Do you hear the people sing?There’s a lot wrong with Assassin’s Creed: Unity. I mean, there is a lot right with it too…but there is a lot wrong. Now, I went into playing Unity all smug like, thinking “well, I have seen Les Misérables both on stage and on screen – I am totally in the know of the French Revolution. But, apparently, there was more than one – so where Les Mis is set in the early 1800s, Unity takes place during the 1790s. So, my knowledge on the historical events were limited, with the only historical figure I recognised being Napoleon. Oh, and Madame Tussaud makes an appeareance! Not that my lack of knowing is the game’s fault by any means – I mean, how were they supposed to know that my historical knowledge was limited? But it certainly makes you less invested in the story if you don’t really know who is who. Anyway, that is an irrelevant side note.Unity follows assassin Arno Dorian throughout his adventures in Paris. Arno’s story takes an interesting, different route from previous AssCreds; it focuses more on a unity (hey? hey?) between Assassins and Templars, as opposed to the usual “we have to find these deadly artifacts before they do!” approach some of the previous games take. Despite this interesting premise, Unity fails when it comes to deliverance. The story feels very disjointed and slow of pace, with the Revolution not actually kicking in until about half way through. There are some fascinating side characters – powdered faces, ludicrous wigs and what not – but most of the main cast are pretty bland, and many share similar facial features, making it quite difficult to distinguish between who is who. One of the best features of the plot is the love side story, which plays out nicely as the game progresses. Still, Unity, somewhat ironically when you think of the title, seems to stand very alone when compared to previous Assassin’s Creed games. Granted, we have just finished what is called the “Kenway Saga”, so naturally all of those games would link, but there is barely any reference to previous instalments (apart from unlocking past protagonists’ outfits), which, considering this is only set a few years after the Kenway Saga, is a bit disappointing. If you have played Rogue, you will know how its epilogue ties in nicely with Unity’s prologue – so it would have been nice to maybe feature Shay at some point during the game, even if he is an older man by then. There is also no ‘modern day’ section of the game, bar a few cutscenes, which is a shame because it was actually quite a fun little diversion going around and hacking computers, learning about Abstergo’s secrets. As a final point on plot, the trailer/promotional art would have you believe that Unity focuses on a troupe of young Assassins who work together having banterous fun and a cheeky Nando’s every now and then. This certainly is not the case in the story, unless this kicks in right at the end. There are several multiplayer missions scattered about, and the game puts a great emphasis on completing these (I have no friends so…), but nothing in the main story, unfortunately.This leads nicely onto my next point: sidequests. Fans of the Assassin’s Creed series will know that there is an abundance of activities to complete in each game. Unity is no different. Now, opinions on this may be mixed, but I believe that Unity offers too much. The map of Paris is lovely, large and lively, and absolutely infested with side activities like moles on my back. There are chests to open. Some are locked, which requires a certain degree of lockpicking skill, which can only be obtained after completing Sequence 5 or 9, depending on the skill level. Lockpicking is also incredibly boring and tedious. There are collectibles in the form of cockades; like Animus fragments in previous games, these are dotted across the map and serve no real purpose other than gotta catch ‘em all. There are murder mysteries, which are actually quite enjoyable, in which you take the role of a Batman-style detective. They range in difficulty from piss-easy to that-required-me-to-think-a-bit. There are assassination missions, which literally highlight a random poor bugger on the map and require you to go and kill him. Alongside this we also have “Paris Stories”, mini-missions that require you to complete a few little tasks for certain characters; nothing too special. Lastly, there are Nostradamus Enigmas. Nostradamus, being the enigmatic little seer that he was, has left clues around Paris in the form of riddles to unlock some uber armour (probably for aesthetic purposes only). I enjoy a good riddle, but some of these are ridiculous – it got to the point where I just looked them up. There are 18 in total, each with three riddles, which have you traipsing all over Paris. Again, a nice idea, but piled on top of everything else, it just becomes tedious. The fact that there is no real reward, bar some aesthetic differences, also makes all of these side quests lack incentive. In the Dead Kings DLC there are some similar riddles to unlock a hilariously OP sword, but that’s kind of it. Unless you’re an achievement hunter then it feels like a waste of time. Saying that, achievements are stored on uPlay (if you’re on PC), so what the hell is the point there?
