Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag ReviewGuest_Jim_* - November 24, 2013
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If you have never noticed that the Assassin's Creed franchise is a kind of metaphor for gaming, you will have to notice it with Black Flag. Outside of the Animus, you are an unnamed employee of Abstergo Entertainment, working through the memories of Edward Kenway, so everything can be recorded and eventually made into a video game. After completing memories, you actually have the ability to rate the mission on a five-star scale. While that is the publically known purpose of your efforts, the Templar's true goal is to have you find the Observatory, a place built by the First Civilization containing an artifact capable of revealing the sight of any person.
When outside of the Animus, you are able to explore the Abstergo Entertainment building. I would describe it as what you would expect a Google-designed game development studio to look like. The company's opulence is obvious everywhere, both in terms of aesthetics and function. The elevator alone reveals this as the shaft is surrounded by an aquarium, while the elevator itself is controlled wirelessly with a tablet, given to you by the company.
Despite the grandeur of the building though, apparently Abstergo Entertainment does not have much of a bonus system, as instead of receiving a check for good work, you receive statuettes for achievements. These statuettes appear in your office as you earn them for beating challenges, but there are also some visible in other offices.
You eventually gain the ability to go anywhere in the building and hack any computer to uncover Abstergo secrets, or Ubisoft having a bit of fun. The latter is exemplified by market analyst videos discussing if games should be made by Abstergo featuring the prior assassins of Ubisoft's titles. Needless to say, they reject all three assassins because, well, they are assassins. You would not want to make your enemies the protagonists of your video game. You will also find documents about Templars encountered in the previous games, talking about all the good they did before being martyred.
By the way, because I have played all of the previously released Assassin's Creed PC games, outfits for the previous assassins were unlocked for Edward to wear.
Speaking of Edward Kenway, he is an anti-hero through and through. Every choice he makes is to increase his coffers and save his own hide. Occasionally this leads him to make good choices for bad reasons, but he also makes a number of bad choices, such as helping the Templars severally damage the Assassins. This has an interesting impact on the story, as you remain disconnected from the activities of the Assassin Order for almost all of the game. Instead you are a part of the pirate leaders, trying to create a free pirate state, where people can do as they please. This struggle does have some larger political intrigue, but is still just the goings-on of a world ignorant of the Templar-Assassin war.
Though initially having no interest in either side, Edward eventually finds himself befriending and working with the Assassins. Largely this is because of how often his and their goals align, with profit being his gain, and his skills theirs. Eventually he does recognize the destruction he has brought upon himself and the world, due to his anti-hero ways. This leads him to try to become a hero and earn the assassin clothing he stole and wears throughout the game.
This placement of Edward, outside of the conflict, is reflected by the position of the unnamed, out-of-Animus character. In the beginning you have no knowledge of the Assassins or Templars, but by living Edward's life, you learn about the two sides, and by helping out a co-worker to collect and share information with the modern-day Assassins, you realize the truth of the situation.
For those of you wondering how Black Flag deals with the ending of Assassin's Creed III, everything is explained. If you do not want to know, skip to the next paragraph. The project you are working on at Abstergo Entertainment is the Sample 17 project, which is using the genetic memories recovered from samples of Desmond Miles' body to explore the past. One rather neat aspect of this explanation coupled with the Abstergo Entertainment concept is the stated potential for living the memories of any ancestor of any person. Many of Desmond's are in fact listed as potential sources for future games. Juno's plans have also been revealed and explained, at least in part, after having escaped the Grand Temple.
I enjoyed the two stories of Black Flag; inside and outside of the Animus. I found them both to be intelligently crafted and driving. I want to explore the two worlds to uncover what I can about them. Edward is an interesting character, as are his friends and enemies, at an interesting time and place in history, where one man can be reasonably expected to have grand adventures. Definitely a story that is fun to experience.