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'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag'

This thread has been linked to the game 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag'.
Sun 22/06/14 at 19:26:
Staff Moderator
"Meh..."
Posts: 1,462
There have been some abysmal "pirate" games over the years, with shoddy controls, bad plots, flimsy characters and little to recommend them. In fact, there hasn't really been a decent pirate sim since Sid Meier's Pirates back in the days when "top- down" graphics were state of the art, and even that formula was copied, butchered and brutalised until pirate games became something to be avoided as if they were infected with scurvy.

"Black Flag" is not one of these. I can honestly say that I haven't had this much fun stealing rum, attacking enemy ships and shelling coastal defences since... well, since Sid Meier's Pirates, actually. And here's why...

Gaaaarrrr....

Primarily, Black Flag is a third person adventure game. The plot is slick, well scripted and played out on a map infinitely bigger than Skyrim, with more locations to explore than you can shake a cutlass at, the coolest, most detailed mode of transport I've ever seen in a game, buried treasure and hidden secrets to find, side quests with meaning and impact, simple and fluid combat both on land and at sea, and even some optional "fun" objectives such as collecting sea shanties for your crew to warble out while you sail between locations. One minute you're at sea, facing off against a legendary ship and fighting to get that critical broadside in before you're scuppered, the next, you're on land, creeping through the undergrowth on the prowl for a tiger hide.

Shark fishing, whale hunting, scouring a submerged wreck from a primitive diving bell, assassinating a governor or infiltrating a military outpost, it's all there. Attacking and boarding an enemy ship alongside your trusty crew or stealthily stealing the contents of a warehouse, hunting down ancient relics or eliminating a band of smugglers, take your pick. I've had countless moments where I have been sailing toward a particular mission, only to be diverted by the thought, "I wonder what's on that island?".

Pieces of eight....

Additional to the plot is a subtle and unobtrusive roleplay element which allows you to upgrade your character and ship. The upgrades include new, more powerful weaponry, reinforced ship structure, outfits and skills and enhancements to your crew. These upgrades cost either resources (often "hunted" materials such as tiger pelts and whale bone, or wood, metal and cloth stolen from other ships) or sometimes gold. Generally, you can carry out ship upgrades from the captain's cabin or via a harbour master, whilst character upgrades can be purchased from local vendors.

A little way through the main plot, you'll acquire your own pirate's hideout, your very own island to explore and exploit. More upgrade options exist here, including adding more buildings to give your character even more "punch", some natty, locked away armour that can only be accessed by hunting down the required keys, and even the ability to build berths for ships so that you can recruit your very own fleet.

Shiver me timbers....

Controls are, in a word, simple. Steering a big wooden ship is cumbersome enough, which, clearly, Ubisoft recognised during game design, and as a result, they devised an ingenious set of single-key controls for unleashing your firepower. Ship to ship fighting is gloriously good fun, and boarding the enemy leads to close quarters combat and the option to scupper the enemy for materials, release the enemy to reduce your wanted status, or to add the ship to your fleet.

A word on your wanted status; the higher this goes, the more you'll be hunted, by bigger, more capable enemy ships. The rewards for winning a confrontation are greater, but so is the danger, so some thought is definitely required.

"Personal" combat is likewise good fun and easily controlled. This is, after all, an Assassin's Creed game, and as such the control set for this has been honed and refined over several games. Stealth, swordplay and shooting are all pretty easy to master, but that doesn't take anything away from game difficulty. The enemy AI is possibly some of the best, so leaving dead bodies everywhere is an absolute no-no, and if you are taking the stealth approach, don't expect to just crouch out in the open and not get shot...

Polly wants a cracker....

Visually, this game is stunning. Obviously, a great deal of effort has been invested in getting the large expanses of water looking just so, but equally the sandy shorelines, rocky crags and ruins, wooden huts, boats and characters have all had some serious love and attention. Cut sequences are typically Ubisoft, both graphically appealing and well scripted, like proper little films, and they're also well placed so as not to interfere with the flow and ebb of the gameplay. There's also some clever little bits, particularly in ship battles, such as drifting smoke from your cannon fire which can get so dense at times that your target is obscured (this, logically, only happens when you are close-ish to your target). Generally, pretty graphics are all very well, but they don't necessarily add much to the game, however in this case, there's a lot of added atmosphere and tenseness to be gained from losing sight of your target in the smoke of battle, only to have it reappear from the swirling clouds right on your bow. Frantic cannon fire and wrenching of the ship's wheel ensue...

As of yet, I haven't come across one poorly conceived model or texture, and I've covered most of the map. That's impressive by anyone's standards, but given the size of the gaming environment, the variety of it's inhabitants and diversity of it's terrain, it's bordering on miraculous.