Unlike its predecessors, Unity is a ‘new-gen’ game, and it certainly feels it. With a new art style which I have mixed feelings about (a bit like water painting), and an arguably improved freerunning mechanic (it’s a lot more fluid but also a lot more restricting…play and you will see what I mean), Unity feels like a slightly less intelligent big brother to its previous instalment siblings. The clunky controls are still apparent, making Arno very difficult to control at times. Combat has changed slightly too – it’s a lot more difficult, which is a welcome change. It now requires you to actually think what you are doing, as opposed to waiting for an opportunity to counter before engaging in a kill streak. There is a vast variety of weapons and armour to customise Arno with, but, again, this is a little overwhelming. In the weapons category, you have one-handed, two-handed, long weapons, pistols, rifles and (if you have Dead Kings) guillotine guns, which are pretty much grenade launchers with axes on. You can swap these around at any time by accessing the customisation menu, but due to the clunky route you have to take to get there, there isn’t too much point. The plus side is that you can make Arno into the type of fighter you want: will you go sword and pistol? Or perhaps a spear? Unfortunately, if you choose a weapon such as one from the rifle category, that serves as both your melee and your ranged, making combat limited. I just stuck with one handed sword and pistol, occasionally dabbling into heavy. There are also a finite number of skill points, so make sure you spend them in the category that is useful to you. Now, you can also customised every inch of Arno’s outfit, from hood to gloves to belt to pants. Well, not the last one, but close. Each item of clothing offers different stats and oh my gosh it’s just too much. If you’re really into customisation, then this is great for you, but unless I’m playing an RPG in which I can actually role-play with a character how I want, then it’s limited. I don’t care what gloves Arno wears. Additionally, various weapons and clothes have exactly the same stats – the appearance is just different. As mentioned, you can also unlock previous protagonists’ outfits, and a few others, that serve as a skin for whatever armour you are wearing.
Unity by all standards is a decent game, but it falls short in a lot of areas, and lacks where games such as Black Flag and Rogue succeeded. Ridiculous load times, various texture and clipping issues (and at one point, two characters kissed, and they didn’t touch, resulting then standing near each other with puckered lips making kissy sounds…), and other somewhat silly factors that really shouldn’t occur in such an established franchise stop this game from being great.
If you’re a fan of the series it’s worth playing, but I personally wouldn’t spend more than about £20 or so on it, as seems to be the continual case with most Assassin’s Creed games.
Like a Gat Outta Hell I’ll be gone when the morning comes…or in four hours, when you complete this game.
After the funtastic voyage that was Saints Row IV, my faith in the series was restored. So when Gat Out of Hell, a series spin-off, appeared on sale on Steam, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. If you have played any previous Saints Row game, particularly IV, then you will have an understanding of what the gameplay entails: open world sandbox, lots of crazy guns and super powers. Gat Out of Hell sets off after IV concludes. At the celebration of Kinzie’s birthday party, the Boss is suddenly sucked into a warping vortex and transported to Hell to marry Satan’s daughter. Now it’s up to Johnny Gat and Kinzie to save him/her. As a nice addition, if you have any Saints Row IV data saved on your computer, the Boss will look like your playable character. The story itself will only take about three to four hours to complete…not very long at all. Fortunately, as with all Saints Row games, there are umpteen amounts of side quests…but not always for the better. The story as a whole is pretty funny, going as far as including a wonderful musical number. As you build up a plan to combat Satan, you’ll rally and encounter various deceased characters from previous games – although more could have been done with this – and notorious real life historical figures such as Blackbeard, Vlad the Impaler and, of course, Shakespeare. The cut scenes are also beautifully rendered, albeit with some minor texture issues. However, a lot of cut scenes seem to show what could have easily been a mission, for example, storming Satan’s stronghold. It’s a shame, as rendering these as missions would have provided a few more hours of gameplay, especially since many of the missions are copy-paste ‘go here, kill this, come here’ style. What’s also kind of annoying is that story missions are triggered by the amount of carnage you create in the streets. That is to say, you could be doing one of the many side quests when suddenly you are informed that you have peaked Satan’s interest and are suddenly transported into a story mission. Not a major issue, but a bit of a nuisance.
