|Release: November 15, 2013|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, Blood, Use of Alcohol|
Outside the main missions, gameplay is refreshingly varied, and there are plenty of different things to see and do. Pillaging ships, taking forts, looting plantation warehouses, hunting wildlife for crafting purposes (mostly optional), taking assassin contracts, looting shipwrecks, getting into bar brawls, collecting any number of things--it's all there, and mostly available fairly early on in the game. In fact, the open-world gameplay is often more compelling than the story missions this time around. There are even some side quests featuring their own stories and cutscenes. It's an excellent start in terms of open-world development for the series, one I'd love to see taken even farther in future installments.
Maritime adventures deserve special attention in this game, as it's always been a tough challenge for developers to include sailing in games without making it dull. Let's face it, sailing long distances is quite dull in real life, so it's difficult to translate into a game mechanic. The ship segments of this game work on several levels. Black Flag's Caribbean is absolutely packed with points of interest, ports of call, and enemies to fight, so there are rarely long periods of sailing without anything to see or do. In addition, fast-travel points mean that there's no need for tedious backtracking when something interesting pops up on the other side of the map. Finally, naval combat is swift and deadly, hardly ever dragging out too long. Rarely has being out at sea been so much fun.
Topping off the good times is the ability to hang out with famous fictional pirates like Blackbeard, Calico Jack, and Mary Read. Watching these colorful personalities interact, dubious historical authenticity of said interactions aside, is highly entertaining. Students of history know that things didn't end well for most Caribbean pirates, but there's plenty of spirited fun mixed in with the inevitable tragedy. The historical mix of heady freedom and tragic downfall melds perfectly with the fictional Assassins versus Templars struggle underlying the action, though it was nice to have several main characters who were aligned with neither faction, as well.
Since I was reviewing Black Flag on the PlayStation 4, I took some time to check out the extra Aveline missions that are currently available on Sony's consoles. The three short missions detail Aveline's adventures recruiting escaped slave Patience Gibbs for the Assassin Order. Though the missions show off a bit of both women's personalities and provide an interesting change of scenery with their Rhode Island setting, they're hampered by failing to utilize Aveline's unique costume abilities and by a tedious escort mechanic in the third mission. Still, they succeeded in raising my interest in the upcoming remake of Assassin's Creed: Liberation.
Not only is it an excellent addition to the Assassin's Creed series, Black Flag sets the standard for pirate games, which have traditionally suffered from boring sailing mechanics and a lack of gameplay variety. For gamers who have so far avoided the series or have grown weary of it thanks to Revelations and Assassin's Creed III, this game is not one to be missed. It's a fresh new title, influenced rather than dominated by series formula, and it gives players unprecedented freedom in living the life of its Assassin. Despite the minor reactivity issues, I still recommend playing the next-gen version of the game if possible—the outstanding visuals are worth it. Between the incredible atmosphere, the expansive world to explore, and the myriad of entertaining activities in which to partake, video game piracy has never been more fun.
Date: November 21, 2013