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Watch Dogs 2 for PS4, Xbox One and PC

The original Watch Dogs is a game viewed harshly by history. Several factors contributed to this and to be fair a good number of these were Ubisoft’s own stupid fault. The pressures of a ridiculous level of hype, being one of the first major releases for the current console generation, an obnoxious ad campaign (iconic hat etc) and a direct attempt to position itself against GTA V, a contest it could never have possibly won, conspired to have Watch Dogs remembered as a bad game. The thing is, I don’t think it was a bad game. Sure, people were tired of the Ubisoft formula by this point and the story was pretty dire, but the core mechanics and concept were strong. Many, including myself, predicted that a sequel to Watch Dogs could build upon this solid foundation and potentially provide a similar leap to what was seen in the jump from Assassin’s Creed to Assassin’s Creed II. Rather surprisingly, it’s an even bigger leap. Watch Dogs 2 is possibly my game of the year and my favourite Ubisoft open world game since Black Flag.
Watch Dogs 2 swaps out it’s drab Chicago setting and utterly unlikeable and uncharismatic protagonist for the sunny and metropolitan San Francisco and the even sunnier dispositioned Marcus Holloway. After the events of the first game, Blume Corporation took it’s hit but has still managed to spread it’s CTOS city operating system around the world. Marcus is a young hacker who, at the beginning of the game joins DedSec, a Hacker collective with a slick marketing campaign to spread their message of dissent against those in Silicon Valley who seek to control and manipulate the populace. Marcus and a small group of odd-ball hacker pals start targeting major businesses with clear analogues to Facebook, Google, SpaceX etc. and soon draw the attention of Blume’s CTO Dusan Nemec, who seeks to crush DedSec any way he can.

The actual plot of Watch Dogs 2 is fine. It’s a bit amorphous as Ubisoft open world games generally are by design and the Silicon Valley parody stuff is more cute than actually perceptive, perhaps excepting a brilliant commentary on the thinly veiled racism that can plague tech communities. It’s functional and enjoyable and flows naturally, a basic expectation which frankly hasn’t been seen in a Ubisoft open world game since…Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood maybe? There is a bizarre shift into darker territory which is introduced and abandoned in the space of about 45 minutes, with the rest of the game holding a breezy and irreverent turn. This section is something of a blight on this game, feeling like a distasteful reminder of Aiden Pierce’s grim story of the original. The reason I enjoyed Watch Dogs 2’s story so much are the characters. Marcus is the best Ubisoft protagonist since Ezio; his seemingly unrelenting positivity is infectious and his unconditional and enthusiastic support for his friends is unbelievably endearing. He’s impossible not to root for. The same goes for the supporting cast, with Ubisoft going a long way to prove how important diversity is in creating an interesting narrative. When your core cast are all from different places and have different lived experiences, their interactions become more nuanced and complex. It’s pretty basic really. I came to love all of the core DedSec crew, from Sitara the acerbic but loyal brand manager for DedSec, to Josh the hacking prodigy who is clearly somewhere on the autistic spectrum, to Horatio the laid back and calming leader of the outfit. The star has to be Wrench, who wears a mask at all times which display emojis to show his feelings. I know it sounds awful, but he’s a massively endearing character. Yes, he’s the constantly wisecracking comic relief but there’s a lot more to him than that and he’s involved in a few of the story’s most heartfelt moments. These characters and more are brilliantly written and presented with nuance and a fantastic voice acting performance; this is BioWare levels of characterisation, seen for the first time from Ubisoft.
Although Watch Dogs 2 has a funny and light tone (mostly) throughout, it still shows a startling willingness to tackle more serious issues, particularly racism. Marcus is an African-American and I had in all honesty expected Ubisoft to simply avoid the addressing the elephant in the room; this is a story with all sort of elements which intersect with racism in America but I honestly didn’t think they’d have the bravery to explore it directly. Marcus is a positive and optimistic person, dealing with the racism around him with a sort of world weary sardonic humour, but there’s a current of anger running through him which is electrifying to watch. A lot of this comes from his relationship with Horatio, who is also black, with scenes following only the two showing how differently they have been forced to view their surroundings to others around them, particularly in the predominantly white Silicon Valley. I’m a white guy in England; I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America, but Watch Dogs 2 makes a stab at helping me understand and that’s a noble goal for game development if ever I’ve heard one.

So, enough harping on about the story. Watch Dogs 2’s core gameplay loop is fairly simple; drive to a place and hack into it somehow, usually requiring a physical presence from the player at some point. You have a huge range of options at your disposal, with a genuinely open approach to the game design. Compare this to Assassin’s Creed which has increasingly about following one ‘correct’ path, Watch Dogs 2 is content to let you approach objectives with remarkable freedom. All of your phone hacking abilities from the first game are back, so you’ll be hacking security cameras, blowing up fuse boxes to incapacitate guards and manipulating vehicles and machinery. Added to your arsenal are a little RC car which can be used to complete ‘physical hacks’ but is extremely vulnerable if spotted as well as a drone which can be used to scan the environment and used as a platform from which to launch more powerful hacks. Alongside Marcus himself, you essentially have three player characters in operation at any one time. In this sense, Watch Dogs 2 actually surpasses GTA V; I liked the three-character structure there, but it was mostly narrative and missions which genuinely took advantage of it were pretty rare. In Watch Dogs 2, this multi-part structure is essential. If you use the RC car well, there are many missions where you need never enter the area at all. When you do need to get your hands dirty, there are a lot of weapons available but I didn’t ever use any but the trusty stun gun. Sure, you have your requisite heavy weaponry, but the game is so much more fun when treated as a stealth experience and dishing out mass murder with grenade launchers just feels wrong and completely out of synch with the Marcus we know. It is clear that Ubisoft inserted these weapons into Watch Dogs 2 because it’s an open world game and that’s just what you do, but they’re not fun to use and an expansion of non-lethal options would have been a better use of resources. There is a levelling up system, which is fine and works pretty much as you’d expect.

Watch Dogs 2 is a generous game, with a lengthy and exciting main campaign which switches things up regularly to keep everything fresh. Watch Dogs 2 also has the best side content in a Ubisoft game for years. There are loads of cool side missions, each multi-part with their own stories, fully voice acted and generally approached with almost the same care as the main missions. There’re definitely far fewer side tasks in Watch Dogs 2 to the last game, but what is here is significantly better. Alongside that you have a whole load of other activities, pretty much all of which (sailboat racing aside) are fun. Rather than traditional city races, you instead complete stunt courses showcasing areas of the environment you may otherwise miss and these are genuinely the most fun I’ve ever had with driving side missions in an open world game. Drone races are fun too, again mostly serving to show off the environment. Even the collectibles, which provide points for the upgrade system, are usually hidden behind a cool hacking puzzle. I didn’t have the time to 100% Watch Dogs 2, but I wish I did because Watch Dogs 2 bats one of the highest averages for quality to quantity I’ve seen in an open world game.