As mentioned, there is a large number of side quests (or ‘diversions’) to partake in too, such races, mayhem, insurance fraud etc…all the regular Saints Row kinda stuff, with a Hell-y twist. Accompanying these diversions are over a hundred challenges, providing some extra play time…if you’re a completionist. And I mean, a real completionist. Many of the challenges are merely “kill X enemies with weapon A”, “kill Y enemies with weapon B”, which is pretty darn tedious and boring if you ask me. Especially because killing a certain number of enemies triggers a mini-boss, whom when they are killed, removes all enemies from the area, meaning you have to build up more once again. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, but will add a fair few more hours onto your playtime. There are also over 900 collectibles so…yeah.
As mentioned, gameplay follows what you would expect from Saints Row. Like IV, you unlock various super powers (or ‘halo powers’ in this one), allowing you to perform interesting Hell-themed elemental attacks and even fly. This, of course, makes cars completely useless, which is fine because the driving aspect of the game seems to have deteriorated even more since the previous instalment. The weapons are, of course, pretty brilliant. These range from locust shooting SMGs, lightning hammers, stake-shotguns and, naturally, an armchair-minigun-rocket-launcher. There are also seven special weapons embodying the Seven Deadly Sins, such as a flaming sword and compassion gun. You can imagine what that does.
You can switch up between Gat and Kinzie at any time during the game, however neither characters play any differently. The only difference is in the conversation. Sadly, this also means that Saints Row’s epic customisation has completely gone – there are no clothes shops, tattoo parlours or plastic surgeons. Despite this, the map is fairly large and, although black and bleak, seems to offer quite a variety of exploration. What was disappointing was discovering various huge tunnel ways under the setting city (New Hades), which has absolutely no use whatsoever.
Gat Out of Hell is a cool concept, and a nice addition to the Saints Row franchise. However, due to its short life and similarities to Saints Row IV, this feels more like DLC than an actual game in itself. For that reason, I couldn’t really recommend paying more than £10 or so for it, but if it appears on sale then definitely purchase it. If you enjoy the Saints Row games and what they have to offer, then this is a worthy addition to the library. To see my previous Saints Row IV review, click here.
Thanks 2K, but where’s all my new shit?
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! (exclamation mark included) is the latest addition in the family-friendly Borderlands series. AKA Borderlands 1.5, this game is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2. However, I will do my bestest not to include any spoilers for any of the three games in this here review. Holla. At time of writing, I have only played a couple o’ hours with a couple o’ characters with a couple o’ friends (and m’self), but I think that’s sufficient enough to warrant a ‘first impressions’ review, don’t you think?
First off, The Pre-Sequel!, whilst good, does just kind of feel like a Borderlands 2 DLC pack. Which isn’t a bad thing, considering Borderlands 2 is a brilliant game, but there just isn’t enough new/updated stuff to really advance the series. The bottom line is, The Pre-Sequel does everything right that Borderlands 2 did, but also suffers from the same wrongs. There. You can make your own judgement now. Go, fly on!
