So we all know that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was a pretty beloved title. It earned two Game of the Year wins this year, one of being the best adventure game and one for having the best original musical score. Chella reviewed the game for us and really loved the experience, even if the pirating was a little different from what she was used to with other Assassin’s Creed titles.
With all that being said, some people found main character Edward Kenway a little on the dull side. He was really a pirate in an assassin’s costume, not the devoted warrior we were used to seeing. He was also more than a little selfish in his motivations, a true anti-hero.
So Ubisoft decided to turn the tables with this Freedom Cry DLC, which is available as a standalone game for the first time, except for lucky Xbox 360 players who apparently already had access to the content earlier. We acquired the game using a download code for a PlayStation 3 machine, one that never had Black Flag installed. The download was quite big, but the game ran fine, sort of a miniature version of the Black Flag world complete with sea battles and many land activities to keep players interested. However, the real surprise is the setting, and how Freedom Cry tackles, sometimes very brutally, the reality and the evilness of slavery.
high seas, trying to assassinate an admiral and
steal a mysterious package. Yes, it’s all standard templar versus assassin stuff at first. But not for long. Once you complete that little mission, Adewale has to make his escape from an enemy fleet, straight into the heart of a storm that he knows will tear his ship to pieces.
Better that than let the package fall back into templar hands.
Adewale wakes up on the beach at Port-au-Prince, apparently the slave capitol of the new world, with not
hing but the soaked clothes on his back. Luckily he finds a rusty machete on the beach, though that may not be so lucky for the slave owners he comes across. Unlike most assassin’s creed games, Adewale has a difficult time blending in with the local population. Many of the French troops wandering around the area assume that he’s an escaped slave and move to confront him. Not everyone does this, but a special group called the jailors do, and they can call for help in a hurry. The rooftops also offer less protection than normal because of all the troops wandering around on them, especially later in the game.
But it’s easy enough to stick to the alleyways and avoid, or stealthily kill, the wandering jailors. What normally prompts Adewale to break stealth are the atrocities he sees going on all around. Look down one street and you will see slaves being whipped by their masters, down another they might be packed into a tiny open-air jail, down still another there are slaves up for sale and drawling an eager crowd. The player can ignore these things if they wish, but it’s a safe bet that most won’t, or can’t ignore that suffering, especially when playing a character who is a former slave himself. I know I cursed myself more than once at abandoning a stealthy approach to run off and save some woman who would surly be killed once her master caught up with her. But on the bright side, freeing people actually helps you out as well.
When you attack the masters and liberate slaves, they go off to form a secret community. There are actually two groups of enslaved people. The first are slaves from Africa. The second are the native Maroon people who have always lived on the island. Helping both groups aids your cause, as you will soon learn that you are in the middle of a rebellion, well, one that you will really push as the game moves on. In general, the Maroons will become your fighting force, crewing your new ship as soon as you have one, and acting as guerilla fighters on certain missions. The slaves will build up a thriving community hidden deep underground at a secret base. The more Maroons you liberate, the more you can upgrade you ship. The more slaves you save from a lifetime of captivity, the more you can improve your personal weapons, ammo pouches and gadgets.
The actual game missions work out to about four hours of content, though you will probably spend much more time with the game trying to liberate slaves and doing pirating tasks on the open sea. Just like with Black Flag, you can use your telescope to look for ships laden with the type of treasure you need. Mostly you will require metal in large amounts to do things like add more cannons and upgrade the types of shot you can fire, but cloth and wood can repair your vessel too. Then there is sugar and rum, which are just used for currency. A few hours of pirating earned me enough of everything to fully upgrade my new ship. There are also a few sea-based activities like hunting sharks, doing a treasure dive and exploring islands for loot and treasure.
You can also spend your time freeing slaves. You have to free 400 slaves to get the maximum benefits in the game. To do this you can knock over the jails or the punishment blocks described earlier, but those only net you at most four or five people freed depending on the event. Liberating a plantation can bring 30 freed people into your ranks. A slave ship carries at least 100 slaves and ten Maroons, but is protected by escort vessels, and the captives can be killed if the actual transport takes damage during the fight. Still, the slave ships are your best bet for freeing the maximum number of people.
The only real negative I would say is that the tasks tend to repeat themselves quite often. This might be a commentary that you can never really end slavery on the islands. Break slaves out of a jail, and a few minutes later there will be more locked up there. Free everyone at a plantation, and in a few days of game time a new owner will take up residence, with a new crop of slaves to work the land. The sad part is that although you end up putting the resistance in a good position, you never actually see the rebellion to push the French off for good.
That said, the slave liberation angle is often times more fun than the actual mission-based gameplay, which consists of the standard stuff we’ve seen before like following people, switching documents and eavesdropping on people as they wander through heavily guarded areas. There is one main mission though that will really bring home the horrors of slavery. Late in the game, it will certainly affect you and Ubisoft has to be given props for putting something like that in their game that is so sad and poignant. My guess is that most players will really get their blood up for the last mission in the game, based on what happens right before that. On that point, it’s also a masterful stroke of storytelling.
Adewale is a great character, because you really do feel like he is doing good. He may be conflicted because he needs to get back to the Assassins and stop spending so much time trying to free slaves, but players will feel that he’s on the right track. On that, I think he makes a good divergence from Kenway that will appeal to many players.
Finally, it’s always great when companies release DLCs that don’t require the full game to play. For about $10, new players can experience a lot of the Black Flag world, especially the excellent sea combat, follow a pretty good story, and perhaps consider buying the full game. For veteran players, they get to see the world from a slightly different perspective, and perhaps right a few wrongs that were only hinted at in the core title.