Adewale Uchained? Well, a little...
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was one of my favorite games of 2013, with a refined and extremely satisfying gameplay, beautiful graphics with vibrant colors making it one of the most atmospheric games ever plus pirates! So I got pretty excited when I heard about the coming DLC, Freedom Cry. Also seeing that live-action CGI mix trailer the guys over at Ubisoft put out, it got me even more excited!
On December 19th 2013, Freedom Cry was released on PSN and I can say that it stands on the "good-great DLC" side. It is short, like I 100% in around 6 hours, and some people might get butt-hurt by hearing this, but in reality you shouldn't. It has a great deal of content, some cool new mechanics and a "OK" story.
So let's start from the last one, the "OK" story. In Freedom Cry you play as Adewale, Edward's Jackdaw quartermaster from the main storyline, but some 15 years later. If you ***Spoilers*** have played Black Flag, then you already know that Adewale leaves the Jackdaw and the life as a pirate to pursue a higher calling, that of being an Assassin. This higher calling demands for Adewale to travel to Port-au-Prince and intercept a "mysterious Templar package" that fallen into the wrong hands could mean big problems. But in an Assassin's Creed fashion, this turns into a more personal quest when he sees that his fellow brethren are suffering as slaves under the Code Noir. He is, lets say, pissed with the situation and decides to intervene.
I am gonna say that I understand Adewale and his actions, but you don't really see that while playing the game. Who is he? How did he get into the ship where he meet with Edward? What happened during these 15 years after leaving the Jackdaw? These are some of the answers left unanswered. Yes there is the fantastic launch trailer where we see young Adewale bash a overseer's head with a big rock, break free of the shackles and run towards freedom. We see the freedom cry inside of him in that trailer, but there is really nothing like it in the game. I would have loved to play that exact sequence and I would have loved to experience shouting "I AM FREE!"and running free, but again, there is nothing like that.
What you do in the game is the usual stuff, follow him, eavesdrop that conversation, kill him and a billion guards etc. There is however a new systemic mechanic, that of freeing slaves. This mechanic is heavily linked with the story, but in the end it fails to deliver. As you free slaves, the number indicator goes up and it unlocks new gear for Adewale as in new pouches, better weapons etc. But there is also the promise of this upcoming "big Maroon revolt" and you see their number grow as you free more and more slaves in the Maroon hideout, but again nothing happens. In the end, freeing 500 slaves is used only as currency...
Another "problem" I have with Freedom Cry's story, that is kinda the same thing I had with that of Black Flag's, is that it doesn't really fit into the Assassin's Creed universe. There is no conspiracy, there is no super weapon or equipment that if fallen in Templar's hands might mean "the end of times" or whatever. Nope, there is only the "mysterious package" (buuuuu....scary) that we never learn what it is or its use. Truth be told it feels disconnected from the Assassins vs Templar war that makes the AC universe, as I have previously stated, the best of all!
Now onto the new gameplay mechanics. First the big one, the new systemic slave mechanic. You run around Port-au-Prince and you'll see many random encounters where for example: a group of slaves are being being auctioned and if you kill the guards you can free them or you'll see a slave that has just broken his shackles and is running away from his overseer and if you kill the later one, you'll free the slave. There are also some other "random encounters" that I'll not spoil. So freeing them, raises the indicators for free civilian Maroons and "soldier" Maroons. The last ones will hep you fight off the guards if they are near you, much like the mercenaries from the past games, but these one are free of charge. Also freeing the Maroons unlocks new and better gear for Adewale. Yeah, I almost forgot, you can raid plantations and free slaves and it's awesome!
Now in terms of gear, forget the crafting system Black Flag had, it's not present here. You get new weapons and firearms by freeing slaves. The main two weapons (make it three with the hidden blades) Adewale has are a blunderbuss which can clear a large area of enemies at close quarters and a machete which is as deadly as you might imagine it to be in the hands of an expert Assassin. He also has the blow dart which fires the same darts found in Black Flag and also the rope dart, but you won't really use these. Not because they are not fun or something like that, but stealth isn't the way you should play the game. Adewale is a badass Assassin with a shotgun and a half meter long machete, so I guess stealth isn't his forte. He feels more visceral, let's say, than Edward and you feel that when he plunges the machete through a guard's body. Yeah the combat is as satisfying as ever and the same can be said for the parkour/traversing mechanic.
Naval combat returns also as it was, for some, the best part of Black Flag. Adewale is the Captain of the Experto Crede, a new ship you acquire while playing the game. And as the Jackdaw you can upgrade the weapons, the armor and the looks of it, though it's way more limited than in Black Flag. It is still as fun to wreck other ships and board them as it was in Black Flag.
Exploration wise, it is very limited. The whole story of Freedom Cry takes place 15 year later in a totally new "map/location/part of the Caribbean" and if compared to the vast world of Black Flag, it looks uber smaller. Yes there are some cool looking locations to visit, but none of them has the awe many of the locations of Black Flag had. It would have been great if I could sail the Experto Crede through to the Black Flag map and run on the rooftops of Havana as Adewale, but it's not possible and I think that's a big miss.
Visually it looks outstanding and I reviewed it on a PS3, not a PS4. The environments are beautifully crafted, the character models and their animations especially the face animations look a tad better than those of the main game. The frame rate is, let's say, OK for the most part, but it stutters sometimes exactly like it did in Black Flag. Sound design and VA is top notch as always, but the one thing that made sailing even better and I am talking about the Sea Shanties, are nowhere to be found. The OST in the other hand is way better than that of Black Flag, with some great emotional and powerful music playing in the background.
Bottom Line: Before I end the review, I have a question that has been bugging me since I finished the game, why was Freedom Cry necessary? The story is OK, but it fails to capture that great AC vibe; Adewale is a badass but we don't really experience how he become one; it goes light on the racism/Code Noir part so why Freedom Cry and why now? Well, my guess, is that Ubisoft is preparing us for the next Assassin's Creed game, which will expand upon the main theme and main new mechanic of Freedom Cry. So should you pay it? It is up to you, if you loved Black Flag and Django Unchained, then this is worth your while.
Thanks for reading!