Still here? Thank you. That means a lot. Seriously. Ok, detail. So, what’s new? The Pre-Sequel starts off as the two previous Borderlands games did: choosing your character. This game has you choose one from four classes: Gladiator, Enforcer, Lawbringer and Fragtrap. What’s pretty cool is that all of these characters have appeared in some form in previous instalments: Athena, the Gladiator, made her debut in a DLC pack for Borderlands 1 as an NPC. Wilhelm the Enforcer and Nisha the Lawbringer both appear as enemies in Borderlands 2 (in one way or another), and the Fragtrap class is none other than that lovable robot Claptrap. There is quite a variety in classes – each character has their own unique skill command – though Wilhelm and Athena do seem somewhat similar, moreso than the other two, at least.. Athena uses her shield to absorb/dish our damage, Wilhelm summons two drones to aid him, Nisha can enter a Red Dead Redemption-style quick draw mode, and Claptrap….well, his takes a little explaining, and is definitely the most fun. Claptrap’s skill analyses the battlefield, taking into account how much ammo, how much health etc. you have, and grants some sort of boon to the party dependent on that – whether it’s having everyone enter a ‘funzerker’ mode (guns, guns, guns), or mimicking Krieg from Borderlands 2’s rampage skill, or giving the whole party rubber rings to…bounce with. Inevitably, more characters will be released as DLC, so I am curious to see where that goes. Additionally, each characters’ melee attack feels more unique than it did in 2 too. For example, Claptrap does a little punch, whereas Nisha uses her whip, which has a longer range but deals a bit less damage. Naturally, your real power comes from one of the bazillion zillion guns that you can pick up throughout your play through. Two new additions to your already well-endowed arsenal are laser and cryogenic weapons. The former, as you may have guessed, fire a barrage of lasers that slowly drain enemies’ health. The latter, as you may have guessed once again (you rascal) freeze your enemies, enabling you to shatter them with a mighty blow!
The story: As mentioned, The Pre-Sequel is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2, and depicts the rise of Borderlands 2 antagonist, Handsome Jack. As with previous Borderlands games, due to the sheer number of side quests, the main story can often be a bit ambiguous and confusing. Still, all in all it’s very funny, and I’m definitely interested to see where it goes. Borderlands 2 had some brilliant moments, particularly in its fantastic DLC, so I have…hopes for The Pre-Sequel. The game is set on Elpis, Pandora’s moon. As such, zero gravity plays a key role in The Pre-Sequel’s gameplay. You’re equipped with an oxygen pack (oz pack) that allows you to jump great distances, float a bit and even butt-slam down onto enemies below – which is pretty cool, because you can send them floating off into the infinity of space Malcolm Reynolds style. Watch out, ‘doe! If you use too much oxygen you WILL DIE. Unless you’re Claptrap. Because he don’t need no oxygen. This is a fun little addition that makes exploration and combat feel that teency bit fresher than it did in Borderlands 2.
As for newness, that’s about it really. Everything else – graphics and general gameplay etc.– are pretty much the same as they were in Borderlands 2. I mean, it all works brilliantly, and obviously the game features a fresh soundtrack and voice acting – but overall the game doesn’t really feel like an upgrade…just more of the same. The game still wonderfully blends RPG elements into the FPS genre, and for the most part, the script is pretty hilarious. I would say ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’, which, you know, they haven’t…but they also haven’t fixed what is broken. There are a handful of glitches that I have already encountered, rendering a quest un-completeable. These are generally solved by exiting the map and re-entering, but in my fast paced adult life, I don’t have time for that! Also, the menu is still just as clunky as it was in 2. In fact, it’s exactly the same. Again, not game-breaking, just a small nuisance that I would have hoped they may have fixed. Lastly, the enemies feel quite repetitive. You seem to be fighting the same ones over and over again, with no real variety. Elpis is ok to explore, but has nothing on the design of Pandora in previous installments.
Overall, the game just feels like a big ol’, slightly unpolished DLC for Borderlands 2. It’s still fun, especially with friends, but Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! unfortunately lacks the innovation and originality to really make it stand out. I’ve clocked 100 hours on Borderlands 2…something that I just don’t see happening with The Pre-Sequel, sadly. If you’re new to the series, go and pick up Borderlands 2. If you really like it, give this a go, but spend your time over there first. I’ll be looking forward to the inevitable Borderlands 3 and TellTale Game’s Tales from the Borderlands…
This review was originally supposed to be a ‘first impressions’, but against my better nature I have become a bit addicted to this game…so here is a full review!
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an amalgamation of Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham and, of course, the Lord of the Rings universe. Now, I love all of these series, so was super hyped for this game. My verdict after
playing it for a good ten hours completing it? Ehhh….very good, but not amazing.
Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed my time playing Shadow of Mordor, and it’s mighty addictive, but there are many things that this game promised on, or should incorporate, that it just doesn’t.
