhood (or even 1 for that matter), but it’s a significant step up from Assassin’s Creed III and is hopefully a sign of the series regaining its past form.

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Photographs: Ubisoft

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