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View Full Version : Assassin's Creed: Black Flags Review [SPOILER FREE]



shobhit7777777
11-12-2013, 10:18 PM
Assassin's Creed Black Flags is one of those rare games that carries itself with confidence...confidence born out of the fact that the game is so well designed that every single system is robust, engaging and loads of fun. Its apparent from the first few hours that the developers were absolutely sure of what they were doing.

There is no dilly dallying...no baggage...the game dives in swiftly into a beautiful, vibrant game world with robust, engaging gameplay systems. There is no fluff and no unnecessary nonsense...and this is the confidence I'm talking about. Black Flag's core gameplay is solid and fun enough to not need anything else.

That said....there are definitely issues...but they are issues plaguing the franchise as a whole and not just restricted to Black Flags and in the larger picture don't really detract from the overall experience

For the sake of readability I'll divide the review into 'Positives' and 'Negatives' and end with some 'Constructive Feedback' in bullet points.

Positives:


1. Gameplay-Narrative Cohesion:

Thanks to the setting and the premise....when I get distracted by a distant Man 'O War carrying 1500 Reales instead of heading to Havana to shank a Templar....it feels 'right'

Open World games often have a disconnect between playing your character - doing the main missions due to narrative urgency - and playing the game - the side-activities. It felt weird and out of context chasing almanac pages, racing people, doing guild challenges etc. in the previous games....however the side-activities - including being a grade-A ******* in the cities feels perfectly fine given the narrative context

Nearly every activity I do makes sense. Directionless exploration...faffing about is a hallmark of Open World games....and thanks to the Pirate setting it feels right at home. Edward's motivations, his "Privateering" career, the Pirate setting....all give you a free reign to do what you want.
The narrative is also laid out as such that there are very few moments (And the ones that are there...are canonicaly seperated by large periods of time) where you're compelled to reach the 'Exclamation' point on the map


2. All Lean No Flab:

Black Flags - Thankfully - did not fall prey to the whole nonsensical-BS-fluffy gameplay moments and elements that have been plaguing the franchise.

No meaningless page chases - You want to chase Shanties because they actually add to the experience
No 'Exotic' gameplay moments - You won't be burdened with unimaginative set pieces
No cliched sidequests and "random" encounters - You won't be bored with stale and repetitive sidequests that are meanigless to the experience

ACBF strips away ALL the extraneous fat that I and many others have complained about and added activities that not only make narrative sense and add to the experience BUT are actually really fun

Diving, Freeing Forts, Raiding Plantations, Exploring Islands.....EVERY single one of them plays to the strength of the game, is engaging and makes narrative sense.

Hunting now makes perfect sense thanks to a crafting system that is not only really simple and accessible but also important. The upgrades improve your equipment and carrying capacity and this is something worth spending time on IMO.
Black Flags takes a leaf out of the FC3 playbook and it is a better game for it

Its all elegantly simple and I love it



3. Functional Economy:

This ties into the point above. Money matters now...and you actually have things worth buying.

The progression system for the Jackdaw and Edward is really well fleshed out. The monetization is well done and I never felt that I have too much money because upgrades cost just enough to make you work for it.

I've also noticed that the weapons are more distinct now in terms of performance. The stats do matter and this goes a long way in making your purchases seem meaningful. Long range hunter? go for the long range flintlocks....prefer getting in close and dealing massive damage? get the Blunderbusses. The game is not overflowing with options...but this works in its favour.

Everything available for purchase is worth it. The outfits are fantastic. Great colours and designs. The Naval upgrades are essential as they really do make a difference.

For the FIRST time in an AC game...we have a meaningful and really well fleshed out economy system where money matters.


4. Mission Design:

Ah...the big one. Yep. They sorted it out.

Not ONCE during my playtime did I ever scratch my head and go "What the **** were they thinking/smoking?"
Let me be clear - its not devoid of issues (Explained later) but it fixes everything that AC3 ****ed up

The missions never funnel you and the option to go full stealth is not only available but encouraged....and all the maps support stealth. There are plenty of stalking zones and generous amounts of verticality afforded by trees.

I don't have the exact count of the number of assassinations....but rest assured you will always have large, sandboxy playgrounds for the majority of the missions...with most of them devoid of



5. Robust AI:

The AI is definitely an improvement over AC3's. Again...its not perfect...but then again its a franchise issue...an inherited problem which I won't focus on at the moment as its not exactly fair.

The place that the AI shines through is during the chases. AC3 ramped it up to a ridiculous degree with telepathic AI....Black Flag rectifies. The response is limited to the guards who spotted you initially and LOS REALLY matters now.
Escaping is actually fun now....and you get to use the game's fantastic mobility to cut corners and hide.

For the most part is is AC3's AI....but tweaks to their detection and chase routines really makes a positive difference. There are no wonky insta-detections and you get a fair window to silence the alerted guard.

The changes make for a very robust AI system which obviously adds to the experience.


6. Havana, Kingston and The Game World:

Absolutely gorgeous.