My, what a lovely office you have....

Wait, what?
Weren't we talking pirates a minute ago?

Yes... like stumbling across some salty ol' sea dog's cadaver, you'll find treasure maps and gold, but there's bound to be at least one fly...

...and, Ubi, this one's a doozie.

See, when you're playing Black Flag, you're actually playing a game within a game. You are an employee in an ultra-modern tower block office complex, employed to play through a notorious pirate's history using an advanced simulator for... nefarious reasons. All will become clear if you occasionally hop out of the simulator and hack some computers, read some mail, eat some junk food, break some codes and listen in on some archive footage.

But here's the thing; I don't want to play "Office monkey goes computer hacking", I just signed up for four months at sea. I want to raid Tortuga, I want to sink a British Man o' War, I want to reduce a coastal fortress to rubble, fight my way to the top and shoot the Governor with a pair of flintlocks. Trawling through somebody's 21st century trash basket looking for clues just breaks my stride.

But, I guess the guys at Ubisoft looked at the scurvy-riddled corpses of previous pirate-based games residing in the "ten budget games for a penny" bargain bin of any game store and lost their nerve. The game smacks of starting life as a straight out pirate sim, and then somebody disguising it thinly with a veneer of "Assassin's Creed-ness" because "pirate games don't sell", or when they do they sink rapidly, faster than a schooner riddled with round shot.

I suspect that the majority of players feel the same as me, I can't see it otherwise. I would also wager a gold doubloon and my wooden leg that, like me, the majority of gamers will be spending as little time as possible in "modern day industrial espionage" mode, and as much time as permitted firing chain shot at the nearest Spanish ship. Fortunately, the game does allow you to almost completely forget that "it's a simulator", and I have spent countless hours without venturing near a post-it note or codebreaking top secret documents. Play it clever, the interruption is minimal.

So there it is, Ubisoft, the barefaced truth. It didn't need to be an Assassin's Creed game to be successful, it just needed to be a pirate game that worked. It's like taking "Pirates of the Caribbean", topping and tailing it with a feeble story about warp gates and calling it "Stargate: Pirate's Cove".

10/10 for the pirate bits. Seriously good fun, well scripted and slick.

If you can ignore the crusty barnacle that is "modern day Assassin's Creed", I highly recommend this game.
There have been no replies to this thread yet.
Sun 22/06/14 at 19:26:
Staff Moderator
"Meh..."
Posts: 1,462
There have been some abysmal "pirate" games over the years, with shoddy controls, bad plots, flimsy characters and little to recommend them. In fact, there hasn't really been a decent pirate sim since Sid Meier's Pirates back in the days when "top- down" graphics were state of the art, and even that formula was copied, butchered and brutalised until pirate games became something to be avoided as if they were infected with scurvy.

"Black Flag" is not one of these. I can honestly say that I haven't had this much fun stealing rum, attacking enemy ships and shelling coastal defences since... well, since Sid Meier's Pirates, actually. And here's why...

Gaaaarrrr....

Primarily, Black Flag is a third person adventure game. The plot is slick, well scripted and played out on a map infinitely bigger than Skyrim, with more locations to explore than you can shake a cutlass at, the coolest, most detailed mode of transport I've ever seen in a game, buried treasure and hidden secrets to find, side quests with meaning and impact, simple and fluid combat both on land and at sea, and even some optional "fun" objectives such as collecting sea shanties for your crew to warble out while you sail between locations. One minute you're at sea, facing off against a legendary ship and fighting to get that critical broadside in before you're scuppered, the next, you're on land, creeping through the undergrowth on the prowl for a tiger hide.

Shark fishing, whale hunting, scouring a submerged wreck from a primitive diving bell, assassinating a governor or infiltrating a military outpost, it's all there. Attacking and boarding an enemy ship alongside your trusty crew or stealthily stealing the contents of a warehouse, hunting down ancient relics or eliminating a band of smugglers, take your pick. I've had countless moments where I have been sailing toward a particular mission, only to be diverted by the thought, "I wonder what's on that island?".

Pieces of eight....

Additional to the plot is a subtle and unobtrusive roleplay element which allows you to upgrade your character and ship. The upgrades include new, more powerful weaponry, reinforced ship structure, outfits and skills and enhancements to your crew. These upgrades cost either resources (often "hunted" materials such as tiger pelts and whale bone, or wood, metal and cloth stolen from other ships) or sometimes gold. Generally, you can carry out ship upgrades from the captain's cabin or via a harbour master, whilst character upgrades can be purchased from local vendors.

