Review: Assassin’s Creed Black Flag

Originally posted on the Project Spark Forum here.

Let me start by saying, this was my first Assassins Creed game so YMMV on whether my comments will apply.

I was surprised that MS offered this game, being AAA and very highly regarded. There were quite a few Games with Gold that I found very good but apparently under-appreciated so this was the first that was AAA and reviewed well. Downloading it was a no-brainer and I am currently ~25% along the game according to the start screen. I am still playing, which tentatively says I give it a thumbs up.

Let me start with the elements I don’t like, which will most likely make me put away the game before finishing the main story. The land controls are horrible. The normal walking speed seems to be as slow as the stealth walking speed and using the “run/parkour” mode makes you stick to any and all random objects around you. Many other games manage to use the analog sticks to control your movement speed from very slow to running, but someone designing this one forgot that very simple principle. The problem is compounded by the fact that you can still climb on some objects – specifically chests and crates – when walking so adding in the slow command prompt I end up on top of half the things I just want to open. It is also difficult to tell when you are going to automatically jump (such as when you are climbing up walls or running around rooftops/tree limbs) and when you have to press jump. I suspect this has been the case for the previous games, and long time fans are used to it.

The other issue is the really bizarre difficulty curve. There are times I have been throw into missions with zero explanation as to what I need to prepare – even if I could. I’m pretty sure the first major ship battle takes place before you can upgrade anything on your ship, which results in a pretty short fight when you intentionally antagonize enemies (often several) that tear through your hull. Then, after you suffer, they give you something that makes the previous situation trivial, like the ability to upgrade your ship in the aforementioned battle or sleep darts after making you crawl through a ridiculously long “no kill” stealth mission without them. I like a challenge, but for at least two or three missions I feel like failing a bunch of times because of some new random surprise or reading a walk-through is required. I don’t want to play a game where a wiki is pretty much required (shudddup minecraft…) or the frustration of making no progress after multiple failed attempts.

With the negative items out of the way, let’s move on to the positive ones. Minus the missions I complained about above, I really enjoy the more free-formed “find your own way” to solve the problem in many of the other missions/side-quests/activities. It is not as good as Watchdogs and definitely not Deus Ex caliber, but it is appreciated when available. I also like the open world aspect – when I get frustrated with something I just go sailing! There are all different places to see and things to do. As much as I hate the land controls, the ship controls feel “right” to me. Get yourself a couple of shanties and I challenge you not to want to cruise around the Caribbean listening to your crew and finding new things. I don’t want to spoil some of the things you can stumble upon, but I can say many are pretty cool. This is what makes this game.

The game-within-a-game conceit is interesting and the way they handle the “real world” and “game” plots seems to be compelling. I was familiar with Desmond from the previous game from friends who played them, so those elements were not lost on me. Additionally, I feel like there is “something going on” in the real world that I would like to see through to the end. And who doesn’t like PIRATES? I do want to see more of Kenway growth as a person and how his story unfolds. This is a good way to keep me playing since I am not a cheevie-hunter who is going to stick with a game to get gamer score. The various minigames in both settings are decent but not noteworthy.

Summary: 7/10 – abyssmal controls and some difficulty/pacing issues hold back an otherwise excellent open world adventure. Since they took out my favorite part of AC Black Flag in AC Unity, I suspect I will avoid the sequel at this point even if the alarming number of issues reported are fixed.

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