Havana is a beautiful, densely populated city with architecture that harkens back to the cities in AC2. Its excellent for the whole 'Urban Assassin' playground feel and is a real joy to free-run around.
Colourful robes, flowers, beautiful music and the tinge of ochre over it all makes for a really stunning setting that is a breath of fresh air after AC3s drab, sparse cities

Kingston is like the better version of AC3's Boston. It has a more soothing and cooler colour scheme with beautiful greens. The city has been designed extremely well and is suprisingly free-running friendly. The narrower streets help and while the city is compact in size...this is a point in its favour as it leads to greater density.

The crowds are also fantastic and really add life to both cities. Gardeners, plantation workers, squatters....the crowd density appears to be higher and also varied in terms of the activities. The places feel alive.

The Caribbean islands are also gorgeous...the greens contrast beautifully with the blues and greens of the ocean...and just about anywhere you look...you find a stunning vista. The forests are fantastic. Dense undergrowth and shrubbery coupled with the atmospheric sounds makes for a great visual experience.

The game is visually gorgeous...and on the PS3....0 performance issues. Fantastic stuff


7. Naval:

Too much fun

All I can say is that it deserves its own spin-off.

Very accessible and engaging mechanics coupled with beautiful A/V atmosphere makes for a fantastic experience. The ship to ship combat is fleshed out and ties into the economy system. I love it. Thats all I can say.
For once the tertiary layer is not only good...but fantastic.


Negatives:

1. Where is The Social Stealth?:

This is an issue that I've had with the franchise since ACR but its come to a head with Black Flags. The thing is...AC's core design....something that permeates EVERY level of the game is designed around social stealth and remaining covert in an URBAN environment

However

Black Flag for the most part focuses on the more additional stealth gameplay similar to MGS and Splinter Cell. This is an issue. You have a mission being handled by a character better suited to slinking through crowds and climbing rooftops whereas Sam Fisher would be the guy to call.

This leads to inconsistencies and puts a magnifying glass to the game's flaws.

Example: The AI is designed around urban environments. This means complex geometric environments and the premise that the character will only pique their interests and not be outright attacked.
If you alert a guard....move around a corner in a city..he walks towards you hollering...you disappear....it makes perfect sense. SOCIAL STEALTH
If you do the same in the middle of Mayan Ruins DEVOID of civillians and therefore a restricted area...and the guard loses you as you hide in bushes 10 feet from him...and he SEES you enter.....THAT becomes an immersion shattering BS moment

DOES. NOT. WORK.

The devs try to incorporate mechanics suited for LOS stealth and this attempt is half-hearted and automated....NOT the best option for traditional stealth gameplay...where you need more comprehensive tools and mechanics - crouching, better AI detection and investigation, AI sensitive to sound etc.

The question raised is: Why is a Social Stealth game trying to be a Splinter Cell game?

Yes...the stalking zones, the Blow-pipe and the enhanced character abilities DO add to the stealth gameplay....but all in all the game isn't really designed for it....at least it can't really be a very immersive experience that way.

I DID enjoy the stealth missions and the gameplay....but often...the issues mentioned above raised their heads and negatively impacted the experiences.

IMO: Tweak the AI to operate under different rules in restricted areas, give us more comprehensive stealth options....and refrain from creating missions designed solely around LOS stealth devoid of civillians and urban geometry.



2. Control Imprecision:

Yeah....Edward is a sticky ****er. It definitely is a major issue. The High Profile button should NOT get him to climb up. It makes for a very frustrating experience. The press 'X' to climb was perfect.

The puppeteering system has been dumbed down incredibly at the cost of precision and the feeling of actually climbing stuff.....and the fact is that AC's climbing was already very ACCESSIBLE and easy to do...yet required enough input to get the 'feel' correct. Plus...no game induced errors there.

It can be a pain maneuvering tight corners. The Running and movement is PERFECT...but the next game SERIOUSLY needs to decouple the climb and run function altogether.



3. Lack of Tools and Gadgets:

This is my second biggest gripe with the game...and perhaps the more serious one

Tools and Gadgets are very important in a systemic stealth-action game

They are the means with which the player manipulates the game world and are also the mark of an INTELLIGENT game. Tools which open up different options and let you try different approaches are near mandatory in a game like Assassin's Creed

You're limited to set of options with the Blow-dart which while awesome and a step in the right direction is TOO restricted in scope...you can't do much with it.

The Ezio trilogy nailed this aspect as it gave you different tools for different approaches.....yes it had redundancies but in the larger picture it was on the right track.

Assassin's Creed Revelation's Bombs allowed you to manipulate AI in varying degrees to varying effects and this enabled you to REALLY exercise your Assassin muscles as you tried out different combinations

You can't set delayed traps - No mines
You can't STEALTHILY poison a guy and walk away - No poison blade. Doesn't allow you to do a covert assassination in a social stealth setting...up close.
You can't simply kill a guy silently from range - Sleep darts don't kill and Berserk darts cause commotion
You can't precision aim your smoke bomb at a distant group

I've resorted to firing off pistols as a diversion....which wasn't how I wanted to do things

The lack of such options limits the player's approach and his/her ideas. It clamps down on creativity. Not good.

Basics like the poison blade and the distraction bombs or mines NEED to be incorporated as they are another way of manipulating and ultimately playing with the game's system...a hallmark of good stealth-action games.



4. Unresponsive Crowd and Guards:

This REALLY got to me.

