Hello everyone, and welcome to Late to the Party, a series in which I discuss video games that I’ve finally gotten around to playing. As much as I enjoy games, it’s rare for me to experience them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me anywhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game, and because of this I’ve got a considerable gaming backlog that grows every year. From time to time I’m able to chip away at that backlog and whenever I do so I like to write about it in this series. Today I’m going to tell you about Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, a standalone DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. This post will contain minor spoilers.
Made by Ubisoft and released in December 2013, Freedom Cry is a piece of DLC that I originally wasn’t planning on playing, but last year it was a free on PlayStation Plus so I downloaded it and added it to my list of games to play. If you’ve not read my writing piece on Black Flag I’d recommend doing so to get the background on the universe that Freedom Cry is based on. A link to it can be found here. You don’t need to read the whole thing and can just skim it if you want. Because Freedom Cry is essentially a stripped-down version of Black Flag, this writing piece is going to have a lot of the same talking points as the writing piece on Black Flag, but I’ll do my best to not be too repetitive.
Set fifteen years after the events of Black Flag, Freedom Cry is a short story that stars Adéwalé, the former first officer and quartermaster of Black Flag protagonist Edward Kenway. Adéwalé is now a full-fledged Assassin with his own ship but after raiding a Templar convoy Adéwalé is knocked overboard and washes ashore near Port-au-Prince, in modern-day Haiti. There he comes back into contact with the nightmares of African slave trade. Himself a former slave, Adéwalé decides to postpone his return to the Assassin Brotherhood and embarks on a personal quest to help the slaves of Port-au-Prince and bring justice to those who enslave them. Therein lies the most interesting thing about Freedom Cry: the story has almost nothing to do with the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. Obviously this approach wouldn’t work for a full-length Assassin’s Creed game but for a short side story like this one it was a nice change of pace and it further fleshed out one of Black Flag’s main side characters.
If you’ve played Black Flag you’ll know exactly what to expect from Freedom Cry, and indeed Freedom Cry seems to assume that you just recently played Black Flag because it throws you into the mix with hardly any tutorials. I remembered enough of the controls from my playthrough of Black Flag to push through the opening chapter of Freedom Cry and relearn everything with a little trial and error, but I could see someone who’s never played Black Flag or an Assassin’s Creed game having a hard time due to the lack of explanations on how the game works. Once again you’ll be traversing and fighting with Black Flag’s on-foot game mechanics, which work fine 95% of the time, but there’s still that super annoying 5% when Adéwalé won’t do what you intend him to. Some new features in Freedom Cry’s gameplay include a blunderbuss that works like a shotgun and can clear groups of enemies, and firecrackers that Adéwalé can throw to distract guards. In combat Adéwalé brutally hacks his enemies to death with his machete, which is rather fitting for a game that portrays the horrors of the African slave trade. It’s almost like Adéwalé is taking years of pent up rage from his own time as a slave and unleashing it on the guards and slave drivers he kills. Out at sea the outstanding naval gameplay of Black Flag returns in Freedom Cry, which is a big plus, though I was disappointed that Adéwalé’s crew didn’t have any sea shanties to sing while I was cruising on the water. Also disappointing is the lack of customization options for Adéwalé’s outfits and his ship’s appearance, as well as the return of the performance bugs that frequently show up in Assassin’s Creed games. Three separate times I had to quit out of the game and restart a section due to game glitching out on me.
Thankfully the world of Freedom Cry is worth returning to even with the bugs. Visually, Freedom Cry shows its age, though its ocean is still probably the overall best I’ve seen in gaming and it’s just as much of a pleasure to cruise the emerald waters of the Caribbean as it was in Black Flag. Unsurprisingly, Freedom Cry’s map is much smaller than that of Black Flag and has fewer things to do, but there’s still enough to get some good time out of the game. In addition to finding treasure chests, wildlife hunting, ship raiding, and other activities that were present in Black Flag, you’ll also now have the opportunity to free slaves in a variety of ways. Doing so nets you rewards and upgrades that help turn Adéwalé into a one-man slave-liberating and guard-murdering machine. All total, I was able to get just over 12 hours out of Freedom Cry and during that time I found all the collectibles, unlocked all ship upgrades, unlocked all but one of Adéwalé’s upgrades, and freed about 700 slaves. Interestingly, during the entirety of Freedom Cry you never leave the Animus. This isn’t a big deal since the real world parts of the Assassin’s Creed games have always been less interesting that the historical recreations inside the Animus, but it would have been nice to maybe just have a little bit of context as to who is reliving Adéwalé’s memories. I guess we just have to assume it’s another nameless Abstergo employee.
At the end of the day your opinion on Freedom Cry will depend heavily on what you thought of Black Flag. If you liked Black Flag you’ll find a mostly enjoyable extension of its universe in Freedom Cry, but if you didn’t like Black Flag you won’t be suddenly won over by Freedom Cry. Personally, I liked Black Flag and thus I naturally liked Freedom Cry too, but because of Freedom Cry’s smaller size the main problems it inherits from Black Flag seem to stand out more in it. Consequently I’m rating Freedom Cry a 7.5 out of 10, which is good, but not as good as I would rate Black Flag. Definitely give it a try if you already own it through PlayStation Plus, though keep in mind my warning about the lack of tutorials if you’ve never played Black Flag or any of the Assassin’s Creed games.