Games of 2013: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Those who tend to hone in on this series over December may have noticed that an entire week went by without a post. There’s an understandable reason.

Besides work, life, and the standard holiday crazies, this is the first time since I started doing this end of year series that we’ve actively hit a new console generation – one that started just a month before I was due to start writing. This has lead to an unfortunate crash of priorities: do I write about games, or do I play them?

While both the PS4 and the Xbox One are not exactly killing it with exclusive launch titles, there are some excellent multiplats that joined the generation, and the one that’s struck me the most is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, or as some have opted to refer to it, Pirate’s Creed.

AC has been one of those series for years that I’ve wanted to like much more than I actually ever ended up did. The first one was an exercise in janky framerates. The second was stronger, but followed by two not-entirely-necessary followups. The third game was a step backwards.

But Black Flag finally shatters the cement wall of apathy for three key reasons, which are occasionally helped by being on next gen platforms:

First, the framerate is finally stable and playable.

Second, they’ve created a plot that is stripped down in the right places (the endless modern day drama with Desmond Miles is replaced with you being a nameless Abstergo employee) and scaled up in others (the West Indies is your playground for a pirate adventure).

Lastly, building on the pirate setting, the game is just *damn* fun. Whether you’re exploring random islands, taking down naval forts, harpooning sharks, or just terrorizing any boat that comes anywhere near you, you’ve got a wide array of activities at your disposal.

It’s still flawed, with the main plot line including a number of painful stealth missions and the combat still being a clumsy ballet. But when you’re drifting over the waves in the Jackdaw, it’s easy to forget the jinxed pedigree of the series, and feel like you’re playing something entirely new. That’s quite the accomplishment for Ubisoft.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is available on most every modern platform. My experiences were with the PS4 version.

Games of 2013: Dead Man’s Draw

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Dead Man's Draw

If there’s anything I’ve found lacking on iOS over the years, it’s been the total wasteland that is card games. I’m not talking trading card games or solitaire or Texas Hold’Em; I’m looking for classic-style card games. Spades, Hearts, Cribbage…everything that tries to provide a sort of classic card game experience tends to look and play poorly.

So imagine my surprise when Stardock – who had never done an iOS game before – dropped Dead Man’s Draw on the world. It’s a new game, but with easy-to-learn mechanics, some deep strategy and risk/reward play, and a very easy to deal with interface. Reminds me a bit, in terms of polish, of Lost Cities, which I gave a small shout out to last year during this series.

Also: it’s full of pirates. I’ve been told people dig that.

But hey, iOS programmers: you want to strike it rich? Card games are a wide open category on the store. It’s largely casinos and solitaire. Design a great card game experience, and you’ll be almost alone in the marketplace. Please. I’m nearly begging you here.

Dead Man’s Draw is available on iOS.