You only have to spend 20 minutes outside of the Animus
[Editor's Note: Our copy of Assassin's Creed IV came in late and, as a result, the review by Conrad Zimmerman will be tardy as well. We hope this piece by Chris will help tide you over.]
It turns out Ubisoft made good on its promise to not shove the modern day portion of Assassin's Creed IV down your throat. Throughout my time with the game, there are only a scant few portions that require you to venture outside of the exciting, debauchery-filled life of Edward Kenway, and into the present day.
But you know what? I actually spent a lot more time in it that I had initially planned, because the developers made an interesting call -- they made the real world sub-plot ancillary to the core game. And it was the right choice.
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For those of you who haven't played an Assassin's Creed game, the series typically employs two story lines -- a sci-fi present-day setting (that usually takes place during the year of the game's release), and a historical setting, such as Renaissance-era Italy, or the American Revolution. At first, the modern setting came as a shock, because Ubisoft really didn't promote it as it launched the original game. Fans were torn, as some of them expected a straight period piece, and others loved the concept of a higher meta-narrative involving the eternal struggle of the assassins and their nemesis organization, the Templars.
This story is framed with the help of one man, who is genetically connected to the protagonists of all the games so far -- Desmond Miles. Throughout the course of every single core game outside of Liberation, you'll continuously jump outside of the historical setting to explore the real world as Desmond, alongside of his Scooby-Doo-like band of assassins. At first, it was a neat concept. Until it wasn't, and we were tired of seeing Desmond's face.
As Ashraf Ismail, the director of Assassin's Creed IV even admits, the real-world story is "a bit polarizing," to say the least. I'm not going to spoil what happened to Desmond in Assassin's Creed III, but by the time the final portion of the game rolled around, I realized something -- I was sick of him. I had been sick of him for a long time, actually. That's where Assassin's Creed IV comes in.
After every four sequences or so, Black Flag boots you back into the real world, sends you on a five-minute errand, and then you're back in the Animus, swashbuckling with Edward once again. Should you choose to wander around the halls of Abstergo you'll uncover tons of hidden secrets, including fan service, concept art, and new tidbits that detail the constant struggle between the assassins and the Templars. It does a nice job of setting up future installments and satisfying the mind of curious fans, but that's not the real beauty of the setup -- it's the fact that the vast majority of exploration is optional.
I'm pleased to say that if you're one of the many who despises Assassin's Creed's real-world story, you won't be disappointed with Black Flag in that regard. Like Liberation, the focus is almost entirely on the assassins themselves, which is most likely the reason why you bought the game in the first place. I can only hope that future installments follow suit, as this minimalistic style is not only effective and less winded, but it's more fun as a result.