7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
All the usual flaws, but with a brilliant pirate twist.,
This review is from: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (Xbox One) (Video Game)
Had a rocky history with AC games - Found the first one hugely dull, got really quite into the 2nd one, got burnt out about an hour into Brotherhood so sacked that and Revelations, then found III to be a bit of a shambles. This ones was getting rave reviews so thought I'd jump back on-board and see if it was good. And it is! Very good in fact.
The game is at its best when you're travelling the world and sailing the high seas, picking fights with ships and taking down forts and singing shanties and gradually claiming every collectible and piece of map in that OCD way that's so satisfying with sandbox games. As a piece of open-world design Black Flag is incredibly well realized and a joy to spend time in.
There are still some problems though, and most of them are lingering artefacts of it's predecessors. The whole 'automatic free-running' thing is brilliantly fluid when it works and correctly guesses what you want it to do, but it's success rate at that is still as low as ever. There are few things more frustrating than failing a chase because your character suddenly decides to run up the nearest wall, leap off a rooftop or just stop entirely (this happens mid-climb often for no discernible reason. When you've been stealthing your way through a mission's optional objectives like a boss only to have all your good work undone because your assassino gets a life of his own is horrible. Likewise assassinations. Sneaking all the way aboard an enemy ship, climbing the mast and preparing to air assassinate the captain should be amazing, but your chances of hitting the right person are slim enough to make it hardly worth the effort. The game is badly in need of an additional run button, ie. one that just denotes 'run' and not 'run and clamber about on anything that pops into your periphery'. Missions that should feel epic descend into clumsy swear-fests without it. They make one of these things a year, the least they could do is improve their systems.
The combat doesn't seem to have improved either. It's aiming for Batman freeflow, but feels too unpredictable and imprecise to feel that good. Mission design can sometimes be thrilling, but there's a lot of tailing and eavesdropping, and these simply aren't fun and never have been. It looks great at times, particularly when you're at sea (the water tech rivals GTAV) but as the game gets into its 25th hour or so a lack of polish starts creeping in. Not sure if it's that the latter missions haven't had as much love or if things just pass you by for the first chunk, but there are unfinished animations, missing sound effects and rushed textures all over the shop later on for sure. These latter stages also mark the point where the story starts to get more into the overarching narrative of the series, which poses a problem for me, because I've always found the overarching story in AC to be complete rot. It's not that there's present day stuff and all that Animus malarkey (I actually really like that sci-fi twist and the meta weirdness in Black Flag is so mad that it's commendable, although that mini-game that's basically Frogger with worst controls can do one), it's all the nonsense about...well...I don't know what it's about really. I remember finding the ending of ACIII to be one of the most poorly written final acts of a game I'd ever seen, and while things don't get quite that bad here it's still disappointing that they couldn't just let you enjoy being a pirate in a pirate game without having to pull all the usual gibberish out their stream of consciousness hat.
That all sounds very negative, so it probably seems odd I'm rating this game 4/5. It's because, basically, although these criticisms are annoying (and I did spend more time swearing at ACIV than almost any other game this year) the open world design and the pirating and swashbuckling is so, so good, and so brilliantly executed, that despite any niggles, frustrations and weaknesses, I still had many blissful hours with the game where I was absolutely loving it. I'd be really happy if they gave themselves 3 years to make Black Flag 2, splintered it off from the main series (or just sacked the main series completely), gave it a longer polish period, sorted some of the jankiness that's been around since AC1 and just focussed on giving us a really great pure pirate adventure. Maybe still keep the present day meta stuff though. That was mad, and I liked it.