Whether you like Freedom Cry, the downloadable single-player expansion to Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, will depend on three key factors.
This first, and what appears likely to be only, self-contained story served up as a spin-off from last year's Black Flag looks and plays almost identical to the main game.
So the first thing to think about is whether you enjoyed the 18th-century Caribbean pirate exploits of Edward Kenway enough to want to play a follow-up adventure with his Jackdaw second-in-command Adewale as the central character.
Fifteen years on and now a fully-fledged Assassin himself, Adewale possesses the same superhuman parkour moves and slick fighting skills as Kenway. His primary weapons, a machete and blunderbuss, are perhaps a bit more powerful than Edward’s sword and pistol but combat and stealth kills play out in just about the same way as in the main game.
I'll get to the crux of Adewale's story shortly but suffice to say for now the missions he embarks on within the nine chapters are very similar to what you will have played in Black Flag, namely tailing people, eavesdropping on conversations, carrying out raids and killing guards.
The principal location of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has slightly different sights and sounds to the cities seen in the main game but still follows the same rustic-meets-tropical style and is packed with the same features such as rooftops aplenty to run across, foliage to hide in and tall structures from where you can scan the scene or swoop down on enemies.
Controls are matched to the main game, including the Eagle Vision which helps identify targets when clicked on.
Some of the time is again spent away from land, and the sea-based missions also use the same mechanics as before so will be familiar to anyone who’s previously set sail in Black Flag.
Really, many of the features presented in Black Flag reappear in Freedom Cry, either just repeated or re-jigged a little. Other than a change in theme and tone, which I’m also getting to, Freedom Cry is the same game - just a more compact experience which can be completed in about four or five hours.
If you weren't seriously impressed by Black Flag you're unlikely to find much enjoyment in this add-on.
This is really for those players who stuck with the main game through to the end and are hungry for more adventure in the West Indies.
The second thing which will determine your opinion of this DLC is what you thought of a secondary character in the parent game being promoted to main protagonist.
If you grew attached to Adewale at all in the limited time he was on screen and thought he was interesting enough to warrant his own story you'll enjoy catching up with him here for this further adventure.
If you weren't bothered about him you might not be too thrilled about meeting him again and therefore Freedom Cry may not hold much appeal.
Adewale is a principled and virtuous man but he’s also a dour and serious leading man so may not be to everyone’s taste. He certainly lacks the little Pirates of the Caribbean-style touches of comedy which Edward Kenway displayed back in Black Flag.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Adewale is a fairly humourless character given his background of hardship and time spent as a slave.
This brings me to Adewale’s story along with the tone and theme of Freedom Cry, which combined provide the third factor for consideration before playing.
The tone of the game is very dark, a departure from Black Flag which at times could be light-hearted and jolly.
The theme is slavery, and Adewale’s story is about him liberating slaves and sparking a rebellion.
For years players have been put into often disturbing and violent situations by the use of grown-ups topics such as race and religion in games but slavery may still hit a nerve with some people and leave them feeling uncomfortable.
Unease may be heightened by how slaves within the game can be perceived as commodities which have a value in the form of unlocking new items such as weapons upgrades when they are freed.
At least Freedom Cry doesn’t make light of the slaves’ suffering. The brutality they would've been subjected to is clearly depicted in scenes throughout the story, which at times can be very powerful and unsettling.
Also, Freedom Cry has a strong thread of morality and justice running through it, which Black Flag was perhaps missing and which other games often lack. Everything Adewale does is about putting right some terrible wrongs and protecting people who cannot stand up for themselves. He’s driven by a sense of injustice more than a desire to be a hero.
Like its parent game, Freedom Cry isn't perfect. My main niggle is with how combat can be awkward at times thanks to the often unhelpful camera angles.
But overall, so long as you meet the three main criteria of being hungry for more after playing the main game, being interested in spending more time with Adewale and being comfortable with the slavery theme there's some good solid Assassin's Creed play to get stuck into here spread over several more hours in the Caribbean.
If you've not played the full Black Flag yet you may be interested to learn Freedom Cry is being made available as a standalone purchase for PlayStation and PC later this month. I personally recommend still buying the main game and treating Freedom Cry as an expansion, but at £8 it’s worth considering if you want a relatively cheap (albeit not especially cheerful) taster.
7 out of 10
Out now for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC - PS4 version played
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