You may be wondering why it’s taken me so long to review Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. I do have a very good reason for the delay, and that’s because I was waiting for the Freedom Cry DLC to release. I felt that this would provide a more complete overview of this latest AC title and, to be quite honest, I was so utterly bored by the main storyline that I hoped the DLC would add some fire to a lackluster game.
Assassin’s Creed Snore: Black Lag
We’re going to just get the bad mojo out there before we get to the good stuff, because I can think of no other way to properly review Assassin’s Creed IV. But be ye warned: there lay spoilers ahead!
As I started the single player campaign for AC IV BF, I was struck with a horrible thought: Ubisoft is like the French Activision, in that the AC franchise is starting to feel a little Call of Duty-ish. It seemed like just last year I was air-assassinating black bears as the most wooden assassin since Altair: Connor. Oh wait…it WAS just last year (this is bearing in mind that AC IV released in 2013, and that’s when I bought and played it). I couldn’t recall ever getting excited for this game beyond the promised ship-based adventures and really, that’s the best part of Black Flag. Once Edward Kenway gets settled on the Jackdaw, there was no stopping me when it came to plundering ships on this epic nautical map. This is not to say that there were no glitches to be found along with the plunder. There is no way that as a fresh pirate with a bare-bones ship, I should have been able to take down a level 39 Man ‘o War, but thanks to said MoW somehow flipping onto its side and exposing its hull, I was able to pummel it enough to capture and send it to my fleet. I’m not setup for video capture from my 360, but I’m sure you’ve seen some of the more hilarious ship-related glitches in this game.
Secondary to overturned ships were just little errors that were distracting and, considering how hard I had to work to keep up my interest level for the main story, I found myself more frustrated with their appearance than I have ever been with game glitches. My personal favourite has to be when my crewmen were dangling in mid-air as we’re sailing at travel speed. I played around with that for a while, changing directions and then bringing the Jackdaw to a dead stop in the water. The crew would then revert to normal behaviour, hanging onto the mast and climbing the ropes…until I started sailing again! Argh…and not in the pirate way.
Black Flag also suffers from a serious case of BORING STORY. Sorry. I tried to think of something clever to say here, but all the thinking time in the world couldn’t yield better snark. It goes without saying that there will never be another Ezio, who had some personality and I believe will go down as the favourite assassin. I was annoyed with Connor as a character and thus could not muster half a damn to give for his dilemma. Haytham was by far the best character in AC III and so I assumed that a game dedicated to the exploits of his father would be exciting and captivating. At this moment, I can’t quite explain what was happening with his wife, Charlotte…or was it Caroline? Christina? Whatever. See what I mean? I have cared more about Call of Duty characters than I do about Edward’s story, and while the historical bits and “surprise!” moments (though really, who didn’t see that James Kidd thing coming?) were fun they don’t make up for the lackluster character development.
As I’ve said before, the times you’re on the Jackdaw, sailing through the Caribbean Sea and raiding British, Spanish or French ships are among the game’s best moments. The sea shanties are particularly brilliant, and I know I’m not the only one singing along with the crew. Visually, Black Flag is a stunningly beautiful game. Coming from a Caribbean island myself, I have to commend Ubisoft on capturing the beautiful shades of blue and green that we have in our waters, as well as the tiny land masses that are mostly found in the Bahamas’ area. That being said, I did chuckle when the map made it appear as though Jamaica and Nassau are relatively close together when in truth they are quite some distance apart. Not doing anything to improve people’s geographical prowess, then.
The addition of Kenway’s Fleet makes your nautical adventures that much more interesting. I loaded my fleet with frigates and Man ‘o Wars, salvaging and upgrading as I gained the ability to take down more powerful ships. The Ubisoft companion app came in handy here and is a nice touch; I send my ships out in the morning while on the train to work and then collect the cash when I get home. And trust me, you will need cash in this game. Some of the upgrades for the ship are ridiculously expensive, and the game urges you to plunder by tacking on material requirements (cloth, metals, etc), all of this contributing to the making the nautical aspect the game’s defining feature.
Finally, while he’s about as interesting as Twilight when he’s talking, Edward is pretty cool when swashbuckling. Yes, there were some glitches, but I did enjoy his reckless fighting style, particularly when using just the hidden blades. There were some finishing moves that were so full of bone-crunching, muscle-tearing goodness, it brought a tear to my eye. He possesses some of the same flourish as Connor (bless him) but with less control and precision. Basically, if Edward’s going to stab you, there’s no telling where he’ll land. It made for fun combat, and I appreciated this plus point to an otherwise boring character.
To Plunder or Not To Plunder?
If you’re a die-hard Assassin’s Creed fan, you will get this game. Do I recommend it for people new to the series? No. Hell, I don’t even recommend AC I for newcomers, but that’s not the point here. I would prefer that Ubisoft take two to three years to fine tune their AC titles before releasing them as the glitchy, lackluster time-waster that Black Flag ends up being once you’ve completed the story. The wear and tear is beginning to show, more than it did for AC III, and the worst part is that Ubisoft doesn’t seem to care. Let’s not even get started on the annoying ‘meta-ness’ of when you’re out of the Animus and are wandering around “Abstergo” offices, hacking your colleagues’ Animuses (Animi? I don’t know) and discovering all the shady secrets of the Subject 17 project. Those moments were super distracting for me and added nothing to the game, not even when that nut job from IT turns out to be who you think it is all along (if you’d managed to pay attention, that is). Keep reading as we dive into the Freedom Cry DLC.
