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Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Biggest Peeve Against Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

I've been playing Assassin's Creed IV (AC4) for nearly two weeks now. I am 9% through it according to Uplay. I seldom score 100% per memory segment (AC4's rating system for missions.) That's usually because of things like missing the rope with the pistol, killing the hangman instead, and having to fight all the guards in front of the gallows in Nassau while I was "recruiting" a crew. As it turned out, I think the fight was more enjoyable than shooting the rope. I assassinated one guard before shooting the hangman dead. I got to use another guard as a human shield between me and the musket man on the ramparts of the fort above the gallows. And, I had one hell of a good fight with the officer in charge, eventually breaking his defense, blocking his attack and executing a lovely beheading. Well, actually the game don't show the head flying off because I think Ubisoft wanted a better rating than that would have garnered. But it was obvious where my sword blow struck and what would have happened if it had all been realistically portrayed. Actually, if it had been realistic I'd have muffed the assassination, shot the convicted pirate by mistake and been shot dead by the musket man on the rampart while the officer laughed in my face. But this is a game. It's supposed to be unreal.

As you can probably tell, I quite like the combat system in AC4. It's easy to master for someone who's used to Starcraft II macroing, or even League of Legends controls. This is because the interface has to serve console as well as PC players. Consoles just can't be all that complicated. That leads to streamlined user interfaces that are simplistic yet completely functional. This is not something I really mind much at all. I've never been that good of a twitch player. When too many keyboard keys must be punched very quickly. When fighting in AC4, all you really need to do is keep your finger poised over the 'W' (move forward) and 'E' (block) key while tapping the left mouse button to attack.The fact I could type that all out in one sentence, and have it make sense, is evidence of the simplicity. Compare that with an opening build for Starcraft II. If you want to get complicated with AC4, occasionally tap 'F' to use a tool, which in a fight is usually 'fire pistol' or 'throw smoke bomb.' But the really, really easy combat is to sneak up behind guards by using a crowd or just slowly strolling up behind them and then tapping the left mouse button when you see the "assassinate" option light up. Then watch as you execute some smooth move to separate the guard from his duty - permanently.

Naval combat is a bit more tricky. You aim by holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse. You fire by tapping the left mouse button. But at the same time you need to sail your ship with the standard W-S-A-D keys, and sometimes you have to move the entire ship to aim as the cannon have a limited swivel range. The tricky part is tracking where your ship is going while at the same time tracking where the enemy ship is going, so you have just enough swivel in your guns to land a good broadside. That's not a game control problem though, it is a firmware issue with the device between my ears. Still, I've not lost my ship yet and there's something to be said for that. Oh, and did I mention the Spanish gunboats throw out mines? They're lit barrels of gunpowder, and if you hit them they do lots of damage. That's not a very nice thing to do when I'm hard pressed just to stay off the rocks. Of course, that's once again a bio firmware issue, not a game interface issue. Once you get the hang of it, naval combat is as fun as assassinations. I can't wait to have the opportunity to board a ship!

But the lead up to naval combat, the sailing of the ocean blue, is my biggest peeve with the game so far. It's bad enough when I can run all the way across Nassau in a few minutes like some Gulliver in a geography designed for Lilliputians, but at least the buildings and trees and rocks are proportional to my size, and I have to travel at least some distance to get to them. This is not really the case on the open ocean. "Patrolling" ships are everywhere. At any time I can see several of them. It's like Ubisoft took the entire Caribbean and shoved it into a bathtub. It's that crowded with ships. And these ships look like they're right up on you, and you should have to shoot them or perish. But they sail right past without a moments hesitation. It's comes across as entirely fake and totally breaks the suspense of trying to avoid detection.

[caption id="attachment_1728" align="alignright" width="115"]Sea Wolf by Midway Sea Wolf by Midway[/caption]

For example, I was on Abaco Island. The Spanish gunboats sailed right around the island as close as the Jackdaw was anchored. They were so close I could easily see the crew on their decks. They should have at least seen the Jackdaw, if not me on the beach. Yet they just sailed on as if there wasn't a pirate ship anchored right there. When I set sail again I had to shoot at them to get into a fight at all, even when it looked like we were within 100 yards of each other. It reminds me of the cheesy arcade games where the ships move across the screen at various speeds but always only at four or five set "distances," while you try to hit them with a torpedo. They never notice you. They never slow down. They never attack. This is not what I expect from a top rated video game like AC4. What I do expect is something like the venerable Silent Hunter series, where ships were always portrayed with a realistic size at range. And when you sailed an ocean, it really seemed like you were sailing an ocean, not a bathtub. I can only hope AC5 will rectify this absurdity.

But that said, I am still enjoying Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag tremendously, and have no intention of letting one little peeve stop me from playing. Besides, when you do actually engage an enemy ship, relative distances once again return and it is every bit as exciting as you'd want it to be. Because, you know... you don't really want wood splinters in your backside from the near misses.

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