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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

TranscriptEdit

Spunk on a bap! I've been playing so many sandbox games lately, my vagina feels like a rusty toaster! I've had to start drawing a little mini-map on my spectacles to adjust to daily life. And they're always so fucking long! Most of my weekends lately have been spent trying to plough through to at least story-end, deflecting every side-quest that clamours for attention like I'm walking down the city centre trying not to be noticed by earnest young people with clipboards.

My last two reviews, if you'll recall, were an open-world sailing game, and an open-world jumping-on-people-from-buildings game, and now having to chase those two with Assassin's Creed IV, you'll forgive me if all these games have all started blurring together a bit. One could easily mistake Batman for Connor from Assassin's Creed III, for example, 'cause they both jump on people from buildings and have the personality of a high-backed leather armchair with a frowny face drawn on the cushion.

But let's forget everything about AssCreed III, except for the fact that Future Desmond died in it! We even get to see his future autopsy in AssCreed IV, which was exactly the kind of closure I needed, frankly. But his ghost still haunts us 'cause the evil corporation nicked his brain and extracted genetic memories from enough interesting periods of history to make at least seven billion more Assassin's Bloody Creed games!

Speaking of Batman, I'm reminded of that line from Heath Ledger's Joker: "I think you and I are destined to do this forever"; a line that proved slightly ironic for Heath Ledger, but a good summary of the weary resignation I have towards Assassin's Creed at this point, but I wonder if Ubisoft doesn't share my weary resignation to some degree, 'cause the Future plot's gone a little bit meta on us.

Instead of Future Desmond, we are now Future Silent Protagonist, an employee for a French-Canadian videogame developer being pressured to produce results by their evil corporate owners – write what you know, eh, lads? – the evil Templars that run the world having hit upon the surprisingly sophisticated idea to use mass media entertainment to rewrite history in their favour, which may be Ubisoft attempting to address the elephant in the room before someone else does: "God, isn't it terrible how popular culture rewrites and romanticizes history to appeal to the lowest common denominator? Yes, I'm glad we agree, now let's find some pirates and romanticize their bollocks off!"

The new historical protagonist is Edward Kenway, Welsh pirate and bastard, who, refreshingly, isn't even an Assassin for most of the game; he just nicked one of their uniforms and started jumping on people from buildings as a sort of enthusiastic amateur, I suppose. What I'm noticing is that from number III onwards, Assassin's Creed has a tendency to introduce the main character and the Assassin Order and then let that whole side of the plot go back to bed so the game can party it up with historical figures and reenact famous events, with the main plot occasionally popping its head 'round the door to complain about the noise.

Although, if we're more about the history now, AssCreed IV has picked a much better setting than its predecessor. So instead of desperately trying to convince us that it's exciting to throw tea into a harbour, or watch some old men signing pieces of paper, we instead get to watch Blackbeard signing pieces of paper! Except his pen is actually a massive cannon and the piece of paper is actually the hope anyone in the near vicinity had of getting a good night's sleep. So the plot busily introduces every famous name from the Golden Age of Piracy and has them do the famous thing they did, while Kenway stands off to one side eating piratey popcorn.

I could complain that this series just keeps going on and on and on, and seems like it really wants to go to sleep now but someone keeps tazing it every time its head droops. But for the record, AssCreed IV is a particularly violent tazing that has added quite a bit of life. It actually shakes up the core gameplay in a way that AssCreed III''s imaginary sofa manufacturing could only dream of, because I spent the majority of my time sailing rather than running through a city shoulder-clocking motherfuckers like I'm the music video for Bitter Sweet Symphony on fast-forward.

I know the sailing was in the last game, but it was only a side-quest and I was doing the get-through-story-mode-as-fast-as-possible thing. Hmm, yes, well-tutorialized. Tell me, do I ever need to do this again? "Well, not really, but it can help you make money to develop your homestead–" Cheery-bye!! But now the sailing is central rather than hanging off to one side like a beanbag chair stapled to an earring. Travelling the sea has that Wind Waker grand explorative quality, sea battles are fun, and when you board an enemy ship, it seamlessly becomes Assassin's Creed again, counter-stabbing your way through a bunch of orbiting assholes, made only slightly annoying by all the friendly pirates, whom you might have put some investment into recruiting, hovering around offering to block sword thrusts with their faces.

I resented having to come back on dry land to do story missions, because they'd almost always involve tailing someone, and when I've just got back from blowing the tits off a man-o'-war's figurehead and jamming their pert wooden nipples into the enemy quartermaster's eye sockets, it's hard to come back down to grandmother's footsteps. I really started loathing the tailing missions, especially when you have to stay close to your target without being noticed by them or any guards. So with one hand the game is your mother, pushing you out of your hiding spot to show everyone that funny little dance you learned, and with the other hand it is your father, beating you over the head with a chair leg because you made the mistake of being noticed before he'd had his morning drink.

And the mere act of moving in Assassin's Creed sometimes feels like kicking a sack of potatoes around a cattle grid, and sometimes you think you're gonna hop onto a ledge and into a convenient bush, but Edward would rather grandly leap forwards, drop three stories and parkour-roll into the people you're trying to tail, stopping just short of making jazz-hands and going "Ta-daaa!"

Generally, missions lean slightly more "open-ended sneaky-stab" and slightly less "rigid join-the-dots destruction following" than in III, which is nice, but frankly, if I didn't feel the need to collect the unlockable sea shanties so my crew would sing some new ones for a fucking change, I might've been content to never go to towns at all, 'cause the sailing's where the action is. Money has an actual use at last, because ship upgrades are expensive and that's an investment that adds to gameplay rather than letting you corner the imaginary sofa market.

But while sailing is a breath of fresh salty air, I have the feeling that it cannot possibly be more than a fleeting dalliance for the series as besides the Golden Age of Piracy, there are few historical settings into which sailing would integrate so naturally. And Assassin's Creed is not a series of individual games anymore; Assassin's Creed is a fucking line graph. The line went down a bit for AssCreed III but now it's gone back up again, and maybe it'll keep going up in the next one or maybe it'll take another plunge. What I do know is that this line graph is being drawn on what appears to be a very depressingly long piece of paper, at the end of which stands Ubisoft and I do not like the look of that stapler it's holding!

AddendaEdit

  • Does favours for sailors: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Funny how it's only when coming from the mouth of a pirate that the Welsh accent seems the slightest bit threatening
  • "Yo ho ho" is also a good phrase for greeting two sex workers

ScreenshotsEdit

ACIV 1

A line that proved slightly ironic for Heath Ledger...

ACIV 2

Travelling the sea has that Wind Waker grand explorative quality...

ACIV 3

...but frankly, if I didn't feel the need to collect the unlockable sea shanties so my crew would sing some new ones for a fucking change...

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

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