Release Date: 17/12/2013
Played On: Playstation 4
Available On: PC / PS4 / PS3 / XBO / XB360
Time Played: 8h 43m
Progress: Completed Story / 93% Synchronisation
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Here's a golden rule that I have learned for big iterative AAA games that might help someone else out in the future: never go in reverse. As DLC for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, I figured that Freedom Cry would be a chance to return to the high seas and have a quick jaunt around the Caribbean. I got exactly what I was asking for, but time has not been kind to the wettest installment in the Assassin's Creed series.
I'll go on record and state that I'm a fan of the Assassin's Creed franchise and I've played almost every game and DLC released to date. Of course I can see all the flaws and it's no secret why these games are so polarising, as they are guilty of all the AAA sins like buggy/unfinished releases, slightly iterative sequels, and repetitive gameplay loops. The first Assassin's Creed is the reason we now have the ubiquitous 'towers' in open world Ubisoft games, which is as AAA and grey as it gets.
Thankfully, I enjoy what is now the typical AAA open world loop, so picking up Freedom Cry in a sale seemed like a no-brainer for me.
One of the main reasons I enjoy these games is to explore the world and soak up all the intricate details of the settings. The art in Assassin's Creed games always blows my mind at how intricate and detailed some of the cities can be. It's the kind of awe that only comes from having a huge team and budget, capable of recreating a large area to explore.
Freedom Cry uses a small part of the Black Flag map, which doesn't include large cities, but a small town and a handful of islands and outposts. The main appeal is the open ocean where sailing, hunting, and battling other ships is the order of the day. This part holds up excellently, even though it can get super repetitive as you attack a ship, board the ship, decide what to do with the ship, repeat. It still feels great to be out on the open ocean looking through a spyglass to find that next target. The thrill of barreling over waves towards an enemy as rain beats down and lightning flashes around you is one of the coolest experiences in the series to date.
However, the meat and potatoes of Assassin's Creed has always been the parkour system of running around on land, climbing everything in your path, and looking awesome in the process.
This is where the golden rule comes in to play. Every iteration of the Assassin's Creed series has tried to improve this core movement system in some way. Of course there have been some hits and misses along the way (that 'higher jump' thing they did in the second game was annoying as hell), but most of the misses have been ironed out.
Last year I played Assassin's Creed Syndicate, which had the simplest (and in my opinion, the best) movement system that I've played so far. The controls were simplified down to holding a button to run, then a button to run 'up' and another to run 'down'. This made traversing industrial London a breeze and really helped maintain the flow of being a badass assassin running all over the place.
With the addition of the grappling hook, Syndicate made me realise that I didn't enjoy the parkour because of complex controls, I enjoyed it because it was a fun, cool way to move around.
Rewind a few iterations to Freedom Cry and the limitations of the old movement system raise their ugly heads again.
Every single mission had a point where I stuffed up the movement and either fell to my death, exposed my location to an enemy, or lost a target. All because I might have slightly pressed the wrong direction, or hit a wall and got stuck in an animation. These unintentional failures became so frustrating that by the end of the game, all I wanted to do was focus on story missions to finish it.
This is why I have learned never to go in reverse for this kind of game; what you don't know really doesn't hurt you.
The only game in the Assassin's Creed series I have never played is Unity, which already has a reputation for being a buggy mess with shoe-horned co-op and a terrible story. I'm hoping that the movement system won't be added to the list as well, but I won't be surprised if it is.