Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
What makes Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag so remarkable is that everything is done well. With literally hundreds of different things to do at any given time, you would expect at least a handful of them to be mishandled or unpolished. While I could nitpick about the lack of rewards for upgrading your homefront at Great Inagua or the time-suck of the fleet minigame, I cannot say that these aspects of the game are poorly designed. This is a game where the series creators have learned what works and what doesn't and have carefully tweaked their enormous repertoire to fit the needs of a new setting.
|There's treasure out there for those brave enough to seek it|
The functionality on the Wii U is also worth noting. When playing normally, the GamePad offers you a map that is much bigger and more useful than the minimap on the main screen. This is especially useful at sea. It's not used for much else, but the game does have a great function that I want more Wii U games to have: by simply pushing both analog sticks in at the same time, you can seemlessly switch from TV mode to off-TV mode. It's so handy, it makes me wonder why Nintendo didn't think to have a button designed for exactly this purpose.
[Gameplay: 10 - No game franchise out there today can boast a bigger or more polished bag of tricks than this one, and Black Flag does an impressive job adding a whole new set on top.]
PRESENTATION and SOLO GAMER SCORE
When I first heard about Assassin's Creed IV, my biggest concern was that the last game was so riddled with glitches and graphical problems that I couldn't imagine how a single year could be enough to both fix them and do even more. Miraculously, though, Ubisoft did it. While Black Flag is certainly not glitch-free, it is light years ahead of other big games in terms of polish. Not only is it better than Assassin's Creed III in this regard, I'd gladly put it up against other enormous open-world games that had much longer development times, including Grand Theft Auto V. In my 100+ hours with Edward Kenway and Abstergo Entertainment, I came across maybe--maybe--a half dozen glitches, none of which were problematic, but with my 100+ hours with Grand Theft Auto V, I can distinctly remember over twice that many, including the dreaded game freeze.
The music strikes a very different tone this time around, but one that suits the pirate theme quite well. It gets a bit repetitive, but the compositions are all good and memorable. Additionally, the voice acting is top notch (including the sea shanties) and the sound is mesmerizing. The off-putting faces from Assassin's Creed III have been fixed, and load times have been drastically reduced (though it really annoys me that all you can do during the load screen is run--I miss being able to swing my swords or jump around). I would go so far as to say, presentation-wise, this is the finest game in the entire series, by a long shot.
As for the solo gamer score, it's hard to hold the existence of multiplayer against a game that takes the something-for-everyone approach. Since the multiplayer doesn't take away anything from the enormous single-player experience, I can't punish it too harshly either. However (and despite the fact that I played the Wii U version, where achievements and trophies aren't a thing), I still have to dock it a little for including multiplayer achievements, just to be fair and consistent with other reviews on this site.
[Presentation: 10 - This is the most polished and beautiful game in the entire series so far.]|
[Solo Gamer Score: 9.5 - It has multiplayer achievements.]
This game is so good, it almost makes me regret giving Assassin's Creed III such a high score. Indeed, in terms of the gameplay and presentation, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is as huge a leap forward from its predecessor as Assassin's Creed II is. The only thing I think Assassin's Creed III did better was the historical storyline, but don't think I am trying to argue that Black Flag has anything but a great story of its own.
|Forts don't stand a chance against Edward Kenway|
Before I played Black Flag, I heard rumors that it doesn't move the greater mythology forward very much, but I'm happy to say that those rumors are absolutely false. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that there are plenty of surprises in store for the larger Assassin's Creed story, surprises that most definitely push everything forward. Any disappointment expressed by the fans is probably the result of a lack of a staggering cliffhanger like almost every previous game, but that doesn't bother me, as this story addresses plenty of lingering questions while raising a few more of its own.
In the final analysis, this may be the best game yet in the entire series, and I don't make that point lightly. If there had been a three year gap between Assassin's Creed III and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, I would be saying the same thing. I would even be surprised that the game could be so much of an improvement after only three years. But given the fact that this came out just one year after the last game, I cannot possibly heap enough praise on the game's creators. This is an accomplishment that boggles the mind, and a game every fan of the franchise should be playing. Needless to say, if the next game comes out this October, I'm not going to be so reticent about playing it.
SOLO GAME SCORE: 9.5
TOTAL SCORE: 9.6
If you're a fan of the series and are having a hard time mustering up enthusiasm for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, I'm here to tell you that you need to get excited.
-e. magill 3/4/2014