Let’s start with the plot. The game is set somewhat ambiguously between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. However, it is unclear whether the events of Shadow of Mordor are canon or not, for a handful or reasons, generally to be with lore laws and time frames. This is just Tolkien nerd stuff, and isn’t really important, but when you kind of know the outcome (the events of Lord of the Rings) then you probably won’t get that excited as to what the outcome of the story is. Whilst the game does do a great job of making you feel like you’re in Middle-Earth, there are a few aspects that I imagine would make young J.R.R turn in his grave and huff – a few very un-Tolkien-y aspects. But then, this is the man who one day decided that he had been spelling ‘orc’ wrong and decided to stick a ‘k’ at the end instead. Truly a genius, was he. Anyway, on to the plot. Protagonist Talion – a ranger stationed on the Black Gate – and his family are brutally murdered when Sauron’s (who is in the midst of leaving rehab) forces attack. However, something strange happens to Talion, and he awakens to find himself only mostly dead. He is revived by an enigmatic elf-wraith who seems to only speak in riddles, metaphors, proverbs and LotR quotes. The overall story itself is ok, but nothing amazing. It’s almost told in two parts – the present day exploits of Talion – who I was extremely apathetic towads – and uncovering the history and true identity of the Wraith. The latter is certainly most interesting, as it also reveals more on the origins of the One Ring…plus, you get the help of a certain skinny, balding ex-hobbit. Talion’s present day shenanigans aren’t particularly exciting and follow quite a basic, conventional structure, complete with a forced semi-love interest because she is the only other female in the game under 50. The final couple of missions are quite good, but are let down by easy boss fights and an overall disappointing ending that almost screams “lol wait for DLC”. Still, there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied whilst playing through Shadow of Mordor, so the disappointing story isn’t that much of a hindrance.
The game essentially has you playing as two characters – Talion and the Wraith. Talion can utilise the standard ranger skills of swinging a sword, whilst the Wraith enables him to perform wicked cool combos, shoot a ghostly bow, jump and climb almost Assassin’s Creed style, scare enemies, gaze into their minds and even control them later on in the game. Killing enemies and completing tasks grants experience which in turn unlocks more combos and moves. The combat system is pretty much Batman: Arkham, but with swords and uruks (which is another word for the type of orcs you encounter) instead of batarangs and fists, so if you’re familiar with that then you know what I’m talking about: keep mashing the attack button to build up a combo, occasionally countering when the indicator appears above enemy heads, or dodging, or stunning to unleash a bigger combo with the occasional instant takedown thrown in…which is awesomely satisfying. I don’t really think I need to explain it any more. It is literally Batman: Arkham. This isn’t a criticism, as the combat in the Arkham games flows very nicely and is rather enjoyable, and it has translated over to Shadow of Mordor very well. There are a few issues with Talion attacking a completely different enemy than I wanted him to, but it’s not that big a deal. Unlocks include finishers, throwing knives and bow attacks that aim to keep combat fresh and entertaining and allow you to build up super cool combos. Combat is a lot of fun. If you don’t want to get up close and personal, Shadow of Mordor also includes a pretty good stealth system too. Using his dagger, Talion can sneak up and assassinate unaware enemies, before retreating back to the shadows or a conveniently placed bush. The bow also introduces a new pace of combat, allowing you to snipe enemies from a far and, later on in the game, blink towards and execute them, which has become my favourite thing. The combat itself isn’t particularly tricky – even bosses don’t pose much of a challenge, sadly – unless you suddenly get ambushed by about 50-odd orcs…which tends to happen quite a lot. But even then, if you have your wits about you and know how the flow of combat works, you can time counters and dodges so that you don’t get hit at all. But even if you do, dying is kind of fun so it’s not a big loss.
Outside of combat, AI is…pretty stupid. Uruks seem to have a peripheral vision of about 100˚, so you can stealth kill one fella, and the guy next to him won’t notice. To my knowledge, there is no option to crank up the difficulty, which is a shame – though removing certain features from the HUD will make it harder to see when to counter in combat, I guess. But it doesn’t take long in the game before you’re able to take down bosses in about 5 hits or so.