Watch Dogs 2 got some flack on release for excessive texture pop in on a standard PS4 (as opposed to a PS4 Pro). Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but Watch Dogs 2 has put in a technically excellent performance for me. It looks lovely, particularly the wonderful character models, and the frame rate was solid throughout. Other games I’m currently playing are clearly struggling on the PS4 hardware (more to follow on those soon), but I genuinely didn’t feel that way in Watch Dogs 2. San Francisco is a great setting and it’s fun to take in its hipster atmosphere. There are all sorts of lovely hidden details in this game, such as a bad poetry competition to be found in the game’s parody of Burning Man, or random passers-by photobombing you as you take selfies. Considering that this was an inevitable game churned out by a corporate AAA machine, there’s a surprising amount of love poured into Watch Dogs 2.

Watch Dogs 2 didn’t sell particularly well, probably for a few reasons, such as proximity to major releases like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Final Fantasy XV, but in part it is surely a reaction to the disappointing first game. I get it, Watch Dogs was an unlikeable experience. It’s a bit different to Assassin’s Creed because whilst the first game was deeply flawed, the potential was obvious and experience generally likeable despite that. Watch Dogs just wasn’t charming or exciting the way Assassin’s Creed was, but don’t let that put you off Watch Dogs 2. This is a game where it feels like Ubisoft have learnt the lessons of their flawed open world design and rectified the majority of those problems; I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next and hoping poor sales don’t put Ubisoft off Watch Dogs 3.



Far Cry Primal for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I’ve always preferred to play the Far Cry series as low tech as possible, favouring bows and knives over AK-47s and missile launchers. So, the announcement of Far Cry Primal was pretty exciting, with the series shifting to a prehistoric setting and a focus on primitive tools. In the end I found myself missing the modern elements, as spears and rocks begin to lack to the variety seen in previous games as well as an entire lacklustre story, but the stunning world and unique setting ultimately made up for it.

In Far Cry Primal you play as Takkar, a huntsman from the Wenja tribe. During a mammoth hunt gone wrong Takkar is separated from his group and stumbles into the hidden valley land of Oros. Here we sets out to build up the Wenja, in the face of violence from rival tribes as well as the hostile wildlife. These tribes are the cannibalistic Udam and the fire worshiping Izila and Takkar must learn to harness the powers of the beasts to defeat them and establish the Wenja as the leading tribe of Oros.

Put simply, the storyline of Far Cry Primal is a massive disappointment. Far Cry 3 and 4 both marketed themselves based on their flamboyant and distinctive villains. It may be becoming a formula, but by and large it works. Far Cry 3 and 4 really didn’t have great stories, but the roles of Vaas and Pagan Min elevated them to something memorable. Primal lacks that, with bland villains and a stereotypical supporting cast. The only potentially interesting character is the traumatised Wenja Sayla, who wears a necklace made of Udam ears, but she is absent for most of the story and given no space to develop. The less said about Takkar the better; he’s so bland and joyless he makes Ajay Ghale (Far Cry 4) look like Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island).

The core mechanics of the Far Cry series are incredibly strong and it can’t be overstated just how good Primal feels to play. Running around, throwing spears and massacring left right and centre never failed to feel good, but it did begin to feel a bit repetitive. There are very limited tools at your disposal; the idea of ditching the modern weapons sounded interesting on paper but in practice you’re left with little in the way of strategy and variety. Don’t get me wrong; nailing an oncoming maniac charging at you with a spear is intensely satisfying, but I found myself yearning for more by the end. The most interesting new mechanic is the beast taming, where Takkar can bring different creatures into battle with him. In practice, there is little here that we didn’t already see in Far Cry 4’s weird tiger dream sequences. I did find myself quite attached to my battle scarred sabre-tooth tiger and he’s pretty good for drawing aggro, but a lot of the more interesting sounding mechanics (like riding him into battle) don’t really work in practice.

The upgrading and levelling as an intensive as ever, but still very satisfying, with almost all new abilities making you feel genuinely more powerful. There has been some praise for the foraging system, but I’m not so sure. To craft new spears or arrows (which you will need to do a lot) you have to get bits of wood, flint and animal hide. I guess this is meant to make us feel like a primitive badass living off the land, but in practice I generally just felt like it was slowing me down from getting to the fun stuff. Sure, you’ll get to launch an attack on that outpost soon, but first you need to gather 20 Hardwood. It got old very quickly.

The mission variety isn’t the best, but as I said before the core combat is strong enough that it didn’t feel like a huge issue. This is an Ubisoft game so you must claim territory to unlock more of the map and side quests. People knock the Ubisoft structure but the reason they keep using it is because it works. The side quests are, generally, less interesting than in previous games. Where Far Cry 3 and 4 offered vehicle challenges to break up the monotony, these obviously cannot be present in Primal. Almost all side quests involved killing a bunch of animals/people, rescuing some hostage Wenja, escorting a load of Wenja to a safe place or tracking footprints. Slightly more interesting are the side quests provided by your village as you build up its population, but only because they provide a bit more context. Easily the best missions are hunts for legendary and powerful creatures. There are four total; a wolf, a sabre-tooth tiger, a mammoth and a bear. They involved tracking the creature and taking it down before it can be tamed. They feel genuinely intense and a bit different to everything else. Overall though, Far Cry Primal is significantly lacking in the mission variety department.

The one area where Far Cry Primal is most certainly not lacking is the visuals. Oros is a genuinely stunning setting. Primal may be one of the prettiest open worlds I’ve ever explored, if maybe not the most interesting. There is some nice variety though, with a snowy North, a lush middle and a swampy South. Far Cry 3 and 4’s settings were great, but the lack of variety was an issue. This is not so in Primal. Style can take you a long way and the simple pleasure of exploring such a beautiful world gives this game legs that it perhaps hadn’t earned elsewhere. The music is forgettable and the voice acting bland, but the visuals wind up being Primal’s biggest strength.

Far Cry Primal is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. If you’re feeling burnt out on the Far Cry/Ubisoft formula, give it a miss, but if you have it in you for another one you could do a lot worse. Give it a couple of months until it goes down further in price and enjoy. I hope Ubisoft shake things up a lot for the proper (inevitable) Far Cry 5. I’m not convinced they will though.

