Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Out now
Format: PS4,PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Version Tested: PS4
Price: £7.99, free with AC:IV season pass
Developers – take note of how Freedom Cry starts. Mere seconds after hitting ‘new game’ you’re thrown directly onto the helm of a ship amid a giant naval battle. No cutscenes, no long winded narrative setup or exposition, just pure, unadulterated gameplay – right from the start.
Freedom Cry is set several years after the events of Assassin’s Creed IV, and has you play Edward Kenway’s first mate, Adewlae – now a fully fledged assassin with a vessel of his own. After the opening battle not going quite the way he planned, Adewlae finds himself shipwrecked on the French occupied town of Port Du Prince – and roped back into battling the slave trade that haunted his past.
In a medium dominated with cocky Caucasian heroes, it’s refreshing to see a black protagonist in an AAA series like Assassin’s Creed. What’s equally commendable, is that the team at Ubisoft were brave enough to have him tackle something as hard hitting and controversial as slavery.
Yet the gameplay on offer here never matches its bold and innovative subject matter, and disappointingly never quite delivers on the promise showed in Freedom Cry’s opening segment.
Port Du Prisoner
After the opening seafaring action, you quickly realise that Adewlae is stranded almost entirely in the new town of Port Du Prince – a far cry from the main game’s open seas.
Initially this isn’t so much of an issue, as at first, liberating slaves and punishing their captors feels exhilarating. When walking around town you feel a powerful sense of duty compelling you to free the slaves from the local jail, or to intervene as a trader unjustly beats his pleading captives. The senseless murder of guards that the series has always encouraged now has a noble purpose, and it feels rewarding and empowering knowing that you are carrying out justice as you free those around you.
One of the best new additions in Freedom Cry is the jailer – a ruthless enemy constantly on the look out for escaped slaves. These brutes will raise the alarm the second they see you – with the only crime you have committed being born to a different creed. The jailers are a deadly adversary, and having them scattered about town adds a palatable sense of tension, motivating you try to avoid their gaze and lurk in the shadows.
The other major new addition comes in the form of Adewlae’s weaponry. Doing away with Kenways fancy double swords, you are now armed with a rusty machete, making your blows slower but more deadly. The elegant double pistols also have been vetoed in favour of the devastating blunderbuss – basically a ye-olde pirate shotgun. This results in combat feeling slower, making battles a more intense and desperate affair, which encourages you to stay in the shadows and make use of items like smoke bombs.
Got To Free ém All?
When you free slaves, you will recruit a certain number of them to join the Maroons– the slave’s resistance group. While at first the act of freeing slaves is a reward in itself, after awhile the number of slaves you recruit gain you access to upgrades for Adewlae and his ship, as well as the ability to unlock certain missions.
The irony of liberating these people from slave traders just to trade them as a kind of in-game currency was definitely not lost on me, but sadly seems to have been on Ubisoft.
This recruitment system is where the problem lies. In order to recruit more slaves to the resistance, you find yourself repeatedly waiting for the same five set events to refresh until enough slaves have been freed. These once empowering moments of liberation are overused until they become nothing more than chores that you have to slog through in order to progress.
Once you get to the main missions however, you realise that they aren’t much better. Falling back on the stale series stalwarts of eavesdropping and assassination missions, they make much of Freedom Cry feel like a carbon copy of something you have played many times before.
The other main gameplay ‘addition’ is the plantation sections. These ‘new’ sections lazily function identically to the warehouse sections from the main game, requiring you to sneak through each plantation and kill the guards without raising the alarm. The only real difference is that instead of bountiful cargo on completion, you free the slaves working on the plantation and are rewarded with new recruits to join the resistance.
The repetitive gameplay could be overlooked however, if the sense of atmosphere and story was powerful enough to carry it. Sadly, the narrative tying this game together is thin at best, with Adewlae interacting with essentially two other characters in the entire DLC – local African leader Lady Bastienne and Maroon leader Augustin, as they work together to free the slaves and stop the ruling governor. I can’t help but feel that the setting and the characters could have been put to much better use, as there was huge potential for some really emotive and interesting story telling given the subject matter.
The latter section of the game tries to add variety to the gameplay by introducing a few sea missions. These see you boarding slave trading ships and battling their escorts as you free those aboard. These missions offer much of Freedom Cry’s highlights, and the finale aboard a flooding ship is genuinely memorable and enjoyable. By then however, its mostly too late.
It is a shame that a game which has such an interesting and unique setting can under use it so woefully and rely on lazy and repetitive gameplay. The whole DLC revolves around seeking freedom for your people, but ironically just highlights how shackled this series has become to its own tired gameplay mechanics. Hardcore Assassin’s Creed fans may get something out of this, but for the average gamer this aptly named DLC will leave you disappointed at its linearity, and crying out for the Freedom of the open sea.
- Refreshing to see a black protagonist in a AAA series
- Concept of a game based on liberating slaves is an admirable one
- Some great sea missions near the end of the game
- New weapons are fun – initially
- Story setting oozes with potential, but is woefully underused
- Highly iterative and repetitive gameplay
- Linear and restrictive – a step backward from AC:IV
- One dimensional characters
2.5 out of 5
Freedom Cry has some bold ideas when it comes to subject matter, but overall is let down by the iterative and repetitive nature of its gameplay.