Assassin’s Creed 4 is a silly game. All Assassin’s Creed games are a little silly, but this really takes it up a notch. For the most part I’d like to think it’s intentional.
Years of Ubisoft press conferences at various E3s do make me question that a bit. It is completely within the realm of possibility that Ubi earnestly wrote themselves into their series about a century-spanning world-encompassing conflict between the Templars and Assassins that have driven all the major events of the world because they think it’s all real. Because I like the game, though, I’m just going to choose to believe that it’s ironic.
Regardless of intent, the inherent goofiness of the out-of-animus portion of the game made those sections of the game rather enjoyable. Sure, the hacking games ranged from dumb to terrible, but the cockeyed look at the mythos of the Assassin’s Creed series was refreshing and actually managed to get me interested in just what the heck Abstergo and whichever God or Goddess they serve (I lost track two games go) is up to. And the overall comedic tone of the material caused some of the more serious parts of game history you stumble upon to be almost poignant, as they hit you out of nowhere.
Unfortunately you can’t say the same thing about the main storyline of the game. It’s really dumb. I thought Edward was a pretty good character who had some neat moments, and even most of the side characters are interesting, complex characters in a game that oftentimes has a tendency to draw very distinct lines between heroes and villains. But strong characters alone can’t make up for nonsensical plot. I never cared about what was going on at any given time in the game.
Which might be why I have to say that I ultimately enjoyed playing it so much. I could spend hours on side missions and random encounters and never feel the guilt I usually have in games when I’m not progressing the story. I felt free–oftentimes even in the middle of story missions–to do what I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it.
Sure, the combat has been scaled back signifigantly from its peak in brotherhood. That needed to happen, though. While there was quite a bit of fun to be had in forming literal piles of bodies at Ezio’s feet, or solving each battle with a series of gadgets as Conner, combat got very tedius in those games. The simple rock/paper/scissors style of combat in AC4 at least sometimes put you in danger.
And sea battles–though repetitive at times–were a ton of fun. You often fluctuate from the bully who rolls through gunships and schooners to the tiny insurgent taking on frigates and man of war ships with mortars from afar in the same conflict. And the online/second screen component of the game helped make those battles justified, as you had a motivation to capture a wide variety of ships to add to your fleet (and thus earn you easy money to upgrade your ship even further. Even though I’m done with the game, for the first time ever in Assassin’s Creed, I’m thinking about playing again just for the joy of the raiding ships.
All in all, Assassin’s Creed IV is a game you can play and enjoy without giving too much of a fuck about the actual plot of the game. And the goofy out-of-the-animus bits work to actually justify this indifference. I’m not sure what that means for the future of Assassin’s Creed. And I’m not certain Ubisoft has a clear picture of that future either. They centered the game around a fun mechanic that they’re probably going to have a pretty difficult time shoehorning into future games, while at the same time reducing the impact and playability of the story missions we’re much more likely to see in future games than ship combat. The fact that they ask you to rate every mission seems like an acknowledgement of the fact they no longer are certain what it is players love about the game.
Oh well, that’s speculation for another day. On Los Angeles Game Reviewers’ Play/Don’t Play/Hate Play scale, this game earns an “Ironic Play” the hidden 4th option.
I promise you, dear reader, that reviews won’t usually be this long. This game just left me so conflicted that I just had to try to get a handle on the whole thing.