The Meh (Because nothing is particularly bad, just needing improvement)
1. Pirate Pedicure - Polish, or Lack Thereof
Some good games are made great by their attention to detail. Some excellent games are reduced to only greatness thanks to the lack of polish, a situation which Assassin's Creed IV fell in quickly.
A lot of the polish issues were minor: a text document early in the game had two sets of the same pages, subtitles inexplicably had random words capitalized, NPC characters would rez directly in front of me from out of thin air. It wasn't enough to spoil the game, but enough to be distracting, particularly in the beginning of the game. As the game progressed it seemed to have less issues, or it had me so engrossed that I no longer noticed them; a success either way.
It's next to impossible to release a title with zero bugs, but for an AAA title like Assassin's Creed, I expected there to be more quality control. The lack of attention to detail feels like an attempt to rush out a product quickly enough to sell copies before the next generation systems release in a few weeks. While indeed Assassin's Creed IV should sell well on both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, today's economy will limit how many people upgrade to new systems, and it's unlikely that new console sales will adversely impact sales of the game for current generation systems. Instead of rushing, Ubisoft would have been better served spending another month or so ironing out the kinks on all system releases.
2. "...the opium of pirates is actual opium." - The AI
It's safe to say that artificial intelligence is still pretty much in its infancy. Aside from Microsoft announcing that they are creating an AI based on Cortana from the Halo series for their smartphones, it's safe to say that we don't have to worry about Skynet (at least for five years, after which all Windows Phones will develop rampancy). AI in a video game is supposed to make characters act somewhat human-like. Instead of a Goomba walking forward until it hits a wall and turns around, most games now have bad guys who actively seek your character out. A game like Assassin's Creed which focuses on the concept of stealth, depends on having an AI system that responds to threats appropriately.
Some aspects of the AI system in Assassin's Creed IV are fantastic. Whistling to a potential victim from the brush will attract their attention, drawing them in for the kill. Tossing a sack of money will often send greedy guards off for a quick payday, allowing you to sneak by undetected and less blood soaked. Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of consistency with the AI of characters. If you are spotted from a distance and quickly dash into cover, the enemy will usually blow it off like a figment of its imagination. Often though, an enemy can be mere feet in front of you, and a quick dash into a nearby haystack or leaf pile results in the enemy also thinking you're a figment. Jumping out of the bushes to slit a throat makes perfect sense in the game, but doing it literally in front of another enemy will likely go unnoticed. While some situations require the hiding of bodies, generally speaking, a corpse will generally be ignored. It's that lack of consistently that had me no longer caring so much about being stealthful, aside from the missions that required me to do so, and in doing so took away from the game.
3. Play on, Me Hearties - Multiplayer
For a game the size and scope of Assassin's Creed IV, there really isn't a need per se for multiplayer. The stand alone content (as well as the forthcoming DLC) is well worth the price of admission. That being said, the inclusion of multiplayer, while not feeling tacked on out of necessity, isn't particularly compelling. While Wolfpack mode is great with a group of friends, some of the other modes range from mildly entertaining to downright infuriating.
I will point out that multiplayer in Assassin's Creed is a much different experience than typical multiplayer fare like Call of Duty. There are moments when it stands out, especially the introduction sequence by Abstergo Entertainment, and some of the more interesting game modes like "Wanted" can be a hoot if played with a good group of competitors. The unique style of play may turn off some gamers, but you aren't really missing anything by avoiding multiplayer. The real wonder of the game is contained in its single-player campaign.
4. "If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists" - The Control
The most frustrating aspect of Assassin's Creed IV is the inconsistencies with the controls. At times, the controls are crisp, tight, and amazingly responsive, particularly in combat. In fact, this is the first game in the series in which I have specifically enjoyed combat, which feels like it was lifted directly from the Batman Arkham series, but the all too frequent chase sequences had me wanting to heave my controller against a wall.
Free running has always been a part of the Assassin's Creed series, and it makes for some very exciting sequences; chasing down your prey as you scale walls, leaping between rooftops, and dodging the gathering crowds. That thrill should be magnified when you are either chasing down a character or trying to escape from your own demise. Unfortunately, chasing down a victim is often too entirely frustrating, as you'll suddenly stop dead in your tracks because your control stick is just a millimeter off target. Precious seconds are spent trying to re-engage the free running mode (which is just a pull of the right trigger) and finding the stick's Goldilocks zone that takes you towards your target. Too much to the right, you don't move. Too much to the left and suddenly you are scaling a wall rather than leaping for that post in front of you. I've had to replay some of the chase scenes a dozen times or more because a slight miscalculation has given my target the necessary time to escape. It's a tolerable annoyance thanks to the overall quality of the game, but would seriously damage the experience of a lesser game.
Fans of the Assassin's Creed series have nothing to fear; Black Flag is a safe and yet large step forward. Much of the concepts are just improvements on aspects of previous games in the series, but it's where the game breaks away from the format that it truly shines. Its minor imperfections, while distracting, don't really damage the game on a whole, and by no means should discourage you from picking this up.
If you've been waiting for a chance to jump in an Animus for the first time, this is your best opportunity. It's the first time a game in the Assassin's Creed family has ever captured my attention so rabidly, and the step away from characters past makes this entry a little easier to walk into without prior series knowledge. The only question now is how the game will be improved on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
Previously by Jason Helton