A kill in AC1 would really make that area hot. Civvies would react visibly and steer away.....emptying that area and it would attract aggressive guards in short time. The case was the same for AC2 but progressively...you had more docile civillians

Black Flags takes it up a notch. The reaction to a dead body by the crowd is laughably subdued. There are no ripple effects as panic spreads....no commotion caused to attract the guards.

Social stealth depends upon keeping the crowd pacified and undisturbed....this throws it out the window and effectively REMOVES a layer of depth from the core gameplay...which BTW WAS NOT HAMPERING ACCESSIBILITY.

The Guard's line of sight is shockingly bad! They didn't detect the dead body NOR respond to the commotion caused by a group of panicked civvies. Come on!
This is an essential element that should be rectified.



What should the next game do?:



Ensure more missions are set in urban locales with crowds about to incorporate Social Stealth
Add tools and gadgets like - Distraction Bombs, Mines, Poison Blades etc. to open more approaches
Ensure that AI in a restricted area operates on a different ruleset than in a urban, populated area
Ensure that the crowd and guards behave more appropriately to a dead body thus adding a layer to social stealth





I loved Black Flags and I feel it is a step in the right direction....however the game is what AC3 should've been and as such most of the massive improvements are done to existing systems....it couldn't really add to the core systems in completely new ways.

Even so...ACBF is fantastic return to form and a brilliantly well designed game IMO

Somethings I haven't touched upon like the overall quality of the narrative...and the reason is that I wanted to focus on the gameplay aspects. Plus...I wanted a spoiler free review for general consumption...besides I'm a gameplay oriented guy.

silvermercy
11-12-2013, 10:32 PM
Coming from someone who hasn't played the game yet waiting for PS4 (and who's a story-oriented gal ^^), that's a very well-structured and detailed review. Thanks.

Just a comment on the "lack of tools, gadgets" etc... I've been hearing differing opinions on the amount of weapons you have at your disposal. I thought the general opinion (on this forum at least) was that having less tools is inherently better. (Unlike AC3 for example, where you had a big variety of weapons but were never used, generally speaking).

xx-pyro
11-12-2013, 10:52 PM
Agree with just about all of your review except for the tools and gadgets portion. I didn't like that throwing knives and crossbows in previous installments in the series were quite literally, instant win buttons. The blow pipe requires more strategy and thinking in when you use it so as to avoid detection as much as possible than any of the previous long range weapons ever did. A return to long range instant-kill weapons would disappoint me, if it were at the expense of more creative weapons like the blowpipe.

I think the way they outfit your arsenal in AC4 is far superior to any previous AC game, and strikes the perfect balance.

All in all a very accurate review though, in my eyes.

roostersrule2
11-12-2013, 11:06 PM
Is this the longest post of all time?

luckyto
11-12-2013, 11:15 PM
^ It's not that long. Just well spaced.

-------------------------------
Fantastic read. I agree with almost every point you make. It's almost as if I wrote it myself. You really nailed it.

A few things to add
- AI was one of my three biggest complaints. It is improved in some ways, and dumbed down in others. If I were to pick any ONE THING for the franchise to figure out, it's their AI. Compared to other games, it's atrocious at times. If I sneak onto a plantation and a guard spots me duck in the brush, he should do a little more. Investigate. Call over a friend. Something to make me really sweat.
- Controls. The combination of R1 + X buttons into just R1 has been a disaster. It's completely magnified on the deck of a boat in a tight space. Other controls, such as swimming, were poor as well. Intuitive controls that are a joy to use has been a hallmark of the Franchise, it was one of those few things that AC did better than just about any other game on the market. Not so in Black Flag.
- The lack of tools didn't particularly bother me. Though, I did wish for something besides berserk/sleep for my darts. Getting my hands on a knife felt pretty good.
- The crowds in general are not as bright as AC3. It's a minor annoyance.
- Combat. The combat mechanic is annoying to me. AC3 was a step in the right direction, and I really feel that they dumbed it down. Tightening the counter windows and giving the weapon rating system some meaning was a really good improvement. But I really feel trapped in my approach to certain guard types (problem dates back to AC2), whereas, AC3 - I could try a variety. It just doesn't feel fluid and maintaining a chain has been very difficult. In an attempt to make it more difficult, I think they just made it more clunky. Somewhere in the AC Universe is the perfect combat system. It's a combination of counters, combo attacks, guard breaks, and chain-kills with guard AI that counter-counters, attacks, grabs and randomly reacts . But this is not it. AC3's felt much more modern and responsive... and fun.

Sushiglutton
11-13-2013, 12:30 AM
Great read and thanks for keeping it spoiler free! Haven't played it yet, so can't really comment.

"2. All Lean No Flab:" - this I haven't seen stated so explicitly and strongly before. Really happy to hear it :)!


Overall it does sound like they are on the right track in a lot of ways. I hope Ashraf gets to do another one!



Agree with just about all of your review except for the tools and gadgets portion. I didn't like that throwing knives and crossbows in previous installments in the series were quite literally, instant win buttons. The blow pipe requires more strategy and thinking in when you use it so as to avoid detection as much as possible than any of the previous long range weapons ever did. A return to long range instant-kill weapons would disappoint me, if it were at the expense of more creative weapons like the blowpipe.

I think the way they outfit your arsenal in AC4 is far superior to any previous AC game, and strikes the perfect balance.