A little way through the main plot, you'll acquire your own pirate's hideout, your very own island to explore and exploit. More upgrade options exist here, including adding more buildings to give your character even more "punch", some natty, locked away armour that can only be accessed by hunting down the required keys, and even the ability to build berths for ships so that you can recruit your very own fleet.

Shiver me timbers....

Controls are, in a word, simple. Steering a big wooden ship is cumbersome enough, which, clearly, Ubisoft recognised during game design, and as a result, they devised an ingenious set of single-key controls for unleashing your firepower. Ship to ship fighting is gloriously good fun, and boarding the enemy leads to close quarters combat and the option to scupper the enemy for materials, release the enemy to reduce your wanted status, or to add the ship to your fleet.

A word on your wanted status; the higher this goes, the more you'll be hunted, by bigger, more capable enemy ships. The rewards for winning a confrontation are greater, but so is the danger, so some thought is definitely required.

"Personal" combat is likewise good fun and easily controlled. This is, after all, an Assassin's Creed game, and as such the control set for this has been honed and refined over several games. Stealth, swordplay and shooting are all pretty easy to master, but that doesn't take anything away from game difficulty. The enemy AI is possibly some of the best, so leaving dead bodies everywhere is an absolute no-no, and if you are taking the stealth approach, don't expect to just crouch out in the open and not get shot...

Polly wants a cracker....

Visually, this game is stunning. Obviously, a great deal of effort has been invested in getting the large expanses of water looking just so, but equally the sandy shorelines, rocky crags and ruins, wooden huts, boats and characters have all had some serious love and attention. Cut sequences are typically Ubisoft, both graphically appealing and well scripted, like proper little films, and they're also well placed so as not to interfere with the flow and ebb of the gameplay. There's also some clever little bits, particularly in ship battles, such as drifting smoke from your cannon fire which can get so dense at times that your target is obscured (this, logically, only happens when you are close-ish to your target). Generally, pretty graphics are all very well, but they don't necessarily add much to the game, however in this case, there's a lot of added atmosphere and tenseness to be gained from losing sight of your target in the smoke of battle, only to have it reappear from the swirling clouds right on your bow. Frantic cannon fire and wrenching of the ship's wheel ensue...

As of yet, I haven't come across one poorly conceived model or texture, and I've covered most of the map. That's impressive by anyone's standards, but given the size of the gaming environment, the variety of it's inhabitants and diversity of it's terrain, it's bordering on miraculous.

My, what a lovely office you have....

Wait, what?
Weren't we talking pirates a minute ago?

Yes... like stumbling across some salty ol' sea dog's cadaver, you'll find treasure maps and gold, but there's bound to be at least one fly...

...and, Ubi, this one's a doozie.

See, when you're playing Black Flag, you're actually playing a game within a game. You are an employee in an ultra-modern tower block office complex, employed to play through a notorious pirate's history using an advanced simulator for... nefarious reasons. All will become clear if you occasionally hop out of the simulator and hack some computers, read some mail, eat some junk food, break some codes and listen in on some archive footage.

But here's the thing; I don't want to play "Office monkey goes computer hacking", I just signed up for four months at sea. I want to raid Tortuga, I want to sink a British Man o' War, I want to reduce a coastal fortress to rubble, fight my way to the top and shoot the Governor with a pair of flintlocks. Trawling through somebody's 21st century trash basket looking for clues just breaks my stride.

But, I guess the guys at Ubisoft looked at the scurvy-riddled corpses of previous pirate-based games residing in the "ten budget games for a penny" bargain bin of any game store and lost their nerve. The game smacks of starting life as a straight out pirate sim, and then somebody disguising it thinly with a veneer of "Assassin's Creed-ness" because "pirate games don't sell", or when they do they sink rapidly, faster than a schooner riddled with round shot.

I suspect that the majority of players feel the same as me, I can't see it otherwise. I would also wager a gold doubloon and my wooden leg that, like me, the majority of gamers will be spending as little time as possible in "modern day industrial espionage" mode, and as much time as permitted firing chain shot at the nearest Spanish ship. Fortunately, the game does allow you to almost completely forget that "it's a simulator", and I have spent countless hours without venturing near a post-it note or codebreaking top secret documents. Play it clever, the interruption is minimal.

So there it is, Ubisoft, the barefaced truth. It didn't need to be an Assassin's Creed game to be successful, it just needed to be a pirate game that worked. It's like taking "Pirates of the Caribbean", topping and tailing it with a feeble story about warp gates and calling it "Stargate: Pirate's Cove".

10/10 for the pirate bits. Seriously good fun, well scripted and slick.

If you can ignore the crusty barnacle that is "modern day Assassin's Creed", I highly recommend this game.

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