Exploring Mordor, you’ll be running around Mordor like a rampant mûmak in a mithril shop. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, you can climb up buildings and parkour across rooftops to drop down on oblivious orcs. In fact, this whole element seems to have been lifted from Assassin’s Creed completely, right down to the way Talion moves or leaps off a building. Like, it looks literally the same. Due to the clunky controls however (also maybe lifted from Assassin’s Creed, but a bit worse) you’ll oft find yourself jumping the wrong way, or plummeting to the ground when you meant to grab a ledge. You’ll get used to the controls eventually, but my god it feels like Talion ways as much as…a rampant mûmak in a mithril shop.
Despite the core gameplay elements seemingly being lifted from two other franchises, Middle-Earth: Batman’s Creed is still a very fun game to play. I mean, in all fairness, it’s taken two of the best characteristics from the games that it has lifted from…so that’s good, isn’t it? It all connects together beautifully. One thing that makes Shadow of Mordor unique, however, is the Nemesis System, which you have probably heard people fanyboying about. Throughout the story, Talion must hunt down various uruk captains and war chiefs. These are essentially bosses that lead Sauron’s armies. Talion can encounter these commanders throughout the world – which is always quite exciting – and those of whom who have had run ins with him before will remember him – whether they managed to kill you, or if they fled. For example, if you fought Mr Orc before, and you burnt him and he ran, he might appear later on with a burn down his face and say “you went and burnt me an’ now I’m goin’ to kill you!”…or something slightly more creative. It’s a great way to make the world feel alive – and it is extremely satisfying when you hunt down an uruk that killed you previously and slice his head off. During the course of the game, various uruks will earn promotions, rising up the ranks of Sauron’s forces, and ultimately becoming a lot stronger. They do this by winning fights amongst themselves, recruiting new members or even just having a nice little feast. And, of course, if they kill you. Speaking of, death matters in Shadow of Mordor. Due to Talion’s wraith-like nature, death doesn’t really feel like you have failed. Aside from having to listen to the same dialogue flow whenever you respawn (which seems to reset every time you exit the game), and obviously being withdrawn from whatever you were doing at the time of death, the game progresses as normal, only this time orcs will be like “heeey…I killed you!” One thing I would like to see, though, is death taking its toll on Talion – maybe his clothes could become more damaged, or have scars appear on his body? Something to perhaps symbolise that he’s not really a-ok. Another thing that I would have added would be the ability to have 1 v 1 fights with uruk captains, whilst their supporters looked on. It would make the fights seem a lot more epic and tense, as opposed to you having to go off to deal with another pesky orc every couple of hits on a boss.
As you unlock more abilities, you can dispatch uruk commanders in a number of different ways, such as sending in one of their minions to do it for. It’s a creative way to enact revenge on those that wronged you, and I hope similar schemes like the Nemesis System can continue to develop and exist in further games.
Shadow of Mordor also offers a balrog full of collectibles and side missions to complete whilst you’re avoiding the main story. Artifacts can be found that recall certain memories (somehow) or Middle-Earth’s occupants, revealing histories of the land and its people. There are also sword, bow, dagger, survival and hunting challenges that unlock experience and achievements…but that’s about it; there seems to be no real in game reward, which is a shame. Some side missions include helping a band of soliders known as the Outcasts (which, whenever I see, just reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame song), but these missions are all pretty much the same and tire very quickly. They have, however, also thrown in a nice little sense of community in that if someone on your friends list is killed by an orc captain, you can avenge them in a special ‘vendetta’ mission. Aside from this, you can also spend all day hunting down various uruks to instil the wrath of Man upon them. The story will probably take you around eleven hours or so to finish, but if you’re a completions and enjoy the side quests, then I reckon you could double that.
