Creep, creep, creep, stab, stab, stab: Assassin’s Creed IV impressions

1362401647-1-noscaleUpdate: I’m about 28 per cent through ACIV Black Flag and just gave up on perhaps one of the most frustrating chase missions I’ve ever endured in a game. After about 12 attempts, and a few swear words, I gave up and turned off the console.

Without spoiling anything, Kenway has to track a ship through a swampy marshland then follow a rowboat – he’s on foot – until he’s spotted eavesdropping on a conversation then has to chase a British captain. It seems as soon as the chase starts, Kenway was reluctant to actually run and it took a few metres for him to wake up and start running: what follows is a chase that seems destined to fail as Kenway is hampered by  all matter of objects (paths blocked by collapsed rubble, guards, explosions) in his quest to chase down a captain. I just about reached captain, but he apparently got to his destination, desyncronising the mission. 

The mission was just frustrating, to be honest, and there’s no need for frustrations like this. On a more positive note, earlier in the game I found a diving bell, which meant I could now dive the various shipwrecks I’d come across previously and not been able to do anything. You can also hide from sharks in seaweed. I don’t think you can punch them, though.


There are lots of things to climb in Assassin’s Creed IV: bell towers, windmills, British troop fortifications, Mayan outcrops, big trees.

I like climbing things in Assassin’s Creed games. It’s probably one of my most favourite things to do.

Whenever I arrived at a new location in the game – it’s a pretty big game world so there are lots of locations to explore –  I pull up the map, set the marker to the nearest syncronisation point and head for it. I’ll then climb to the top of the building/bell tower/mayan temple and look out, often taking in the breathtaking view that stretches out below me, before free-falling into a conveniently placed pile of hay.

For me, Assassin’s Creed IV is an infinitely better game than its predecessor, and much of that is due to the game’s main character, pirate Edward Kenway, who is a billion times more interesting than Connor from AC3. I also wasn’t that taken with the American setting of AC3. It just seemed a tad uninspiring. I felt Connor had little personality and I think part of the charm and appeal of Kenway for me is that he’s a pirate: That’s always good for fun times but he’s also a bit of a scoundrel, a man who is prepared to step outside the bounds of the law to the get the job. He’s an interesting character.

As I write this, I’ve completed about 21 per cent of the ACIV so far, but I’m not sure whether that’s 21% of the entire game or just of the game world. Most of the game is set in the Carribean and most of it seems open from the start. I’ve only come across a couple of points where the game has told me that a particular area wasn’t available yet.

I have to say, though, I found the opening couple of hours pretty uninspiring but I’m glad I’ve stuck it out. Once you leave the rather restrictive location of Havana there’s a huge and varied game world to explore, with much of it taking part on the open seas with you captaining the Jackdaw, Kenway’s ship, which you can upgrade by attacking merchant ships and looting warehouses stationed at British bases.

There are a lot of things to do in ACIV, outside the main story missions. I mean, we’ve got the return of the rather routine “catch the courier” stuff and collect things like sea shanties and animus fragments but there are also treasure maps to collect and mayan puzzles to solve. There’s also things like harpooning whales and sharks, which fits in with the time period, but I hunted one bull shark for curiosity’s sake then didn’t bother doing it again. Besides, you can become a pretty good pirate without wiping out the whales (Interestingly, a several points the game told me that I was the most profitable pirate out of all my Xbox Live friends, but that could be because not many of them are playing ACIV.)

The free-running seems more fluid this time around, although every now and then Kenway will come across a wall that for some reason isn’t climbable (although a similar one nearby is) or get stuck in a corner because I guided him the wrong way, but it happens a lot less than it did in other AC games but I’m surprised at the inclusion of one what I like to call insta-fail mission where guide Kenway through a jungle avoiding what seemed like the 2 million assassins patrolling the place. Well, it seemed like 2 million assassins were there. It was one of those mission that whenever you were spotted that was it and you had to restart at the last checkpoint. I made it through, eventually, but I did yell at my TV a few times during that mission.

AssassinsCreedBF_THUMBThings I like doing in ACIV: Whistling at a guard (not in a sexual way) to catch his attention then stabbing him when he gets too close and pulling him into the undergrowth, hiding the body. It’s funny, though, when you knock a guard out and they writhe around and moan, and a nearby guard doesn’t hear a thing! (Video games, eh?); Taking on a ship more heavily armed and stronger than the Jackdaw – and coming out victorious!; Firing a berserk dart at a soldier and watching him fight other guards near him. Things I don’t like in ACIV:  Those eavesdrop missions; trying to attract one guard’s attention but inadvertently attracting the attention of two, meaning they spot you; insta-fail missions with 2 million patrolling assassins.

The time spent on the high seas is great fun and the sea battles are a blast but it pays to spend money early on upgrading the Jackdaw’s cannons and hull strength. As the game progresses many of the missions take place in British gunship and frigate-infested waters, and against  mortar-fortified bases, and a strong and powerful ship will get you through with less damage.

