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Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag Review and System Specs

* Graphics engine is great, water rendering is even better than AC3 which was already great
* Combat system is the same as AC3 - a few bugs here and there, but overall pretty good -- great moves to watch as you play. Glad they kept double-executions in.
* The underwater bell-diving missions were a lot of fun and gorgeously rendered. I suspect these replaced the "tomb" missions from previous installments.
* Usage of "cover" was greatly upgraded to provide better / more realistic stealth missions. The brush is so much thicker that it's actually believable that he can sneak around in it.
* Shawn / Rebecca - It was good to see Shawn / Rebecca put in the game. I would like to think they will be in the next game as well with bigger roles.

* (see other for detailed notes on overall game thoughts) (some small spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk)
* Major story plothole identified as soon as the game starts -- Edward is initially in his 20s and is basically a drunken privateer. He "acquires" an assassin's robes and hidden blades and apparently just putting the stuff on gives him Ezio / Connor's fighting abilities and skill, not to mention the ability to be stealthy and assassinate people flawlessly (extreme sarcasm). It is never explained how he has eagle vision, assassin skills, etc. in the context for Edward himself. You're just dropped in to the story. This is a major plothole. I spoke to some other folks who have completed the game and they felt the same way.
* Not nearly enough emphasis on the Assassin / Templar battle; until Sequence 11 / 12, assassination missions seem thrown in by necessity more than because they fit the plotline. The plotline is just very...scattered. It doesn't flow well at all.
* In Brotherhood (the best of them along with AC2), side missions (courtesan, thief, assassination) were installed in tiers and unlocked as you progressed through the game because they directly tied in to the main storyline. This is not the case in AC4 -- it feels like Ubisoft is simply putting side missions in just to put them in. There is too much side "junk" that has little (or nothing) to do with the main story of the game. It feels like they're just putting stuff in so they can say "look at all the stuff we put in" even though much of it is low quality and does not contribute much to the story. I'd rather have no side missions and better flow of the main story if the side missions are going to feel so weak and half-hearted, having virtually nothing to do with the main character's development or story.
* Once you acquire some of the specialized armor in the game by completing certain missions, it doesn't render properly in the cutscenes -- for example when wearing the Mayan armor, when Edward motions like he's putting his hood up, there's no hood, so it just looks strange.
* Whaling / harpooning -- this struck me as very low in taste to put this in the game. I only did the missions I had to do to craft upgrades for Edward, but found the missions themselves to be a major turnoff.
* Like Connor, Edward does a lot of stupid things. Gets betrayed and doesn't see it coming despite the enhanced "senses" of his lineage. Gets "captured" for a year's time. It's frustrating playing a game as a main character who is supposed to be a true hero with special senses and fighting abilities, who constantly does idiotic things. I didn't even feel like I was playing an AC game until about Sequence 11 / 12 -- felt like a Pirates of the Carribean knock-off.
* Too many viewpoints -- this kinda falls in with the "too many side missions" -- way too many viewpoints. Recommend less viewpoints that will reveal more of the map.
* As mentioned in the pros section, I believe the "tomb" missions were replaced with the Dive Bell missions. Now, while the Dive Bell missions are awesome, missions like AC3's Captain Kidd side missions were great. They had awesome settings, and were mysterious and really neat. These were sadly, missed.
* With Altair & Ezio, their unusual abilities were emphasized in their respective stories, making you feel like you, as the main character, were special -- eagle vision, exceptional free-running skills, advanced fighting capabilities, etc. were all things that made you feel superior since they supposedly came from some TWCB DNA. That you could go into a fight against 50 guys, and conceivably win because of your superior abilities. With Edward (and Connor in AC3), it feels like you're just some average Joe out there, with very little explained. One of the things that always made AC games so cool and interesting is the mystery factor to it. That seems to be missing significantly.
* Like AC3, the music in AC4 is terrible. AC2 and ACBrotherhood had wonderful music that helped to make both games magical. AC3 and AC4 have sorely lacked it, and it is incredibly noticeable; for the worse.
* One of the things that made Ezio's trilogy so special as well, is the fact that they stuck with the same hero for a bit. They went through all of his introduction and training to become a master fighter and assassin in AC2, and continued it in ACB /ACR -- this gave us plenty of time to get used to our hero, and become attached to him. By switching heroes up constantly, they prevent this from happening.
* The story lacks much personalized drama / excitement. Yes there are battles, and people who aren't nice to Edward. But there wasn't a lot of "drive" for Edward to want to kill the people he ends up killing. It feels more forced than anything else. I think back to AC2 / ACB and how well they developed the enemy characters that you eventually killed that it made it almost personal. It feels like there is very little character development on the part of Edwards enemies. Cesare & Lucrezia were such welcome additions to ACB and added so much with regard to the drama factor. Heck, add a girl templar in to the mix that our assassin has a bit of feeling for and you'll really be rolling with some good drama effect.
* Killing Desmond -- I know this is from AC3's ending so it's old news, but it's worth pointing out how badly this plot choice by the AC3 story writers impacted the quality of this series. This was just a DUMB move by their storywriting team. I had really enjoyed Desmond's character development (along with that of Shawn / Rebecca) and interactions with his team. By AC3, he was a full fledged assassin, and his missions were actually a lot of fun. Now that they killed him, they've severely limited interaction with the assassin team which was also very fun to follow when you were out of the animus.
As an avid fan of this series, I would simply say this game is very underwhelming. Ubisoft needs to stop everything they're doing with the AC series for about a month, and seriously re-evaluate the direction they're going with the series. The crew that did AC2 and AC Brotherhood needs to be fully recalled and put on the AC5 project. The next AC game needs to be a homerun as they've now had back-to-back duds in AC3 / AC4. They need to re-hire Jesper Kyd who did the music for those previous games as well. They have lost the magic of the early parts of the series.
They need to concentrate on storytelling, keeping things chronologically sensible so that the story flows well. Need better character development, better attention to detail on the assassins and their targets.
Need a direct tie-in for the "present-time" hero that you are playing as also like Desmond had. I truly hope they get things straightened out because I love this series, and I don't like what they've done with it with these past two games.
Verdict: 60/100

System Specs
  • OS: Windows Vista SP2 or Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8 (both 32/64bit versions)
  • Processor: Intel Core2Quad Q8400 @ 2.6 GHz or AMD Athlon II X4 620 @ 2.6 GHz
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia Geforce GTX 260 or AMD Radeon HD 4870 (512MB VRAM with shader Model 4.0 or higher)
  • Hard Drive: 30 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Sound Card with latest drivers
  • Additional Notes: Windows-Compatible keyboard and mouse required, controller optional. 
  • OS: Windows Vista SP2 or Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8 (both 32/64bit versions)
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 2400S @ 2.5 GHz or better or AMD Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 or AMD Radeon HD 5850 (1024MB VRAM with Shader Model 5.0) or better
  • Hard Drive: 30 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Sound Card with latest drivers
  • Additional Notes: Supported video cards at the time of release: Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 or better and GeForce GTX 400, GTX 500, GTX 600 and GTX 700 series. AMD Radeon HD4870 or better and Radeon HD5000, HD6000 and HD7000 series. Note: Latest GeForce drivers tested: 327.23 for all series. Latest Radeon drivers tested: 13.1 for Radeon HD4000, 13.4 for Radeon HD5000, HD6000 and HD7000 series on Vista and 13.9 for Radeon HD5000, HD6000 and HD7000 series on Win7 and Win8. Laptop versions of these cards may work but are NOT officially supported. 


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