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Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate for PS4 and Xbox One

Remember when Assassin’s Creed was one of the most exciting series in gaming? Although it was mired in flaws, the original Assassin’s Creed combined together a whole bunch of gaming elements which I love (stealth, open world, parkour) in a unique setting. Unlike a lot of people, I loved the modern day stuff and was genuinely excited for the future of the series. Now, I approach every Assassin’s Creed with a sort of weariness, barely able to raise any kind of excitement. Unity was pretty much a disaster, so my hopes were not at all high for Syndicate, but thankfully it’s one of the good ones. Well, decent anyway; in my Assassin’s Creed rankings it comes in at the middle point (II, Black Flag, Brotherhood, Syndicate, Revelations, I, III, Unity). 
Syndicate brings Assassin vs. Templar action to Victorian London. Jacob and Evie Frye are the twin children of a legendary English Assassin and have arrived in London following his death with separate aims. Jacob seeks to overthrow Crawford Starrick, a Templar leader who rules London from the shadows and does so by taking down Starrick’s gang, The Blighters, using his own, The Rooks. Evie seeks a Piece of Eden known as the Shroud, desperate to avoid letting it fall into Templar hands. There’s also a little movement in the modern day story, although not much. 
I had many many issues with Unity, but the plot was one of the biggest. It was utterly incomprehensible, with nothing to latch onto apart from a fairly uninteresting central romance. Arno was the worst Assassin protagonist of the series and it managed to sideline the French Revolution, one of the most promising settings possible. Syndicate is certainly an improvement, with a compelling and charismatic villain in Starrick and a clear sense of building towards a goal. Unity and, to a lesser extent, Black Flag simply felt like a whole bunch of things happening with little to connect them, but Syndicate does hold together, with everything being in some way tied to the loosening of Starrick’s Templar grip on London. That said, the shift is essentially from ‘terrible’ to ‘mediocre.’ There’s nothing surprising or interesting in the plot and the best that can be said is that it is functional. There are some hints towards traction in the Modern Day story, but at this point I don’t know why Ubisoft still keep it around. The people who hate the modern day story don’t care and the people who like it don’t want it presented to us like this.  
The use of historical figures is also pretty poor; we’re a hell of a long way from Assassin’s Creed II’s Leonardo da Vinci, or even Black Flag’s Blackbeard. Figures such as Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Alexander Graham Bell show up, but are essentially caricature versions of themselves, containing no depth whatsoever and serving no more narrative purpose than for the sake of a lazy reference. Jacob is simply not a good character, being fairly unlikeable for most of the journey. I think they were going for a loveable Ezio-esque rogue, but he just comes across like an arrogant dick. Attempts at character development are clumsy, awkward and forced. Evie is the better character, but to be honest I think she’s been overhyped. We’ve all been so desperate for a female protagonist that I think that standards have been lowered when she comes up. She may be the first female character lead character in a mainline Assassin’s Creed and hopefully Ubisoft see the positive reaction to her and don’t make her the last as I think they could do a lot better. In classic Ubisoft fashion, the one story beat I actually got a kick out of was contained in some new game DLC PS4 exclusive bollocks. So, sorry Xbox One and PC gamers, you don’t get the best story moment of the game because of Ubisoft being Ubisoft. Modern gaming! 
Syndicate’s core mechanics are essentially a refined version of Unity’s. Unity, for all its flaws, made some decent strides, particularly in its animations and ability to move downwards as easily as you move up, but the jankiness was overall even worse than in the earlier Assassin’s Creed games. This isn’t the case now and on a purely mechanical level Syndicate is the most comfortable game in the series to play for years. It’s still got nothing on games like Metal Gear Solid V or even Shadows of Mordor, but it’s better. The stealth has reached a point of being functional, if not actively fun and the combat has been refined too. It’s a lot faster and scrappier and even if it does absolutely nothing interesting, essentially giving up and becoming a slightly worse version of the Arkham combat, it is bearable and at times actually fun, something I haven’t been able to say for the combat in an Assassin’s Creed game…well, ever. There are a few nice fixes, like tapping a button to enter windows after the nightmare that was getting inside in Unity, but this feels like putting a bandage over a problem rather than actually fixing it. The core mechanics are rusty as hell and Assassin’s Creed still really needs to take a couple of years off and reboot all of its gameplay systems. Since that won’t happen, Syndicate does feel like the best it’s going to get.  
Assassin’s Creed is a series known for introducing pointless new tools that you never use and marketing the hell out of them, but lo and behold the new tools in Syndicate are actually useful and fun. The most notable is the grapple launcher, which essentially allows you to Batman your way around London. I have mixed feelings on this; Ubisoft essentially admit with this tool that climbing, a core part of the Assassin’s Creed experience, has gotten stale. So rather than replacing it with something else of radically altering the mechanics, it simply eliminates the need for climbing. In practice however, it is fun and satisfying and it’ll be impossible to go back from this in future Assassin’s Creed games. You can also drive around carriages, which has been significantly overhyped as it’s essentially just an (even) more unwieldy version of the horseback riding seen in the earlier Assassin’s Creed games.  
One area where Syndicate excels is in its side content and general breadth of things to do. London is split into districts under control of gang leaders and completing side activities such as assassinating or kidnapping Blighter lieutenants and liberating child laborers in factories shifts the balance of power towards the Rooks. These culminate in street fights which eventually allow you to liberate a particular area, lowering Templar presence and generally allowing everything to get a bit more safe. This side content achieves where Assassin’s Creed games often fail; they’re satisfying to complete, make narrative sense and build towards a sense of progression. There are also more story focused missions involving real life figures such as Charles Dickens and Karl Marx, which are generally quite interesting if rather shallow. There’s an extensive leveling system for both Assassins as well as the ability to upgrade your gang. Unlocking new abilities is undeniably satisfying, although the economy doesn’t really work. Getting money isn’t a problem, but many equipment and gang upgrades require materials which are most reliably found in fairly mundane side activities, like hijacking coaches, races and fighting tournaments. You never feel like you quite have enough, which the cynic in me wonders was to nudge people towards the microtransactions. I won’t harp on about those; they’re so repugnant and pathetic they’re essentially beneath my notice. You can play fine without them and if you have a single mote of intelligence you’ll steer well clear.  
My major concern going into Syndicate was the technical side; the frame rate was probably the worst thing about Unity. Syndicate isn’t technically perfect, in fact it isn’t even technically good, but it has reached the minimum standard for acceptability, a relief after Unity failed even to hit that. The cost of that is that the crowds, so impressive in screenshots but unplayable in action, have been cut down. If you were to compare screenshots of Unity and Syndicate you’d probably think Unity the prettier game, but in motion Syndicate wins by miles. The frame rate dipped occasionally, but the flow of play was never significantly disrupted by the technical oddities prevalent in the genre. Syndicate actually looks bloody lovely and I’ll never get tired of the thrill of exploring a faithfully realised vision of world gone by. It’s the only real reason I keep coming back to this damn series. The voice acting is fine, with no real stand out performances. A pleasant surprise was in the music, which changes as you move through different London districts. I’ve never particularly noticed the music in Assassin’s Creed games (Black Flag sea shanties aside), but its actually threaded throughout in a canny and engaging way here. They brought in a new composer, Austin Wintory for this one and I really hope they keep him around.  
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is no masterpiece, but it’s a playable and generally enjoyable historical adventure which is good enough for me. Perhaps my standards should raise, but I keep enjoying these games just enough to keep going. Every time they release an Assassin’s Creed I don’t like they follow up with one I do (III-Black Flag, Unity-Syndicate), which means I am not getting my hopes up for next year. If, like me, you still feel an inexplicable fondness for this creaky old monster of a series, skip Unity and come back for Syndicate. 