ACIV is also a game within a game, if you will, as the Kenway storyline is part of a TV series produced by Abstergo Entertainment (remember the Abstergo agents in the other AC games that were hunting Desmond Miles), which you, the player, work for. It’s a little confusing at times.

All and all, I’m enjoying my time with Assassin’s Creed IV. I shares a lot of DNA with the previous games but it seems Ubisoft have listened to many of the complaints with previous installments and done its best to remedy those. That said, whether I have the fortitude and stamina to visit every single location and collect every single collectible is another thing (for example, I can’t be bothered chasing the flying shanty fragments). Some missions require a little grinding, too, like one which needed a much tougher Jackdaw than I had so I had to plunder a few more ships and warehouses to get enough stuff to upgrade her hull and armaments.

ACIV is a much better game than AC3, which had a boring lead character and I just didn’t find fun, but I wonder how much life is left in the series? This is about the sixth full console AC game and there’s only so much assassinating, collecting and free-running you can do until the formula starts getting real tired. The AC series might be nearing that point now.

Dishonored: a game of subtlety and nuance

Dishonored is kind of like an onion: the deeper you delve, the more layers you reveal.

Not layers of yucky onion-ness, which tastes disgusting and makes your mouth taste funny, but layers of gaming goodness that reveals itself the more you peel back.

Dishonored is a game where the more you sit and wait, the more you explore and investigate, the more you learn about the world around you and the story behind it.

It’s a game where you can stealth your way through missions, skulking from cover to cover, roof top to roof top, carefully memorising the patrol patterns of guards before teleporting to the next safe hiding spot, ever closer to your target. Or you can take the ‘‘Come one, come all’’ approach and confront every guard you came across – either lethally (hello Mr foldable blade) or non-lethally(hello neck choke). The makers of Dishonored have left it up to you how you want to approach things. Isn’t that nice of them?

I have to admit that I tried to remain stealthy as much as I could – using rooftops and pipes to travel above the gaze of patrolling guards  – but sometimes I failed miserably, mis-timing a jump and landing noisily between two guards, forcing me to pull out my pistol and blade and take them on. Soon, the bodies were piling up.

You take the role of Corvo Attano, former protector of the Empress of Dunwall who was brutally murdered by a society of magical assassins. Her daughter, Emily, is kidnapped. Attano is framed for her murder and imprisoned but escapes, vowing to avenge the Empress’ death and clear his name. Dishonored is set in a steam punk-inspired world that plays a bit like the classic game Thief – skulking through the shadows and all that – and has nods to Bioshock about it (it may not surprise you that developer Arkane Studios helped in the art direction of Bioshock 2).

Visually, Dishonored looks like a sumptuous water colour painting, with big daubs of colour everywhere, and Dunwall is a society with whales to thank: whale oil powers security systems and machinery, but since the Empress’ death it has succumbed to crippling plague and a tyrannical ruler.

While weapons come into play, Attano’s real power lies in his left hand through magical powers given to him by the mysterious Outsider, who we never really learn much about but whose legend is scribbled on walls around Dunwall. The powers come through collectible runes carved from whale bone, which imbue Attano with a variety of powers like teleportation, possession (both animal and human), slowing down time, summoning up a plague of rats and wind, which knocks enemies over. Teleportation – or blink – was perhaps my most favoured power, meaning I could zip from point to point largely unnoticed and I suspect completing the game with just that one power would be entirely possible.

Dishonored’s makers, developer Arkane, claim you can play the game how you want – stealthy or aggressive – but it seems the more confrontational you are, the darker the ending. It seems the higher your chaos rating – end-of-mission stats tell you how many people you killed, how many alarms you raised and whether you slipped through unnoticed – the darker the game’s tone becomes, with NPCs telling you they’re not pleased with how you’ve become, and rats and weepers – zombie-like citizens infected by the plague – more prevalent.

Dishonored surprised at times: I was chuffed that I was able to complete two assassinations without actually killing the target (although the outcome of one was perhaps not the best) and eavesdropping on conversations and reading letters and books often pays dividends  – and it is pleasing to see there isn’t a boss battle in sight: no final confrontation where you have to attack a foe’s glowing weak spot three times in quick succession before finishing him off with a well-timed button press.

Eventually, though, I realised that all-out aggression isn’t perhaps the best way to play Dishonored: stealth, cunning and a low body count seems to garner the ‘happiest” ending (although there are achievements which relish in how many people you kill within a specific time limit) – but by the time I realised that, it was too late: I already had too much blood on my sword.

Dishonored isn’t perfect: a quick save for the console versions would be nice, but it’s not game-breaking, and using the left bumper to select powers and ranged weapons was a little cumbersome at times (every now and then I fired my pistol thinking I had a power activated). Also, acid-spitting molluscs just seem to be there for no purpose other than to annoy the hell out of you.

When the game is finished, though, it’s not the bodies you left behind or the creeping about that you’ll remember most, but the subtle nuances revealed through the game’s world and environment, and the numerous layers that will be uncovered in multiple playthroughs. Dishonored is a game that is perfect for a return visit.