Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Freedom Cry DLC Review6 Jan 2014  by
Freedom Cry is the first (and perhaps only, if the Season Pass description is anything to go by) bit of single player DLC for the well-received Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. It’s a chance to play as Adéwalé, quartermaster on Kenway’s Jackdaw in the main game, and for the title to tell a tale in a different area of the Caribbean. Black Flag was a title with a dense cast list, so giving Adéwalé a four-to-five hour add-on pretty much makes amends for his previously rather limited screen time. Someday, fate may bestow us Stede Bonnet’s Excellent Adventures as well.
The year is now 1735, and Adéwalé finds himself a dedicated member of the Assassins. After an unfortunate encounter with a storm, he also finds himself washed up in Haiti’s French-owned Port-au-Prince and in need of a new ship.
Following his only lead (a mysterious Templar package,) he falls in with brothel madam Bastienne Josephe and a brewing slave revolt headed by a group called the Maroons.
The growing tension between Bastienne’s pre-existing methods of appeasement and Adéwalé’s drive to take direct, violent action is Freedom Cry’s most interesting narrative thread. Both approaches are shown to have serious flaws; the former prevents any meaningful change, while the latter risks even more violent repercussions from the French overseers. The rest of the plot proves to be muddled and of little consequence (don’t get too set on finding out what’s in that Templar package,) but the moral crisis of how best to aid enslaved people without invoking further French tyranny is a strong one.
Of course that’s a choice the player can only really observe, rather than make. As protagonist Adéwalé the conclusion is pre-determined, and (one climactic moment aside) any repercussions are left ambiguous. The long-term implications are bleak, which is just as it should be for a story centered around slavery.
Freedom Cry takes this theme into the changes it makes to Black Flag’s methods of progression, tying upgrades and mission unlocks to the number of slaves Adéwalé has liberated. As a result, there are endless numbers of respawning auction blocks, jails and plantations spread across Port-au-Prince. Each one a monument to human misery, hammering home the idea that Adéwalé, no matter how hard he tries, cannot save everyone.
It’s a clever way to integrate narrative theme with gameplay, but it does have one substantial drawback. By reducing the concept of slavery to a never-ending game mechanic, there’s a point at which the player will eventually begin to just ignore the opportunities to free captives. Maybe there’s some sort of meta-philosophical point being made about moral complacency here, but the upshot is you eventually have to turn into the guy who’ll breezily wander past a beating and give a weary sigh to yet another escapee who needs your assistance. Freedom Cry forces you to either embrace an eternal cycle of slave liberation, or become a total prick. Thanks a lot, Freedom Cry.
The DLC also suffers from too many tailing and eavesdropping missions, which were probably the least welcome activities in Black Flag. There, the ratio may have been similar, but bouts of boring eavesdropping could be punctuated by lengthy pirate exploits. Inevitably, and to its detriment, Freedom Cry’s truncated length puts them in much closer proximity.
You do still get to galavant around on the ocean quite a bit, though. It doesn’t take a huge amount of time for Adéwalé to come across a new vessel, the Experto Crede, which has a similar (albeit reduced) upgrade path to the Jackdaw. Port-au-Prince is by far the largest location in the DLC, but there are a trio of other plantations to raid, along with a few scattered islands and an abandoned fort or two.
As well as going after regular French, Spanish and British shipping, it’s also possible (and advisable) to take on slave ships to free large numbers of slaves at once. The twist here is that damaging the slave ship itself will risk harming the people trapped within, so it’s necessary to take out the escort vessels first and only then board the prison ship. It’s not an outlandish departure from Black Flag’s oceanic confrontations, but it adds a touch of thematic novelty to the DLC’s duration.
Plantation raids in Freedom Cry are similar to those found in Black Flag too, except that your goal here is not mere plunder. Functionally you’re doing much the same thing, creeping from bush to bush, slaying guards with either the traditional Assassin’s toolset or Adéwalé’s machete and blunderbuss. You can even recruit a few resistance fighters to help you. Though that can sometimes be counter-productive, because if you cause too much commotion the overseers will start executing the slave workers.
Ubisoft brought in a new composer, Olivier Deriviere, to work on this add-on. His contributions give Freedom Cry a distinct tone, with choral plantation songs and Haiti flourishes for familiar gameplay beats like capturing a vessel or synchronising a viewpoint. The only thing sorely missing is some unique shanties for Adéwalé’s crew to sing. It’s all a bit sombre aboard the Crede.
Freedom Cry feels like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in miniature. It has the same (or similar) mechanics and activities spread across a smaller map, with a plot that’s high on thematic significance but low on actual events. A curious navigational expedition takes up a decent portion of the story and peters out into nothing. As does Bastienne’s mystery parcel. Only towards the conclusion does the story become more about Adéwalé himself, and how his dedication to the Creed can’t solve all of the world’s tragedies. The very same highs (sea battles) and lows (too many terrible eavesdropping tasks) present in Black Flag are here in Freedom Cry, the difference being you’ve probably played Black Flag for 20-30 hours already.