Assassin’s Creed: Unity for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Well…that wasn’t as bad as I’d feared…but it wasn’t good either. I’m a bit of a sucker for the Assassin’s Creed series, though even I have to admit that the series has only seen three truly great games out of seven (2, Brotherhood and Black Flag). Unity definitely isn’t up there with those games, although I still overall liked it more than Assassin’s Creed 3. One thing that is certain is that this is not the revolutionary next-gen Assassin’s Creed game we were promised; in fact last year’s Black Flag outshines it in almost every regard.

Unity takes place during the French Revolution, one of the most fascinating time periods that the series has ever covered. Arno Dorian was orphaned at a young age and was raised by Francois de la Serre, a Templar who nonetheless greatly respected Arno’s Assassin father. Arno and de la Serre’s daughter, Elise, grow close and become lovers. Tragedy strikes when de la Serre is murdered and Arno is framed, sending him to the Bastille. The onset of the Revolution allows Arno and the grumpy Assassin to escape together, with Arno training as an Assassin to examine the Templar conspiracy at the heart of Paris.

So, that probably sounded a bit incoherent and that’s because it is. Putting it bluntly, Unity has by far the worst story of any Assassin’s Creed game so far. If it wasn’t for Destiny, Unity would in fact be my most disappointing game narrative released in 2014. The problems are myriad; the actual plot is convoluted and meandering with no strong narrative core to keep you going. The romance with Elise is probably meant to be this core, but it’s not particularly convincing. Arno himself is easily the blandest protagonist in franchise history, despite early attempts to set him up as the successor to Ezio. I thought Connor was boring, but at least he had the core of his identity struggle between his British father and his Native American mother. Arno has nothing. He is a void. Elise is a much better character and would have made a much better protagonist, but she’s held back from protagonist duty due to her crippling disability of being female rather than a stoic white dude.

Of course, the biggest problem is that the French Revolution has almost no bearing on the story. This story could have taken place at pretty much any point in history. The Revolution is just happening in the background whilst we focus on the much more boring struggles of byzantine scheming between the Assassins and the Templars as well as a dull romance. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the modern day story and that’s because there really isn’t one, apart from some Assassin lady speaking to you sometimes and telling you how well you’re doing. Lazy doesn’t even cover it. Ubisoft dropped the ball badly here. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I think Watch Dogs had a better story.

So, does the gameplay make up for it? Well…yes and no. We’re back in Ezio Trilogy territory, with the Frontier stuff from 3 and the ship stuff from Black Flag gone. Some will be happy about this, but it left Unity feeling a bit empty. You’re doing the same sort of stuff as the Ezio trilogy, but with less variety. There are some welcome changes, such as an ability to descend much more easily and the addition of a crouch button. The crouch doesn’t really work though with the stealth actually being better in Black Flag. The whole thing is still clunky, which has been the curse of the series for a long time. Assassin’s Creed has always been a series greater than the sum of its parts but, well, Unity is just the sum of its parts. The free running is a bit more fluid, but not much more so than in the earlier games. The combat is a lot tougher to encourage stealth, which is a good thing, but it’s still a whole amount of not-fun every time it comes up. There’s an upgrade system and a greater focus on equipment, but it’s essentially just smoke and mirrors to create an artificial sense of progression. Previous games didn’t need it and Unity doesn’t either. Ever since Assassin’s Creed 2, all the games (Revelations aside) have had something interesting to set them apart, a mechanic which defined that game. Brotherhood had the…er, brotherhood, 3 the Frontier and Black Flag the sailing. What will we remember Unity for? Well, there is nothing. This is Assassin’s Creed at its most generic and consequently the hardest to defend.

It’s not all doom and gloom though; Unity has some of the best side missions that the series has ever had. The Paris Stories bring you into contact with some familiar faces from the time, such as Madame Tussord and the Marquis de Sade as you complete missions for them, lending them a bit more intrigue than the anonymous assassination missions you received in previous games. The Murder Mysteries are great as well, as we investigate a series of areas scouring for clues before accusing the correct culprit. They’re a bit like a simpler dumbed down LA Noire, but I enjoyed the way they broke up the pace of the game. The lack of a modern day element is sorely felt, but they are replaced with the Helix Rift missions which see the player catapulted into another time period, with the best being a brief sojourn in Nazi occupied Paris, allowing us to climb the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, Unity never really comes together and represents the moment where I finally got sick of the core Assassin’s Creed mechanics. Oh, and there’s Co-Op, but online Co-Op is 100% not my thing, so I played one mission, hated it and moved on.

There are moments in Unity where the game genuinely looks to be fulfilling its next-gen promise. Treasure them. When you’re perched above Notre Dame watching the vast expanse of Paris below you, while hordes of people seethe below you desperate for liberty, it’s hard not to be completely stunned. Then you descend to street level…and then frame rate descends along with you. Ubisoft promised the biggest crowds in the series and they delivered, but not like this. The frame rate dips, the people glitch in and out of existence, their clothes constantly changing, any immersion crushed. I’m very forgiving with bugs, I really am; unless they render a game unplayable, I’m not sure that I’ve ever played a game which was genuinely ruined by bugs, but Unity is it. This is a game which needed months more work, but god forbid Ubisoft didn’t release two Assassin’s Creed games in a single year. This is all post-patch by the way. The game is playable, but once again Ubisoft have created a game which looks amazing in screen shots and dreadful in motion. It’s a shame because the art direction itself is top notch. The people who likely are most upset about this aren’t the fans, but the dedicated and hardworking people who lovingly crafted this wonderful Paris for us only for it to be ruined by the greed of the Ubisoft higher ups. It must be devastating.

