Take to the seas once more in Assassin’s Creed: Pirates. Ubisoft’s latest entry in the hugely popular franchise has you helming your own pirate ship in search of adventure, challenge and booty. Having its own story separate to the events of Black Flags, yet set at the same time beings more life to the world of the 18th Century Caribbean, but sadly the game itself lacks any real substance and is mostly focused on the naval battles, which are a vastly different and a lot more watered down than those found in Assassin’s Creed III and IV.
Assassin’s Creed: Pirates takes place on the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy in the 18th century. This places it roughly at the same time that Edward Kenway and his crew were sailing the seas in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. However, the two protagonists don’t cross paths, and Pirates is a story unto itself.
Abstergo Industries is after the treasure of a legendary French pirate captain; La Buse (or The Buzzard for us English speaking folk) and knows the best way to do it is, you guessed it; by using the Animus. Much like your journey into the memories of Edward Kenway in Black Flag, you will step back in time and relive the memories of a young, brash pirate captain by the name of Alonza Batilla, who knew La Buse before his rise to infamy.
The game opens with Batilla being saved from a military ship by La Buse before being gifted his own ship, crew and a new lease on life. The stubborn Batilla follows La Buse despite the latter’s instruction that he not do so – and the two become better acquainted and develop a friendship as the story progresses, with La Buse serving as a mentor for Batilla as he grows in skill and wisdom in the world of piracy.
As you play through the game, you learn more about La Buse, Batilla and the mysterious treasure that Abstergo is so hell bent on finding. While enjoyable, the story isn’t the strongest in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but it more than gets the job done. Batilla is a hot-headed, brash and stubborn young captain who openly challenges the Royal Navy, even when La Buse strongly cautions him against doing so. He has a lot to learn about the high seas, but as the game progresses we begin to learn more about him as a character and enjoy his progression into a more level-headed captain (albeit still with a hot-streak) and a better leader to his men.
Set among the islands of the Caribbean, you take control of your ship and sail forth to adventure, challenges and treasure. Your ship controls much the same as in Assassin’s Creed III and IV, with various sail speeds, which impact on how maneuverable your boat is. Pirates features an array of rather large maps for you to explore at your own leisure while also completing the game’s many objectives. Since moving among the map may be too slow for some people, they have implemented a map-based travel system, where you draw your course on the game’s map and your ship follows along. This allows you to carefully navigate your way around enemy ships, or other encounters you may wish to avoid.
If you choose the old-fashioned, manual route of moving your ship – you will steer left and right by sliding your finger across the screen to turn the wheel in that direction. You can operate the ship from a first person view, placing you directly in front of the wheel, or by zooming out which allows you to see more of the world around you as you cruise across the sea.
The game’s cornerstone is its naval combat, but sadly it falls pretty flat here as well. You don’t have control over your vessel during these naval battles, which quickly turns them into boring chores than fun and fully fleshed out battles. The battles require you to aim your cannon or swivel gun, fire off a volley, then dodge the enemy’s attacks while your guns reload and you do it all over again. The battles are fun in short bursts, but after a couple you can quickly find yourself getting bored and wanting to avoid them at all costs. Added to this is the fact that they are all particularly easy. Aside from the timed battles, it is almost a certainty that you will win, and it is almost as likely that you wont take any damage while doing so. Granted, for all the complaints, the battle system is rather intuitive, and can be picked up in a matter of seconds.
While Naval battles fill the crux of the gameplay, they aren’t the only mission type available to players. The seas are scattered with loot to find, races to complete and light houses to unlock (which serve as the game’s quick-travel points). There is actually a lot to do in the world of Pirates, and like most other Assassin’s Creed games, the real challenge comes from completing all of the optional objectives for each mission and gaining that 100% Sync Rate.
Pirates is a game that is optimized for the iPhone 5, running iOS 7. Due to this, it has some issues running on older hardware. I was playing on my iPad 2 and frequently found the game crashing or freezing at seemingly random times, from during missions to loading screens. Anyone running on newer devices likely wont suffer from these problems, but it is something to be mindful of if you have an older iPhone or iPad.
Visuals & Audio
Assassin’s Creed: Pirates doesn’t have the prettiest visuals on the mobile platform, but what it lacks in high-resolution textures or object models, it makes up for in sheer magnitude. A lot of data is on screen at any one time, as the maps for each area are relatively large. The ocean is littered with islands, beaches, lighthouses, and other ships – all of which are loaded into the map as you sail close enough to them. There is no delay or pop-in for the landmarks, they just seamlessly become visible as you get closer. The game also features a weather system similar to Black Flags. Adverse weather conditions change how you sail through the game, and also how the map looks. The once calm blue seas turn grey with furious waves that knock your boat back and forth.
The game’s cinematics and storyline sections are all drawn in this awesome little comic-book art style. Everything is over exaggerated, with thick lines and a lot of deep colours. It actually feels like you are watching a graphic novel come to life, and this art style goes a long way to separate Pirates from the other installments in the franchise and give it a life of its own.
If you ask anybody what their favourite part about the soundtrack for Black Flag is, you are almost guaranteed to get the answer “the sea shanties,” and thankfully, Ubisoft have kept that alive by bringing up a few new shanties for the crew to sing as you sail across the seven seas. The sea shanties are often so catchy and well sung by your cremates that you wont even realise that there isn’t much else in the way of music present in the game.
Assassin’s Creed: Pirates is by no means a bad game, and its story is an excellent addition to the world of Assassin’s Creed. Keeping it separate from the adventures of Edward and his friends brings a tonne of life to the world of Black Flags; it feels lived in, and it feels like there is more going on than just what we see as Edward. However, its shallow gameplay becomes repetitive and boring rather quickly, and the game doesn’t offer any real challenge. Still, if you are a fan of Assassin’s Creed or of Pirates in general then you will surely find some fun here – even if it is just the sea shanties.
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