All in all, I am enjoying my time playing Shordor, but it just doesn’t live up to the hype. I’m not sure if I am missing something, as most reviewers seem to be giving it 9 or 9.5/10. I give it a solid….8. Yeah. It’s a good game, but not without its faults. At the moment, I’m not fussed about buying the season pass (god that’s another can of worms. Bloody season passes). I mean, I don’t mind paying an extra £20 or so if I know the DLC is going to be worth it, or if the game has already provided me with 80+ hours of entertainment like Borderlands…but for this? I’m not sure. I will wait and see what I think of the DLC. I realise I haven’t spoken about the graphics or sound! Goodness me, I’m so sorry. Well, aesthetically this game looks great, especially during the cutscenes, but there isn’t much variety in environment – it’s all Mordor before Sauron spilt his load on it, which looks pretty much the same anyway, just less…ashen. The map also isn’t that big – you start off in one area and eventually progress to a second, but that’s it. Considering the size of the game, these are relativity small. The voices are well acted, however Troy Baker’s Talion sounds like a generic LotR character. If someone said to you “talk in a Lord of the Rings voice”, it would be that voice. Liam O’Brien doing a gosh darn fantastic Andy Serkis impression, and Alastair Duncan portrays a wonderfully slightly dickish elf in the Wraith, which, to be honest, all elves are. Dickish, that is; not wraiths. There is also a database chock-full of lore and character information that will make the most diehard Tolkien fan squee with joy! There are a handful of clipping issues and glitches (such as floating orcs) that I encountered, but nothing game breaking.
So go on, get out of here you scamp. Go and play some Shadow of Mordor. Fly, you fools!
I’m so into pirates right now. Like, seriously. Also, I haven’t tried multiplayer yet, so this review is for the single player campaign only.
If we’re not going to get an Assassin’s Creed game set in Victorian England, then I guess playing as pirates is the next best thing. A prequel of sorts to Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has you playing as AssCred III protagonist Conor’s grandfather, Edward Kenway – a Welsh eighteenth century sexy pirate who finds himself caught up in the ongoing Assassin/Templar War. The game opens with the ship that Kenway is on being attacked. After being marooned on an island, he ends up chasing down and killing an Assassin – thus, Kenway’s induction into the Assassin club is a lot less…traditional than previous protagonists, including Conor’s. Despite this chance encounter with an Assassin, Kenway is still an ancestor of dull Desmond, and is therefore related to Ezio and Altair too. So, even though he just happened to stumble on to becoming an Assassin, which I think is kind of cool, it was always in his blood. Perhaps that accounts for his unexplained super agility, skill with weapons, dashing good looks, parkour skills and Eagle Vision, like all the other members of the Desmond bloodline? Perhaps…
If you have played an Assassin’s Creed game before, which you should have, you’ll know what to expect from Black Flag. The game is actually a reconstruction of Kenward’s memories, thanks to the Animus. At any point in the game, you can get out of the Animus and explore the ‘real world’ (to an extent). In this scenario, you play first person as a faceless, nameless Abstergo employee, aiding the company in creating the ultimate entertainment experience after the success of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (yeah, it gets pretty meta.) But this is Abstergo, so I don’t trust them for a second and assume they’re actually trying to take over the world.
Back playing Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll spend most of your time climbing up buildings, towers, ships and trees with little-to-no difficulty. You’ll dive from ridiculous heights into conveniently placed hay bails without so much of a scratch. And you’ll kill so many guards in the name of JUSTICE that any morals you had before will be thrown out the window. You’ll also, obviously, see how many ‘innocents’ you can accidentally-on-purposley kill before you are desynchronised. Yes, Black Flag follows the same formula as previous AssCred games, but adds entirely new elements in its open world exploration. Previous Assassin’s Creed titles have had large open maps, but Black Flag’s world is set in the West Indies, and as such about 75% of the map is water, speckled with numerous little islands. This may sound like a boring waste of space, but Black Flag’s naval exploration is where the game really stands out. A couple of hours or so into the game, you gain command of your own ship, the Jackdaw, which can be upgraded with new weapons, armour, figureheads, steering wheels and sails throughout the game, enabling you to create the ship o’ your dreams! Controlling the Jackdaw is a welcome change from the clunky controls that burden Kenward on dry land – you can alter between different speeds, face wind residence, currents and must think quite tactically about how you steel, lest you end up ramming into a small island. There’s no real consequence for this (the ship only takes a small amount of damage from rock-ramming) it does add a few seconds onto your travel time. So if you’re busy and important like me, you’re going to want to steer quite clear. The naval combat is also superior to its land counterpart. Not much has changed in the latter since the last AssCred game – you still pretty much just have to stand there until someone attacks you, then counter it, then win. It gets very stale. But out on the deep blue sea, naval combat demands a whole different pace. The Jackdaw can be equipped with numerous weapons including cannons, fire barrels and giant bolas which must be used systematically to incapacity your watery foe. Weapons have a recharge time, so you can’t just fire them willy-nilly, and you and your enemy are pretty much constantly moving and circling around each other, so timing is very important. Not to mention that they are probably trying to ram and shoot you too. It’s just very satisfying, and weirdly doesn’t get that repetitive. The weather also poses another challenge, and changes dramatically: one minute you might be enjoying a tan on the deck, and the next you’re confronted with an angry maelstrom that’s throwing rouge waves and tornado at you. It’s very atmospheric! And you feel pretty epic navigating your ship through tidal waves and probable death.
