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EGM Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Freedom Cry

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Posted on January 10, 2014 AT 01:13pm

Let freedom ring

Editor’s Note: Due to Freedom Cry taking place after the events of the main game, this review contains spoilers for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Consider yourself warned.

It’s unusual for Assassin’s Creed story DLC to feature someone who wasn’t the lead character of the main game. Since Assassin’s Creed IV’s story led Edward back to England, though, in order to maintain the Caribbean setting (and not drive the developers mad in trying to create entirely new assets), Freedom Cry tells a tale of Edward’s charismatic quartermaster, Adéwalé, instead.

It’s been over a decade since Edward, Adéwalé, and the rest of the Caribbean Order of Assassins sealed up the Observatory. Adéwalé is captain of his own ship now, and he’s a high-ranking member of the Brotherhood as he continues to fight the war against the Templars. Freedom Cry begins with Adéwalé out sailing with his crew, tasked with the relatively simple mission of stealing some Templar documents before they reach Port-au-Prince in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). Things quickly go awry when Adéwalé’s ship is ambushed, and the only way for him to escape is to head straight into the heart of a storm. Although our hero escapes the enemy ships, the storm destroys his vessel, sending him overboard and into the angry sea below.

When he comes to, Adéwalé finds himself washed up on Port-au-Prince’s shores. He’s now stranded and must find a way to make some allies and procure a new ship. Easier said than done, though, for a black man now wandering in the Caribbean’s largest slave colony.

Freedom Cry is, quite honestly, the most powerful tale the franchise has told. The Assassin-Templar war is nothing but set dressing that’s promptly shoved into the background to make way for a story about human perseverance, all while cleverly tying the Assassin’s Creed universe into the start of a movement that led to the largest slave revolt in history.

The evils of racism and slavery are prevalent throughout and handled far better here than they were in Liberation or their all-too-brief mention in Assassin’s Creed III (mind you, that’s not what that game was about, but it was still a bit shocking that the subject was limited to just a couple of lines of dialogue between Achilles and Connor). Nearly everyone who isn’t a slave sees Adéwalé as an enemy, making even a casual walk through Port-au-Prince a nightmareand quickly forcing him into combat should he attempt anything suspicious.

This makes Freedom Cry surprisingly difficult at times, since almost the entire city is against you. It makes sense, however, because while Adéwalé has all the training he should ever need from the Assassins, he’s constantly at a disadvantage. This is what would really happen if a black man of Adéwalé’s size and stature were to walk around that breeding ground of suffering. The game subtly makes you aware that you’re having a harder time of things simply because of the color of your skin, and it feels wrong on so many levels. It’s a risky venture for the developers, but I think the message is clear without being ham-handed—and, for that, Freedom Cry should be commended.

Besides the stellar storytelling, the game features the same great action for which the series is known, as well as twists on some Black Flag side missions that now revolve around the slavery theme. Instead of recruiting pirates for your crew, you free runaways, liberate slaves from the auction block, or break others out of prison cages. And instead of pillaging warehouses or capturing other ships at sea, you now unshackle slaves from plantations and board slave ships in the hopes of saving your brothers before they even have to suffer a single lash on Port-au-Prince’s shores.

Freedom Cry does have some limitations that put a crimp on its value, though. The exploration and sheer scope of the world seen in the main game are completely gone, leaving you to race through the nine story missions with little incentive to wander from the predetermined path. Because of this, the DLC is also very short. It would surprise me if this took anyone more than five hours to complete.

And, sure, you can still go out to sea, but there’s really no point beyond a couple of mission parameters, since 90 percent of the action takes place within Port-au-Prince. While this is a location completely unique from any of the other islands you saw in Black Flag, it’s also small and repetitive, lacking the intricacy of Havana, Kingston, or Nassau. Plus, with many of Adéwalé’s upgrades being tied to how many slaves he frees and not other resources, there’s no reason to take part in any of the side activities like hunting or wreck diving should you decide to sail out of Port-au-Prince’s harbor.

Freedom Cry clearly takes a technical step backward from the accomplishment that was the world of Black Flag. Adéwalé steps brilliantly into the lead role, though. His story, short as it is, helps make up for the smaller world, and it’s enough for Assassin’s Creed fans to check out Freedom Cry if they’re even remotely interested.

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.17.2013
8.0

In terms of size and scope, Freedom Cry is paltry compared to the main adventure of Black Flag. But its story is easily the most powerful, poignant tale we’ve seen from the Assassin’s Creed universe, and that alone makes this story DLC worth checking out.

The Good Adéwalé steps into the lead-character role well while the great Assassin’s Creed gameplay remains intact.
The Bad The scale of this adventure is far smaller than the main game.
The Ugly The uneasiness that comes with feeling constantly persecuted.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Freedom Cry is available for Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.
Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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