Some people might wonder why I am delivering my Verdict of Black Flag when I haven’t even finished the game yet. If someone asked me that question I would reply by saying something along the lines of “I have played enough of if to pass judgement on whether it is a good game, and if I would be happy to buy it.” Without further ado, why not hit the break and find out what I have made of the game after around 12 hours or so with it.
The long and short of it? Black Flag is great fun and very much worth picking up, whether it is on the current gen machines or the upcoming new machines. The last Assassin’s title I played was Revelations, one that sadly left me feeling cold. The systems were getting tired at that point and my interest in Ezio’s story was on the wane as his plot became ever more involved with the conspiracies of the Templars and Assassin’s. The American adventure of Assassin’s Creed III then passed me by entirely, been there and done that was my reasoning. The same nearly happened with Black Flag as my cynicism nearly got the better of me, but the lure of pirate-themed adventures was too strong to resist.
I started Black Flag with a hopeful heart, not entirely convinced that the trailers and what I had played at the Eurogamer Expo were going to do the full game justice. As soon as I saw our lead man Edward Kenway talk to his wife in a flashback, I knew I was going to enjoy the ride. You see our lead man Kenway is from Wales, and as a Welshman myself I was thrilled to hear his accent shine through. His nationality and pride in his place of birth leads to some amusing comments through the game with the numerous characters he is involved with, being able to relate to them in some small way perhaps let me connect to our Pirate-cum-Assassin more readily than might otherwise have been. Some of the comments in the Animus database about his background, and the background of others are worthy of a chuckle as well.
For those who want to get straight into the Jolly Roger action aboard the Jackdaw, you do have some waiting to do. Before you take control of Kenway, he is involved in a battle in which his ship is destroyed and he gets washed up on a small island. After some exploration with the required View Points to climb and treasure chests to pilfer, you find a kind soul who will let you take his boat in return for his safety. After some further shenanigans in one of the larger ports you make a thrilling escape with the Jackdaw and from then on, you are pretty much free to explore the entire map.
The world of Black Flag is split into various areas of difficulty in which there are greater enemy ships and fortifications to deal with, to truly keep alive in these tougher areas you will need to improve the Jackdaw with improved hull armour and cannons, most of which do require at least some story progression to improve. If you wish though, you can have quite some fun exploring the easier areas of sea in the very early portions of the game listening to some fabulous sea shanties from your crew. I have spent quite some time doing this, sailing the seas with my crew singing away, ducking and diving from larger Spanish and English ships and picking off the weaker ones. Assaulting the forts that act as the View Point for each section of sea is a thrilling experience, especially as you start taking on the more difficult areas. If you aren’t careful you can find yourself attacking these forts during the peak of a storm or with enemy ships bombarding you, vastly increasing the odds of the Jackdaw being destroyed.
While the time spent on the boat is surely the highlight, the islands you can explore are enjoyable side trips, with added spice when you find a treasure map. The towns and cities play out fairly similarly to previous games in the series, but with an added piratey feel. They are rich and detailed, even on the PS3 version I was playing but truly the best land adventures come when you are on a trip to a special mission-based location such as the island which turns into your very own Pirate Home.
I have to note that there was an enforced stealth mission which I found very frustrating at times, especially as I felt that the reasons for the required stealth didn’t quite fit with your goal. I had to take a break during this mission as I was getting extremely frustrated, but that has been the only real minor issue I have had with things so far. Hell, I haven’t even had much of an issue with the Abstergo sections so far, maybe because you aren’t playing as Desmond this time, rather just another Abstergo employee trying out the various memories on offer. I have only had a handful of trips to Abstergo thus far, but they really haven’t been that painful, much improved over previous titles.
I think my completion status is sitting around 30% and I have to say that the Assassin’s and Templar story hasn’t been as in your face as I had worried it might be, things might take a turn for the worse further along I will admit, but from my experience so far, this truly is an outstanding return to form for a series I feared was losing its way. What is great though, is that if I find myself getting too swamped by the story, I can just take the Caribbean and explore.
The freedom of the open sea with the sea shanties is a joy and while it took me a couple of hours to get used to naval combat, once you fully click with the systems you will find yourself hunting down the Spanish and English and getting into battles for the pure fun of it. There a few experiences in games like boarding a Frigate and climbing the rigging to launch some amazing assassination moves. It is worth noting that sword-play is really fun, especially when you get the counters and combos flowing. However you do have the ever-present issue of enemies seemingly queuing up to take their turn.
As a game that is being release across the generations, this is a wonderful experience and one that I highly recommend, be it on current or next-gen machines, or maybe even on the PC. It certainly feels like the series has found its footing once more. I’ve been pondering what my actual Verdict is, but after some consideration I am confident to give this the hallowed Red Mist.
Verdict – Red Mist
Platforms Available – Current-gen, next-gen, PC and even the Wii U.
Platform Reviewed – PS3
Review copy supplied by Ubisoft PR. Please check this post for details on our scoring system.