Going back to the map, there is a large number of places to explore. From big towns like Havana, to tiny islands hiding a treasure chest, the world has an awful lot to offer. Too much…some might say. I mean, it’s great, but there are so many tiny islands scattered around with Animus Fragments or chests on that getting them is definitely going to take some time, if you’re a completionist. There are also dive spots that are unlocked further on in the game, allowing Kenward to dive into ruins of sunken ships and underwater caves huntin’ fer treasure. These side missions are an interesting change of pace and scenery, although I have to applaud Edward’s talent to be attacked by sharks, jellyfish, eels and sea urchins all whilst retaining his gigantic lung capacity. It gets a bit silly but I’m sure that can all just be put down to Animus trickery! Also, from the beginning of the game, you can find pretty much all of the collectibles, which is weird when they are then introduced in the story in sequence 3 or 4. It just seems a little bit like the story writers didn’t correspond much with the collectable planners. Additionally, (and this is just a little peeve) at the very beginning of the game you can go around freeing captured pirates, who ‘thank ya, Captain’…but you’re not a captain yet! You’re just a nobody with a hood! But, ah, details…
The story itself is quite compelling, and I am interested to see where it goes (at point of writing I haven’t actually completed the game yet…). I’m also curious to explore the ‘real world’ and see what the aforementioned Abstergo are actually planning. The characters throughout the story are quite fleshed out, with Edward being a lot more likeable than Conor, even if he is a morally gray scallywag. Like previous Assassin’s Creed titles, and one of the things that draws me to the series, Black Flag‘s alternate history features many real life historical figures, including infamous pirates such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But I tend to spend most of my time pursuing the side missions and the dynamic quest system. As well as the aforementioned collectables, there are also Assassin contracts, Templar hunts, whaling (which I always feel very bad about), naval contracts and a few mini games to privilege yourself with. The story and side missions themselves mostly follow the basic Assassin’s Creed principles: following someone, eavesdropping, chasing someone, assassinating someone, infiltrating a restricted area etc. Unfortunately these do become a tad tedious, and whilst many of the missions encourage a stealthy approach in their optional objectives, there is no real consequence if you’re seen; you don’t desynchronise, and as I said the combat itself is pretty easy so you can easily fight off a horde of enemies quite quickly. Also, there are some missions that require you to ‘stealthily’ follow another ship…which is stupid because on the open sea I’m pretty a fat off pirate ship isn’t the most inconspicuous.
One thing that the Assassin’s Creed games do well is create an atmospheric environment, and Black Flag is no different. The rain and water graphics look amazing, and it’s great to go from running around a tropical island to a busy port town. The weather is brilliant, and on numerous occasions I have found chills running down my spine as I’m chased through foggy waters by a ghostly looking ship. Black Flag is definitely a welcome addition to what is generally a great series. It corrects what Revelations and AC: III did wrong and is definitely up there with AC: II and Brotherhood in my humble opinion. There’s lots to do in a beautiful world, and it just highlights the fact that there really aren’t enough pirate games out there!
Oh, and as it’s Ubisoft, you’re forced to play via uPlay. “What’s your uPlay name?” said no one ever. Gah! Though, I must say, it’s nice that achievements and accomplishments can actually be used to enhance your experience of the game. You have that going for you, uPlay. Well done. But that’s it!