Review: Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry

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Tying gameplay in with historical events is what the Assassin’s Creed franchise has always been good at. Religion, philosophy, sociology, and power are staples to the series. Slavery, on the other hand, is not a typical subject matter seen in video games. Liberation included such themes as a foundation of setting and social interaction; however, in the original DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and now as a standalone digital download game, Freedom Cry examines slavery as the main thrust of setting, society and gameplay. 

Set after the conclusion of Black Flag, Freedom Cry tells the story of Adewale, Edward Kenway’s former second in command. While attempting to intercept a Templar package from being delivered, Adewale is shipwrecked by a fierce storm in St. Domingo and becomes entangled in a tale of slavery. Adewale as a looming specter at the side of Kenway was a nice foil for the overall events in Black Flag. He would provide a balance or counter point to many of Kenway’s actions. The brief moments of interaction between Adewale and Kenway left plenty of questions unanswered or unfulfilled. The sense of honor was clearly conveyed from Adewale in Black Flag, but how much of that can carry a new storyline in his own adventure? Fortunately, most of the time his character remains true and is bolstered by the actions he takes in Freedom Cry.

I say most of the time because like any video game, there comes a point where one type of action becomes repetitious and then becomes (to its disservice) the sole activity. The Templar package that Adewale intercepts is offered to Bastienne Josephe in exchange for information. Josephe is a powerful madam who has connections with Templars, politicians, ship captains and the underground revolutionaries, the Maroon. The information Josephe provides, leads Adewale into helping the Maroon rebellion and sets the stage for the various activities that form the core gameplay mechanics of Freedom Cry.

Slaves are found throughout the small coastal city of Port au Prince and Adewale can choose to free them or not. Freeing slaves unlocks bonuses for Adewale, and gives the Maroon rebellion more numbers for their cause. Some slaves are held in small cages in which the key can be pickpocketed from a guard or, as happens more frequently, looted from a dead body. Some slaves are on display for purchase and Adewale can either buy their freedom or attack the sellers to set them free. Others are being paraded through the city and can be freed by killing their captors. Even larger numbers of slaves can be freed by overturning plantation facilities.

The plantation scenario is actually pretty neat because the time of day changes what requirements need to be met in order to free the slaves. At night, all slaves are located in locked barracks. A key holder must be discovered and killed so that the barracks can be unlocked. Of course, getting the barracks opens means stalking all of the guards on the plantation grounds before unlocking the doors. During the day, however, the slaves are working in the fields and so in order to free them, a set number of overseers must be killed before the plantation is liberated. Stalking guards during the day or night is a fun activity a couple times, but begins to grow repetitive after that.

A final way to free slaves is by attacking the defense patrol of a slave ship and then boarding it. Naval combat isn’t any different in Freedom Cry, and therefore freeing slave ships is exactly the same as plundering ships in Black Flag, albeit with a more satisfying end result. Freedom Cry‘s naval combat is slightly disappointing based on the fact that Adewale’s ship starts back with nothing. No armor bonus, no cannon upgrades, no nothing. After playing Black Flag for over 30 hours, to suddenly have control of a ship that is sorely underpowered feels like taking a step backward. Of course, the more slaves Adewale frees, the more bonuses he receives. Ammunition is free, better weapons are unlocked, and rebel soldiers will appear and help with plantation liberation. Unfortunately, Adewale’s ship upgrades still require wood and metal plundered from other ships. Upgrading the ship feels like a chore after spending so much time upgrading the Jackdaw. But at least the elite upgrades are maxed out much more quickly than in Black Flag.

Maybe it’s just me, but when playing Assassin’s Creed games I can’t help but see and explore everything that appears on the map before moving forward with the story. This compulsion to reveal everything on the map redoubles all of the actions the game offers. As the story unfolds, locations on the map I’d previously explored are revisited and the actions I took to reveal those locations are forced upon me once again. This sort of open world exploration is a blessing and curse in my opinion. Make the game too narrow and linear and the game feels too forced and short. Open the game up too much and then everything feels redundant. I think I wouldn’t have minded sailing around doing the same things again and again if there had been sea shanties to listen to. I find it odd that former slaves as sailors wouldn’t have anything to sing about while moving around the beautiful blue waters. Then again, I would have been equally critical if Freedom Cry had recycled any of the shanties from Black Flag rather than featuring new ones. I’m guessing time and resources to create unique shanties for this DLC was just out of the question so I’ll be content on not hearing anything over hearing something recycled.

Freedom Cry offers a unique story to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The story isn’t overly complex and drawn out so even though some of the actions can feel repetitious, the exploration of Adewale helping the Maroon rebellion is a nice diversion from the typical Templar-Assassin clash. The version of Freedom Cry I played was the standalone download. Being able to play this without having the full game of Black Flag is nice. If you have never played an Assassin’s Creed title before and want a small but mostly complete version of the Assassin’s Creed experience, this standalone download is definitely the way to go. If you have played many of other games in the series you definitely don’t want to miss this add-on chapter either. My only suggestion would be to give yourself some space between finishing Black Flag and starting this story.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ New story to explore with Adewale
+ Short but complete Assassin’s Creed adventure
+ Available as standalone game or DLC for Black Flag

Cons:
– Freedom activities can feel repetitive
– No sea shanties
– No new combat animations

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also available standalone for PC and PS3 (DLC available for Xbox 360 and Xbox One)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: 2/18/2014
Genre: Action/adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.