Assassins’ Creed IV

*** Contains plot spoilers***

Without playing much, I’ve ranked 38,000th most deadly assassin. Oddly, last weekend, my position had 6 digits.

To my mind, it’s one of the best ACs to date. Excepting the aquatic bits.

The sailing, swimming, diving: well, they’re a turd on an otherwise magnificent serving of filet mignon served after a 2 day fast.

I do the sailing, when I can’t just fast-travel, and sort of look down at my feet, I somehow feel guilty/ashamed. I’ve tried the under-water sections. Then there are the under-water sections. Ok, so every now and again your character drowns because the controls are so clunky you can ‘t turn around and reach an air pocket/diving bell, or you ricochet between columns of urchins like a pinball and die. Those are probably bugs.

*** Plot spoilers are about to happen ***

Then there is the campy-pastiche attempt at a cameo; the non-animus portion of the game occurs in a game studio. You’re working for Abstergo Entertainment in conjunction with Origin researching material for a new Assassins’ Creed game, in their Quebec office.

It was probably funny to the developers, and to the people who knew the developers who they bounced it off. You know who it isn’t terribly funny to? Anyone else. A passing reference or an actual cameo, coulda been funny. Sure, I got a good giggle looking at the desk loot. But there’s also the minor matter of how bad this portion of the game looks. After the beautiful elegance of the animus world, the Abstergo portion looks … like something from an original Xbox game. Animation, textures, it’s all terrible.

There are some fantastic moments in ACIV – tip of the hat to the wake-up scene that looks like it’s going to be a flash back to Desmond originally waking up from the Animus.

But there is vastly more fail: The pitiful handful of achievements, most of which you will complete in the first day or two of play; The utter irrelevance of most of the side-games; The magnificent visuals of bringing the weather in so close you really actually can’t see anything; The immersion and soul destroyer of boarding an enemy ship as a way to prevent the other 5 ships you’re fighting from sinking you; The tedium of cut-scenes that run 90% thru before telling you “Hold B to skip cinematic” (and then holding B causes it to end a second or so earlier than not doing would have, and yes: I’ve tried holding B before that point); the annoying randomly capitalized letters and words.

There is a crafting system, but it’s sort of stupid. There are 3 consumables you can craft, but if you loot corpses, you will never want to. The remainder of your crafting options are one-shot upgrades each of which requires different components. It’s an in-your-face “KILL STUFF AND SKIN IT OR NO UPGRADES FOR YOU”.

Where previous ACs had feathers for you to collect, AC IV has Animus Fragments. It also has shanties (songs for your sailors to sing while sailing) chests (with gold coins) manuscripts (for those who don’t like interesting lore/backstory, and specifically want dull, tedious lore/backstory) and outside the animus there are post-it notes to collect (with tedious, vaguely AC themed, rants on them) and computers to hack (in return for miscellaneous AC-themed tidbits that are at first gratifying but quickly make you want to use your AC box to punch people with).

Yes – there’s a larber number of side activities, but especially compared to previous ACs, they are hideously shallow and tacky.  None of them are well done, none of them are engaging, none of them are immersive, none of them draw you into a sense of story/world connecting back to what is going on either in the animus or outside. And once you reach a certain point (about 60%) there’s clearly no effort put into them. Capturing a fort? Chests and animus fragments start to pretty much trip you up as you follow way points.

But the bottom of the barrel, which AC IV scrapes up with it’s tounge and tries to shove down your ear, is the under-water wreck exploration. Games usually don’t do a great job of swimming-related activities, and AC IV does a really bad one. Plus sharks. Did I mention that you are weaponless during this section? Yes. In the franchise known for running, jumping and climbing, they’ve added a combatless underwater swimming segment where you may get eaten by an eel if you don’t succumb to wounds from sharks that you fail to hide from because the swimming controls would make a blown goat want its money back.

I’m going to try and see it thru to the end of the story mode because I’m determined to see if the story makes any kind of sense or in any way fits into the AC storyline so far. My hunch is that the game will disown itself and reveal that it was all just a templar’s bad dream.

Mine too.

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