Folks who criticize Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag for straying too far from the core conflict between the Templars and Assassin's should probably avoid Assassin's Creed Pirates, as the first two words of its title don't really count.
There's no running and jumping in Assassin's Creed Pirates. There are no personal assassinations — just boat-to-boat kills. There's no boarding, or stopping off at port to wander around. My favorite bits of Assassin's Creed — the personal bits — have been stripped away, leaving a bare-bones tale of free-roaming piracy that never sets a single foot on shore.
There is a character to play, but he only shows up as a 2D bit of art. Alonzo Batilla wants to become one of the Caribbean's most feared pirates, and this game is very keen to let him, to the point of making an accomplished buccaneer hand him a boat at the beginning of the game. Here's your boat. Go be a pirate. Meet some of the NPC characters from Black Flag, if it makes you feel better.
The bits and pieces of story serve as punctuation, a narrative progress meter for the open-sea adventure of Pirates. Outside of the story, Alonzo and his crew wander about, picking fights, running simple missions, racing through checkpoints and basically making sure none of the icons in each location are left untouched.
Doing so will earn him spoils, experience points and levels, allowing him to hire new crew from the tavern menu, upgrade his ship in the ship upgrade menu, and equip perks in the perk equipping menu. In fact, the menu is as close to land as he's going to get here.
So this is a game that is not about assassinating, even if there are missions calling for Alonzo to "assassinate" a boat. That's a very stretchy way of telling him to stealthily engage in naval combat. Aside from tasks requiring him to take his ship quickly from point A to point B, naval combat is what he does.
Thankfully what he does is pretty easy. All he has to do is tap buttons to dodge incredibly easy-to-dodge attacks, and then fire back with some small modicum of precision. Ubisoft worked optional timers into many of these fights, just so it felt like there was some tension going on. There really isn't.
I am not saying Assassin's Creed Pirates is a bad game — as pirate games go, it's passable. Boarding would have been a nice way to break up to combat monotony, but the heat of battle tickles the soul and it's not bad to look at either. It's got some singing in it, which I approve of, and there's generally a lot to do, even if it's a lot of the same things.
It's just not a very Assassin's Creed game, and by tagging it that way and tossing in familiar icons from the franchise, I feel as if someone is trying to trick me. I will keelhaul the scallywag who thinks I need a big franchise name to get me to play pirates.
Genre: Naval Combat Simulation? Sure, We'll Go With That.
Platforms: Android, iOS