Once more with feeling.
Ubisoft cranks out a brand-new Assassin’s Creed game once a year. I should know. I’ve played every single Assassin’s Creed to date, blazing a trail of silently stabbed corpses in marathon play sessions, hungrily gobbling up every twist and turn in the franchise’s convoluted narrative. I was there with a pre-order receipt when the series kicked off under Patrice Désilets, who left for THQ which got bought by Ubisoft, who eventually fired Patrice all over again. I was there when Kristin Bell got written out of the franchise on a cliffhanger ending. I was there when a multiplayer mode that no one wanted turned out to be pretty damn good.
Being the diehard Assassin’s Creed fanboy at GameRevolution has only gotten harder over the years. While we’ve come to accept the yearly installments, it’s hard to think gamers who’ve taken the Creed can possibly consume more from the franchise in the form of Season Pass DLC developed and released over the months leading into the next mainline game. Thankfully, the first entry in Black Flag’s season pass, Freedom Cry, offers enough new gameplay while retaining a lot of what made the main game so good. Ubisoft also smartly dodges the overarching narrative in favor of Adéwalé’s dedicated tale. And what a tale it is.
Being a freed slave himself, Adéwalé wastes no time in charting a course for liberty and freedom for his fellow man. On the way, he equips himself with a few brand-new weapons, including a crowd-clearing, shotgun-styled Blunderbuss and a quick and nasty machete. These weapons go a long way in attacking and liberating plantations, one of my favorite new gameplay loops. Players can launch full-blown and bloody assaults or they can treat these as stealth missions where any single set-off alarm can cost dozens of valuable human lives.
If players make too much noise on a plantation, the enemies there will start to execute remaining slaves which plays heavily to the narrative motivations I had as Adéwalé, but also to the completionist in every gamer as rewards and upgrades get tied directly to the number of slaves freed. Ultimately, plantations and slave-trading centers will only accomplish so much. Utilizing high-seas combat abilities in Freedom Cry’s open waters will net a lot more freedom a lot faster.
Adéwalé’s high-seas adventure feels a lot more high-stakes than Kenway's did in Black Flag, but this is primarily thanks to the way combat draws a fine line between liberating and sinking ships carrying large numbers of slaves to traders in the region. Adéwalé has to eliminate the slave ship’s escorts before boarding and freeing the slaves themselves. Lining up shots that don’t have a chance of connecting with precious cargo gets harder and harder, but that’s exactly what I hoped for after finishing the main game. Combat, stealth, looting, and naval battle mechanics have changed just enough to keep things interesting while retaining accessibility.
That said, the story missions can feel a little too similar to those Edward did in the main game—pursuit missions, assassination missions, eavesdropping on targets. The story will only last about four hours, meaning similar objectives won’t keep players from enjoying the emergent gameplay present in Assassin’s Creed’s constantly expanding worlds. In the end, gamers will enjoy Freedom Cry as much as they did Black Flag, assuming they enjoyed mixing sea-legs and sandy-shore excursions.
Some moments might leave players feeling like the lives they save serve only to tally up towards a new ship upgrade or a new weapon, deflating the narrative power behind play, especially play as heavy-handed and emotionally powerful as a slave freeing other slaves. Still, fans who've been with the franchise and have played enough of Black Flag to consider buying the season pass will know what to expect from Freedom Cry. Adéwalé has his moments, but the real draw here is in the expansion of free-form gameplay both on land and at sea, meaning Freedom Cry succeeds at what it set out to do.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PS4 version. Also available on PC, XONE, PS3, and X360.