With many of the games I've been reviewing lately, one question has been scratching at the back of my mind: Will this be better on next-generation consoles? It's a tough situation for consumers, developers, and publishers to find themselves in. Do you purchase a game for one system, only to have to turn around and re-purchase it for another system weeks later? Sony eased some of the pain with its $10 upgrade deal for some titles, but the save data doesn't transfer over on everything. Is the shift from one platform to its successor enough to justify waiting and buying the next-gen version?
That answer is different for every game in the PlayStation 4 launch line-up, but I can say Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is absolutely worth the upgrade.
The game plays exactly the same as its little sibling, so if you're looking for an additional mode, you're out of luck. But while the game is the same, the graphics have seen an improvement. If Assassin's Creed IV on PlayStation 3 is the PC version on Medium, ACIV on PlayStation 4 kicks everything up to High with some PhysX magic to boot. This means you get high-resolution textures, better looking waves, crystal-clear tropical shallows, individual vegetation that reacts to you and the wind, improved flame and fog, and more. If this is how good it looks when they still have to worry about Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, I look forward to the year they leave those platforms behind.
Otherwise, what you're gaining is the superior Dual Shock 4 and Vita Remote Play. I've already explained my preference for the former, so let's focus on the latter for a bit.
I got the chance to check out Vita Remote Play this weekend at a Sony event. The event was at a hotel, so I got to see the best and worst of the feature. If your internet connection or router is spotty, Vita Remote Play isn't the feature for you. The first room I tried out Vita Remote Play in, a faulty router left me with a underwhelming, choppy experience. Ubisoft moved me over to a second room while their tech people worked on the issue.
In the second room? The experience was pretty awesome. There was the occasional stutter, but for the most part the game streamed through clearly in all its HD glory. The important thing is that developers can choose to remap controls and use Vita features when Remote Play is active. For Assassin's Creed IV, this means a few changes, because by default the Remote Play system puts the L2/R2 triggers and L3/R3 clicks on different quadrants of the rear touch pad.
Instead, Ubisoft moved the triggers to the Vita's shoulder buttons and the L3/R3 clicks move to the corners of the touch screen. The map in Remote Play is brought up by touching the center of the screen and once in that screen, you can pinch to zoom and scroll around the map by dragging your finger. Vita controls can be a poor experience if developers don't take the time to really think about the system, but AC4 associate producer Sylvain Trottier told me that it didn't take long for Ubisoft to get it up and running. The team even added a touchscreen deadzone to prevent accidental presses while using the physical buttons. It felt comfortable, but if you're in the same room as your television, I'd mute the sound because you'll end up hearing the same audio twice: once from your TV and once from the Vita. It's disorienting. You've been warned.
Theoretically, you can use Vita Remote Play anywhere with a stable internet connection, but I have yet to test it out at Starbucks or at a friend's house. That said, for users gaming within their homes, Remote Play works exactly like Wii U's offscreen play. It may in fact work better for certain users: the Wii U GamePad dies in the farthest corner of my apartment, preventing true bathroom play, but Remote Play should keep on trucking.
If you haven't already plunked down the $60 for the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 versions of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the PlayStation 4 version easily surpasses them. If you have purchased the PS3 version, it's worth the $10 digital upgrade. If you have the PC version, the Vita Remote Play is the only real differentiator here.
- Visuals: Amazing graphics have gotten even better.
- Music: The soundtrack really gets going on the open sea, with some great Irish pirate ballads. I'd buy the soundtrack separately.
- Interface: The new UI is smoother than the one in previous games and the new weapon choosing system is worlds better.
- Lasting Appeal: There is a ton to explore and collect in Assassin's Creed IV. The story is lengthy on its own, but if you want to find everything, you'll be playing for awhile.