All in all a very accurate review though, in my eyes.

I think shob more means gadgets that let's you manipulate the AI, or give distinct new ways to kill them. He used distraction bombs and mines as examples. They are not win-buttons but rather give extra options to approach a situation.

BoBwUzHeRe1138
11-13-2013, 01:08 AM
Good review Shob. I'm waiting until I get a next gen console and then this'll probably be one of my first purchases but that won't be for quite some time.

Havana looks to be the best part of the game because I miss the dense cities from the Ezio trilogy. It's good to hear that Kingston is like a better version of Boston or NY and has more life to it. It'll also be cool to see more trees integrated into the semi-urban area in that city. How does NAssau stack up? If the cities of AC2 are "best" and Havana is either close or equal to those... where does Nassau lie? Also...what I've seen of Nassau looks INCREDIBLY small and seems less like an actual city and more like a stopping point.

This gripe is pretty superficial but I can't help but feel disappointed/upset by the lack of dye options. Not because I need a slew of different colors but because I loved having white and red robes. In AC3 they changed this and for the first time gave us robes that were white and blue but this made sense given the context of redcoats vs blue coats and the revolution. Besides, they offered the Jamestown outfit which was white and red (I used the Jamestown outfit as soon as I unlocked it). But again, Edward's outfit is primarily white, blue, and a small amount of red with the sash. A lot of the white is also covered by the way his armor acts. I just wish the armor was an upgrade (since you hunt anyway to upgrade things like that, it would've made sense to have a 'bare' costume that could then get the standard leather armor on it) and I wish there was a dye that made the outfit white and red only, no blue. It's picky but white/red motifs on the outfit is something I've come to identify the series with and how I want my Assassins to look. I'm also upset at the hood beak disappearing but that's not as big an issue as the coloring for me. Again...all superficial and doesn't tie into gameplay but it *will* hamper my experience unfortunately. I was half tempted to get the game and then use the Ezio outfit but they didn't fix the cape issue while swimming and yeah.

I am happy that the naval aspect actually seems fun now (it's free roam, seamless transition between on foot in cities and sailing, can board enemy boats, etc.) and doesn't seem like a tacked on and boring feature like in AC3. Still... for AC, most of my time will be spent free running around the cities and ancient ruins so hopefully the stuff that isn't boat/sailing related is good enough to get the game...

xx-pyro
11-13-2013, 01:34 AM
Great read and thanks for keeping it spoiler free! Haven't played it yet, so can't really comment.

"2. All Lean No Flab:" - this I haven't seen stated so explicitly and strongly before. Really happy to hear it :)!


Overall it does sound like they are on the right track in a lot of ways. I hope Ashraf gets to do another one!




I think shob more means gadgets that let's you manipulate the AI, or give distinct new ways to kill them. He used distraction bombs and mines as examples. They are not win-buttons but rather give extra options to approach a situation.

Whilst I do agree that more tools that don't directly kill enemies would be welcome, I'm not sure bombs or grenades would be the way to go in a Pirate themed game.

MnemonicSyntax
11-13-2013, 02:02 AM
Is this the longest post of all time?

Not as much as this is the most useless post of all time.

SneakierNote
11-13-2013, 02:05 AM
shobhit7777777 great review bud,. I enjoyed reading everything. The main difference from me and you is IN AC4 I DISLIKE STEALTH. But you mentioned SCBL in that game I love stealth.

I was actually the one that got upset that AC4 would not let me keep a two handed weapon in my inventory to slash and bash whenever I wanted to. Other them those two points I agree with you mostly on the rest.

Megas_Doux
11-13-2013, 02:11 AM
Pretty well structured review!

Good points, loved the feedback section.

Wolfmeister1010
11-13-2013, 03:53 AM
I agree with this review except for the tools and unresponsive AI part.

The unbelievable amount of tools used in ezio games made the experience darb. And were bombs really actually useful? They were just OP IMO, capable of killing however many guards can fit in the damage range in one shot. It is simplified perfectly in AC4.

The AI seem reaponsive enough for me. Sure it is not as responsive as AC1, but it is not any LESS respinsive then any of the other games after AC1. The civillians react pretty much the same to dead bodies as in previous games. In fact, they even have MORE responsive behavior, such as just running away froma fight or dead body, and running away crouched down with their hands above their heads when startled by a gunshot. Plus they actually scream in this game, unlike AC3.

As for the stealth thing.... The environmental stealth is less broken than the social stealth. And the problem with the syalking zones is present in all stealth games. Plus, if you are detected from a guard from lets say 30 meters, and are far away enough, the guard doesnt really care and loses interest pretty quickly, as you may just be another one of his buddies. But if you get detected from 10 feet away, their detection bar goes way up from the start, and they come follow you to your stalking zone, and you either kill them, get detected from within the stalking zone, or move to a different part, in which case they believe you left the bush and ran off. You are exageratting a bit. In open detection, the game works to prevent idiocy, as when they are chasing you and see you enter a stalking zone, they run directly towards you and can spot you immediately. Sure, they can add more things like you said, but the system is not as broken as you say it is.


Other than these things, great review.

shobhit7777777
11-13-2013, 05:59 AM
Coming from someone who hasn't played the game yet waiting for PS4 (and who's a story-oriented gal ^^), that's a very well-structured and detailed review. Thanks.