Freedom Cry: Sensitive Ubisoft Is Sensitive
Whenever a developer tries to tackle a sensitive subject, whether it’s something that happened in the past or is currently occurring somewhere in the world, people generally cringe, unsure as to how the game will turn out visually and emotionally. Two such subjects are the holocaust and slavery. In my next post (sometime this week), I’ll speak more in-depth about this, but for now check out this article, about Luc Bernard and his crusade to make a game solely about the holocaust. Right now, we’re going to take a look at the Freedom Cry DLC for Black Flag, and how Ubisoft took that other hyper-sensitive subject, slavery, and built game content around it.
Freedom Cry focuses on Adewale, Captain Kenway’s quartermaster for most of the main story. Adewale is a former slave, having escaped from his Trinidadian plantation when it was raided by pirates. He speaks of his experience as a black man on the high seas in the main story, and at some point in the game he leaves your side to find a higher purpose with the assassins. There are some well done interactions between Adewale and the people in Kenway’s life, particularly when one of them comments “You let him carry a pistol?” and Edward berates him for insulting his quartermaster. Nice touch, that. In Freedom Cry, set 15 years after the events of Black Flag, Adewale is captain of his own ship, running errands on behalf of the Assassin Brotherhood. After raiding a Templar convoy, he steals a parcel addressed to a woman residing in Port-au-Prince, but he doesn’t get a chance to discover what’s in the box before a storm shipwrecks him on the shores of Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti). From hereon out, he lends his considerable aid to the cause of the Maroons of Port-au-Prince. If you’re unsure who the Maroons were, click here to educate yourself.
I went in giving Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt and, despite Freedom Cry sporting many of the glitches that plagued Black Flag’s main story, I was pleasantly surprised and more than a little emotional with their handling of this subject. Please keep in mind that this is my own opinion; if you don’t like it, feel free to respectfully disagree. Much like the holocaust, I don’t think people will ever quite understand how horrifying slavery was, from the journey across the Atlantic to the indignities suffered by the slaves in the Caribbean. On the island of Curacao, there is an exhibition where you head underground and get an idea of what it was like to be packed, stacked and shackled like sardines in the cargo hold of a ship for months at a time. Freedom Cry slaps you in the face with this reality towards its emotional ending, which I won’t spoil here.
The best thing about this DLC is that Adewale plays like an entirely different character to Kenway. He is big and muscular, and he makes it count in his combat encounters. You can’t help but wonder if being surrounded by the injustice of slavery drives his brutality when executing slave overseers and guards. Freedom Cry wastes no time in throwing you into the plight of the Maroons, but all around you there are examples of what life was like for slaves in the Caribbean. There are cages to be unlocked, runaway slaves to rescue and auctions to stop, all in the name of recruiting Maroons for the revolution. The town crier proclaims the conditions of Le Code Noir, a royal decree that contained “guidelines” for the handling of slaves in the French colonies, including how often and with what tools a slave could be punished. How kind, right? Still, it’s the kind of detail that we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Ubisoft and they deliver ten-fold.
You are still able to upgrade your ship, though I spent less time on the seas in Freedom Cry than I did in Black Flag. Ships react to your vessel with alarming quickness, particularly when you’re tasked with intercepting slave ships and their escorts. I actually cannot recall having Hunters on my trail in Black Flag as quickly as they are in Freedom Cry. I took it as an indication that for a horrific time in human history, human cargo was more valuable than rum and sugar and thus painted a target on any who would interfere in that trade.
I won’t rehash all the glitches of Black Flag here; just know that they are present, though they are less distracting once you’re used to them from the main game. I will say that my biggest pet peeve with Freedom Cry was the absence of singing on board the ship. As Adewale moves through plantations, eliminating overseers and freeing slaves, there is a wonderful rise and fall to the volume of their field song, one of the best historically accurate features in this game. Ubisoft enlisted Olivier Deriviere to score Freedom Cry and he brought La Troupe Makandal on board. The result is a perfect blend of orchestral and traditional Haitian drum rhythms that are a highlight of the DLC. The songs being sung in the fields are in line with those freedom songs that were used to pass the time in the field and, in some instances, to communicate with one another. Your ship’s crew is populated by Maroons and other freed slaves, so it seems illogical to exclude songs while you’re sailing towards liberating more slaves. Besides this, however, Freedom Cry possesses a more engaging story than Black Flag and that makes me wish there was more on the way, particularly because I feel it had a rather open-ended conclusion. This is the first time I’ve ever purchased a Season Pass and luckily it was worth the money spent.
I hope you enjoyed Freedom Cry as much as I did. I’m aiming to settle into a posting schedule that’s a bit less interrupted. Thankfully, Christmas holidays only happen once a year! Until then, peace.