After taking us to a pirate-infested locale with its latest release, Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed franchise has taken things a step further with a brand new story add-on for ASSASSIN'S CREED IV: BLACK FLAG. Entitled Freedom Cry, the nine mission-long campaign, which acts as a major part of the game's Season Pass, tells the tale of Adewale, whom you may remember as former protagonist Edward Kenway's first mate. Kenway is nowhere to be found this time around, though, as the focus shifts from the pirate life to an attempt to save the unfortunate souls who've been captured and abused as slaves, within Port-au-Prince and its surrounding areas.
Set fifteen years after the conclusion of the main campaign, Black Flag picks up Adewale's story as he becomes shipwrecked on the isle of Saint-Domingue. The ship-based battle that precedes said marooning is playable, but the game's storyline doesn't really kick in until the former-slave-turned-assassin lands on the idyllic sunlit beach, and finds himself in possession of a strange package bearing a Templar insignia. Following that turn of events, curiosity sets in and a new goal is decided upon; that being an attempt to figure out the origins of the mysterious box and its destination.
Shortly after beginning his search, Adewale finds himself in a brothel, which is run by a fellow African who just so happens to be the targeted recipient of the aforementioned package. It's there that he uses his keen persuasion skills to barter for information regarding the region's slave trade, which leads to a partnership with a group of freed slaves who fight together as Maroons. This is where things really pick up, as players must partner with the leader of the rebellion, in order to take on the role of their silent but deadly assistant.
Although the prevalent storyline is somewhat interesting, it lacks the depth that makes for a memorable experience. Helping slaves fight against their oppressors is a great idea for a video game, especially one that carries the generally polished mechanics of the Assassin's Creed franchise, but there's simply not enough meat on the bones here. You could say that things are fine and that'd be true, but we hope for more in this day and age, and Freedom Cry doesn't really deliver that extra oomph. A major part of the issue results from a general lack of depth and dialogue chains that are sometimes tough to follow, due to the fact that they seem to introduce new elements from out of the blue.
What's most impressive here is Adewale, who steps up to the plate big time and steals the spotlight from his old pal Edward. Although the storyline that surrounds him isn't exactly great, he still manages to shine as an interesting, like-able and adept hero. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that Adewale may be a better character than his predecessor, but that's just my opinion. You may feel differently.
The former slave has a lot of tricks up his sleeve as you'd expect, and a lot of them are quite familiar. Returning favourites like smoke bombs, sleep darts and berserk darts are available, as is a badass machete that acts as the hero's upgradeable sword. However, two other options are added to the roster this time around, including a powerful rifle that can take out upwards of five to seven enemies at once, as well as firecrackers, which can be used to distract enemies for a limited time. Both work really well, and add to what was already a solid assortment of deadly tools.
Other than the newly introduced weapons, which change things up slightly, the gameplay is primarily the same. You're still sneaking around environments in order to take out or eavesdrop upon important targets, or to simply take out regular grunts. Then, when you're not doing that, you're engaging in naval battles with slave ships' protection fleets. As such, Freedom Cry is merely a new version of the same mechanics, albeit with a different protagonist and storyline.
Aesthetically, one change has been made, and that pertains to the game world's plantations, which are now home to upwards of forty slaves and their guards. These can be taken over through familiar means (sneak around and take guys out, while making sure to sabotage bells, so that they won't kill slaves and deplete the final number that you'll be able to save) and will fall under new ownership if you leave them for a while. In fact, saving slaves is a big part of this experience, because you need to do so in order to help build the Maroons, which, in turn, unlocks missions. The problem is that you'll come across the same old scenarios over and over again. This includes saving slaves from punishment, buying them at an auction, rescuing them from jail or preventing their deaths by assassinating slave guardians who are chasing them with intent. The repetition becomes noticeable quickly and it takes away from the quality of the experience.
Of course, the visuals are very much the same as they were in the main game. There are new character models and some seemingly new locations, but it's still the same good-looking presentation that us veterans are used to. Unfortunately, however, there are some glitches to be found, including NPCs who randomly fall from the top of Adewale's ship and into the water as it's sailing. Those glitches take away from things, but they're not game breaking by any means.
The audio is better than its peer, and is actually pretty impressive. The dialogue is solid (albeit sometimes confusing), the voice acting is of quality and there's some great music that relates to the time period. There are no shanties, though, which is a disappointment. In actuality, all of the new songs tend to come out of the mouths of the slaves as they're working.
In the end, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - Freedom Cry is a very solid and entertaining campaign, which lasts approximately four hours. It does have replay value, mind you, but it will only be of interest to those who don't mind spending extra time in order to unlock achievements or trophies. As a result, it's a good buy for those who love their Assassin's Creed games, especially when you consider that it's only ten dollars.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
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