Inside Pulse 12

Review: Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag DLC Freedom Cry (Playstation 4)

Title: Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag DLC Freedom Cry
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Action Adventure
Released: 12/18/13

Assassins Creed 4 was a pretty sweet game. I reviewed it not too long ago, and found it most appealing. So when I saw there was some upcoming DLC, I was pleased. When I found out it was going to be out so soon, I was wary. Either it should have shipped on the disc, or it was thrown together in two minutes. Right? Well, let’s see.

Freedom Cry is something of a sequel to Black Flag. This portion of the story relates what happens to Adewale after he decides to go off and become an Assassin. Adewale, you will recall, was Edward Kenway’s first mate on the Jackdaw. For a while anyway. Whatever. Here we find him a few years after his time on the Jackdaw has ended. For whatever reason, he’s on a boat, attacking a Templar fleet at the beginning of our story, when he is washed overboard near the coast of Haiti. Having lost all of his weapons, but none of his wits, he soon gets embroiled in a slave revolt. Adewale, being an escaped slave himself, takes the issue quite seriously, and decides to try and help the revolution along. Soon enough, he has freed enough slaves to help capture a ship in Port Au Prince’s harbor. They nominate him to be Captain and it’s off to sea!

So, not a bad start. Adewale is an interesting character. He was when he was your sidekick, and he continues to be when you’re wearing his robes. However, where before the writers were forced to limit him to being Edward’s conscience, we can now see how he acts when it’s him who is consumed by his passion. Where Kenway’s story is long enough to see him evolve from depraved money grubbing pirate to somewhat noble Assassin, though, Adewale doesn’t get that opportunity. Instead, the game just sort of ends after killing the governor. He expresses remorse about what has happened, and he is clearly longing to stay and keep up the fight to end slavery, but the story ends with him walking away.

Alright, the story’s a bit undercooked. That’s alright, there should still be plenty of other stuff to do in the game based on what Black Flag was like right? Well, actually, no. The game map is condensed, and so is the subsequent number of things you can do in it. No sailing all the way around the Caribbean here. Instead, you are limited to the waters in between Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba. As Piracy is no longer the main goal of the protagonist, the number of ships in those waters has been reduced. Not to say they aren’t there, it just felt like maybe there weren’t as many. You can still go whaling if you feel the urge, and there is a single area where you can go diving. The Royal convoys have been replaced by Slave ships, which you are supposed to board to rescue those trapped in chains below decks. This change matches the change in tone for the game, and really gives the sea combat a focus that simple pirating didn’t have. Don’t get me wrong, I loved me some pirating in Black Flag, but here there’s a reason beyond personal monetary gain and blood lust.

That change in tone is also pretty evident in the gameplay on land as well. Instead of disabling the alarm bell of an area in order to save yourself the hassle of fighting off an entire garrison, you now disable it in order to protect the slaves nearby, who guards will start attacking if you are discovered. This becomes a problem when you are out to save the lives of those very slaves, so stealth is very much the preferred approach here. In the course of the game, you will see slave auctions and runaway slaves, all of whom you will have to decide if you can help while on your mission. The warehouse raid missions from Black Flag have also been tweaked. Now, instead of stealing a key to steal cargo, you use it to unlock housing on plantations to liberate slaves.

I feel like Ubisoft missed an opportunity here to show just how terrible slavery was. The slave ships for example. When you board them, you fight off the crew and then open a hatch. A slave gratefully climbs out and offers his thanks, but that’s it. On the one occasion where you go below decks, the level is spacious and wide, and while the slaves are chained to their bunks, it doesn’t look all that bad (aside from the fact the ship is sinking and about to explode, I mean). One might think that it wasn’t so bad being in a slave ship, where in the real world, slave ships were often packed to the gills with unfortunate souls. It was said that you could often smell a slave ship before you could see it. None of that appears here in the game. On land as well, while you see slaves working in the fields, you don’t get a sense that there is anything wrong with it. The guards walking around are there to look for you, not to keep production up by whipping slaves or doing something worse.

Adewale is a different fighter from his friend Kenway. For one thing, he prefers using a Machete instead of swords. One single Machete. You can unlock new versions of it, but basically, that’s your blade of choice. You can, of course, still use the hidden blades, and you can pick up whatever weapons are lying around, but its the hacking brutality of the Machete for Adewale. The gun of choice is also a more brutal weapon. No pistols for our friend. No, he prefers the Blunderbuss, that shotgun of the Age of Sail. You can still use a blow gun with the sleep ammo and the crazy ammo, and you get immediate access to the rope dart as Adewale, so that’s a plus. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit limited in my weapons choices though. Would it have been so hard to let you use pistols, or swords?

Whichever weapons you wind up using, I found that it often took forever to finally kill people. Instead of just stabbing a guy in the neck, you would often have to go through hit after hit before finally finishing the bad guy off with a knife to the neck. I mean, was all of that even required? Maybe I got used to turning guys around and hacking their backs to bits in one quick swipe as Edward. You can still do this as Adewale, but it’s not quite so easy to do it seems. This starts to really become tiresome when you get surrounded by five or six guards. Admittedly, that shouldn’t be an easy fight, but you are supposed to be a trained Assassin who can kill people before they even know they are dead. Makes me long for the days of carrying four pistols into a fight. Speaking of which, the Blunderbuss is a huge waste of time in a fight. Where before you could knock four people out of the fight no matter where they were in relation to Edward, as Adewale you must work the fight around so that you’ve got your enemies bunched together, and that’s no easy task. Basically, had you been given pistols as an option instead of forcing you to use just the “bus,” I would have been far happier.

The game once again allows you to upgrade your ship, but the process has been considerably streamlined. Unlike the Jackdaw, which had virtually nothing when you start the game, the ship Adewale commandeers is much further along in its evolution. So you don’t need to upgrade the guns as much, nor do you need to build up the armor quite as heavily. There being much fewer shipwrecks to dive on, you don’t have to worry about finding secret blueprints for ultra upgrades either.

If upgrading the ship has been streamlined, then upgrading Adewale himself has been taken into the jet age. Where before you had to go hunt various animals for their skins so you could craft the items you need, now you simply have to free X number of slaves and have Y number of slaves join the revolt as soldiers. Doing this unlocks different items, like bigger pouches for your blow gun darts, and so on. It’s also how you buy new versions of your weapons. I found this to be a bit odd, to be honest. You see slaves being treated as a commodity in the game, and it’s one of Ade’s motivations to stop the slave trade, the dehumanizing of innocent people forced into servitude, yet here we have a system that basically uses the number of slaves you free as a monetary system. I know, its just a game and really, who cares, but it felt a little odd to me.

Short Attention Span Summary:

You’d think I hated this DLC. In fact, I found it to be enjoyable enough. It’s a decent length for DLC, coming in at around five or six hours to finish. Its biggest weakness is that it doesn’t have the polish that the main game has. Not a bad effort for ten bucks though.