The voice acting is competent, but bafflingly British. I get why they didn’t go for French accents as they did with Italian accents in the Ezio Trilogy, but that doesn’t mean I like it. It’s just so ridiculous and doesn’t help in the slightest with the feeling that Ubisoft half-arsed the setting. I know it’s a strange thing to fixate on, but this to me is a classic symptom of everything that’s gone wrong with Assassin’s Creed and, arguably, Ubisoft in general. Where Assassin’s Creed 2 was a game which took risks, even a risk as minor as a main character with a European accent, but Unity is terrified of anything that might possibly alienate its core audience and that includes French accents apparently.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative tone of this review, Unity is still a competent and regularly enjoyable game. There are flashes of that old magic, but the big corporate Ubisoft machine is crushing the soul from what started as one of the most inventive and exciting franchises in gaming. I have no doubt that there’s a lot of talent behind Unity and with another six months of development this could have been a genuinely great game. I’m not so pessimistic that I’ll say we’ll never have another great Assassin’s Creed game, but the trust is gone. Black Flag won me back but Unity has lost me; Ubisoft went from being the best of the ‘Big Three’ (EA, Activision, Ubisoft) to arguably the worst. Hell, at least your annual Call of Duty game functions.ACU_hero

Far Cry 4 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

Far Cry 4 is proof that a sequel doesn’t need to innovate to excel. Far Cry 3 was a great game and, barring a handful of small changes, Far Cry 4 is more of the same. Is that a bad thing? Well, no, Far Cry 3 was great and I was very happy to do the same stuff for a bit longer. That said, I’m not sure if Ubisoft could get away with it again for Far Cry 5, or we may be entering worrying Assassin’s Creed territory.

Ajay Ghale has travelled from his home in the United States to his birth place, the tiny Himalayan mountain nation of Kyrat to scatter his mother’s ashes. Kyrat is ruled over the tyrannical, insane and charming Pagan Min. Pagan is opposed by the Golden Path, a resistance group formed by Ajay’s father Mohan. Ajay is quickly brought into the resistance against Pagan, slaughtering his way across Kyrat and through Pagan’s power structure until he reaches Pagan himself. At the same time, Ajay must resolve a power struggle with the Golden Path itself between the traditionalist yet regressive Sabal and the progressive yet brutal Amita.

The overall storytelling is stronger in Far Cry 4 than in Far Cry 3, partially by not killing off its compelling villain and replacing him with a much worse one half way through. I’ll never forget Vaas, but I can’t for the life of me tell you who the main villain was. Far Cry 4 doesn’t make this mistake with Pagan standing as your opponent through the whole thing. He still doesn’t have enough of a presence however, occasionally taunting you through your radio but feeling mostly absent for much of the game. The sheer unbelievability of Ajay’s military and action prowess is ridiculous, with Ajay being a total non-character, with her personal connections to the events in Kyrat never feeling particularly engaging as a result. Far Cry 3’s protagonist was also insanely proficient at killing, but at least that game attempted a Heart of Darkness style focus on the changes that violence makes to a person. Of course, Far Cry 3 also shared some of Heart of Darkness’ problematic colonial themes, which are thankfully less present in this instalment. The attempts at humour are pretty embarrassing, with the irreverent resistance DJ grating and the ‘comic relief’ stoner side characters really not working. Pagan Min is main redeeming feature of the storytelling, but thankfully he’s enough of an asset to carry the whole thing through.

If you played Far Cry 3, you know what to expect in Far Cry 4. The mechanics are basically the same, but that means they’re still incredibly fun. Stealthily taking outposts with bow, arrow and knife is still fantastically fun, as is raining destruction with rocket launchers, or sniping all from afar. Far Cry is a series which has made good on its open world structure, with the popular marketing buzzword that you can approach objectives how you like for once being very true. You won’t really be doing anything different; you’ll still scale radio towers to unlock new parts of the map, hunt animals to craft new gear, assassinate commanders and, of course, complete story missions with greater set piece moments. There’s a huge amount to do in this game, with some brilliant side missions given by particular characters being standouts. The generic assassination and delivery missions are still really fun, simply through the strength of the core mechanics. There are a handful of new toys to play with however and they’re all a lot of fun.

Kyrat is more hilly and vertical than the Rook Islands from Far Cry 3, so getting around is made easier with a fun and effective mountain climbing mechanic. I’m a sucker for first person platforming and Far Cry 4 does it quite well. There’s a nice little tweak to the driving in the form of an ‘auto-drive’ mode which allows you to focus on shooting during high speed pursuits. The real vehicular highlight is comfortably the mini-helicopter which you can use to get around quickly. I love flying in games and I never really got tired of zipping around in the little thing. The ability to ride elephants into battle is another extremely fun addition, although the guilt I felt when my giant flappy eared bro fell to enemy fire was a bit of a downer. The only change that I really didn’t like was that Pagan can now take back outposts if you haven’t already captured one of four fortresses. I’ve seen a few different opinions on this and I do really understand that the developer is trying to create a sense of satisfaction in taking the fortresses. The reality is however that every single time it happened I was extremely irritated, as I would usually be half way towards something else that I wanted to do. I ended up feeling like the game was wasting my time. That said, it’s really my only quibble in an otherwise joyful experience.

Far Cry 4 looks pretty great, although it is unarguably held back by its inclusion in the previous console generation. A large amount of stuff is ripped straight from Far Cry 3, but it’s not too noticeable. Kyrat is a hell of a location, quite unlike anywhere I’d really seen in a game before. It’s undeniably beautiful and a nice change from the tropical Far Cry 3. The music isn’t bad, although I actually kind of missed Far Cry 3’s wub wubs. The voice acting is mostly excellent, with the obvious highlight being Pagan Min, but your Golden Path contacts Amita and Sabal acquit themselves well too. It’s refreshingly glitch light as well, which is surprising considering that it is a) open world and b) released by Ubisoft. A nicely presented package overall, but I’m looking forward to a Far Cry 5 exclusive to the current gen.

