- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Pros: Amazing Gameplay, Detailed Enivironments, Incredible Sense of Authorship
- Cons: A Few Gameplay Glitches, Some Repetition, Mediocre Multiplayer
At the end of “Assassin’s Creed III,” Desmond’s memories were uploaded to the cloud, allowing Abstergo to reach further back into his family’s legacy, finding the grandfather of Ratonhnhake:ton, Edward Kenway, an eighteenth-century pirate who rises the ranks of pillaging and plundering to not only rule the islands to which he sails but become a notable assassin as well. As with all “AC” games, this one alternates between the past and the future, although the majority of it takes place on those rolling waters of the Caribbean, as you steer the Jackclaw from island to island, taking what you deem as yours, managing your fleet and crew, and killing anyone who gets in your way.
The sense of exploration has always been a tenet of the “Assassin’s Creed” games. Who hasn’t spent abnormal amounts of time in these games just climbing buildings, looking for points to synchronize the memory (which helps reveal the world you’re in on a map for the uninitiated), hidden collectibles, or just a remarkable view? The fully-rendered and alive environments, along with the many secrets they hold, have been a key reason for the success of these games. In “Black Flag,” the sense of exploration becomes more essential than ever to the gameplay. You can spend hours sailing the seas, hunting sharks and whales to craft items, sending your fleet off on missions, scouring the horizon for ships to plunder for loot or take over as your own, and docking on one of dozens of islands rich with areas to explore. To say that “Black Flag” is MASSIVE would be an understatement. It’s one of the most author-oriented games of the year in that I guarantee you that my experience with it will be different than yours and anyone you know. Every day in the world of “Black Flag” brings something new.
While one could spend significant time merely searching the open seas for frigates to overtake or islands to explore treasure chests, the story of “Black Flag” is just as engaging, and more so than any previous “AC” game. Kenway is a charismatic lead, as he rises high enough in the ranks of the pirate world that he begins to run missions with Blackbeard himself. What’s so remarkable about “Black Flag” is the way the open-world exploration beautifully intertwines with the overall narrative. Traveling from port to port, taking down enemy ships and forts with a stunningly-designed ship combat system that’s easy to learn and hard to master, killing your enemies from the shadows, and upgrading your character and ship along the way – it becomes difficult to separate the “side missions” from the major ones. A lot of open-world games are so in name only. You can’t really do much outside of the core narrative. Everything here weaves together into one, remarkable experience.
As for actual gameplay, it’s almost impossible to capture the variety of mission types. In one minute, you’re swinging a rope to board a ship that you’ve just demolished with cannon fire. The next, you’re quietly moving through a bayou, hunting a captain. You’ll climb a fort wall and take down everyone inside with a seamless combination of swordplay, firepower, and even poisoned darts. You can play the game like a shadow, rarely being seen. Or you can test your skill like an ancestor of the lead in “Batman: Arkham Origins,” stringing together attacks & counter-moves to defeat waves of enemies. It’s endlessly entertaining, providing new types of gameplay every time. There are still some glitches, particularly in running (the game sometimes presumes you want to climb when you just want to run, which can be annoying when you’re chasing someone), but every minor flaw is smothered by something truly entertaining.