Just a comment on the "lack of tools, gadgets" etc... I've been hearing differing opinions on the amount of weapons you have at your disposal. I thought the general opinion (on this forum at least) was that having less tools is inherently better. (Unlike AC3 for example, where you had a big variety of weapons but were never used, generally speaking).

You're welcome, Silver. I don't think the game's story will disappoint. Also, the trailers were slightly misleading...not once does Edward womanize. He is not Ed-zio.

Regarding the number of tools/weapons/gadgets - I feel it comes down to the player and how far they push/play around with the game. I would disagree with the opinion that less tools are better...and I would also disagree with the other extreme - Moar toolz!

However, any stealth-action game which is systemic in nature - Farcry 3, Dishonored, Splinter Cell Blacklist etc. will have many ways to interact with and manipulate the AI. It doesn't just come down to the ultimate purpose - Kill AI...but in the way you do it.

Farcry 3 is a great example. It offers you Mines, remote explosives and a variety of specialized weapons to REALLY give you many options. Without which the game would become another drab FPS with stealth elements. I love how I can switch tactics while assaulting camps....from stealthy silenced sniping to blowing up a C4...and drawing the AI into a pre-prepped minefield.

Assassin's Creed BF has been touted as a systemic game...and the stealth focus is heavy. In a stealth action game...manipulating and interacting with AI is the KEY gameplay loop. The more varied options you have...the more accurately you can execute your creative ideas....and also experiment

Black Flags is a leap in the right direction because it does the above to a certain degree. One memorable moment I recall is when I killed all the Musket bearing guys...and then I scattered the muskets (2-3) of them in stalking zones. I would then fire one musket from one stalking zone....luring in the AI....immediately move to the other zone, pick up the musket there and slot another guard.


Agree with just about all of your review except for the tools and gadgets portion. I didn't like that throwing knives and crossbows in previous installments in the series were quite literally, instant win buttons. The blow pipe requires more strategy and thinking in when you use it so as to avoid detection as much as possible than any of the previous long range weapons ever did. A return to long range instant-kill weapons would disappoint me, if it were at the expense of more creative weapons like the blowpipe.

I think the way they outfit your arsenal in AC4 is far superior to any previous AC game, and strikes the perfect balance.

All in all a very accurate review though, in my eyes.

Hi Pyro

I know exactly what you mean. There were items which were quiet redundant and this lack of specialization certainly made the games feel bloated. However, the fact remains that mines, traps, explosives etc. were added ways to not only kill the AI but give you more opportunities and play the way you want.

Difficulty is not an argument I entertain when I talk about AC - a franchise which is more about empowerment than actual challenge. The entire game is based on insta-win buttons...but thats part of its strength.

For example the Poison Blade in the Ezio trilogy allowed you to pull off an incognito kill and also create a distraction. It was a fantastic social stealth tool. It was important because for one you didn't have to draw or aim any weapon thus remaining socially acceptable...and you could immediately blend into a crowd and then bypass the investigating guards.
Plus it is the single most 'Assassin' thingy in the franchise....a quick poisoned stab and the walking away.

No need to climb rooftops or go overt...it could be done hiding in plain sight. This opens up an avenue for the player to do a covert kill/distraction without relying on the environment...and therefore ensures that the player will always have this option as environment is a dynamic variable.

The idea is to keep things streamlined and have each tool with a specific function to keep it lean....while at the same time offering players different approaches by the use of gadgets and tools.

The Blowpipe was certainly a great addition and I love it but the more you play the more apparent it becomes on how limited it is. It has 2 effects - KO or berserk. This soon gets old and you find yourself wishing that there were other ways you could kill/KO/distract that guard.
With more options to play around with....you have more scope with experimenting, planning and executing elaborate attacks...a fluid way of playing.

This is where distraction bombs would be a good idea...allowing more precision to the player as to when and where to lure the guards
Mines would be a trap that could be set to create ambushes
Perhaps a noisy dart to distract and lure guards away ...quietly.

Heck, you don't even need new gadgets...using existing ones..and broadening their versatility would work. How about using the rope dart as a makeshift noose trap?




^ It's not that long. Just well spaced.

-------------------------------
Fantastic read. I agree with almost every point you make. It's almost as if I wrote it myself. You really nailed it.

A few things to add
- AI was one of my three biggest complaints. It is improved in some ways, and dumbed down in others. If I were to pick any ONE THING for the franchise to figure out, it's their AI. Compared to other games, it's atrocious at times. If I sneak onto a plantation and a guard spots me duck in the brush, he should do a little more. Investigate. Call over a friend. Something to make me really sweat.
- Controls. The combination of R1 + X buttons into just R1 has been a disaster. It's completely magnified on the deck of a boat in a tight space. Other controls, such as swimming, were poor as well. Intuitive controls that are a joy to use has been a hallmark of the Franchise, it was one of those few things that AC did better than just about any other game on the market. Not so in Black Flag.
- The lack of tools didn't particularly bother me. Though, I did wish for something besides berserk/sleep for my darts. Getting my hands on a knife felt pretty good.
- The crowds in general are not as bright as AC3. It's a minor annoyance.
- Combat. The combat mechanic is annoying to me. AC3 was a step in the right direction, and I really feel that they dumbed it down. Tightening the counter windows and giving the weapon rating system some meaning was a really good improvement. But I really feel trapped in my approach to certain guard types (problem dates back to AC2), whereas, AC3 - I could try a variety. It just doesn't feel fluid and maintaining a chain has been very difficult. In an attempt to make it more difficult, I think they just made it more clunky. Somewhere in the AC Universe is the perfect combat system. It's a combination of counters, combo attacks, guard breaks, and chain-kills with guard AI that counter-counters, attacks, grabs and randomly reacts . But this is not it. AC3's felt much more modern and responsive... and fun.

