Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft’s historical stabbing simulator, has a bit of a checkered past on iOS. Whenever the series tries to replicate the console games’ on-foot stalking and stealthy kills, it usually doesn’t translate well. Moving all the action to the deck of a pirate ship makes Assassin’s Creed Pirates a swifter, more mobile-friendly game.
Two earlier Assassin’s Creed games, Altair’s Chronicles and Rearmed, both received mid-range scores from us, partly because they couldn’t come close to the open-world feel of the console games. A more polished platformer titled Discovery and last year’s collectible card game Recollection earned higher marks for experimenting with new genres and speeding up the action.
Assassin’s Creed Pirates is in line with the more successful mobile games in the series. It’s easy to get caught up in Pirates’ gorgeous Caribbean scenery, uplifting music (including rousing sea shanties sung by your all-male choir/crew), and wide variety of missions. However, Pirates also relies heavily on repetition, causing a bit of sea sickness from going through the same motions again and again.
You start the game as a captive named Alonzo Batilla, who is rescued by the pirate La Buse and given his own ship to captain. By swiping on the screen, you can steer your ship through a wonderfully-rendered tropical paradise, with clear blue water, pristine beaches, and towering rocky crags.
If you stay in this ship view, it’s easy to get lost in the game’s lush production values. But to advance quickly, you’ll have to summon the minimap, and set a course by drawing a line on the screen. While you’ll miss out on the immersion, this is the more efficient way to access the game’s main mission types: assassinations, races, item retrieval, and synchronizations.
In assassinations, you’ll have to draw a line on the minimap while avoiding patrolling ships. When you reach your target, you’ll engage in a quick naval battle, dodging cannonfire while returning your own volleys using onscreen buttons. Races are straightforward checkpoint scrambles, and they offer the greatest degree of control due to the forced ship view. Item retrievals are a quick dash and back from a checkpoint, usually involving a naval battle as well, and synchronizations are a single battle that unlock fast-travel destinations on the map.
There are also side activities to engage in on the high seas. You can randomly attack other ships to earn more loot, locate hidden treasure and messages in bottles, and free slaves from galleys. It’s an impressive amount of content, even if it often comes down to the same few ship-to-ship battles.
This is where Pirates begins to falter. Naval combat is locked into a simple minigame, where you’ll time your attacks and dodges only when the game allows you to. This can result in a lot of waiting, and we wish we could skip the repetitive animations and endless back-and-forth. If the naval battles gave you full freedom of movement and a faster response time, like they do in the console game, they’d be much more thrilling.
If you want to progress through the game quickly, you can repeat missions for the full amount of experience points and unlock more crew members, special attacks, and story missions. We actually found this preferable to locating new missions each time, since they’re all so similar. This may feel a bit like cheating, but pirates aren’t known for playing by the rules.
We really enjoyed the visual and audio design in Assassin’s Creed: Pirates, much of it lifted straight from the console game. However, the extremely simplified naval combat and built-in repetition keeps us from giving this game a Must Have score.
If you want a more robust naval combat simulator, with the addition of on-land missions and combat, you should buy the console version, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Since it offers such an enticing glimpse of that larger game, we have to declare Pirates an overall success.