To be honest, after the debacle that was Assassin's Creed 3 I didn't really want to play part 4, especially since it seemed like the game would only reinforce the mistakes of its predecessor back when the trailer came out. My fears all came true, and they didn't. While they definitely got ahead and used the pirate-setting as a background for all kinds of ridiculous action and adventure, further making a mockery of the assassin parts of the story, this works surprisingly well in some respects. Steering the Jackdaw through the waters of the Carribean is as fun an experience as one could wish for. I disabled and entered one ship after the other, upgrading the Jackdaw and enjoying myself to the shanties the crew sings whenever you have to cover a stretch of water without getting shot at.
|Essentially, we have Pirate-Ninjas now.|
Unfortunately, these episodes still are not tied in with the main story which sucks nearly as much as the one about Connor. Edward, who's Haytham's father, starts the game as a total loser, out for adventure and being pretty much a dick. He remains so for a surprisingly long time of the story, interested mainly in making a fortune and returning to England to his estranged wife. For this, he searches for a Precursor artefact, the "Observatory", which is basically your standard McGuffin. So far, so good. Edward is much more interesting than Connor because he is able to enjoy himself, and the stolen Assassin suit he uses for his own gain (much to the dismay of the Assassins) is a really nice angle.Unfortunately, the plot leads nowhere. For no reason, at some point Edward decides to become an Assassin and a good guy(tm) after all. The motivation isn't clear, his character still doesn't fit the Assassins at all, and they only take him in because of the game's title, basically.
|They managed not to include the few female characters.|
But all of that is not nearly as enraging as in the third part because we at least get some engaging if somewhat one-dimensional supporting characters in James Kidd, Benjamin Hornigold and Blackbeard. The enemies you face, unfortunately, are rather bland and die in very unclimactic fashion simply because the plot demands it somehow. They aren't even crossing Edward's path; he deliberately seeks them out because of reasons. But as I said, you can suffer through that, because on your voyages from plot point to plotpoint you can shoot up many ships and take prizes.
|Arr, mate, you might want to think of a costume less obvious.|
This, as I mentioned, is unfortunately still not tied to the main game. There is exactly one (really easy) mission requiring you to purchase a Jackdaw upgrade that was conveniently locked before, and that's it. Why don't they tie their parts in more? I don't get it, really. Many missions could simply have foes that require certain upgrades to defeat, without the game telling me in advance, or there could be story missions that require some plunder. A real missed chance there, in my humble opinion. It also leads to a real dissonance in tone, even worse than in previous games, because I'm constantly, you know, pirating, attacking innocent people and taking their stuff, while the main story tells me that Edward really is not ok with innocents getting hurt. You can't have it both ways, people.
|Kill and loot, for...eh...freedom?|
The most hilariously stupid part however is the present day story. Instead of shelving that bullshit alltogether, you are now a nameless employee of Abstergo Industries, a video game company producing the most awesome pirate game ever by using the Animus technology. The company is located in the fanciest office tower ever and has the best workspace and people working there you ever saw. Yep - you are basically playing an Ubisoft employee, programming Assassin's Creed IV, and you are constantly told just how AWESOME the company and the game are. This is so ridiculous I can't begin to describe it. But, as stated earlier, there are tons of fun to be had with the game (37 hours, my Steam profile tells me), even despite the really stupid story and all the issues that plagued previous games. And this leads to my biggest criticism of the game: the sheer lazyness with which it was produced.
|He dies in the name of entertaintment.|
I'm ok with recycling stuff from previous games, because I get that making those things is expensive. No problem. But please, could we start to improve some stuff once and again? The animations are really bad looking in many parts (especially the fight-scenes, which is unforgivable in a game putting so much emphasis on the cool duels on shifting decks). The biggest enemy in the whole game are the controls (at least in the PC version). I constantly jumped in the wrong direction or not at all. The avatar still gets stuck on pebbles, on fences and on invisible corners. When you're jumping the yards, sometimes you jump to another, sometimes simply down to either the water or he hard deck. The graphics reach from "breathtaking" (some of the scenery and the ships from afar) to "totally outdated" (character models, the ships in close-up). And so on and so forth.
|Beautiful water, for example, but don't look too close at the ropes.|
The gameplay hasn't been changed a bit, neither. You still get the exact same missions, and many of them still suck. Trailing, for example, is technically the most assassin-y thing to do, but the controls and actual mechanics make it a total mess. The AI is still more stupid than in Command&Conquer, and there are exactly four types of enemies you encounter. Four. In total. They only change color, depending on whether they're Spanish, British or other Pirates, which, by the way, doesn't affect neither gameplay nor story in any bit. They are all just nameless blokes singled out for killing because they're red on the minimap.
|Kneecaps! Ha, did you see him cry? Oh, sorry, you were saying?|
And then, the most offensive feature of all: the game is ridiculously easy. Combat is even less challenging than in the previous titles, if that's even possible, and the same goes for the sea battles or pretty much any other challenge. The only point in the game where they were remotely challenging was in the beginning, when you don't possess any upgrades. Gaining them, however, is also very easy. No challenge holds up agains the way-too-cheap upgrades you can purchase, except for the "legendary ships", which unfortunately aren't tied in with the story, neither. This leaves nothing in the way of real challenge, which, given the clumsy, bad controls and camera control, is perhaps for the best. A lazy man's exit from problems that should have arisen very early in development.
|It takes ten seconds longer to dispose of this guy, if you're guns aren't loaded.|
Why do I still play the damn games? Because there are too many moments in which they are fun. If it works, jumping from the yards of your ship to the enemy's, cutting down their flag, rushing down on the deck and duelling the enemy captain is just great. Slugging it out with an enemy man-o-war is also a rewarding experience, if the shaky camera isn't accidently responsible for not being able to fire a broadside. The game really captures the adventur-y feeling of a pirate story, silly to a fault and unapologetic about it - until the main story gets in the way, as usual. I hope that after this fun detour in the realm of the silly, the designers look not at the gameplay but at the story and characters of part one and two and design the fifth "Assassin's Creed" in a setting that challenges us and our convictions, gives us something to be engaged in, something to relate to and, above all, something to fight for. Like, say, the French Revolution? Can't hurt to ask.