Oh yeah...the Combat!

I will update OP with it. Bottom line - I hate it

- Kill animations take too damn long
- It feels like a button masher
- Counter kill animations are long and of such inconsistent length that maintaining killstreak flow feels sludgy and not-fluid
- Complete lack of fluidity
- Kill animations take too damn long

Its something I avoid doing. I just don't like it at all.


Great read and thanks for keeping it spoiler free! Haven't played it yet, so can't really comment.

"2. All Lean No Flab:" - this I haven't seen stated so explicitly and strongly before. Really happy to hear it :)!

Overall it does sound like they are on the right track in a lot of ways. I hope Ashraf gets to do another one!

I think shob more means gadgets that let's you manipulate the AI, or give distinct new ways to kill them. He used distraction bombs and mines as examples. They are not win-buttons but rather give extra options to approach a situation.

Cheers Sushi

Yeah...I HAD to state that because its been a major complaint since..IDK ACB? Black Flags is a leaner, meaner experience with everything making sense.
And yeah...thats what I meant by the Tools & Gadget point


Good review Shob. I'm waiting until I get a next gen console and then this'll probably be one of my first purchases but that won't be for quite some time.

Havana looks to be the best part of the game because I miss the dense cities from the Ezio trilogy. It's good to hear that Kingston is like a better version of Boston or NY and has more life to it. It'll also be cool to see more trees integrated into the semi-urban area in that city. How does NAssau stack up? If the cities of AC2 are "best" and Havana is either close or equal to those... where does Nassau lie? Also...what I've seen of Nassau looks INCREDIBLY small and seems less like an actual city and more like a stopping point.


Nassau TBH is not a place I explored a lot. It doesn't have the same appeal that a large thriving city like Havana has. Its more of a hub world for the Pirate gangs. That said its been really well done...especially an encampment of tents one part of the islands. It looks and feels like a Pirate island....so yeah..its not really a city at all.

Kingston is a beautiful city..and they have used the trees really well to aid in rooftop running.

Havana is certainly on par with AC2s cities....IMO at least.


shobhit7777777 great review bud,. I enjoyed reading everything. The main difference from me and you is IN AC4 I DISLIKE STEALTH. But you mentioned SCBL in that game I love stealth.

I was actually the one that got upset that AC4 would not let me keep a two handed weapon in my inventory to slash and bash whenever I wanted to. Other them those two points I agree with you mostly on the rest.

Thanks. AC4 doesn't stack up when we bring in Blacklist and the other Ubisoft Stealth games (Let alone non-Ubi games) but given the stealth gameplay in the previous games in the franchise...it certainly is a step up. The Blowpipe should be a standard Assassin tool from now on.


Pretty well structured review!

Good points, loved the feedback section.

Thanks Megas.

Yeah a feedback section, IMO, concisely summarizes your 'wants'...and I feel makes the job easier for the moderators.


I agree with this review except for the tools and unresponsive AI part.

The unbelievable amount of tools used in ezio games made the experience darb. And were bombs really actually useful? They were just OP IMO, capable of killing however many guards can fit in the damage range in one shot. It is simplified perfectly in AC4.
.

Yup. They were. You're talking about the 1 dimensional aspect of bombs - Lethal - when there were 3. IDK about you but I'm extremely gameplay oriented and as such...I play around with the game's systems..a LOT. A LOT.

Each bomb - tactical, lethal and diversionary had a specific purpose to fulfill and the amount of depth present really allowed you to craft - pun lol - your own way of dealing with the AI. From short range distraction - to get 2-3 guys away from an entrance....to a long range smoke loud bomb - to get the Byzantines and Ottomans fighting each other. The specific distinctions were indeed useful

Sure many of them were redundant or not that useful...but the broad archetypes were indeed very useful

Best part about it - Entirely optional.

IMO the limited tools with the same strategy associated with them is what makes the game drab instead of allowing you to be as creative as you can in a sandbox.


The AI seem reaponsive enough for me. Sure it is not as responsive as AC1, but it is not any LESS respinsive then any of the other games after AC1. The civillians react pretty much the same to dead bodies as in previous games. In fact, they even have MORE responsive behavior, such as just running away froma fight or dead body, and running away crouched down with their hands above their heads when startled by a gunshot. Plus they actually scream in this game, unlike AC3.

"Good enough"

Not a fan of the above. It reeks of mediocrity. Then again we may have entirely different expectations.

The "response" you mentioned is not what I'm talking about. Civvies running crouched is an animation and doesn't impact gameplay. What I'm talking about is the commotion raised...which means a socially unacceptable activity attracting the attention of all nearby guards. This is just not the case in AC4 - Fact.