Did you like Far Cry 3? Good, you’ll like this too then. It may not make the same impact as its predecessor, but it’s still a damn good game and well worth a play.farcry4

Valiant Hearts: The Great War for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC and iOS

There’s a reason the First World War is rarely done in games; it’s very difficult to extract anything fun from one of the most nightmarish conflicts in history. From a purely gameplay standpoint, the prominence of trench warfare would make an FPS a difficult proposition. Valiant Hearts opts for a different path, presenting us a moving and emotional tale of bravery and sacrifice as an adventure game.

Valiant Hearts takes place from 1914 to 1917, a year before the end of the war. It follows a group of characters from both the German and Allied sides whose stories intertwine and separate throughout the course of the game. Karl is a young German man living in France with his wife and young son who is deported at the start of the war. He is drafted by and sent to the Front. Emile is Karl’s father in law, and the main protagonist of the game, who plays a large number of roles from chef to sapper to prisoner of war. Freddie is an American man who joined the French army after his wife was killed by German bombs. His sole purpose is to take down the German General Von Dorf, who was responsible for the raid that killed his wife. Finally we have Anna, a Belgian nurse who seeks to rescue her father who was captured by Von Dorf.

Valiant Hearts conveys very well the utter horror of war in the best way I’ve seen since Spec Ops: The Line. The story is told largely without dialogue, but with a narrator orating to us the plot. The cartoonish art style conveys the emotions of the characters vividly, with a plot that is genuinely emotionally engaging. There are also scraps of information to be found which detail real events of the war, often crossing over with what’s happening in the game. The biggest issue with Valiant Hearts is its tone; despite attempting to humanise both sides of the conflict, Von Dorf is a ridiculous villain and some moments are laughably over the top. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with moments of levity in even the saddest of stories, but Valiant Hearts doesn’t always get it right.

This is an adventure game by and large and a fairly simple one at that. Everything takes place on a 2D plain, with the main gameplay being the solving of simple environmental puzzles. There’s no inventory stuff, with the solution to each puzzle always to be found in the area that you’re in. Some puzzles involve throwing objects and many involve your canine sidekick, who can be ordered to squeeze through gaps and pull switches and the like. There are also some more action-y moments, some which work well such as frantic dashes through No Man’s Land and some which are a bit silly, such as a boss fight against a tank. There’s not much to be said for the gameplay here, it’s simple but clever enough and a good vehicle for what the game wants to say about World War One.

The art style is gorgeous, with characters human enough to convey the horror of the conflict but cartoonish enough to be accessible. The music is also quite lovely, but Valiant Hearts is also capable of conjuring a really hideous soundscape on the battlefield as we hear the crashing of explosives above the moaning of the injured. Once again, the UbiArt engine may struggle with substance, but it can more than make up for it in style.

Valiant Hearts taken purely as a gameplay experience is a rather bland experience, but Ubisoft do deserve credit for attempting to tell the stories of those who bled and died in the First World War. The story telling is uneven, but when it works is really works. I like that Ubisoft are also putting out smaller games alongside their blockbusters and will continue to follow the UbiArt games with interest.Valiant_Hearts_Key_Art

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist for Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

I’ve never played a Splinter Cell game before, but on sale for a tenner on the Wii U seemed like a good enough deal to give it a go. Overall, it was a positive stealth experience, only slightly overshadowed by my recent playing of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.

Blacklist follows long-time series protagonist Sam Fisher, as head of the clandestine US agency known as Fourth Echelon. A group calling themselves ‘The Engineers’ have released the ‘Blacklist’, a plan for a series of terrorist attacks on the United States with the intention of forcing them to leave nations they are currently occupying. Fisher and co travel around the world in their fancy expensive plane to head of the attacks and stop the Blacklist.

I kept expecting Blacklist to develop a sense of irony or moral ambiguity about what was happening but, no, that didn’t really happen. The whole thing is so gung-ho and macho, with Fisher doing some really questionable things. It skirts near lots of interestingly risky territory, but never does anything with it. When Fisher tortures for information, it’s always ok because he saves the day. There’s even a visit to Guantanamo Bay which contrasted heavily with the much more interesting story of Ground Zeroes. It’s not all bad; I liked the villain, and the Engineers are a genuinely interesting group. Maybe I’m missing something coming to the game new, but Blacklist almost struck me as a parody of manly American military games.

Blacklist is a stealth game, with really solid mechanics. Sneaking around, knocking people out and infiltrating areas never really stopped being enjoyable for me. The ‘mark and execute’ function was a lot of fun, which sees Fisher identifying up to three targets then shooting all three in the head if you’ve managed to knock enough people out stealthily. It looks cool and it’s really satisfying. In fact, for a stealth game the actual shooting mechanics are pretty good, but your priority will always be to stay undetected, and it’s clear that’s the best way to play. The basic mechanics are solid, but there are all other sorts of gadgets and other stuff put on top. From grenades to noise makers up to a remote controlled drone, you have a lot of tools at your disposal. More often than not though I opted to just sneak around and knock people out, but it’s nice to have options. The levels are reasonably open and very well designed and are a lot of fun to explore. There’s an upgrade system, as new suits focusing on stealth or defence can be purchased, alongside new guns and gadgets. You’ll likely end up with a lot of money after every mission, particularly if you complete optional objectives, so you’ll always be able to buy something new to suit your play style. Aside from a bafflingly unnecessary and clunky FPS section, Blacklist was fun throughout.

You could never accuse Ubisoft of being stingy with their games; you always get a huge amount of bang for your buck. Alongside a meaty main campaign are a whole bunch of side missions with a focus on co-op play. Of course, I was playing on the Wii U so there was literally no one else ever online. It’s not really the games’ fault though, but if you’re a Wii U owner with a taste for co-op, you may want to keep that in mind. Again, the intriguing looking multiplayer mode didn’t get a look in, so keep in mind that from a practical standpoint the Wii U version may miss a few features, even though they technically are there. All these are accessed from the plane you return to between missions, making everything feel nice and coherent and connected.Splinter-Cell-Blacklist-logo

Blacklist has a hugely bland look, but it’s functional enough and the big action moments are appropriately action-y. The voice acting is good, even if the actual characters they were playing weren’t particularly. The biggest technical issue I found were the brutal load times for almost everything. Make sure to have something to do while you wait or a lot of time will end up being wasted.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an unremarkable game, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. I wouldn’t pay more than £15 for it, but if you do see it for a price like that it’s definitely worth a go. You could do a lot worse.

