“Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag”: Everything Is Permitted (Maybe It Shouldn’t Be)

As you can read in my review over at Slant MagazineI find that in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, you can do just about anything. It’s a terrific refinement of previous entries, particularly in multiplayer, but one that also emphasizes just how flawed certain essential aspects of the game, like combat, are. Assassin’s Creed may be the SNL of video games: everybody has their favorite “cast” (i.e., entry) but they’re all relatively similar and safe, improving only in visuals and production value. Personally, I was offended by the way Ubisoft surveyed players in-game as to what they thought of each mission–even if the conceit of the modern-day framework is that you’re a playtester working for Ubisoft’s fictional co-producer, Abstergo Entertainment; after six titles, shouldn’t the developer know what works? At the same time, I was delighted to have the option to harpoon Moby Dick or attempt to sink four legendary pirate ships, even if I hated the mechanics that went into both of these side-quests. Likewise, I was frustrated by the wonky controls of the undersea diving sections–but only because they were otherwise so beautiful, with sharks to hide from, moray eel and jellyfish to dodge, and sharp, twisty coral reefs to navigate around. Each entry makes baby steps in the right direction, and Black Flag‘s the best to date, especially on next-generation systems. But there’s the constant sense that it could be better and that all the random tasks shouldn’t feel so empty and meaningless. (And yes, I know they largely serve to upgrade the Jackdaw, but that’s far from necessary.) As I said about Grand Theft Auto V, less is often more–perhaps the developers need more conversation and less action.


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