And BTW they always ran away from dead bodies...thats not an "enhanced" response.

I have put in countless hours playing with the social stealth in the game....and I can assure you that the guards are not only unbelievably deaf and dumb.....but are also not very responsive to the crowd's panic....at short distances of upto and around 20-30 feet.


As for the stealth thing.... The environmental stealth is less broken than the social stealth. And the problem with the syalking zones is present in all stealth games. Plus, if you are detected from a guard from lets say 30 meters, and are far away enough, the guard doesnt really care and loses interest pretty quickly, as you may just be another one of his buddies.

Au contraire. The Social Stealth works better because the player doesn't have to manufacture justifications as to why a guy dressed in completely different robes from the AI managed to evade detection by ducking into bushes not 20 feet from a guard who had spotted him in broad daylight. Yes 20 feet.

Social stealth inherently justifies it because:

- You're in a city with crowds...you're another civillian..a dodgy looking one I'll admit
- The AI's response is tuned for the above - Guard notices you: "Hey whaddafuq you doin here..piss off!"...you move away from LOS...guard goes: "Idiot" and then goes back to normal routine.


Its a system at odds with the mission design.


But if you get detected from 10 feet away, their detection bar goes way up from the start, and they come follow you to your stalking zone, and you either kill them, get detected from within the stalking zone, or move to a different part, in which case they believe you left the bush and ran off. You are exageratting a bit. In open detection, the game works to prevent idiocy, as when they are chasing you and see you enter a stalking zone, they run directly towards you and can spot you immediately. Sure, they can add more things like you said, but the system is not as broken as you say it is.

Yeah...and they should've begun investigating sooner and at longer ranges...especially when they see you do something as overt and suspicious as ducking into bushes.
Like I've said...the game needs the AI to follow different rules when in a non-urban, crowd-less, restricted area for the stealth to make sense and not shatter immersion every couple of seconds.

It is broken, archaic and saps the immersion not to mention the fun out sneaking around.


Other than these things, great review.

Thanks, Wolf. There is a lot to like and love about the game. I'm really impressed and satisfied.

Farlander1991
11-13-2013, 09:35 AM
Cool review :)

Haven't played the game yet, but you know my stance on less but more meaningful tools, and, while there may not be as much variety in AC4 as in earlier games, I certainly think from what I saw and hear so far that it fits my design preferences and risk/reward philosophies. For example, regarding ranged executions. You can put a person to sleep for a certain amount of time, it's silent, but he will wake up. You can kill that person with a berserk dart, but it takes some time and attracts a lot of attention (though, at the same time, could be used for distraction). And you may just silently kill that person with a throwing knife, but you have to get that throwing knife from somebody. I honestly feel that's great, and that it can serve as a nice base to expand upon without overdoing things like it happened with Ezio's trilogy.

(BTW, poison blade serves absolutely the same function as berserk darts, so I see no reason for its inclusion; for example the only Ezio's game where I used the poison blade was AC2, where there were no poison darts... though, perhaps, you know, the possibility to just put the dart in a person if you're up close would be nice and not out of place, I don't know if that's there; but it would make much more sense than two separate tools).

shobhit7777777
11-13-2013, 10:50 AM
Cool review :)

Haven't played the game yet, but you know my stance on less but more meaningful tools, and, while there may not be as much variety in AC4 as in earlier games, I certainly think from what I saw and hear so far that it fits my design preferences and risk/reward philosophies. For example, regarding ranged executions. You can put a person to sleep for a certain amount of time, it's silent, but he will wake up. You can kill that person with a berserk dart, but it takes some time and attracts a lot of attention (though, at the same time, could be used for distraction). And you may just silently kill that person with a throwing knife, but you have to get that throwing knife from somebody. I honestly feel that's great, and that it can serve as a nice base to expand upon without overdoing things like it happened with Ezio's trilogy.
.

Thanks

Less but meaningful - Yeah thats certainly desirable. However this "diktat" (JK) inherently requires the tools to be versatile. The darts are not there yet as they are extremely specialized.
The franchise needs to borrow more pages from other Ubi games operating on the same level - Blacklist and Farcry 3

Its a very simplistic approach lacking the depth that is expected of a title like Black Flags. As a designer and more importantly as a player....its not something I can get behind.

Ezio's trilogy did have some redundancies but it was never negatively marked for not being comprehensive enough when it comes to tactical variation ;)



(BTW, poison blade serves absolutely the same function as berserk darts, so I see no reason for its inclusion; for example the only Ezio's game where I used the poison blade was AC2, where there were no poison darts... though, perhaps, you know, the possibility to just put the dart in a person if you're up close would be nice and not out of place, I don't know if that's there; but it would make much more sense than two separate tools)

Thats like saying the Pistols and the Swords are the same becasue they too serve the same function. The poison blade was essentially an incognito way to remain on street level and stealthy while killing with the poison.
I've played with it alot and can testify to its usefulness in how it creates openings that are otherwise closed to you

- Blending into civillians and incognito killing passing by guards and remaining undetected throughout. The hidden blade assassination brings you of blend and puts the guards on alert after 1-2 seconds....effectively taking down your incognito advantage
Using the blow-pipe alerts the guards if they see you and the come over to investigate

- Allows you to remain street level without resorting to high profile actions like climbing up. This is a social stealth element and encourages and permits players to stick to a particular 'hide in plain sight' playstyle

- Most importantly - feeds into the social stealth fantasy of pulling of a completely covert crowd based kill

Poison blades, traps and distraction devices (not luring...distraction) are three key items that need to be re-introduced into the franchise

BTW you don't need a Berserk dart....you can run up and KO them for a perma-kill. Which is nice. Also, throwing knives are rare. I've enountered 2 knives throughout my playthrough! Really really really rare and you only get 1-2 at most.