Watch Dogs for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

If there’s ever been a game which has fallen victim to its own hype, it’s got to be Watch Dogs. From the stunning E3 reveal to release, anticipation spiralled downwards and downwards, until Watch Dogs was released to a fair amount of apathy from the gaming community (not that this hurt sales figures mind you). I have no sympathy whatsoever for Ubisoft though; Watch Dogs had one of the most obnoxious marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen. From the ludicrous amount of collectors editions, to their fumbling of the visual downgrade, to the ridiculous description of Aiden Pearce’s baseball cap as iconic before the game even released, Watch Dogs became synonymous with the idea of games as a product, rather than games as an experience. It’s a shame really, because behind all of that Watch Dogs is actually a pretty damn good game, and if Ubisoft had cut down on the hyperbole it might have been much more warmly received.

Watch Dogs is set in a Chicago under the sway of CTOS, a city wide network run by the shadowy Blume Corporation and follows Aiden Pearce, a hacker and criminal, who at the opening of the game has successfully robbed the Merlaut Hotel with his partner Damien. Whilst hacking their accounts, Aiden comes across a strange file, before being intercepted by another mysterious hacker. Scared for his family, Aiden flees with them to the nearby town of Pawnee. In a tunnel, an assassination attempt crashes the car and takes the life of Lena, Aiden’s niece. Aiden becomes consumed with vengeance, and uses his prodigious hacking skills to hunt down those responsible for Lena’s death, in the process discovering a conspiracy stretching all the way to the top of Chicago.

The story isn’t exactly ground breaking, but it gets the job done, with a good supporting cast and some nice villains. Watch Dogs has one crippling narrative problem however, and that is its protagonist Aiden Pearce. Aiden is possibly one of the worst protagonists in gaming. He’s a bland, gravelly voiced anti-hero cliché, utterly devoid of anything approaching personality. He makes the Master Chief’s and Marcus Fenix’s of the world look like Hamlet. He’s also utterly unsympathetic; I think we’re meant to feel sorry for Aiden, but all I felt was disgust. Don’t get me wrong, games can get away with unsympathetic protagonists, but they have to at least be interesting or entertaining; look at the trio from GTA5 for an example of this done right. You can also sort of get away with a boring protagonist if they’re likeable enough. What you can not get away with is unsympathetic and boring. That’s Aiden Pearce. There are some members of the supporting cast who could have made genuinely interesting protagonists, but none of them are grumpy, male or white enough to qualify. Aiden is a millstone around Watch Dog’s neck, a character who drags the entire experience down.

Watch Dogs is hardly the revolutionary experience Ubisoft suggested, but it is nonetheless a fine addition to the open world city game genre. Where it was promised as something which might dethrone GTA, in reality Watch Dogs is closer to the similarly canine sounding Sleeping Dogs; a game which takes most of its cues from GTA whilst offering some cool features of its own. The main feature is, of course, the hacking. This is usually accomplished by holding a button over a reticule, causing the desired effect to occur. This can be the raising or lowering of bridges, or appearance of road spikes, or cause transformers to explode, taking out enemies. In fact, at its best, there are times where objectives can be finished without even making a physical presence in the location, simply hopping between security cameras and using the environment to take out enemies. I liked to use a hybrid approach of hacking and quick headshots, assisted by the bullet time ‘focus’ that can be activated with a click of the right stick. The combat is actually really good, significantly better than GTA5s, with Aiden being much less of a bullet sponge than your average protagonist, requiring a fair bit more thought and strategy. You probably could play the whole game guns blazing, but it’d be hard, and not as much fun. Watch Dogs has also come under considerable flack for the driving, which is even more arcadey than that in Sleeping Dogs, but I actually liked it, particularly when using a bike. Watch Dogs just plays very nicely, lacking the chunkiness which can often blight this genre.

This is also a massive game. The main story is lengthy and pleasantly epic in scope, and there’s a vast amount of side stuff. Happily enough, it’s actually all a lot of fun, particularly compared to Ubisoft’s usual efforts in this department. This is a Ubisoft game, so it follows the Assassin’s Creed/Far Cry 3 structure of climbing high points in the map to unlock surrounding side content, and there is a lot of it. The collectibles are actually pretty worthwhile, with the ‘voyeur’ collectible letting you gain glimpses into people’s lives, some of which are hilarious, and some actually really moving. The side missions are numerous and varied, and never really got dull for me. You can even ‘check in’ to areas in the map Foursquare style, if that’s something that appeals to you. The biggest side attraction however are the ‘Digital Trips’, surprisingly deep mini-games which throw Aiden into bizarre situations. There’s ‘Madness’, which sees Aiden seeking to mow down demons in a hellish nightmare world. There’s ‘Alone’, where Chicago has been taken over by robots and Aiden must stealthily liberate it. Next is ‘Psychedelic’, where Aiden bounces around the world on colourful flowers. Finally there’s ‘Spider Tank’, in which the player takes control of the titular vehicle and wreaks havoc. All are incredibly fun, and well developed, with most even containing their own skill trees. There are plenty of things to quibble with about Watch Dogs, but value for money is not one of them.

Much has been said of the visual downgrade Watch Dogs suffered between the E3 showing and release. Again, Ubisoft shot themselves in the foot because Watch Dogs actually is quite a nice looking game, but it will never seem like it compared to what was promised at E3. Particularly in the rain at night, Chicago looks beautiful. The rustic charms of Pawnee outside Chicago offer a nice variety. The character designs are generally good, although Aiden is ridiculously over designed. The voice acting is generally brilliant, particularly in the case of fellow hackers Clara and T-Bone. The exception is, once again, Aiden. You noticing a pattern? Thankfully even Aiden can’t ruin the music, which is synth heavy and tense, and really helps to bring a solid edge of drama to the proceedings.

Watch Dogs is far from perfect, but I actually liked it a lot. It’s been widely written off, which I think is slightly unfair, although I won’t be shedding any years for Ubisoft over this. The inevitable Watch Dogs sequel, which I hope is over a year away but probably isn’t, should be able to fix a lot of the problems here, and Ubisoft will have another franchise to push obsessively. If you can separate the game from the business, Watch Dogs is a damn fine game and definitely worth a

Child of Light for Wii U, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

I know it’s a bit weird to have a favourite game engine, but it’s hard not to have developed a quick fondness for the UbiArt Framework, which powered last year’s fantastic Rayman Legends and, more recently, Child of Light. For a major game publisher, Ubisoft took a fantastic risk into clearly pouring a lot of work into a new 2D game engine, and it’s paid off handsomely, providing a couple of the most beautiful games around. The question is, does Child of Light live up to its own beauty? Well…not quite.

Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian Duke in the late 19th century, has contracted a mysterious illness which has left her catatonic. She awakens in Lemuria, a mystical land which has had its stars, sun and moon stolen by Umbra, the Dark Queen. Gathering a motley band of adventurers around her, Aurora sets out to make her way home to her dying father, and save Lemuria along the way.

Child of Light is very much a fairy tale, with all of the advantages and disadvantages these things can have. The plot is simple and fairly formulaic, but it nonetheless stirs strong emotions in its oddly moving story. You won’t be surprised by much, but if you just relax and let yourself be caught up in the story, it’s quite enjoyable. Probably the most striking thing is that the whole thing is written in rhyme, which is the sort of thing I should love, but it just didn’t quite work for me. Yes, the whole game is in poetry, and that’s cool, but…well, it’s bad poetry. The rhymes are questionable, the rhythm regularly non-existent. Obviously writing a whole game in iambic pentameter is no easy feat, and I can’t blame them for not pulling it off, but nonetheless the rhyme is more distracting than charming. The ending is incredibly rushed, because, well…Ubisoft.

Child of Light may look like a platformer, but it’s an RPG, replete with all the stats and items and turn based battling of the genre. The combat is fine, not particularly complex, but enjoyable and without ever feeling like a grind. The combat is all built around a timeline at the bottom, which Aurora and her party, as well as the enemies, travel along at their own pace. At around 4/5 of the bar, the player inputs a command, with more powerful attacks taking longer to execute. The main element of strategy comes from the fact that if hit during this charging phase, your attack is interrupted and you’re thrown further back into timeline, with the enemies able to do the same to you. There’s a lot of judging speed and move lengths in the combat, alongside all the standard JRPG strategies. It’s not as complex as it sounds, but it’s still fun.

The game is navigated all on a 2D plain, as Aurora traverses Lemuria, mostly in a linear route but occasionally diverting off into side quests. Aurora is joined by Igniculus, a fairy which, at least on the Wii U version I played, is controlled on the touch pad. He can manipulate the environment in some simple puzzles, restore Aurora’s health, and in battle can play a pretty vital role in slowing down foes. This can be played co-op, and I had high hopes for this after Rayman Legends, but in the end it’s not really much fun for the player stuck with Igniculus.

Child of Light is an absolutely enchanting game…at least for the first half. The art is sublime, no other way to put it, and the soundtrack melancholy and hauntingly beautiful. There’s something so evocative about Child of Light that it can be difficult at first to ascertain the game’s flaws, but really there are a lot. The main issue that I had with Child of Light is just how (pardon the pun) lightweight it seemed. The game is the right length, but the story and pacing are incredibly rushed towards the end. I’m absolutely certain that there’s a whole load of cut content here (and if they try to sell it as DLC so help me God). I’m absolutely fine with games that put more focus into style and beauty than complex mechanics; if that’s what you intend to make then go for it. The problem with Child of Light is that it attempts to marry traditional JRPG tropes with the sort of aesthetic mostly seen in indie games. The result just doesn’t quite work, and I wonder if an RPG was the best use for this art style and world. At times Child of Light reminded me of the similarly lovely Aquaria, and perhaps a Metroidvania style game would have worked better. The battles are perfectly fine, but there’s not much depth to them, and they do eventually become chores to get through so you can see the next gorgeous area or hear the next wonderful tune.

Child of Light is an absolute feast for the senses, but as a game it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Again, I’m usually fine with this, but so much of Child of Light is taken up in the bland battling that the balance shifts against it. Look, I still admire this game for lots of reasons, and some people will really love it, but overall Child of Light just didn’t quite work for me.2309987-childoflight

Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry for PS4, PS3 and PC

I really like the idea of releasing DLC separately from the main game. It means I can trade things in for maximum pay back and not miss out! Freedom Cry skipped the Wii U, so the PS4 release was my only opportunity to give it a go. I’m glad I did, although it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I hadn’t.

Freedom Cry takes place several years after the conclusion of Black Flag, and follows Adewale, a former slave and Edward Kenway’s ex-quartermaster upon the Jackdaw. Now an active member of the Assassin Order, Adewale’s ship is sunk during a battle against Templar forces, and he washes up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. There, he is caught up in the Maroon Rebellion against the French colonialist slave-owners, and sets about freeing as many slaves as he can.

There’s a certain satisfaction in a game where you just know that you’re on the right side. Assassin’s Creed games tend to tread a narrow moral line; I mean, those guards you just dispatched probably had families right? They were just doing their jobs. That moral ambiguity is gone in Freedom Cry. Adewale is a former slave, and these are slavers. Go forth and murder. Still ,there are affecting moments. One scene in particular was as stark and disturbing a condemnation of the horrors of slavery as Twelve Years a Slave. Adewale is a great protagonist, with the best combination of charm and nobility we’ve seen since Ezio. It feels a shame to see him relegated to DLC supporting role; he could easily have headlined his own game. Freedom Cry is a satisfying, self-contained narrative which feels relevant to the overall story of the series, unlike the disappointing Tyranny of King Washington DLCs for Assassin’s Creed III.

Freedom Cry plays basically much the same as Black Flag before it, taking place on a small stretch of Haitian coast and Port-au-Prince itself. Adewale is armed slightly differently to Edward, with the twin swords swapped for a single, large machete and the pistols for a big ol’ blunderbuss. They’re more brutal weapons than we saw Edward armed with, but satisfyingly so. New items and weapons are unlocked by freeing as many slaves as possible, with new numbers of freed slaves offering new rewards. I’m not quite certain if I’m comfortable with the horrors of slavery being quantified this way, but it is how it is. Slaves are freed in a series of ways, with some simply being one at a time as they’re transported between jobs, with others being more elaborate, such as the taking of huge slave galleys and the stealthy elimination of all the guards on a plantation.

There are some good new musical cues for Adewale, which suit the setting well, and the visuals are as nice as ever. I was surprised to find that the visual difference between Wii U and PS4 was less than I expected, with the PS4 doing very little with its vastly higher graphical capabilities. I would still argue that the Wii U is the definitive console version of the main game.

Freedom Cry is more of the same, which is fine, because I loved Black Flag. In some ways it’s quite a conservative DLC release, particularly compared to Assassin’s Creed III’s nuttiness, but it’s still a well-made, polished experience which loyal fans of the series will enjoy.assassins-creed-4-freedom-cry-cheats

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