Sushiglutton
11-13-2013, 01:59 PM
When it comes to the AI I think they have reasoned as follow: "We don't have time to make it perfect, but we should make sure that every time the AI acts oddly it's in the player's favour."


As a casual stealth gamer I approve of that philosophy. Worst thing in stealth games is when you spend ten minutes sneaking and then some thing that feels unfair (like a guard telepathically knowing his comrade just died and turns around etc), all hell breaks lose and the entire thing is ruined. Stealth is so much more brittle than action. Ideally the system should be totally fair, I agree. Given what they had I think their solution was a smart one.


In general from what I have heard about AC4 it to me seems like the leadership has been way, way better on this project than R & 3. Not all the mechanical details have been fixed (probably they have not even been allowed to meddle with parkour for example). But they have made excellent and smart use of what they had available and tweaked it in reasonable ways. Then they have vastly improved the overarching systems (like economy, side content, progression, mission structure and so on). I hope this group gets to continue because they seem to have so many of the fundamental ideas right.

Ok I really need to play the game before I give further feedback :p

Landruner
11-13-2013, 04:17 PM
Good review and good critics - Effectively the general reproach I could notice everywhere and heard is that it is a lack of gadget and tools, or at least and option to let the player choose which type of arsenal the character could carry for the different task or mission.

Another point I would point in your review, is when you mention the stealth - the social stealth and the stealth mod in general.

I believe the best solution is that their use different types of AI for the free roaming and the social stealth and the more discreet stealth [restricted area]
Make sure that to redesign the locations for the social stealth and stalking (Locations can offer several ways to follow the target, using interior to pass through, using set of items to hide, using hidden orifice to pass trough, using roofs of course, and using people that are set in a proper way that player that easily blend with them and make the all thing more natural and immersive.
Stopping putting a time-up if player looses the target or replacing it by something more interesting and less frustrating...
If ear-dropping has to happen make sure it happen in a spot that make sense to the player.

Here is bellow an example the all concept for explaining what I try to say above (Sorry it is long)

Player is free roaming guards and people have the same type of level they currently have, player goes the way as we know it...

A mission starts, (Follow that guys, learn where his brother lives and then, kill his brother)

1/ The AI changes (Guards and people) and no more time running to stress about if we loose the guy,
- Player starts stalking and if player uses his eagle vision the guy to follow will be green (or whatever color or icon),
- Then the guy goes to a specific location redesigned for that mission with people being scripted for the situations and event of that mission, player can interact with people around him - drink, talk, or fake anything he needs to do for reminding discreet during the stalking and already social blending becomes more interesting more natural and less random as it is.
Player can follow the guy in any way it want and by any direction he/she wants in a limited perimeter reserved by the designed path.
Player can use to follow the Guy at distance, by the roofs, in passing inside homes, garden or even anticipate the guy and be a bit ahead of him, anything as long as the guy does not notice the player's presence.
Player can use specific "Fraction" or specific people for distracting guards along the way, or for provoking distraction for that offer more variety to do it.
A/ If the guy remarks that he is being followed player can notice it with the eagle vision the guy will be now orange, and player has to be more discreet because he knows that the guy is being followed. The guy complain to guards that he is suspicious and player has to discreetly hide or blend with people - if player decides to run away guard will chase...Player can use a fraction to cause a diversion.
B/ If player losses the guy, well, either player can use the eagle vision to relocate the target or (Why not) asks someone if he/she did not see it.

- Player relocates the guy and the stalking recommence...,
- The guy enters into a tavern in order to join another person for conversation (Ear dropping) -
- Player has to find a way to enter inside the tavern without using the entrance door and not being remarked...OR he goes inside and social blend
- Player ear-drops conversation....
- Player knows for location of the target to kill. Player exit tavern and has to find location, player uses Eagle vision for narrowing the location (location has to be not too far from tavern and eagle sense gives him a trail to locate the target location to follow)
- Player gets close to the location of the target, it is a mansion and it is guarded.

2/ Then, player has to infiltrate the mansion - New AI for guards (those guards are more alert that the ones of the free roaming, and the ones crossed during the stalking, and they are tougher to fight as well). Player can have 2 options to choose from

A/ - Player can infiltrate that mansion and can uses a different stealth mod (player can control the stealth by crouching and blinding with environment). Once again guards are set in a way that makes sense and proper for being stealthy. Target can move inside his place offering several spot for the player to strike from.
Guard are very smart, (example if someone is missing from a patrol they will notice it and become more and more suspicious)
B/ - However; If player prefer just going there and not being discreet, he may and will have to fight all the guards around. If player is not discreet, target inside the mansion will try to hide, and player will have to find the target inside the mansion.